EFE (via 14ymedio), Lorena Canto, Havana, 5 March 2017 — A hundred days after his death and although Cuba has limited by law the use of his name and image, the figure of Fidel Castro is more present than ever on the island, where the fervor towards the former president is beginning to take on messianic proportions that have even come to his being compared with Jesus Christ.
Since the death of the leader of the Cuban Revolution last November 25 at age 90, there is no activity, congress or celebration in Cuba that does not include a tribute to Fidel Castro in its program, while the state media also devotes a good part of its space to him.
A good example of this situation was the recent Havana Book Fair, the most important cultural event of the year on the island. This year’s event was dedicated to Canada and its authors, but the acts and presentations of numerous titles around the figure of Fidel Castro eclipsed the invited country.
The situation contrasts with the last will of the ex-president, made into law last December by the Cuban Parliament: no monuments or public buildings or streets with his name, in addition to a rigorous regulations that shield the commercial use of his figure.
In life, the controversial commander was also opposed to the cult of personality, although paradoxically it was his personal style of exercising authority, which led some to consider him a leader and others to consider him a tyrant.
“The charismatic and messianic figure of Fidel Castro was undoubtedly one of the most popular elements of the Cuban Revolution from its beginnings in the 1950s to at least the first decade of the twenty-first century,” Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International told 14ymedio.
The key is whether the Cuban Revolution can survive without the physical presence of the man who so passionately embodied it.
According to Duany, “the worship of and loyalty to the commander-in-chief became one of the main ideological supports of the Revolution, although his overpowering personality also provoked intense disgust and resentment among his political adversaries.”
The state media, until now, has avoided the word death and replaced it with physical disappearance, a shift reminiscent of the way Fidel Castro used the term biological inevitability.
Paradoxically it was Fidel Castro’s personal style of exercising authority, which led some to consider him a leader and others to consider him a tyrant.
The newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), official organ of the Union of Young Communists, went further on December 25, Christmas day, which marked one month since the death of the Cuban leader: “Time does not devour redeemers,” said the front page, in a veiled parallel with the figure of Jesus Christ.
“Man, we learned to know you eternal. Just like Olofi and Jesus Christ, there is not a single altar without a light for you,” says the chorus of the song composed by Raúl Torres after the death of Fidel Castro, a tune that played unendingly during the nine days of national mourning decreed in Cuba.
Another new constant is the assimilation of the former president with the Cuban independence figure José Martí, father of the country and next to whose tomb in Santiago de Cuba Fidel Castro was interred.
For the moderate opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa, what is happening “seems to be against the will of Fidel Castro.”
The state media, until now, has avoided the word death in relation to Fidel Castro, and replaced it with physical disappearance
“It seems that in his last will he did not talk about the media, where his presence is constant. It is a gap they [the authorities of the island] have used, but I think that responds to Cuban society’s capacity to forget,” says Morua, the spokesman of the democratic initiative “Otro 18” (Another 2018), which advocates free elections next year.
In his opinion, the country’s leadership seeks to perpetuate the message of “do not forget the imprint of Fidel Castro” in a society that “has been giving a clear and key answer in that direction, very intuitive, to say that a country must not have a surname.”
Transmitting this message to new generations is a particularly complicated challenge; for an overwhelming majority of young Cubans, the bearded commander is more of a distant figure than an ideological reference point.
In a recent study of Cuban teenagers published by Juventud Rebelde, no respondent mentioned Fidel Castro among their most admired people.
“The poll seems to confirm an erosion in the figure of Fidel among the younger generations of Cubans born and raised after the Revolution, [despite] the government’s efforts to maintain his memory as the undisputed hero of post-Revolutionary Cuba,” Duany concludes.