A Dead Man Who Weighs Too Much

In 1975 Fidel Castro decreed in Cuba an official mourning period for the death of Francisco Franco.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana | 25 October 2019 — The day Fidel Castro died, I called my mother to tell her the news. I waited long minutes while the phone returned to me a monotonous and annoying ring. That night of November 25, 2016, when a voice answered from the other side, I only managed a brief phrase: “He died.” Nothing more was needed, no one has so dominated our lives that they could be alluded to without mentioning their name. My mother’s answer could not have been more significant: “Again?”

Thus, this Thursday, more than three years later, when I read in the Spanish press the news about the exhumation of the dictator Francisco Franco something in my head asked if I haven’t heard this before, if the general had not been disinterred and reburied many times. Dictators appropriate our lives in many ways, deciding the present and forcing us to talk about them in the future, becoming permanent and cyclic presences in our existence.

Now, the man who tried to leave Spain’s future “done and dusted” is just a mummy for whom justice, memory and political expediency have changed places, a shadow of that Franco to whom Fidel dedicated three days of official mourning after his death in 1975, the year I was born and an era when my island maintained strange and conflicting complicities: Russia’s Kremlin and Spain’s El Pardo Royal Palace.

There is a close sympathy among those whose vital force is to maintain power at all costs, no matter the political color or the ideology that moves them. They share the essence of a deplorable caudillismo, that which is based on authoritarianism, nationalism, fear of change, clientelism and searching for guilt always abroad, always the fault of the “other.” Franco and Castro handled these reins of power with perverse mastery.

One day, I hope not that far off, in Cuba we will debate what to do with the ashes of Fidel Castro, which now rest in the Santa Ifigen cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Most likely, it will be a discussion that will take place in a country with an incipient democracy, still marked by the pains and wounds left by a regime that privileged polarization over well-being, confrontation over the country’s development.

The Parliament of a future Cuba will address the issue of Castro’s ashes, now located a few meters from the tomb of the National Hero José Martí. A placement that was carefully calculated, to give the controversial guerrilla a screen of historical glory, a patina of studied popular acceptance. The man in the military uniform, the man of the death sentences, the man of the always raised authoritarian index finger, wanted to be close to the poet in the shabby coat, the man of beautiful verses and an honesty that led to his death.

Those parliamentarians of tomorrow, whom I imagine much more plural than the current monochromatic National Assembly, will debate and present citizens’ demands about the final destination of Castro’s ashes, a heavy burden for a nation that has already carried too many encumbrances.  I can imagine those discussions. There will be exalted exclamations, neck veins about to burst and voices for and against. A bath of democracy.

But in the end, the diatribe will come. The corrosive acid of history will fall on Castro as it has on Franco. No caudillo is saved. On an imprecise day of this turbulent century, the Cuban media will be filled with headlines for and against exhuming Castro and moving him to a less sublime, less historic, less symbolic place. We will look at each other and say that the gesture is important even if it does not solve our problems at that time.

There are historical wounds that must be healed even when it seems that they now hurt less and that their healing is barely an allegorical gesture. Call it The Valley of the Fallen in Spain, or the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery here in Cuba, the little we can take from those who took so much from us is their last abode. If they decided everything from what we ate to what we dreamed, it is not excessive that we impose ourselves on their plan for eternity and fracture the script of their eternal rest.

For that moment, when that hypothetical Cuban Parliament decrees the exit of the dictator’s ashes from the stone where he seems protected, my mother will ask me if we are not exhuming Castro for the umpteenth time. Mothers, like caudillos, are always there even if they are not. And I’ll have to answer, “No mami, no. This time is the last, the final one.”


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