Fidel Castro, All Over the Place / Iván García

La Nacion
La Nacion

Ivan Garcia, 13 July 2016 — The bearded Castro — famous for his long speeches, sponsorship of guerrilla groups in Latin America and Africa, and utopian promises — retired for health reasons after forty-seven years in power. But like a disembodied ghost, he is apt to reappear at any moment in Cubans’ lives.

“A few days ago I was listening to a baseball game on the radio and, like a backdrop, they were playing excerpts from Fidel’s speeches between innings.” said Renato, who sells pirated DVDs in the central Havana’s Monte neighborhood. “It’s the same on TV. There’s no money in the budget for young writers but this year book publishers are going to release twenty-five works on Fidel and his life. Brother, I’m telling you, if I could, I’d fly off to the moon.”

It is a “revolutionary” offensive intended to recall and pay tribute to the “undefeated comandante.” On the shabby stage of the produce market in the Tenth of October district south of the capital a vendor, surrounded by green mangoes and holding a piece of cardboard to fan himself and keep away the flies, shouts, “Get your pineapple for eight pesos right here.” Behind him is a painting of Fidel Castro and a slogan that seems redundant: Socialism or Death.

“The billboards with sayings by Fidel, Che and Marti have become so commonplace that people don’t pay any attention to them anymore,” says the salesman. “I don’t know about the old folks, but young people don’t even remember Fidel. It’s as though he were dead. And — God forgive me for saying this — to me, he’s someone from the distant past.”

Customs become unwritten laws. For the governing communist party it is considered good form to quote Fidel Castro at the opening of a patriotic ceremony, the inauguration of a new factory or simply out of obsession.

When it comes to quotes, there is something for everyone. A la carte. His actions during the Bay of Pigs invasion are remembered, as are his accurate forecasts on the path of a hurricane or that week in the spring of 1999 when the infallible Castro coached the national baseball team — planning even the training menu — before they played against the Baltimore Orioles.

There is no shortage of his sayings on the walls of workplaces, schools or state institutions. The same man who predicted nuclear catastrophe, the end of capitalism and that Cuba would export beef and taro has returned to the scene.

It would take several volumes to categorize all of Castro’s delusions and mythomanias. We were always being sold the image of him as the most accomplished boy in the class. The one who foresaw dangers before anyone else. The smartest quarterback. The geneticist-in-chief. The outstanding basketball center. The guy who survived six-hundred CIA assassination attempts. A man for whom standards of good and evil do not apply.

Ten years after giving up power, it would seem the cult of personality crafted by the Communist Party Central Committee’s Department of Orientation and Propaganda should be diminishing. And certainly it has.

Over time those Stalinist-style slogans faded away: This is your home, Fidel; Whatever you need, Fidel, whatever you need; Commander-in-Chief, command; The Americans can’t mess with him; Cuba is lucky to have Fidel; The twentieth century’s greatest statement.

But his approaching birthday on August 13 has served as a pretext to resume and increase the frenzied propaganda, with added hints of mysticism and cheap hocus-pocus. Palo followers make sacrifices on his behalf. Santeria followers prepare new protection charms. Ñáñigos (spirit dancers), freemasons and spiritualists pray that he may live a hundred years.

The exaggerated idolatry unleashed hysterical crying and screaming at the plenary session of last May’s Communist Party Congress. It exceeded common sense when, at a conference in Bayamo entitled “I Have Nothing if I Do Not Have a Fatherland,” Reynaldo Suarez, Master of Cuban and Caribbean Studies and Doctor of Jurisprudence at Oriente University, claimed Fidel is “protected.” “His leadership is due to his ability to survive, to luck and to the orange blossom,” said Suarez. “It is beyond dialectics. He is a man with the ability to turn failures into victories, someone who was able to build the most profound and radical revolution ever known.”

It is as though we were dealing with a talented guy who enjoyed some kind esoteric protection and good fortune, as though the chosen one was declared “the heritage of the Cuban nation.”

And the commemorations continue. Conferences, discussions and cantatas dedicated to the old leader’s ninetieth birthday are scheduled until the end of the year.

More unbearable adulation. We have not yet reached North Korea’s level of lunacy. But almost.

From Diario de las Americas, July 5, 2016.