When Norge, a nightclub manager, heard from a friend who has internet at home about the international media frenzy regarding the alleged death of the bearded Fidel Castro, the news caused him mixed feelings.
“For the world, the great headline could be Fidel’s death. But for Cubans, the day after his death will add an unbearable burden of the personality cult and constant evocations in the press. Can you imagine?
“A minimum of one month of national mourning, long lines at the Jose Marti Memorial in the Plaza of the Revolution to sign the condolence book, and special programs all day on national TV and radio.
“Endless tirades in the Granma and Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) newspapers, books, conferences about his life and work. Probably a museum opening, several effigies throughout the country and its cities, and important speeches everywhere.
“His intangible presence would once again be imposed on Cuban life, and we already have too little money, food, and lack a future,” said Norge, gesticulating with his hands.
Fidel Castro is a controversial figure. He is loved and hated with the same intensity. To his devotees, he is beyond good or evil. To his detractors, is to blame for the economic disaster in Cuba, the housing shortage and the fourth world infrastructure.
For 47 years he ruled the destiny of the Island with an iron fist. His revolution put more emphasis on politics than economics. He curtailed freedom of speech and press and eliminated habeas corpus.
He administered the country like his private ranch. He had unlimited powers. Without consulting the ministers, the bland national parliament, or his citizens, he opened the public coffers to build a center for biotechnology, bomb shelters or to buy in Africa a herd of buffaloes and experiment with their milk.
He led the nation at the blow of campaigns. One morning he would mobilize the country to sow coffee, bananas, and to build a hundred nursery schools.
In foreign policy his was a subversive strategy. Until he came to power, a Latin American leader never spent so much money and resources trying to export a social model.
Between 1960 and 1990, Castro sent troops or advisers to a dozen African countries. Also a tank brigade to Syria in the Yom Kippur War with Israel in 1973.
He had a huge reserve of cars, trucks or canned sardines. From a mansion in the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood, sitting in a black leather swivel chair, he directed from a distance the civil war in Angola. Like a neighborhood bodega owner, he was fully informed about the ranch consumed by the troops who took part in the battle of Cuito Canavale, south of Angola.
He was punctilious. His interlocutors, simple wax sculptures maintaining a parallel government at his orders, diverting the nation’s funds to achieve some of his whims.
Frequently walking through an underground passage that connected his office with the newsroom of the newspaper Granma, he wrote extensive reports, changed the layout, or edited the news.
In times of hurricanes, he moved to the Institute of Meteorology, in Casablanca, across the bay of Havana, and from there predicted the likely direction of a cyclone.
Or he moved aside the manager of the national baseball team to personally outline strategies to follow in a game of Cuba against the Baltimore Orioles.
For 47 years, Fidel Castro was undisputed star in the administration of Cuba. In all its facets. After his retirement due to illness in 2006, he dedicated himself to writing extravagant reflections which augured the end of the world and investigating the ‘exceptional’ properties of moringa..
The latest news of Fidel Castro was written in the newspaper Granma analyzing a New York Times editorial on Cuba. After three months of silence, in recent days rumors of his death have filled the international media.
Perhaps the dither started in Twitter when the former Kenyan minister and leader of that country’s opposition, Raila Odinga, on 4 January announced the death of this 41-year-old son, named Fidel Castro Odinga.
But the truth is that the old guerrilla has not publicly opined on the landmark agreement of 17 December between Havana and Washington. And he hasn’t even taken a photo with the three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States, whose return to the island has been one of his political priorities since 1998.
While the world sounds the alarms, the sensation among many ordinary Cubans is that they prefer a low-news-profile Fidel Castro.
“Let him die when God wills. Quietly is better. He already talked a lot. He was too intrusive and the protagonist in our lives for nearly 50 years,” says Daniel, driver of urban buses in Havana.
The stressful daily work in Cuba offers little room for speculation about the health of the former commander-in-chief. Juliana, retired, expects the news any moment. “He’s probably not in good health. But they’ve killed him so many times in Miami, that when he does really die people are not going to believe it.”
In the past nine years, Castro I has passed to being a minor player in national politics. Many people appreciate it and wonder what would change in Cuba’s situation after his death.
If there’s something the regime knows how to sell, it is that Castroism will persevere after Fidel.
Photo: Fidel Castro on January 8, 2014, when he attended the inauguration of Kcho’s art in the Romerillo neighborhood in the Playa municipality, Havana. Taken from Giornalettismo.
13 January 2015