After watching CNN, MSNBC, France 24 and RT report on the death of Fidel Castro, their adjectives ranging from ‘despot’ and ‘dictator’ (US) to ‘revolutionary’ (France) to ‘world revered leader’ (RT) let me take a moment to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Fidel Castro did not pull off a one-man coup, as did Fulgencio Batista not once, but twice. Batista was a dictator whose goons tortured and killed those who protested his rule under a US tutelage that benefitted only the 1%. Fidel, Raul and Che gathered 80 men who fought a two-year war in the mountains against Batista’s better-armed military, beating it fair and square, forcing him to flee to the US.
The summary executions that soon became the only thing Americans were told about the Cuban revolution were in fact not carried out by Fidel, but, as both admitted to me, by Raul and Che, in the same spirit in which the Ceausescu’s (husband and wife) were executed in Romania when their Communist dictatorship fell — as ‘people’s justice’. According to Che, Batista’s crimes were known by all, and the new regime had more important things to do than set up trials in which negative testimonies would have been overwhelming.
Cubans today are mourning Fidel because they know he wasn’t in it for the money, but because he was determined to make life better for them while never bowing to their powerful neighbour. Every channel I heard noted that he had outlasted eleven US presidents, all but the most recent ones having unsuccessfully plotted and schemed to eliminate him.
One story I was told during my two year stay in Cuba was of an infiltrator into the rebel army who slept next to Fidel and confessed the next morning that he had been sent to kill him, but could not do it once he got to know him.
Having experienced the energy and charisma of this man, I was not surprised, and I believe these traits go far to explain why his death caused sincere mourning among Cubans young and old. Fidel literally incarnated the Cuban energetic love of life.
Call it paternalism if you like, the overwhelming majority followed him through thick and thin because he not only prioritised schools, hospitals — and the arts! — he taught them through example to be proud of who they were: the only people on earth to have successfully resisted the United States, from Teddy Roosevelt’s big stick to JFK’s Bay of Pigs fiasco.
Seeing Raul’s emotion as he announced the death of his brother on television reminded me of how special the relationship between them was: the younger one revered the older one as much as the Cuban people did, but he was no minor figure: he created and led a people’s army that quickly became self-sufficient in food and offered higher education to many of its recruits, ultimately becoming president.
Some will say that ‘the Castro brothers ruled with an iron fist’, but how else does one resist the most powerful nation the world has ever known? They arrested (and often rehabilitated) those who tried to sabotage their efforts, because failing to do so would have turned Cuba into another Haiti, as most Cubans – better informed than most Americans in matters that really count – know full well.
Cubans crying in Havana, especially the younger ones, do not want to see their country once again turned into a playground for the US 1%.
Americans who refer to Fidel Castro as ‘a brutal dictator’ refuse to see their own government’s school-to-prison pipeline, or the fact that instead of taking political prisoners, it assassinates its opponents with drones.
Dictators are in power for themselves, while revolutionaries, most of whom are born into the upper class, take power for the Other. Their authoritarianism stems from the refusal of the 1% from which they emerge to share — as stunningly illustrated by those who are dancing in the streets of Miami, hoping to turn the clock back in the land they abandoned.