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Cuba survives Fidel Castro

The island has been through too much mourning to wear the colors of widowhood

Yoani Sánchez

Few people were watching the official television channel at that time. News of Fidel Castro’s death began spreading on Friday night by telephone, like a vague piece of information. “Again?” asked my own mother when I told her about it. Born in 1957, this Havana native is going on 60 and does not recall life before the Commander-in-Chief took power in Cuba.


On Friday, three generations of Cubans closed a chapter on a period of history that each will define in their own way. Some will argue that with the leader’s departure, a piece of our nation is also lost and that the Island now seems somehow incomplete. They are the ones who will shape the Fidelism creed that is sure to replace our imported Marxism-Leninism in all the manuals, the slogans and the passionate pledges of continuity.

The propagandists of the Fidel myth will place his five-letter name in the pantheon of national history. They will dedicate a revolutionary prayer to him every time that reality appears to refute “the teachings” that he left behind in his many hours of endless speeches. To his followers, anything bad that happens from now on will be because he is no longer with us.

In Miami, the exiles whom he so derided in his harangues are now celebrating the dictator’s last journey. And on the island, inside the privacy of their own homes, some people are uncorking bottles of rum. “I’ve been keeping it for so long that I thought I would never be able to drink it,” said a neighbor.

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Cuba sobrevive a Fidel Castro

He is one of the Cubans who woke up on Saturday morning with the feeling that a weight has been lifted off their shoulders – a feeling of lightness that they are still unaccustomed to.

This is also the time to remember those who did not make it this far: those who died under the Castro regime, who drowned at sea, who were the victims of the censorship imposed by the Maximum Leader, or who lost their sanity as a result of the delirious projects he sponsored. A vast chorus of victims’ voices is being heard today through the sighs of relief of the survivors, the displays of euphoria on the streets of Florida, and through a simple “amen.”

Raúl Castro has been orphaned. He does not know life without his brother

The vast majority of Cubans, however, reacted to news of the lavish funeral preparations by turning down the TV volume and expressing their weariness with a shrug of the shoulders. This indifference is in stark contrast with the incoming messages of condolence from international leaders, whether those with ideological affinities to the regime or those without. On Havana’s Malecón wall, just a couple of hours after Raúl Castro had announced his brother’s death, several groups of people continued to behave as they would on any other night, surrounded by an aura of sweat, sensuality, tedium and void.

Cubans who were under 15 in July 2006, when the president’s illness was first announced, can barely remember the sound of his voice. All they know are the photographs that he appeared in lately when he was being visited by some foreign dignitary, or else they are familiar with his increasingly nonsensical thoughts. This is a generation that never felt the thrill of Fidel’s oratorical prowess, and never backed his fearsome cry of “¡Paredón!” – the wall against which people were executed by firing squads – that made Revolution Square tremble.

These young people have already done the job of reducing Castro’s historical dimension to a size inversely proportional to the lack of moderation he exhibited in his governing style. They will not stop listening to a single line of their favorite reggaeton song in order to utter a “¡Viva Fidel!”. They will not give birth to a new generation of babies who will bear the deceased’s name, nor will they bang their own chests and tear out their hair during the burial ceremony.

Raúl Castro (left) is himself 85 and it is unclear who will take his place.
Raúl Castro (left) is himself 85 and it is unclear who will take his place.AFP

Never had there been less talk about the Commander-in-Chief than at the time of his passing. Never had oblivion loomed larger over his figure than when his demise was announced. The man who once filled every minute of Cuba’s life for more than 50 years gradually became dimmer, disappearing from people’s view in what is akin to an extremely long movie in which a character slowly walks away, getting smaller until he is nothing but a speck in our retina.

He leaves behind him the great lesson of Cuban contemporary history: that weaving the nation’s destiny into the will of a single man ends up transmitting the latter’s personality flaws to the entire country, and infuses a single human being with the arrogant belief that he speaks for everyone. For decades to come, his olive green cap and his Greek profile will fuel the nightmares of some, and the poetic digressions of others, not to mention the populist promises of many world leaders.

His “anti-imperialism,” as he stubbornly called it, will be remembered as his most constant trait, and the only issue that he managed to take to its last consequences. It is not for nothing that the United States was the second-most-prominent character in the documentaries that the state broadcaster began airing as soon as the news was announced. Castro’s obsession with his neighbor to the north always informed every step of his political life.

The eternal question that foreign reporters used to ask finally has an answer: “What will happen when Fidel Castro dies?” Today, we know that he will be cremated and that his ashes will be taken up and down the island, then laid to rest at Santa Ifigenia cemetery, just meters away from José Martí’s grave. There will be tears and nostalgia, but his legacy will gradually wear away.

The State Council has decreed nine days of national mourning, but the official panegyric will last for months – enough to cover up the narrow reality of post-Fidelism, a system that the current president is trying to keep afloat by adding patches of market economy and calling upon the very foreign capital that his brother abominated.

The “good cop-bad cop” routine that the brothers used to act out before our eyes is now missing one of its parts. It will be difficult for Raúl supporters to defend that the reforms are not going faster or deeper simply because, inside a mansion in Punto Cero, in Havana’s outskirts, a ninety-something man has his foot on the brake.

Raúl Castro has been orphaned. He does not know life without his brother, or has ever undertaken political action without first wondering what his brother would think about his decisions. He has never taken a step without those eyes staring at him, judging him, pushing him forward and underestimating him.

Fidel Castro is dead. He is survived by a nation that has already been through too much mourning to wear the colors of widowhood.

Yoani Sánchez is a Cuban journalist and editor of the digital daily 14ymedio.

English version by Susana Urra.

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