2016 continues shaking things up and decides to claim Fidel Castro. The ‘last man standing’ in this game of ‘chicken’ that some find admirable and others despicable. Cubans take to the streets celebrating his death, while my Facebook and Twitter feeds show posts bidding farewell to ‘The Commander’.
I grew up with a picture of Fidel hanging in the family room. I saw my father give him the finger a few times while he muttered ‘I should be in Cuba, enjoying myself’ (or something to that effect). My grandfather -a wealthy man- left Havana carrying one bag and the undying and ever-grandiose memory of the good life he’d had in the tiny island and that the Revolution had so unjustly torn away from him. I never heard the end of it during family gatherings.
No matter how much I want to hate this guy I can’t ignore the opinion of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of my idols, who openly lauded his gifts. Garcia Marquez couldn’t say enough good things about Fidel, praising his intelligence and eagerness to learn, his avidness when it came to reading, and his ability to absorb and process facts; qualities that certainly come in handy if you want to hold on to an ideology that even the Russians abandoned a long time ago.
Many will argue that he fought for his ideals and held on steadfastly, despite the slow decay of the island’s infrastructure. Cuba became the last communist nation in the western hemisphere. That should count for something, right? Fidel Castro worked hard to ‘follow his dreams’, albeit, at the cost of the welfare of the Cuban people. The State will brag about education, athletics and medical services, while Cubans living there will lament their lack of beef, the impossible dream of having Wi-Fi, and the fear of saying something that will cost them -at the very least- their liberty.
Can you admire someone that has caused so much pain to so many people? I can understand Fidel’s reasons to fight for social justice. The idea of a somewhat privileged man fighting for the poor instead of going on to ‘better things’ is kind of sexy. On the other hand, my Cuban relatives celebrate his death because of a fading memory passed on by their parents of a ‘Vida Loca’ they couldn’t enjoy and also because the Cuban people in the island have struggled to put sugar in their ‘café cubano’ for half a century.
Those who continue to fight for social justice lament his death because they saw him as a great leader who had the balls to stand up to ten American presidents. It’s difficult to make sense when describing such a polarizing figure. What’s the best word for a man who fought for his ideals, who stood up to the big man, who escaped multiple assassination attempts? Legend. And what is the word for a man that became enamored of power and in order to hold it, silenced and killed many and destroyed the dreams and aspirations of generations of children; a man who refused to adjust his beliefs to the demands of a fast-changing world economy and made his people pay for it? Tyrant.
There is one thing that I’ve always admired about the Cuban people: their inherent happiness. Cubans don’t need an excuse to sing and dance, it’s part of their DNA. Anything is cause for celebration, and why not this? The end of an era…even if it’s for just a moment. I salute Cuba and will celebrate hope. ¡Vamo’ a sacar lo’ bongó!
The irony doesn’t escape me: Fidel died on Black Friday. I think he just died again as I type this.
Carolina A. Herrerawas born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon and was raised in Mexico City. She graduated from Universidad Regiomontana (1989) with a Juris Doctor. She was appointed to the Mexican Foreign Service at the Consulate General of Chicago (1991-1997) and Houston (1997-2000) as representative of IMSS (the largest public health-care institution in Mexico). Since 2001, she has worked as a translator, interpreter and interpreter trainer. She is a regular contributor for the cultural magazine El BeiSMan in Chicago. She lives in Aurora, Illinois with her children and Chester, her dog. #Mujer que piensa, her first novel, was published this year. Follow her on Twitter @blondieflowers