Sunday, November 27, 2016

El Commandante es Muerto

Fidel Castro is dead. The maker of one of the few successful revolutions of this century has stepped into History. Whether he 'changed the world' is debatable, but the world certainly knew he was here.  He brought the 'Cold war' home and laid it at America's doorstep. By allowing the Russians to do in Cuba what the Americans had done in Turkey a couple of years before, brought the world to the brink of war.

The World knows who the leader of the modest island in the Caribbean was. He made a name for Cubans in a hundred or more places, from Miami to Luanda, from Bolivia to Grenada and he 'scared the shit out of America'.  Castro Cubans were the 'bogey men' of a number of Hollywood 'existential threat' pics.

And so these days the world reacts to his passing, as it has done to his presence.  There are the normal 'tributes' to the dead - laying out his achievements, balanced for press consumption, in some cases, by his obvious failures. In other accounts he remains the ogre, the tyrant,  the dictator some parts of the world held him up to be.  The Cubans of Cuba announced an 8-day period of mourning and reports had the city of Havana described as 'sombre'. 170 air miles away the air was somewhat different as the Miami Cubans pulled out the stops on a 'national fiesta' that, on a number of occasions before,  had gone off half-cocked.  This time it was real and the joyful faces - which very much reminded me of those in the old photos taken at a lynching - were not stifled, this time, by news that 'El Barbo' lived on.

But all we really know of Fidel Castro is public persona and the details of his 'injustice' offered by those who suffered it.

In public Castro was larger, and longer, than life.  If people, as we are told, were 'forced' to attend his frequent public orations, not being able to walk away must have been an ordeal. But I have never read any report of the 'leavings' of those 'massive' crowds turned-out to listen - water bottles discarded underwear, 'droppings' or 'floods' that surely would have eventuated after a four hour 'rock concert' anywhere else.  I recall reading of the aftermath of a Papal Mass in Toronto upsetting the sewage system for a number of days, and I've seen pictures of the debris field left by the faithful on that occasion that gives rise to a question about the 'gatherings' after miracle of the loaves and fishes. One would think that, with the frequency of Fidel's oratorical 'olympics' in his heyday, that his critics would have made much of the evidence of the harm he inflicted on his audience. They didn't.

He was a lawyer by training, but had that been his forte, he probably might have risen no higher than a local judge in Cuba. While he had some of the looks, and the lip, he didn't seem to have the smarts to win the big cases.  He was a 'Commandante' but aside from actually 'being there' he was smart enough to lave the actual fighting to those who were better at it. Even the Bay of Pigs - a victory ascribed to him - he left to the pros to execute.  He was reputed to have been vindictive and cruel.  While there is little evidence that he involved himself personally in revenge and retribution, his signal failure is in not curbing those who actually did that. The anti-Castro rebels who temporarily seized Trinidad on the south coast as part of the Bay of Pigs invasion, was punished harshly as it was an insurrection - including many 'old comrades' of the original revolution - rather than an invasion. The rebels who took to the hills  north of town were never permitted to walk out of them. Castro's forces hunted them down and killed them to a man.

He was certainly secretive and security-conscious in his personal life. He protected his privacy, moving, like so many other 'enemies of democracy', from place to place, unannounced. This probably prevented him from living in the style to which 'presidents-for-life' (and he in fact wasn't one of those, seeking regular re-election as he did) are accustomed. From what we know of it,  his personal life was unostentatious. He never did have a proper 'generalissimos' outfit, probably even for his funeral.

He is lauded for his achievements in regard to life in Cuba - the education and health systems being the major cases in point. But I would say that one of his own seminal changes was the rapprochement with the Catholic Church.  As a good communist ideologue, and as a Cuban revolutionary, he saw 'the Church', in Cuba, as a part of that old 'system' that held the people in thrall to a government partially through a thralldom to God.  Castro was educated in the best of that 'old system', by the Jesuits. When he was in  school the Jesuits were just beginning to think about that 'revolution' in the Church that would start a decade after the Cuban one.  But Castro, the revolutionary, saw something in common with the revolutionary ('anti-communist') Pope from Poland and Cuba  - forty years into its revolution -  cleared its 'Museos' and restored the properties of the Church. Popes (a couple of them) visited the island and the Catholic church in Cuba is having a renaissance.  Despite that, one of America's claims is that there needs be more freedom of religious expression - for a number of American 'religious visitors' - Jewish,  Baptist Evangelicals and Jehovah's Witnesses have been arrested for espionage activities.   We'll see if Fidel has a funeral Mass.

If there is anything surprising it is that considering the minor role he played on the World stage, he's getting a lot more media ink than many of the Great Ones.

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