My encounter with the Comandante

Fidel Castro observes the May Day parade at the Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba May 1, 1998.
Sven Creutzmann | Mambo Photo | Getty Images

By Eduardo N. Cordovi

HAVANA TIMES – Perhaps when you read this title, you’ll think there’s some information missing, but at this time, and if you live in Cuba, when you hear someone say: El Comandante, everybody knows who you’re talking about. It’s like when I was a child and I’d hear people talk about El general, and I couldn’t understand how everyone knew who we were talking about. Before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, El general was the president at the time, Fulgencio Batista. Maybe that’s why they began to call Fidel Castro, El Comandante.

It’s like the book “Harry Potter”, when they talk about “You-Know-Who”, but in another sense. It isn’t that people are afraid to say a name, but rather that it’s so well-known that it doesn’t need any explanation… Like axioms in Maths! They’re so obvious and clear, no proof is needed. Literature is something grand! I’m remembering the book El gran Burundu Burunda, ha muerto right now, by the very famous Colombian, Jorge Zalamea.

As soon as you become half a celebrity, people think they are entitled to give you a nickname. For example, Fulgencio Batista’s supporters also called him El hombre (The man), which demonstrated a particular sympathy. It expressed unconditional and unlimited service. However, some detractors called him El indio. They tried to highlight his proximity to the Black race, because Cuban society had rampant racism in the late 1950s. Although it was never as bad as it was in the U.S., as a mulatto managed to become president of the Republic. However, even though he was the president, he wasn’t allowed to partake in certain private activities at associations for white people.

Fidel also had nicknames. From very early on, people called him El caballo (The horse), as a symbol of strength. Even elegance, as he was quite a tall man and a fan of sports. People who were unconditionally loyal to him also called him El Fifo. This Fifo business always sounded strange to me. It didn’t sound serious. But people would say it with utmost respect, not as an informality. I thought it might be an abbreviation of the name Fidel. Like people say Willy when the person’s name is Guillermo.

I even made a comment about this with a neighbor. I knew he was part of the apparatus. Being part of the apparatus meant belonging to State Security or being a military intelligence officer, in short, the secret police. My neighbor looked at me as if I were an alien. He shook his shoulders very quickly and just nodded once with his head, telling me as if it were something very important: He’s the Führer, Chico! However, you can’t say that.

Well anyway, when I saw El Comandante – You-know-Who – it was from afar during the May 1st celebrations in La Plaza. (Which was first known as Civic Square and is now known as Revolution Square).

Read more from Eduardo N. Cordovi’s diary here.

One thought on “My encounter with the Comandante

  • Hmmm?….the Trump supporters in the US seem to have the same idol worship characteristics. Scary!

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