Isbel Díaz Torres

Fidel Castro at the Cuban parliament on February 24, 2013. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — We’re so used to being the center of the universe here that I was surprised a few days ago when neither Cuba, nor the Cuban revolution, nor Fidel Castro were mentioned in a listing of Latin American leaders and revolutionary processes.

The list in question was cinematographer Tristan Bauer’s answer to a question from Tele Sur. As president of Radio y Televisión Argentina, the country’s public media system, Bauer was visiting Venezuela to partake in a meeting of intellectuals centered on the figure of Hugo Chávez.

The interviewer was Cuban journalist Rolando Segura, whom Bauer first answered by mentioning some of the continent’s great historic leaders like Simón Bolívar, José Martí, or the recently deceased Hugo Chávez.

I don’t even remember the exact question, but I know that it was one of those rhetorical ones, so dear to Cuban journalists, that aren’t backed by the need to address a real concern, but rather set the stage for the interviewee to say what they’re expected to say depending on their surroundings.

I, with my conditioned brain, was left feeling a little expectant, waiting for Cuba’s ex-president Fidel Castro to be included in the list, “as would be appropriate”. This didn’t happen. “Surely he preferred only to mention the dead ones,” I reasoned with myself.

I imagine that something similar happened to Segura, who came back with another question that would allow Bauer to speak of the region’s present and future. The answer came with another rattling off of names: Lula da Silva, Cristina Hernández, Daniel Ortega, Evo Morales… He even mentioned Che’s quest, but nothing about either the Cuban revolution or Fidel.

Personally, aside from possible criticism about how he handled his position as head of the government, I consider that Fidel’s Castro’s contribution to the Left’s thoughts and actions, and his criticism of imperialism, are more than enough to justify his inclusion in this light and speedy enumeration, with more rights than Ortega, Lula or Cristina.

I don’t know if this happens to you, but for those if us who were born with Fidel on our television sets day and night, it’s a bit nostalgic to see him omitted from the list of glorious heroes (since he’s alive), and his absence from the superficially progressive movement that is currently being promoted by certain Latin American governments.

On the other hand, it’s equally significant that Fidel hardly appears in the political analyses that spontaneously generate on a daily basis among your average Cubans.

But back to me, and my preoccupation at seeing how my education, which centered on such a personality, still forcibly conditions my thinking. After all, what Brazilian cares whether Bauer mentions Lula or not?

The argentine film director, who made Illuminated by Fire (Iluminados por el fuego), was born in 1959, the year the insurrection triumphed on the island. Has he thought about this coincidence? Should it even matter to him?

What’s certain is that for decades, all life on this island had a single focus, which revolved around the figure of the revolution’s historic leader. Many of us embraced (or were tied to) this central axis and moved with it, sometimes even in opposition to certain opinions.

National debate agendas were set by themes suggested by Fidel. The opposition positioned itself based on these agendas, and the government supporters prepared their posters with the president’s most brilliant aphorisms.

It’s as if all of life began and ended in this paternal figure. I’m not even saying it was a plan designed to function this way. It’s just the way society worked. Those who had other opinions (and there always were) were annihilated as “anachronistic” and foreign.

Today, I see that this isn’t the case. I’m glad, and it seems fair, but it doesn’t keep me from feeling a faint sense of mourning for abandoning someone we once knew and who knew us well.

Or am I just indoctrinated?

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

9 thoughts on “Fidel Castro Left Off the List

  • Ok John, I will see your ‘lift the embargo and then compare’ challenge and raise you a ‘no foreign subsidies or aid, survive on their own’. We both know that Cuba would not last five years without converting to full-on capittalism.

  • I have never denied the animosity between the US and Cuba.

    The US has indeed carried out espionage against Cuba, and in the 1960’s, acts of economic sabotage. The CIA even tried on several occasions to assassinate Fidel Castro. However, refusing to trade with Cuba cannot be characterized as an economic war. The US simply does not buy stuff from Cuba. Cuba is free to buy food and many other products from the US. Cuba is free to sell their products to the rest of the world.

    So I haven’t ignored the effects of the US-Cuban relationship, but I simply pointed out to you that it wasn’t the point of Isbel’s essay topic.

    You fail to realize that this state of perpetual animosity with the US has been the Castro brothers’ intentional policy. By maintaining the state of siege, they have been able crush internal opposition & hold on to power. Every attempt by the US to improve relations with Cuba has been thwarted by the Cuban government.

    Do keep in mind the UNHDI survey was compiled from information provided to the UN by the Cuban government. No UN group or any other independent body has ever been allowed to gather their own social or economic data from Cuba. The statistics provided by the Cuban government are therefore deeply suspect. For example, an independent analysis of data obtained discretely determined that the Cuban infant mortality rate is in fact 50% higher than officially reported.

    So my question to you remains: why can you not discuss the original question in the essay without lapsing into a diatribe about everything you hate about America? And why do you continue to live in America if it’s so damned horrible?

  • Griffin,
    The fact that the most powerful country on Earth has been waging a propaganda, terrorist and now an economic war on the poor Cubans for 50 years seems not to have registered upon you.

    By ignoring this you have declared yourself either an apologist and supporter of that policy and an openly dishonest debater or just someone who is ignorant of the historical context of Cuba’s societal problems that are based on economic conditions. .

    In light of the U.N.’s high HumanDevelopment Index rating for Cuba DESPITE that 50 year war being waged upon the island’s entire population, an objective evaluation would say that the revolution has performed miracles given the adverse conditions under which it has had to exist.

    That said, Cuba’s Leninist-elitist cadre form of government and economy- if benevolent in the area of human physical necessities to its great credit anathema to my communist-anarchist sensibilities which are centered on a bottom-up democratic society.

    Still, I would like to see just how Cuba’s socio-political- economic forms would work out in the absence of the 50 year “U.S. War On The People Of Cuba” before throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    It makes a pi$$-poor argument to claim, as many do, that any form of communism or socialism is inherently doomed to failure and that Cuba’s systems have failed while simultaneously waging all-out economic war on that fragile economy in order to force it to fail .
    And it hasn’t when you compare it with any other nation that is comparable in resources and population and not under attack form the United States.

    Evaluating the Cuban Revolution requires a greater objectivity and understanding of the context in which it is forced to exist than is afforded the public by the anti-sociaist, counter-revolutionary Western media.

  • So where do you chose to live, John? In the US or in Cuba? You would never accept for yourself the restrictions on your freedoms and rights which you repeatedly argue the Cuban people don’t need. You recommend TED talks on YouTube to illustrate your point. These must be inventions of the fabulous Cuban Internet we’ve been hearing so much about, right?

    By the way, the subject of Isbel’s essay was “what was Castro left off the list of revolutionaries” … It wasn’t what’s wrong with America. Why is it some people can’t for a minute stop and think critically about Castro’s failures without immediately changing the subject to America?

    By any objective measure, the Cuban revolution has failed to deliver on the goals set out by Fidel. The regime lingers on by selling the country’s minerals, beaches an prostitutes to foreigners. But the revolutionary process is dead. A few idealistic Cuban intellectuals persist in believing in the ideals, but even they acknowledge the country is moving away from them. The ruling clique has certainly abandoned socialist egalitarianism. Instead the are moving as fast as they can toward a new model of the military-corporate monopoly.

    Perhaps that’s why the Cuba was left off the list.

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