The Unbearable Repetition of One Name: Fidel

Isbel Diaz Torres

Fidel, Fidel, Fidel
One of the many gala events for the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro.  Photo: Alberto Borrego/Granma

HAVANA TIMES — I promised myself I wouldn’t write about it. I resisted week after week, but it’s totally unbearable now. I prayed for August 13th to quickly pass by so that TV reports that made me want to throw up with their sugar-coated praise for the former Cuban president, Fidel Castro, would finally end.

As you can see, I’ve already used a number of adjectives in the last paragraph, and believe you me, I would rather that the tone of this article be a little more thoughtful and substantial but the load we’ve been made to swallow over these last few weeks has been so out of proportion, so outrageous, that it’s really been hard for me to keep my composure.

For people from my generation (I’m already 40 years old), Fidel Castro’s cult of personality is nothing new. It shaped over half of our lives and it was accepted as the most natural thing in the world by a large part of the population.

There wasn’t a lot of difference between the awe created by soap operas on TV and documentaries by Estela Bravo or Roberto Chile about the leader of the Cuban Revolution. You could cry watching Sol de Batey, just like you could tear up watching a song sung by a children’s choir or a poem read hysterically by some grade school pionero to Fidel Castro.

What happened in the old Soviet bloc with regard to cults of personality, served as no example to our own experience of this here in Cuba.

In 1956, in a speech he gave at the 20th USSR Communist party congress, Nikita Jrushchov made a direct reference to this evil (referring to the figure of Stalin), as raising a “charismatic” leader to an almost religious or sacred dimension.

In fact, even the Soviet Dictionary of Philosophy, published in Cuba, exlicitly says the following about cults of personality:

Blind obedience before the authority of some figure, excessive praise of his real achievements, converting the name of a historic figure into a fetish. […] Not even the experience of the greatest leaders in history can replace the collective experience of millions of people. Cults of personality are deeply adverse to Marxism-Leninism. […] The Communist Party is guided by the idea that a cult of personality, in theory and in practice, stands in the way of an unbiased education of the masses, stems the growth of its initiative, weakens the sense of responsibility for a common cause (the socialist revolution, building communism) in individuals, thereby negatively influencing the development of Communist ideology. In practice, a cult of personality subverts the democratic principles of communist parties and socialist society. […]

It’s not that I believe this, but I hoped that those who are in power here in Cuba would.

Even though Soviet hegemony in Cuba decided a lot (especially for the worse) about the way socialism should be built on the island, it was never enough for this critical self-awareness to really have an effect here.

However, the truth of the matter is that, since a few years ago, the pragmatic policies of our current president, less charismaric and less cultured (although he’s just as authoritarian and enjoys the same impunity), had made me forget a little the saturated the figure of Fidel Castro, whose name can be repeated 50 times over in one edition of Granma (which only has 12 pages).

And now, with him turning 90 years old, the avalanche bursting with overblown adjectives: eternal, supreme, the greatest, immortal, holy, infinite, definite, indestructible, absolute, historic, and so on.

Over these last few days, great intellectuals from the world over manouevre themselves so as to justify the figure of this leader; interviews with children are aired, children who haven’t even seen the man on TV and make them look ridiculous.

Artists of every kind are holding tribute “galas”, but they don’t really have to do anything special: the concert they play every Saturday is this time for Fidel. It’s not that hard really.

I couldn’t help but laugh last night when the sports news called him our “greatest sportsman”.

However, meanwhile, I’m under the impression that this has to do with the last weapons of an elite that is already focussing on creating a capitalist society. This is like the last break we’ll have to look back, do the boring honors that are in order and return as quickly as possible back to what’s really important: business.

And last year, the figure of our former leader hardly appeared in national press, if we omit his “reflection” when Obama came to visit, which made less brave government supporters back down quickly and return to their fidelista trenches, for a few weeks at least.

Raul Castro’s military style now relates more to the economic pragmatism of Cuba’s elite, and also of the majority of the population, who are tired of decades of exhausting speeches, and longing for more believable lies than a promised socialist society which only a few at the top are able to enjoy.

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.

3 thoughts on “The Unbearable Repetition of One Name: Fidel

  • Fidel is legend in his own mind and the fools that worship him. The rest of the world has a far more balanced view of his success and many failures. In time he will be little more than a distant memory.

  • Fidel lives to 90 and my good friend Bap Kennedy has cancer of the bowel, sigh

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