Fidel, Detractors & Good Brands



HAVANA TIMES, February 18- Last week a new photograph of the historic Cuban leader was published, this time with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. It reminded his adversaries in Miami and other places around the world that they must still wait for the celebration that has been frustrated on so many previous occasions.

These suspended festivities, -revived each time there is a rumor about the death of the leader they love to hate- speak volumes about the spiritual and mental poverty of his enemies. Otherwise, how can we explain someone rejoicing at the death of any human being, no matter who it is?

The matter is even more shocking if we consider that those who so vehemently desire the death of the bearded guerrilla who marked a new reference point in Latin American history a half century ago, are persons that claim to be defenders and/or bearers of Christian values. This contradiction is incomprehensible to me and at the same time very revealing.

It’s interesting to contrast that attitude with some comments I heard in Managua after the death of former US President Ronald Reagan. Reagan was the main person responsible for the destruction of the Nicaraguan economy in the 1980s by imposing an asphyxiating economic blockade similar to the one imposed 47 years ago on Cuba. At the same time, he carried out the poorly labeled “low intensity war” that left tens of thousands of victims in wheel chairs or with mutilated limbs.

Nevertheless, in general terms it can be said that the death of Reagan had little effect on those most affected by his policies designed to end the first Sandinista government. I remember precisely the commentary that one of those war victims made when we discussed the event: “Poor old guy, he didn’t even know what his name was.”

Of course, I’m not so naïve as to believe that no one celebrated the death of Reagan. What I am sure of is that there wasn’t any public celebration. Contrary to what happened when the dictator Somoza Debayle was eliminated by a guerrilla commando in Paraguay in 1980. At that time, many people took to the streets to celebrate, an attitude condemned by many grassroots Sandinistas, particularly those tied to the Christian base ecclesiastical communities.

Returning to the photograph of Fidel which led me to write this commentary, I want to make an observation about the photo caption. It read something like this: “He’s lucid,” said Bachelet. That’s part of the news, because it is amazing that a man of that age has such a good memory and stays abreast, with such intensity, of world affairs.

Fidel Castro always has been lucid when it comes to tackling the tragic Latin American reality. I remember his prediction in the 1980s about the foreign debt that still has the majority of Latin American countries on their knees (as well as the rest of the so-called Third World).

It was un-payable and irrecoverable, he said at the time, as if preaching in the desert. I wonder where are those today that called him irresponsible, that mocked his proposal to cancel the debt, those that filled their mouths with the word democracy and their pockets with the budgets of their respective nations? Does anyone remember them? But answering these questions would lead us to another issue, and I’d prefer to leave that for another commentary.

Nike and Adidas

Now I want to return again to the photograph, with a brushstroke that perhaps will bring a laugh, but also should serve for reflection. Firstly, the photo is an image very similar to those published in recent times and of others that we could find in any family album: a grandfather receiving a visit from one of his daughters or granddaughters.

Secondly: two small but striking details can be observed that make this photo somewhat different from previous ones. In most of the recent photos the pants worn by Fidel recreate the colors of the Cuban flag, similar to those used by Cuban athletes in international sports competitions.

In the current photo, though, two details seem out of tone to me: the shield and the word “Adidas” at the height of his heart, and the small Nike logo on his pants. It’s not that I want to criticize Fidel for using “good brand” clothing (although in reality, they are bad brands, given the miserable salaries paid to those who work in their factories). After all, it’s within his right, and I believe that he has earned every right for all he has done to bring better levels of education and health to his people.

What’s uncomfortable to me is the thought of seeing that image reproduced on one of those giant billboards that – besides advertising those products – impedes visibility, overwhelms the cities, and at least for me, brings to mind images of thousands of exploited workers.

*Nicaraguan historian and journalist, ex-editor of the magazine Barricada International  E-mail: [email protected]

2 thoughts on “Fidel, Detractors & Good Brands

  • Well expressed, James! Cuba is fortunate that he survived Moncada and all subsequent attempts to silence his voice. He has always put his unique and remarkable talents at the service of Cuba; of making it better and more just. Despite his errors, and those of the Revolution, (and Fidel would be the first to acknowledge them), nevertheless, both have come a great distance; without him, the Revolution would not have come as far. I believe he has laid a good foundation for its further advance. That men like Fidel arise at the right time and at the right place give me optismism for the future of our race.

  • What is there to say about a figure like Fidel who has lived and been so directly involved in so much of the world’s history?

    I’m not one of those progressives who will make any excuse for mistakes made by a famous figure who’s ultimate goals I agree with, even when those goals are sharing the wealth and resources of the world equitably. At the same time, given the kind of work I do, I think it is always important to acknowledge that people do the best they can given the limitations imposed on them.

    Those limitations may be due to a lack of complete information. In more extreme cases they may be due to a hostile enemy intent on your destruction. But I do believe most people operate according to their best understanding of how the world works. And no one’s understanding is perfect.

    There can be no doubt that Fidel, along with the all too often unacknowledged, and incredibly hard work of the Cuban people, have accomplished a phenomenal amount during the course of the revolution. For a country of only 11 million, Cuba has had an impact on the rest of the world that far, far outweighs its size.

    Forgive me a flight of fancy, but I do sometimes wonder what I would do in the face of an aggressive foriegn super power that I knew was willing to enslave my people and my country if given the smallest opportunity. A power that was constantly on the lookout for any opening to destroy the successes of the revolution, and to subvert internal stability. A power willing to sacrifice human life on a massive scale for the profit of its wealthy elite. What would I do?

    So I can’t find it in me to throw stones. Fidel’s are some shoes I have no real grasp of what it would be like to walk in, and perhaps that is a good thing.

    Admittedly I do have many questions, and there very likely are past decisions I would look at with a critical eye. But overall I would like to be able to understand, if only to tap into a depth of knowledge that has learned so much from both past mistakes and past successes.

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