How Should One Refer to Fidel Castro?

Martin Guevara 

Fidel Castro as Guarapo

HAVANA TIMES — One element of speech that clearly differentiates where Cubans come from is the way these refer to Fidel Castro Ruz.

There are those who call him Fidel and those who refer to him as Castro. Something similar is true of Raul Castro, though these distinctions are less pronounced. Since he became president, the foreign media speak of the “Castros”, but he can also be addressed as Raul. This is due to two reasons: to set him apart from his older brother and because he has never had the historical significance Fidel has.

Those who call him Castro are the ones who left early. In fact, among them, there are many who once referred to him as Fidel, as they took part in the struggle against Batista or quite simply sympathized with his initial campaign. Once the illustrious son of a Biran landowner reached power and changed the sense of all his announced plans, they turned against him and established a distance in terms of familiarity, sympathy and ideology by referring to him using his last name, in much the same way Castro’s first enemies did.

Those who called him Fidel were those either within the revolutionary project or those who felt a degree of sympathy for this process or its picturesque leader.

As time passed, “Fidel” became established as the unequivocal stamp of alignment with the leader’s policies and sympathy towards his ideas, as well as an (alleged) expression of popular love.

This co-existed with the fact that, at any public function, before any speech, to introduce Fidel, one had to undertake a long verbal journey. One had to pronounce something reminiscent of the baroque full name and title of a Renaissance king, “First Minister and Chair of the Council of State and Ministers, Politburo and Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, Commander in Chief Fidel Castro.”

Colloquially, however, he was known as “Fidel.”

“As Fidel said…”

“Whatever Fidel wants.”

“We’ll do it for Fidel.”

“Fidel, hit the Yankees hard!”

The first thing medal-winning athletes had to do upon arrival at the Jose Marti International airport, before greeting anyone (including their poor, ailing mothers) was say: “I dedicate this medal to the Commander in Chief.”

As the possibilities of having actual contact with him grew, the more one needed to decorate that bare, blunt “Fidel” which embodied the people’s love for him and was akin to treating him as a father. As one neared him physically, as a medal-winning athlete granted a fortuitous meeting with the deity might, the solitary first name had to be decked with high-sounding titles. “I dedicate this to the Commander in Chief,” one had to say, and avoid saying “Fidel” and, of course, “Castro.”

For artists who were highly supportive of the government, he was definitely “Fidel.” When they referred to him in the third person, even in popular songs, it was ok to be informal. In fact, one had to be informal. But, at any high-level meeting, one had to speak in the second person and refer to him as Comandante.

In much the same way the Church fights blasphemy but would rather have someone curse the Father and all the saints rather than see that someone simply forsake them, Cuba’s State intelligence services take measures against someone who would have Fidel and all his ancestors fornicate themselves, but prefers such impious pronouncements to sheer indifference.

Down with Fidel!

Those who developed ill feelings towards him while living in Cuba, having once respected him as president or feared him as the Commander of Good and Evil, did so thinking and speaking of him as “Fidel.” In both our jokes and criticisms, he was and continues to be Fidel, or one of the countless nicknames, used by both the obsequious and those who repudiated him. For the disaffected, he was known as “Guarapo” or “Esteban” (as in “este bandido”, “this ruffian” in Spanish). For the brown-noses, he was “El caballo” (“the horse”) or “Fifo.”

Those from the “Fidel” generation who moved to Miami, however, suddenly felt compelled to call him by his first last name, as referring to him by his first name was a suspicious sign of familiarity. And they began to do so in a rather unconscious way, like the first wave of exiles, as there has always existed a broad range of reasons for dissidence, many of which are sensibly quite different.

Such an imposture deprived them of their personal reasons for unruliness and rebelliousness, as the genuine fight was against “Fidel” and his betrayal, excesses and repression, not the high-sounding “Castro.”

A criticism levelled from the semantic and symbolic space of the name “Fidel” is not apparently different from one built around his last name, but the difference is there and points to the finality and genesis of that criticism.

21 thoughts on “How Should One Refer to Fidel Castro?

  • January 16, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Fidel is a smart narcissist. He knows full well that statues of a living dictator work against his power. History confirms this. The embargo was a reaction to aggressions initiated by the Castros. While it was certainly intended to create hardship in Cuba, Castro socialism was for more adept at achieving the same end for the Cuban people. Finally, I have no illusion that I know better than Cubans what they need and what is best for them. ON THE CONTRARY, I only wish for the Cuban people that they will enjoy the freedom to choose for themselves what is best for them. They have not had that choice since 1952.

  • January 15, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    A Freudien slip eh John?

  • January 15, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    Egomaniacal is a clinical term and I would wager you’re not qualified in that area of medicine to make that diagnosis. He doesn’t/didn’t allow official pictures or statues of himself and that certainly would put the lie to that claim anyway. .
    Corrupt? Any evidence at all to back up that specious claim ?

  • January 15, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    And the following day he clarified/retracted the statement because it WAS deliberately misunderstood by the counter-revolutionaries.

  • January 15, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    It is you and people who think as you do : that you know better than the Cuban people what they want and need who need apologize and make reparations to the Cuban people.
    You are hypocrites who impoverish Cuba with your embargo and then blame them for their poverty .
    If their system was/is such an obvious failure , why the need for an embargo at all.?
    Loser, when will you admit that by an overwhelming majority , the Cuban people disagree with your thinking on what’s best and worst for Cuba ?
    As for Griffin’s claim below that Fidel is a narcissist, how does that claim square with Fidel’s lifelong order that no official statues or pictures be made of him, an order that is respected even in his retirement ?
    Fidel’s biggest aspiration was for welfare of the people through the success of the revolution and he remains true to that aspiration.

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