By Michael Ritchie*
HAVANA TIMES – El Jefe, with the help of a dedicated citizens army and the Cuban population, defeated the dictator Fulgencio Batista and his Imperialist henchmen. Once again Cuba established its sovereignty. -That occurred on January 1, 1959.
The epic stories that emerged during that Revolution inspired me to become a minor historian of the period. In my visits to Havana over the years, attempting to trace the footsteps of El Jefe, it also led to my sincere love for the Cuban people.
From student protests on the iconic steps of the University of Havana to the slaughter of a handful of young rebels in a bloody shootout at the presidential palace.
From the heroic, if not the wisest, attack on the Moncada barracks to Fidel’s legendary, 4-hour “History Will Absolve Me” dissertation before a Batista court too ignorant to understand its import.
From a clandestine meeting of a few infidels in Mexico to the arrival of a ragtag “army” on a yacht called Granma at Playa Las Coloradas.
From a nest of patriotic rebels secreted in the Sierra Maestra to Radio Rebelde —Aqui Radio Rebelde!
With heroes like Frank Pais, Raul Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos, Vilma Espin, and yes, even Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who then could not be stirred by the clarion call of “patria o muerte”?
All that could have —and some say should have—, ended in 1959 when Fulgencio Batista, along with millions of dollars from the Cuban national treasury, boarded a plane headed for sanctuary in the Dominican Republic.
In the ensuing years Fidel Castro became a fatherly figure for the Cuban people, whether they wanted one or not.
His Agrarian Reform Act recovered countless national and private properties from Batista friends and US Mafia enterprises. His National Alphabetization Campaign obliterated illiteracy in Cuba. He encouraged and developed scientific research. And, through the University of Havana, he established a world-renowned body of medical doctors.
He supported the National Ballet and the Arts.
He even personally designed for and gave the people of Havana… Coppelia, a simple delight, an ice cream parlor which serves up to 35,000 sun-parched customers a day.
Fidel was everywhere
El Jefe gave enough speeches and issued enough opinions and bon mots to reach from one end of Cuba to the other. My favorite is one he borrowed from Jose Marti: “Toda la gloria del mundo cabe en un grano de maiz.” The phrase, “All the glory in the world fits in a grain of corn,” inspired Fidel’s tomb in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, in Santiago de Cuba. It’s shaped like a grain of corn.
Few people know that Fidel’s brother, General Raul Castro Ruz, began planning the stone tomb which would hold El Jefe’s remains 10 years before his death. Working with designers and architects, as well as a few select other generals who participated in the Revolution, Raul selected the perfect rock extracted from a site near the Gran Piedra, a central part of the Sierra Maestra mountain range, which played an essential role in Fidel’s struggle. Most of the workers had no idea that they were working on El Jefe’s tomb.
Before his death in 2016, Fidel ordered that there should be no statuary or busts erected, nor parks, streets or public edifices named in his honor. Which is, in my opinion, sort of a shame.
But, as my editor, Circles Robinson, correctly points out, Fidel was certainly no shrinking violet when it came to the use of his likeness. You’ll find his image on posters in every State office and also on the walls of many, many homes throughout Cuba. There are giant, heroic paintings of him in the Hotel Nacional.
Still, I know that he would never have approved of Fidel’s Shopping Center.
All of which leads me to a rather regretful admission for a dedicated, admitted Fidelista. I surrender with the words of the popular Cuban song glorifying Che, “Hasta siempre, comandante.”
Unfortunate fact is:
The Revolution Is Over
With the death of Fidel, the silent head of the PCC was gone. And while his brother Raul continued to lead the executive body of the communist party, he was and is aging and tiring.
There arose the need for a new figurehead, to represent the communist party and the country— a president was needed.
This position was assumed by the relatively unknown politico Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez. Quickly party leaders unearthed grainy black & white photos of a youthful Diaz-Canel in close proximity to Fidel, suggesting that he was a confidant of the revolutionary leader. At rallies. Getting in and out of cars. And such.
But it is not likely that the new president ever spent much time in Fidel’s inner sanctum, his office at the Habana Libre.
But the Cuban people were, once again, hopeful— hopeful that 60 years of economic deprivation, much of it brought on by an unfair and illegal economic embargo by the old enemy to the north, the U.S., might come to an end.
Díaz-Canel immediately proved proficient at visiting provinces, looking at machinery and kissing babies and abuelas. He has accomplished little more.
In the interim, on the pages of Havana Times, on Twitter and other media to which I contribute, I have begged Díaz-Canel and the PCC to come to the immediate aid of the Cuban people and the problems causing their suffering.
Let me repeat myself:
The Cuban government must forget tourism for 5-10 years until the critical infrastructure is repaired. Forget building giant new luxury hotels.
The Cuban government must immediately enact an agricultural program which encourages the growth of crops capable of feeding the entire nation, without the need for imports. Cuba has a tremendous quantity of viable land. Let the farmers farm it. Don’t yoke them like oxen.
Stop the CUP, CUC, USD nonsense. Settle on one monetary unit and use it, worldwide.
Cuba must feed its people. Shortages must end.
Finally, and most importantly at the moment, the new restrictions placed upon the Cuban people due to the COVID pandemic are draconian and inhuman. They make it appear that the Cuban people are responsible for COVID. They are not. They are victims. Treat them like it, damn it.
Don’t lock them in their homes and deprive them of their meager incomes. Don’t limit their access to what little food there is. In fact, mobilize FAR to fill those decrepit troop carriers with food (from the generals’ private warehouses) and distribute it to each and every barrio.
That’s what Fidel would do. “I am here for you!” he would shout to the people.
Bring back the doctors. It is admirable that they are helping sick people around the world. But Cuba is making a tidy sum for it. And charity begins at home. It’s time to bring them home to help the newly spiking numbers of active COVID infections.
Continual, nightly recitations of patriotic rhetoric on Mesa Redonda won’t cut it, Senor President. (Although no one loves Cuban patriotic rhetoric more than I.)
Something has to be done. It has to be done now.
And I personally don’t think Miguel Díaz-Canel is capable of doing it.
It is time for the PCC to look for new blood. Maybe Raul should step up. We know that he was the driving force behind Diaz-Canel’s selection. He can simply pick a new one, someone who can bring balance between party and people.
For many reasons, time is running out for Cuba and the PCC in particular.
Let’s hope someone in power makes the right decisions.
I suppose voicing such an opinion might cause me some difficulty next time I pass through Jose Marti Airport (whenever that might be). But I’ll be carrying with me the ghostly yet patriotic voices of some pretty impressive figures, like Frank Pais, Fidel, Camilo, Che, Vilma and so many others.