Few people were watching official television at that hour. The news of Fidel Castro’s death began to spread through the night on Friday by phone, as information that was vague and imprecise. “Again?” my mother asked when I called her. Born in 1957, this Havanan of nearly six decades does not remember life before the Commander in Chief took power in Cuba.
Three generations, we Cubans have put the final period on an era this Friday. Each person will define it in their own way. There are those who claim that with the departure of the leader a piece of the nation has also left and that now the island seems incomplete. They will be those who will shape the creed of Fidelism that, as a replacement of imported Marxism-Leninism, will fill the manuals, the slogans and the burning commitments to continuity.
The propagandists of the myth will put his five-letter name in the pantheon of national history. They will dedicate a revolutionary prayer every time reality seems to belie “the teachings” he left in his hours of interminable speeches. For his followers, everything bad that happens from now on will be because he is no longer here.
In Miami, the exile so vilified in his harangues celebrates that the dictator has embarked on his last journey. On the island, within the privacy of many homes, some uncorked a bottle of rum. “I kept it so long I thought I would never be able to taste it,” an early rising neighbor told me. There are those who have woken up this Saturday with one less weight on their shoulders, a sensation of lightness they are not yet accustomed to.
These are also the days to remember those who didn’t make it this far.
These are also the days to remember those who didn’t make it this far. Those who were killed during the Castro regime, shipwrecked at sea, victims of the censorship that the Maximum Leader imposed, or who lost their sanity as a consequence of the delusions he promoted. An immense chorus of victims is expressed today in the sighs of the survivors, the euphoria in the streets of Florida, or in a simple “Amen.”
Most, however, after learning the details of the great funeral, turn down the TV and express their disgust with a simple shrug. This indifference contrasts with the messages of condolence from international leaders, both the ideologically aligned as well as the others. On the wall of Havana’s Malecon, a couple of hours after Raul Castro announced the death of his brother, some groups continued to behave as on any other late night: sweat, sensuality, boredom and nothingness surrounding them.
Cubans who were under 15 in July of 2006 when the then-president’s illness was announced, barely remember the timbre of his voice. They only know him from the photos in which he would appear lately when some foreign guest visited, of through his increasingly absurd Reflections, published in the national press. It is the generation that never vibrated to his oratory and never seconded the dreaded cry of “Paredon!” – To the Wall! – that he bellowed from the Plaza of the Revolution, calling for the execution of his opponents.
These young people have now been charged with reducing his historical dimension, in inverse proportion to the hubris he exhibited in governing this nation. They won’t stop listening to a single lyric of their preferred reggaeton songs to intone the slogan “Viva Fidel.” They will not give birth to a wave of infants who will carry the name of the deceased, nor will they beat their breasts and tear their clothes during the funeral.
Never have we heard less about the Commander in Chief than at the moment of his death. Never has oblivion fallen like a more threatening shadow than when his end was announced. The man who filled every minute of Cuba for more than 50 years receded, faded, was lost to spectators’ sight in this extremely long film, like the character who walks off down a path until he is barely a blip on our retina.
He leaves behind the great lesson of contemporary Cuban History: tying the national destiny to the will of one man ends up passing on to a country the imperfect traits of his personality and inflates one human being with the arrogance of speaking for everyone. His olive green cap and his Greek profile, for decades, have encouraged the nightmares of some and the poetic residues of others, along with the populists promises of many leaders on the planet.
His “anti-imperialism,” as he stubbornly called it, was his most constant attitude, the only slogan that he managed to take to the ultimate consequences. No wonder the United States was the second great protagonist of the documentaries national television began to broadcast as soon as the news was announced. Castro’s obsession with our neighbor to the north ran through every moment of his political life.
These young people have now been charged with reducing his historical dimension, in inverse proportion to the hubris he exhibited in governing this nation
The eternal question that so many foreign journalists asked, now has an answer. “What will happen when Fidel Castro dies?” Today we know that he will be cremated, his ashes will be carried across the island and placed in the Santa Ifigenia Cemeterey, a few yards from the tomb of José Martí. There will be tears and nostalgia, but his legacy will fade.
The Council of State has decreed nine days of national mourning, but the official elegy will last for months, time enough to cover with so much hullabaloo the flat reality of post-Fidelism. A system that the current president is trying to keep afloat, adding patches of market economy and calls for the foreign capital that his brother abominated.
A representation of the “good cop, bad cop” that both brothers unfurled before our eyes, is now missing one of its parts. It will be difficult for the defenders of Raul Castro’s regime to argue that the reforms are not faster or deeper because, in a mansion at Point Zero on the outskirts of Havana, a nonagenarian has applied the brakes.
Raul Castro has been orphaned. He knows no life without his brother, no political action without asking what his brother will think about his decisions. He has never taken a step without this gaze over his shoulder, judging him, pushing him and underestimating him.
Fidel Castro has died. He is survived by a nation that has lived through too much mourning to dress in the color of widowhood.
Editor ‘s note: This text was published on Sunday 27 November, 2016 in the newspaper El País.