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    The Ancient Dictator Died Long Ago / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

    14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 26 November 2016 — The official media
    have just announced the last and definitive death of Fidel Castro, and I
    think I have perceived more relief than bereavement in the mournful
    message. If I were a religious person, I would feel at least a tiny bit
    of grief, but that is not the case. Definitely, pity toward despots is
    not among my few virtues. And, as I have always preferred cynicism over
    hypocrisy, I am convinced that the world will be a better place without him.

    At any rate, to me, the old dictator had died a long time ago, at an
    unspecified date, buried under some dusty headstone, without epitaph in
    the deepest recesses of my memory, so I can only be curious about what
    this expected (exasperated) outcome might mean for those who have kept
    their destinies tied to every spasm of his many deaths.

    Nevertheless, just because I had given him an early funeral doesn’t mean
    that his irreversible departure from this world is not a momentous
    event. The image of the defeated specter he had become will now
    disappear, and his passing will also cease to gravitate over the
    superstitious temperament of the nation as an unavoidable doom. We will
    finally find out whether the prophecy Cuba will really change after
    Fidel dies is true or false, because it seems that, for almost all
    Cubans, waiting for changes that result from nature’s course is easier
    than taking the risk to do it themselves. Peoples who feel ashamed of
    their fates often blame their rulers for their own collective

    There are also the superstitions, a nice wild card for the national
    lethargy. There are too many people that believe in some god, in a sense
    of fatality, in the tarot, in the zodiac signs, in the I Ching, in the
    Tablet of Ifá or other prophecies of the most varied kind. I have never
    believed in any of them, perhaps because accepting the mysteries of
    these predestinations as true would have made me feel I was cursed just
    for having been born in Cuba in 1959. Far from it, such an adverse
    coincidence became the challenge that I accepted gladly, so I never
    experienced the deep feelings of frustration that oppress several
    generations of Cubans, choked under the effects of the power of a sort
    of superhuman entity that seemed to sum up all creeds in it and that
    intervened in every destiny. An impostor, in short, pretending to be
    god, oracle and mantra all at once.

    Nevertheless, all my memories are intact. They have survived every
    cataclysm in good health. How could I go back on them if our spirit is
    pure memory? I reminisce without love, without resentment, without
    bitterness and without regrets, as if I were observing, in an old movie,
    my own story which is the same for millions of Cubans like me. There are
    even some chapters I find amusing. How could we have once been so naïve?
    How did our parents and grandparents allow us to be manipulated in such
    an atrocious way? It was because of fear. Fidel Castro’s true power was
    never the love of Cubans, but the unspeakable fear they felt toward him,
    an irrational and irate leader, and an individual whose limitless
    egomania could only be matched by his inability to feel empathy.
    Sometimes fidelity is only a resource for survival.

    Looking back on the first 20 years of my life, I remember Fidel Castro
    as a sort of omnipresent magma that invaded every space of public and
    private life. He seemed to have the gift of ubiquity and to appear
    everywhere at once. My earliest memories of childhood are invariably
    associated with that image of the bearded man who never smiled, dressed
    in a military uniform, whose portrait could be found anywhere, whether
    on the wall of a building, on a fence, on the covers of magazines,
    newspapers, or in a carefully framed picture in the halls of
    revolutionary Cubans, who were a majority back then.

    That same man very often appeared on the screen of my grandmother’s
    television (in my mind, I thought he lived inside that device), or he
    invaded every home from the radio stations, thundering and fierce,
    making long threatening and scolding speeches, loaded with harangues. He
    was always irritated, so I was a little afraid of him and tried – with
    little or no success – to stay away from his vibrations. My elders
    swelled with ecstasy and even cried out, excited about the false
    prophet’s this or that bravado. “It’s El Caballo!* that’s how it’s
    done!” The admirers of the new hard man would bellow, drunk with a
    fervor that I did not understand but which, over time, succeeded in
    infecting me.

    In any case, “Fidel” was one of the first words uttered by the children
    of thousands of families which, like mine, had discovered that on the
    dawn of January 1, 1959 they were suddenly revolutionaries. And thus,
    also suddenly, in a nation traditionally Catholic, quite a few
    proclaimed themselves as atheists and renounced God only to accept a new
    faith, Fidel Castro as savior, and communist dogma as catechism.

    Meanwhile, countless families were fractured by political polarization
    and emigration. Parents and children, siblings, uncles, cousins who had
    always lived in harmony, clashed, became filled with grudges and
    distanced themselves from one another. There were those who never spoke
    to each other again, and died without the embrace of reconciliation.
    Many survivors of this telluric rupture are still picking up the pieces
    and trying to recreate some parts of our battered lineages, at least out
    of respect and homage to our estranged departed family members, all
    because of an alien hatred.

    Then came the militias, the Bay of Pigs, the Missile Crisis, the
    compulsory military service, the rationing card, the monumental
    harvests, the Revolutionary Offensive, Angola, the in-field schools and
    the schools in the countryside, and the permanent consecration of
    endless delusions of the Great Egomaniac. And with the passage of time,
    the signals of the ruin we insisted on ignoring began to arrive.

    The increasing shortages were silenced with slogans and with gigantic
    plans doomed for failure, all freedoms were buried and rights
    disappeared, sacrificed on the olive green altar under the weight of
    once sacred words and now debased by speeches (“homeland,” the most
    tainted; “liberty,” the most fraudulent), while – unnoticed and blind –
    we Cubans ourselves helped to build the bars of our prison and, docile,
    left the keys in the hands of the jailer.

    The first great schism between the lunatic orator and me were the events
    at the Peruvian embassy, and especially the Mariel stampede, between
    April and May, 1980. They were not, however, isolated events. The first
    conversations (they are often referred to as approaches) had taken place
    in 1978 between the dictatorship and a group of emigres living in the
    United States, which resulted in the opening of family visits in 1979,
    although only in one direction: from Miami to Cuba.

    Suddenly, the stateless-wormy-counterrevolutionaries were not that, but
    “our brothers from the Cuban community abroad,” who had been able to
    preserve their original cultural values and their own language in
    foreign lands, and who were being offered the right to visit their
    country of origin and reunite with their families. Now they happily
    arrived, weighed down with gifts for the beggars who had chosen a
    revolution that proclaimed poverty as a virtue. Naïve or not, many of us
    felt the manipulation and discovered that we had been scammed, and
    although one does not wake up at the first bell after a long and deep
    lethargy, we began to live on alert and to question the system.

    Then, without expecting it, the New Man, forged under the principles of
    that celebrated whore called Revolution, witnessed in surprise the
    spectacle of the hordes gathered at the Peruvian diplomatic headquarters
    and the mass flight through the port of Mariel. And we were perplexed by
    the thousands of deserters and horrified by the repudiation rallies, the
    beatings, vexations and insults towards those who were emigrating and
    the impunity at the barbarism that was only possible because it had been
    instigated and blessed from the power.

    By then I was sporting my new motherhood, and before every fearful scene
    I would cling to tenderness for my son. I think it was then that I began
    to definitively tear all the dense veils of the lie I had lived for 20
    years and became obsessed with the search for the truth in which I would
    bring up my children: freedom as a gift that we carry inside, which
    nobody grants, which is born with the being. So ended Fidel Castro’s
    leadership of me, dragging in his fall any possibility of future
    glitches in my spirit. The dissident, living in silence within me,
    emerged that year, and the paradigmatic leader of my adolescence began
    to transmute into an enemy.

    That is why the difficult events and the Fidel battles that followed my
    conversion did not make a mark: the Ochoa case, the associated
    executions, the Special Period resulting from the collapse of real
    socialism, the Maleconazo, the Balseros Crisis, the rescued child rafter
    Elián, the Open Tribunes, the Roundtables, the Five Spies, the Black
    Spring, the Battle of Ideas, the Energy Revolution and so much nonsense
    that resulted in swelling the ranks of the discontented and the
    disenchanted, widening the rift between the power and millions of Cubans.

    My feelings for Fidel Castro went through several stages. It could not
    be any other way, since I was born in 1959, since I grew up in a family
    of Fidel fans and since I’ve spent my whole life in Cuba. The feelings
    his existence infused in me were fear, admiration, respect, devotion,
    doubt, disbelief, resentment, contempt, and, finally, the most absolute

    News of his death, then, does not stir emotions. A friend recently
    wisely told me that Fidel Castro was not cause, but consequence. It
    seems to me an accurate sentence to summarize the history and
    idiosyncrasy of the Cuban nation. Because we Cubans are not (we have
    never been) the result of Fidel’s existence, but the reverse: the
    existence of a Fidel was possible only thanks to Cubans, beyond
    political or ideological tendencies, beyond our sympathy or resentment.
    Without all of us the power of his long dictatorship would not have been

    That is why I take this, the occasion of his ultimate death, to
    sincerely make a toast, not to his memory, but to ours. May our memory
    never falter, so that we do not forget these decades of shame, so that
    no more Fidels are repeated on this earth! And I also offer, with all my
    hope, to celebrate the opportunity that this happy death unlocks to the
    new life that all Cubans will finally build in peace and harmony.

    *The Horse: Fidel Castro’s nickname among Cubans

    Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez and Norma Whiting

    Source: The Ancient Dictator Died Long Ago / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya –
    Translating Cuba –

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