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The Ancient Dictator Died Long Ago

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
irresponsibility.

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
indifference.

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
sustained.

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 –
translatingcuba.com/the-ancient-dictator-died-long-ago-14ymedio-miriam-celaya/

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