The News
The News
Wednesday 17 of August 2022

Years With Fidel’s Image

Thousands of people pay homage to Fidel Castro in La Habana, Cuba,photo: Cuartoscuro/Adolfo Vladimir
Thousands of people pay homage to Fidel Castro in La Habana, Cuba,photo: Cuartoscuro/Adolfo Vladimir
The impression Castro had in the early 1960s in Mexico was one of a hero

Over the years I’ve witnessed differing points of view over Fidel Castro. In Mexico, I was 17 (and singing Sixteen Candles) when Fidel arrived in power via a revolution on New Year’s Eve 1959.

In Mexico, there was joy. After all, the Mexican government under President Adolfo Ruiz Cortines helped a group of Cuban revolutionaries finance the luxury yacht Castro and 82 guerrillas left on in the wee hours of Nov. 25, 1956, out of the shallow waters of the Tuxpan River on the Gulf of Mexico Coast. “Granma” was the name of the boat. Castro and his brother Raúl, along with Che Guevara, were among the passengers.

The first affinity between 1956 and 2016 is that the only survivor of the revolutionaries, Raúl Castro, chose Nov. 25 to announce that his beloved brother had passed away. For my journalism sense of smell this “coincidence” sounds fishy as hell and I think that Fidel died a few days or even weeks before Raúl, current president of Cuba, chose to announce it. Fishy, fishy, fishy!

In any case, the impression Castro had in the early 1960s in Mexico was one of a hero. At the time, there was a buddying socialist movement in Mexico that hoped to overthrow the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) government and college students sang tunes to the hero. I can sing most of them from memory, though honestly, I never participated in organized demonstrations at the time. And mind you, I was then a faithful coffeetarian at Café La Habana in downtown Mexico City, where Fidel spent many a day plotting the invasion of Cuba.

Fidel did not choose Café La Habana just out of nowhere. He was there because it was the center of Mexican political gossip, and the best part of it is that the Interior Secretariat (Segob), where he got financial and spiritual backing for carrying out his revolution, is but a block away.

Then I went to study in the United States where in college in California I heard for the first time a Berkeley political science professor who came to Porterville College to talk to us in 1964 about the duality of political vision in the United States, for which it was fine flying spy planes over Cuba while complaining about the island’s nexus with Russia. This particular teacher — I forgot his name — got thrown out of the very conservative Porterville Junior College and virtually accused of sedition. But he was just lecturing.

A few years later, I landed in New York where, for the first time in my life, I met and befriended exiled Cubans. Unlike most of the Mexicans of my generations who referred to exiles as “gusanos” (worms) following the hate speech spewed towards them from the island and the Castro regime. These were good people who did not want to live under a dictatorship. Many of them believe in socialism, but they put freedom as a priority in life before any ideology. This was most striking to me because these hard working brothers were no worms.

Over time I got acquainted and interviewed many Cubans in exile in Las Vegas and my impression of them was the same, but they all kept a hint of hatred towards Fidel Castro for having denied them of their home in the terms they would have liked to live their lives. But they were old now and their home was in the United States.

In Mexico, as the political system began to open up in the 1980s and left wing parties got an opening in the PRI system, the vast number of left wing political parties (13 in 1983) paid less attention to Cuba and more to their own cause, but always inspired by the staunchness of Fidel Castro to resist the U.S. economic embargo at the cost of a constant flow of freedom seekers who ventured to sea hoping to land in the United States. Thousands came through Mexico.

Today Fidel Castro is best remembered by the ugly diplomatic incident with President Vicente Fox, which the entire Mexican diplomatic corps abhor. At a luncheon in 2002 in Monterrey, Castro was with other American Continent presidents at a luncheon and when it was announced that President George Bush was to arrive, Fox told Castro, “finish your lunch and split.”

Castro, regardless of being a bloody dictator was a statesman, took it as an offense and never returned to Mexico.

I have never set foot on the island but from reports I hear that like all nations, the socialist system has two faces: pretty and ugly; the bureaucracy lives high on the hog while the people are on rice and beans rationing.

Over time I witnessed how throngs of Mexicans made trips to Cuba. Instead of money, they would fill their bags with fine blue jeans, soaps, perfumes, panty hoses, bras, fashionable thongs, you name it. And just by walking out on the streets girls would approach them asking if they had something to sell. But lacking hard cash, the girls had something the Mexican tourists had in their minds the whole time: sex. This “barter” went on for years and probably still does today.

Did Castro finish the type of poverty that turns women into prostitutes? Obviously not.

Was Fidel Castro a hero when he was a brutal dictator? Was fighting all these years with the United States while subjugating his people worth it? Definitely Fidel was a shadow over his younger brother Raúl, but he’s now dead. The time for democratic change has come for Cuba.