In the wake of his death, as his ashes travel across the island in a tiny coffin, Fidel Castro leaves behind a new trail of victims in Cuba. A hero’s military cortege and burial for the tyrant — and imposed mourning, brutal beatings and jail for Cubans who dare to see him for what he was.
These fresh victims of the dictatorship, hidden from the worldwide media dutifully covering the dictator’s farewell, have names and history. They have families who love them. They have dreams for Cuba, too.
In Havana, a bold graffiti artist committed to telling his truth — Danilo Maldonado, aka “El Sexto” — dares to violate curfew and strolls a dark stretch of his city, expressing with spray paint and in a video message his disdain for Castro. He’s arrested and severely beaten at a detention center.
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In Cárdenas, hometown of the infamous Elian Gonzalez and his Castro-worshiping family, dissident Eduardo Pacheco opens the door to his house after a rock is thrown and he’s attacked by Cuban police, who beat him so badly he has to be hospitalized. His family isn’t allowed to see him. His crime: refusing to mourn Fidel Castro.
In the small eastern town of Yaguabo near Bayamo, on the funeral procession’s route, 28-year-old Erisdel Benitez Moya, father of two young children, is plucked from his home and arrested. No reason other than membership in a peaceful dissident group inspired by Huber Matos, a top commander in Castro’s army who broke with Castro over his turn to communism and was imprisoned for 20 years. Matos died at age 95 in Miami exile two years ago.
The same happens in Holguín to Eduardo Cardet, a coordinator for the Christian Liberation Movement, before the caravan approaches the historic city where Pope Francis said Mass. He’s beaten to a pulp, arrested, his family warned that he’s facing 15 years in prison.
The view presented to the world is that all of Cuba loves its despot, but that’s not true. El Sexto, Pacheco, Moya, Cardet — and countless others who weren’t captured on video, who weren’t lucky enough to have relatives in Miami to publicly denounce the abuse — are paying the price for living their truths.
The new beatings and arrests fly in the face of those who see Castro through the prism of the firebrand revolutionary myth. Without enough worldwide outrage to stop the established routine of daily human-rights abuses, the glossing over of Castroism’s crimes only lengthens the misery of Cubans. It’s as if the world has lost to longevity and fatigue the capacity to feel outrage at the dictatorship and compassion for its people.
Fidel Castro leaves this world as he launched his revolutionary adventure — with more blood on his hands.
As Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa told Spain’s El Pais: “A Castro no lo absolverá la historia.” History will not absolve him.
A lifetime of victims are the damning lines in his résumé. None so innocent as the 11-year-old with the cherubic face, Yousell Pérez Tacoronte, drowned at sea by Cuban patrol boats as his parents attempted to flee Cuba in a tugboat in 1994. All of the victims’ stories — including those executed without trial by impromptu firing squad, among them 71 supporters of former dictator Fulgencio Batista in one bloody day alone on Jan. 11, 1959 — are chronicled in the Cuba Archive’s Truth & Memory Project based in Washington, D.C. Human rights watch groups also have documented six decades of abuses.
On the island, behind closed doors this week, as the fallen guerrillero travels back to where it all began in the city of Santiago, dissidents peer through windows as guards assigned to keep them under control stand ready to strike. At great risk, some ordinary Cubans do dare to thoughtfully discuss their complex reactions to Castro’s death. They’re an army of real people — Cubans with dreams of a peaceful, prosperous, democratic society — silenced so that the comandante can have his day without a sliver of the scorn he deserves.
“Cuba’s longest-serving president,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dubbed the hemisphere’s longest-serving dictator, and one of the world’s most brutal as well. Trudeau, who displays a kind heart for other causes, expressed “deep sorrow” for his death.
The only deep sorrow is that of the Cuban people who suffered — and still needlessly suffer — under the Castro brothers’ rule.
“I find myself crying unexpectedly,” said Maria Elena Prio, the daughter of Cuba’s last democratically elected president, Carlos Prio Socarras. “Crying for the damage Castro did that cannot be undone by his death — the lives lost, the pain caused by family separation, the economic and moral hardship suffered by Cubans on the island for so long, the silenced dreams and thoughts of a generation, the prison suffered by freedom-loving men and women, and so much more. And for the Cubans, like my father, who did not live to see this day. But the true day of rejoicing is not yet here because Cuba is still slave to another dictator — but that day will come! I have no doubt. Ya viene llegando.”
Cuba’s new day will come.
But for now, there’s repression, more Castroism, more pain and separation, a new generation of accomplices — and a new trail of victims.
How macabre and appropriate for the dictator’s last ride.
This is who he was.