Cuba bids farewell to Fidel Castro
It’s been a year since the death of Fidel Castro, the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, but on the island, his name is still invoked almost as much as when he was alive.
The music stopped and the rum didn’t flow for nine days last year when Cuba went into official mourning after the Nov. 25 passing of Castro who, for better or worse, had been an intimate part of Cubans’ lives for more than half a century.
A year later, the country is planning a series of Castro-focused events from Saturday through Dec. 4, the day he was laid to rest at Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. On the island, homages both in the official media and on social media — with hashtags #PorSiempreFidel, #YosoyFidel #FidelVive and #FidelesFidel — have reached a frenzied pace.
And across the world, tributes have begun springing up in the form of statues, photo exhibits, a musical called Fidel and a giant olive-green cap, crafted in metal, to look like the hat he frequently wore.
In South Florida, though, where Castro’s death at age 90 was almost anticlimactic after so many years of anticipation by the exile community, the anniversary is likely to pass with little notice or outright dismissal. Many of those who fought long and hard against Castro have already passed on.
“It’s an intense, painful memory but the generation of my parents has died,” said Andy Gomez, the interim director of the University of Miami Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. “The topic has lost some of its interest. I think there is a bit of Cuba fatigue now in the Cuban-American community.”
That’s not the case in official Cuba. For months, the country’s main newspapers and state television have been publishing and broadcasting so many stories focused on the Castro legend that he seems more alive than ever.
Many of the commemorative activities will be centered in Santiago, the cradle of the Cuban Revolution and the city where Castro was laid to rest. Historian Rogelio Salietes Toro will walk the streets of the city in remembrance of the time Castro spent there, students at the University of Oriente will hold a patriotic vigil and memorial events will be held at workplaces, according to Trabajadores, the newspaper of Cuba’s labor union.
On Dec. 3, the eve of the anniversary of Castro’s internment, a cultural event featuring traditional music and dance will be held at the Plaza de la Revolución Antonio Maceo, where Cuban leader Raúl Castro, Fidel’s younger brother and successor, said a final farewell last year.
The next day, a pilgrimage will leave the plaza at 7 a.m. and follow the same route along Avenida Patria that Castro’s ashes took to the cemetery after a military caravan carrying his remains crisscrossed the country from Havana to Santiago.
Even schoolchildren are taking part in the tributes. Students from an elementary school in the Diez de Octubre section of Havana recited a poem in his honor in which they called Castro “the boyfriend of all the girls.”
In the days leading to the anniversary, people have quietly been leaving flowers at Castro’s granite tomb. It was sculpted to look like a kernel of corn, and its shape was inspired by a line from a poem by Cuban patriot José Martí: “All the glory of the world fits in a single kernel of corn.”
Among the visitors was Oscar López Rivera, the Puerto Rican independence militant who was given clemency by former President Barack Obama and released from U.S. custody in March — 36 years after he was convicted in connection with a string of bombings in New York and other American cities. Prensa Latina reported he left the cemetery feeling invigorated to continue the fight for Puerto Rico’s independence.
Elections to select delegates to municipal People’s Power assemblies will be held Sunday, and they, too, have been dedicated to Castro. “It will be a gift that Cuba will give to Fidel,” said the daily newspaper Juventud Rebelde.
Castro still has a daily presence in Cuba’s official media. His name is often invoked in official speeches and his Reflections, short opinion pieces he wrote until his last year of life, are still featured on the homepage of Granma, the Communist Party of Cuba’s media outlet.
When Raúl Castro spoke at the plaza last year, he announced that Cuba would carry out his brother’s wish that there be no statues in his image and no naming of Cuban streets, plazas, buildings or other public sites in his honor. Of course, old billboards with Castro’s image and words still dot the Cuban countryside.
Several statues of Castro also have appeared since his death in Russia, South Africa, and the Dominican Republic as well as in London. There also have been photo exhibitions and seminars on the life and times of Castro held around the world, including a seminar this week at the Cuban Embassy in Washington.
Some of the foreign tributes to Fidel Castro have been extravagant.
A giant metal cap designed to look like the olive-green cap used by a young Castro is one Argentine tribute to “el comandante.” The piece, weighing in at 66 pounds, was constructed of sheet metal by workers from the town of Carmen de Areco in Buenos Aires province. The workers “donated the materials and put all their love into this project,” according to Cubadebate, an official online news site.
Castro’s life also has been made into a musical called Fidel, which premiered earlier this month in London. The 90-minute performance was inspired by the “David and Goliath” story of the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in Cuba by the rebels, according to Denise Baden, the University of Southampton professor who wrote the script.
An advertisement offered this summation: “A dictator, a leader, a freedom fighter; few political leaders are as simultaneously loved and hated as Fidel Castro.”
While Castro’s cult of personality lives on in Cuba, it has never resonated in Miami, home to so many who fled from the actions and ideas of the Castro regime.
“Using his own words that ‘history will absolve me,’ history hasn’t absolved him of anything and maybe never will,” Gomez said. “The last chapter is yet to be written, but I believe the ideals of the Cuban Revolution went to the grave with him.”
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi