Two years, one month, and nine days after the day I was born, Fidel Castro Ruz, after the cowardly abdication of Fulgencio Batista, started on a tour that took him east to west to the Cuban capital of Havana. The adoring crowds in the towns and cities he passed welcomed him with open arms and with shouts of “Viva Fidel!” and “Fidel, this is your house!” Waving at these sickeningly adoring crowds, he knew he was weeks if not months away from becoming the new boss of Cuba — and he was definitely not the same as the old boss.
My family knew who Fidel really was: a charlatan, a liar, a criminal, a thug, a murderer, a seditionist, a traitor. Rivers of blood and waves of suffering would well up from our land. My great-grandmother, in her eighties, had a stroke after watching one of Fidel and Che Guevara’s revolutionary executions on television. Mercifully, she did not live past that evil overture of 1959 and 1960.
My family had started making plans to leave as far back as 1958. Fidel was almost certain to topple Batista and they knew that no good would come from this man. They knew he was a communist. It was not a secret, despite what anyone may tell you. Their thoughts were with us, the toddlers and youth, the innocents who were blissfully unaware of what had brought Cuba to its knees. They did not want us to suffer the pains of whatever lay ahead. Even knowing what they knew, I don’t think they could have predicted, on that first day of January in 1959, the depth of suffering Cuba would endure for almost six decades.
I’m very thankful for their decision.
Fidel Castro’s dark presence has haunted my entire life. Directly and indirectly, he has made me and so many others into what we are. We know the truth, the unvarnished truth. The truth we know from the tears of family members who lost everything, of friends who suffered imprisonment, of the executions of loved ones. Full of pain and suffering, longing and sadness. It never leaves us. We are exiles, after all, forced into it by him and his evil.
And it’s not just the pain of exile, it’s the slanders that we hear from the screeching left. We’re disaffected Batistianos, pissed off that the gravy train ended; we’re aching to repossess our property; we’re going to remake Cuba again into a Mafia prostíbulo; we’re “intransigent”; we’re “hard-liners.” we’re “right-wing wackos”; we’re not nuanced enough to understand the Cuban situation. Basically, we should just shut up and leave the real analysis to “Cuba experts” — who, of course, are not Cubans. It hurts even more when our own brothers and sisters, dragged into the pit of hate and envy Fidel created, join in on the verbal lynchings. Turning brother against brother is just another part of his legacy.
I regret there will be no Cuban Nuremberg.
Inexplicably, though, I’m also glad his demise as common as it was, having become feeble and decrepit, immobile, near the end, more than likely with a stomach tube feeding him and an artificial anus pumping his waste into a plastic bag. No heroics. No myth-making. No going out in a blaze of glory, like he so desperately dreamed of during the crisis days in October of 1962 when he urged Nikita Kruschev to press the nuclear button. Like so many other old men, he died in his bed, soiling himself, probably terrified about what was to come next. At the end of the game, as the old Spanish proverb goes, the king and the pawn go in the same box.
During the excruciating (for us, not him) nine-year long “recovery” from his illness he was certainly better treated than he treated others in his too-long, egomaniacal life. He was the first and only Fidelista, dedicated solely to himself, his needs, his ambitions, his desires, his goals, his wishes. Nothing else mattered. Not sons, not daughters, not family, not friends, not country. Nothing else mattered but him. His life was a testament to the basest qualities a human being can aspire to, devoid of goodness, and of God, without even the slightest hint of love.
What does this day mean to me?
My grandfather prayed for this day and he didn’t live to see it. My grandmother prayed for this day and she didn’t live to see it. Two great aunts (my grandfather’s sisters), two great aunts and two great uncles (my grandmother’s siblings), their wives and husbands, they all prayed for this day and never lived to see it. The offspring of some of these these did not live to see it. So many lives, three generations, in one family, ruined by this one man. They are dead, bereft of country, stripped of their identity as Cubans. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of families and you’ll understand why today is the day of reckoning for all of them. A quiet one, perhaps, but a reckoning nevertheless. The malevolent man that drove them out of their country has finally perished — not absolved by history.
Forgive us if we revel a bit.
I pray that the light of God shines on that sad island and inspires its dejected people to awaken that spirit inside them that made Cuba a great nation among nations in the past. I pray that what was once a vibrant culture, full of life and music, amidst the simple joys of family and friends, can reestablish itself. I pray that we remember the true legacy of Fidel Castro so that this 56-year long nightmare can finally have an ending that will be good for the Cuban people.
Editor’s note: This obituary has gone through many, many revisions and edits. I have tweaked it more than anything else I’ve ever written. When I originally wrote it in late 2007 — yes, 2007! — it came out of me in one cathartic sitting.
Since then, unfortunately, I’ve had way too much time to reflect on what I originally penned. My original final paragraph began thus:
This is not the time to look backward, however. it’s time to look forward. The future of Cuba begins today. Today is day one of year one of the new era, the era that will be the beginning of a new Cuba, free, finally, from one of the most ignominious monsters of modern history.
Nine years later, with a US President that has gleefully conspired against the Cuban people, with Fidel’s rat-faced brother firmly in control, and with the prospect of the embargo being lifted, granting billions of dollars in credit to the communists that run the island like a mafia family, I feel very pessimistic and dejected about the future of the island of my birth.
For all intents and purposes, Cuba is as dead as Fidel…
Postscript: My only change to the text would be this: President-Elect Trump, with his leadership and a team and that understands Cuba, may yet change my somber and pessimistic assessment. I certainly hope so…