When I heard this morning that Fidel Castro had died, I honestly felt numb. He has been dead to me since the day I left Cuba for America, and over 40 years later, my feelings have not changed. As I worked to start my new life here and raise my beautiful family, I would sometimes hear snippets from grossly misinformed people around the world about the good that came from Fidel’s so-called Cuban revolution, and I’d be reminded to count my blessings that I had escaped his horrors.
Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez was one of those jaded individuals who lauded Fidel’s work. Under his tenure, he tried to implement some of Fidel’s Cuban socialist ideals in Venezuelan society, which has left the country in economic ruin. Venezuelans are starving, simple needs like toilet paper are considered a luxury, medicine is impossible to find and the country is experiencing a mass exodus. All of this can be considered a legacy of Fidel Castro.
As I’m reading about the millions around the world celebrating Fidel’s death, my thoughts are with the thousands who died before him, often at the hands of his own doing. I think of the brave Cubans who fought for democracy, those who drowned at sea while pursuing liberty and freedom, and those who did reach American shores, but died before ever being able to return to their homeland. And yet, in a move signaling that Cuba still has a long way to go in establishing domestic bliss, the government of Fidel's brother, Raul Castro has announced that the country will undergo nine days of mourning in preparation for the ruthless dictator's funeral.
It has also been brought to my attention that the Cuban people currently have a government-enforced curfew, and that they are being discouraged from congregating or making any comments about Fidel’s death that may escape the island. How ironic, that despite the death of the man who has oppressed them for nearly five decades, the Cuban people are still being told what to do and how to do it.
In the coming days, I will be very interested to see how America reacts, specifically President Obama, who worked to re-establish ties with Cuba, but whom I have been critical about in the past. Obama believes that the relationship between America and Cuba can be forged with an all-access pathway, but fails to recognize the 50 years of blood, imprisonment and lack of individual rights that stand in the way. I do believe that Fidel’s death will give President-elect Donald Trump an advantage in working to see to it that the only surviving Castro brother is stripped of his power on that island.
Obama said that “history will record and judge the enormous impact” Fidel has had over his lifetime, but let me share with you a story from my childhood that is telling of how he will be remembered, at least by my family. When I was a young boy in Havana, my father was reading a published version of a four-hour speech Fidel gave called “History Will Absolve Me.” He was reading it in secret, as it was banned reading material that would have seen him serve jail time if he had been caught. The book was controversial because it was Fidel’s speech about the importance of human rights, due process and fairness of the law in a civilized society. He spoke eloquently during the speech, which he gave while facing charges for a terrorist attack during the Cuban Revolution.
My father had to explain to me that Fidel never wanted anyone to know that he once said those things about individual freedom and equality. How ironic, that the man who once recognized that individual liberties are an enormous part of a productive society, took away each one of them from his people, and died thinking that he did the right thing. History will not absolve Fidel, and neither will we.