Fidel Castro was a genius
Fidel Castro : Adored and hated
There is an anecdote from Fidel Castro's life that, more than any other, illustrates what kind of man it was. In 1995 Castro went to Harlem in New York after giving a speech at the UN. He was invited by the Abyssinian Baptist community, famous for its struggle for black rights. Castro begins his speech in the small church with a memory: How he stood here 35 years ago. Back then as a young leader of the Cuban revolution in boots and riot gear. And that the US President treated him like a leper even then. "Why," he exclaims to stormy applause, "should I wear a business suit today?" He feels comfortable in the olive-green combat clothing. He has not worn anything else since the victory of the revolution.
Uniform and combat boots! This is how Castro performed for decades (before he last preferred Adidas and Puma tracksuits). And that even though he had already seen eleven US presidents come and go - and his brother Raúl negotiated with the US, which Fidel never could or never wanted because it would have meant giving in. The man who ruled the fate of the socialist Caribbean state for decades died on Friday evening at the age of 90. His brother Raul announced the news on state television. “Dear Cuban people. It is with deep sadness that I inform our people and our friends in America and around the world that today - November 25th, 2016 - at 10:29 pm in the evening the commander of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, died ”, says the Cuban President. He concluded with the words: "Always until victory."
That fits in with Fidel Castro's life. He was always fighting, always vigilant. Was someone who couldn't lose, had to control everything and didn't tolerate any contradiction. He had his opponents eliminated, even if they were friends, for the revolution was more important than humanity. He knew Cuba's sugar harvest down to the last gram, because who else should take care of it? Even as a boy, Castro memorized history books and threatened his parents to infect the court if they did not send him back to school, from which he had been thrown out because of insubordination. You did it!
The 20th century would have been different without Castro's will, and it would have been a poorer century. Poorer in conflict, poorer in alternatives, poorer in history. If something remains of this bearded, almost two meters tall indomitable man who, at the age of 27, declared in a court of law "convict me, it doesn't matter, history will acquit me", then the proof that even a poor country has the health of its inhabitants, education and security. This was achieved despite attacks and acts of sabotage and a 55-year economic embargo by the USA, the most powerful nation in the world.
You don't have to be a socialist to acknowledge that. All it takes is a look at all of Cuba's neighboring countries: plagued by inequality, violence, failing institutions, kleptomaniac elites, pseudo-democracy and drug cartels. Castro is revered by some for these achievements to this day - and hated by others for the establishment of a dictatorship. But no one would deny that his life was like that of a hero in a novel.
This Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926 at Finca Manacas in the scenic and wild east of Cuba as the third illegitimate child of the landowner Ángel Castro and his cook Lina. Fidel has a total of eight siblings, one grows up in simple circumstances, the parents are illiterate. And this despite the fact that the father, an immigrant from Spain, has worked his way up and employs 1,000 Haitian workers on 10,000 hectares of land.
Young Fidel was interested in the world at an early age and was unusually assertive. His intelligence is paired with physical fitness, he rides, hunts and plays baseball. The parents send Castro to a Catholic school in Santiago, where he is ridiculed as a "Jew" because of his "illegitimate" origins and late baptism. Perhaps it is this experience that allows his rebellious character to flourish. He once returned a slap in the face from a teacher, which resulted in the expulsion. His mother makes sure that he can stay. He has a good relationship with her, very different from his father, a Galician square head whom he is too similar to. Once, in a youthful rage, Fidel even organized a strike by his father's farm workers.
Shaped by the Jesuits
Finally, Castro attends the Belén Jesuit College in Havana. It is the most prestigious school in Cuba, a cadre school for the upper class. And formative for Castro. The Jesuits valued straightforwardness, courage and willingness to make sacrifices, says Castro later. And these are also its properties. It is not for nothing that the Padres Castro predict a brilliant, even historical, future, marvel at his memory, and are enthusiastic about his talent for speech. The Jesuits bring him closer to José Marti, the Cuban poet and freedom hero of the 19th century who fought against the Spanish colonial rulers. At that time he was already feeling his calling. He should take over Martís inheritance and now liberate Cuba from the Americans, the island must finally become sovereign.
Thanks to his charisma, Castro became a student leader, he did a doctorate in law, opened a law firm and stood as a candidate in the 1952 parliamentary elections. But shortly before that, the military Fulgencio Batista seized power and turned Cuba into the El Dorado of organized crime. Havana becomes the second home of the US Mafia, the city resembles a huge casino and brothel. But while the elite play, hurt and steal, the common people live in poverty, especially in the countryside. Those who resist, have Batista tortured and murdered, the corpses of their opponents are thrown on the street as a deterrent.
Fidel Castro is not afraid - he has married a philosophy student from an influential family - and is suing Batista for violating the constitution. But Castro fails and now believes that Cuba's problems can no longer be solved peacefully, but only through a revolution. It is these circumstances that give birth to the revolutionary, it is the inability of the old system to change.
Fidel Castro has made a lot of what follows now into legend: with 115 men he wants to storm the Moncada barracks in Santiago, is arrested, sentenced, and continues to educate himself in prison. He reads a lot, sometimes 14 hours a day. He and his brother Raúl were given amnesty, went into exile in Mexico, and gathered new companions, including the Argentinian doctor Ernesto "Che" Guevara. In 1956 they finally returned to Cuba on the overloaded motor yacht Granma. This landing ends in disaster. The revolutionaries are expected by Batista's soldiers, Castro loses three quarters of his men. The rest of the troop, just 21 men, come together again in the impassable mountains of the Sierra Maestra. Castro predicts: "Now we will win!" And everyone thinks he's crazy. Castro doesn't mind. In a very short time he set up a new guerrilla force, and hundreds of young Cuban men and women joined in.
The PR genius
At that time Castro also recognized how important the media are if you want to be politically and militarily successful. He learns English and can answer the American reporter Herbert Matthews, who makes his way to the guerrillas in the jungle, in his own language. At the moment he only commands a handful of fighters, but the interview that appears in the "New York Times" is more powerful than an entire army. It immediately made Castro famous outside of Cuba. Castro's former companion Norberto Fuentes, who now lives in exile in Miami, calls Castro a PR genius. He sold the revolution like the Americans sold their Coca-Cola.
Just two years after the Granma landed, Castro's rebels were advancing into Havana. Even before "los barbudos", as they are called, reach the capital, the dictator Batista fled to the Dominican Republic with the treasury.
Castro's entry into Havana is triumphant, and when a white dove sits on his shoulder during his victory speech and remains there, not only religious Cubans believe in a predestination, a sign of higher powers. Shortly afterwards, Castro breaks the first of his many promises. He becomes Prime Minister of Cuba even though he is said not to have aspired to a state office. Nor will he reinstate the democratic constitution of 1940. There are also no free elections. It suits Castro that it never bothered him. A better form of democracy has just been found, he will say many years later.
Washington gives him another excuse, which immediately identifies him as an enemy. When Fidel Castro visited the USA four months after the revolution, he was enthusiastically received by thousands of Americans. But President Eisenhower refuses a meeting, sends his Vice-President Richard Nixon. He then recommends: "Fall!" Eisenhower had previously approved of the CIA's plans to kill the Castro brothers and Che Guevara.
In Washington it seems to be irrelevant that Castro has not yet been determined ideologically, that he could best be described as a left-wing nationalist. He orders an urgently needed agrarian reform that also expropriates his family's hacienda and has 550 collaborators of the Batista regime executed. That is already going too far for the USA. A US envoy in Cuba will later describe US behavior as "psychotic": Washington was unable to deal rationally with Castro.
"Sleep is a waste of time"
As more expropriations follow, including those of US companies, the situation between the so unequal neighbors escalates. At the end of 1960, US President Kennedy imposed an embargo on Cuba, the island is to be forced down like a siege. But Castro is not someone who can be forced, especially since he has no sense of the specific needs of other people. He does not spare himself and claims: "Sleep is a waste of time." He is said to work 20 hours a day, his speeches last for hours, and you hardly ever see him eating. He only smokes a cigar, a vice that he ended in 1985 when his doctors advised him to do so and he started a campaign against smoking - which, of course, had little success in Cuba.
When the Americans organized the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, Castro finally proclaimed socialism in Cuba and sought proximity to the Soviets. For them it is going too quickly at first, as can be seen from East German and Soviet documents. The old men in Moscow distrust this Castro, in their eyes an adventurer and gambler. But they do not want to reject the strategic bridgehead in the Caribbean.
The price for this is high. For three decades, the Soviets fed Cuba with arms, consumer goods and lavish loans. In secret reports from GDR diplomats you can read how annoyed the Soviets were with Castro's "partisan-style" government. He had raged against Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev for three weeks because the "son of a bitch" had come to an understanding with Kennedy in 1962 about the withdrawal of the Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba. Castro had recommended a nuclear first strike in the event of an American invasion. Apparently Castro thought he was invulnerable. He told a reporter, "I don't wear a bulletproof vest. I wear a moral vest. It's very strong."
In the sixties, Castro became the darling of European intellectuals. "There are mountains of gold behind each of his sentences," enthused the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. But that was a misunderstanding. Castro turns out to be humorless, someone who cannot stand doubt, despises irony and satire. The long index finger that Castro constantly lifts when he speaks becomes a symbol of his severity and stubbornness.
At that time, Cuba's security apparatus also stifled the island's cultural life with the help of block guards. Anyone who dares to criticize falls into disgrace; those who risk opposition go to prison or have to leave Cuba. Castro's "words to the intellectuals" fall like a leaden vest over the country: "Everything within the revolution, nothing against the revolution." Millions of Cubans go into exile, including old revolutionaries, artists and homosexuals. Another of Castro's dictum, no less authoritarian, is: "Socialism or death!" He means it literally.
In 1975, Cuba sent tens of thousands of soldiers into the Angolan liberation struggle against South Africa. Thousands die, but they are instrumental in the decline of the South African apartheid regime. Nelson Mandela Castro was infinitely grateful for this. In any case, Castro's list of friends reads amazingly for a dictator: Harry Belafonte, Jack Lemmon, Diego Maradona, Oliver Stone, Alice Walker.
Castro only met once with the writer Ernest Hemingway, who had owned a villa in Havana since 1940. The two took part in a fishing competition which, of course, Castro won. When Hemingway presented him with the trophy, Castro said, "I'm a beginner." Hemingway replied, "A lucky beginner." The relationship between the two remains distant, and Hemingway shows little interest in the revolution.
The Colombian Nobel Prize for Literature, Gabriel García Márquez, who becomes one of Castro's closest confidants, is completely different. García Márquez writes of Castro: "He is one of the greatest idealists of our time and that may be his greatest virtue, although it is also his greatest threat." Because Castro's ideals have to be subordinate to all, even his friends. In 1989 he had an old companion, General Arnaldo Ochoa, executed. It is believed that the Castro brothers wanted to remove a rival. There is no hierarchy for Castro that he does not lead himself.
Where does this emotional poverty come from? That Fidel spent his childhood and youth far from home and hardly experienced parental love? One can only speculate about a lot, Castro does not talk about his private life on principle. He has a son from his first marriage, five sons from a second marriage and two daughters from infidelities. But he was only really married to his revolution, which he himself is still preserving when Cuba stands on the edge of the abyss without allies in the 1990s.
In 2003 Castro made a promise to the Cubans: "I will be with you as long as I am useful and as long as nature does not decide otherwise." This time he keeps his promise. Knowing that his sudden death would create a power vacuum, he left the business to his brother Raúl in 2008, apparently after being diagnosed with cancer. Castro proves to be smarter than other autocrats, knows that the revolution can only be preserved through an orderly transformation.
Raúl Castro immediately opened up Cuba, encouraged criticism, allowed private sector involvement at a low level, and moved closer to the USA. And so Cuba today is a hybrid of socialist rhetoric and capitalist experiments. A country where bicycle taxi drivers earn more than university professors; in which there is officially no prostitution, but the girls throw themselves at the tourists' necks. Without freedom of the press but with delicate freedom of expression. Fidel Castro gave Cuba social achievements: how many other countries export doctors? But that's not enough for young Cubans. They want to take their lives into their own hands. And even Fidel Castro declared in 2010: "The Cuban model no longer even works for us."
Reconciliation? Not with him
But the "Maximo Lider" was skeptical of the reconciliation with the USA under President Barack Obama and the resumption of diplomatic relations. So Castro - just the old fighter - made fun of Obama's "syrupy words" at the end of March and a few days after Obama's historic visit to Cuba. And declared that the island "does not need any gifts".
What will the death of Fidel Castro change? He will give great funeral events and Castro will become a national hero - just like his great inspirer, the folk hero José Martí. But the system is unlikely to collapse. Fidel's long-underrated brother Rául, who does not want to be elected president again in 2018, has initiated a transformation that will no longer be reversible. It offers a valve. US investors are queuing as the two countries come closer together. Brazilians, Chinese and Russians have been present in Cuba for years, maintain trade relations, for example build ports. And should Havana's huge, crumbling old town be renovated as planned, it would become one of the strongest tourist magnets on the American continent.
Fidel Castro has been pronounced dead many thousands of times. The CIA is said to have tried to assassinate him more than 640 times. His secret service claims to have counted the attacks by exploding cigars, jealous lovers and poisoned diving suits. But only now has Fidel Castro died, peacefully as they say. This, too, can be seen as the victory of a man who couldn't lose.
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