This column was written by Yana Djin in August, 2000, as her weekly piece for Moscow News.
It was, however, turned down...
When Gabriel Garcia Marquez asked his long-time friend Fidel Castro what he would like to do for the rest of his life, the Cuban leader’s reply could have easily come from one of Marquez’s own novels. “I would like to hang out on the street corner,” answered Castro in the manner reminiscent of characters in “One Hundred Years Of Solitude”. Castro’s dream, no matter how humble, shares one quality with other people’s dreams – unattainability. When most people his age are doing just that – “hanging out” – Castro cannot afford to do anything but hang in.
The reason I decided to write about the Cuban president is not that his country recently celebrated 47 years as a socialist state or that Castro himself is turning 74 this week. Although both of these dates are worth noting, Fidel Castro is one of the very rare public figures whose mention does not require a “special” occasion. In fact, Fidel Castro belongs to the extinct breed of politicians – one that stays true to its convictions and beliefs. Castro has not swerved from his ideological course and manifested such perseverance which even his enemies cannot help but admit and admire. And that is one thing – enemies – Castro never lacked.
During the 47 years of his rule there have been over 200 attempts at his assassination and most of them were funded by Cuba’s adversarial neighbor, the United States. Luckily, the Cuban president proved to be invincible to their efforts. I say “luckily” because if it were not for him, his chameleon-like adversaries, who change the hues of their ideological make-up according to public opinion polls, would have been correct in their assertion that it is impossible to be simultaneously rebellious and alive after the age of thirty. No matter what your political standpoint might be, you will have to admit that Fidel Castro’s vocabulary does not include words like “conformity” or “compromise”.
After glancing at Castro’s political resume, I, for one, feel utmost respect for the man who at the age of 27, leading a handful of revolutionaries, secured a victory in his second attempt to overthrow the Batista government and turned his country from one of the poorest to one of the most developed in Latin America. Since that time, it has become habitual in the countries of the Western democracies, especially the United States, to identify Fidel Castro with the human rights violations. Usually, the freedom-loving democrats cite the massive fleeing of the Cuban financial elite form their homeland after Castro came to power. Most of them landed in Florida and their descendants recently staged a shamefully unfair and prejudicial tragi-comedy around the little boy, Elian Gonzales, who was subsequently returned to the care of his father. What Castro did 47 years ago in Cuba is not called “violation of human rights”; it has a more laconic name which is generally used for such occasions: revolution. Castro’s revolution was based on his political beliefs according to which material wealth should be equally distributed amongst people. It is not at all surprising that those people who did not want to share their wealth voluntarily, ended up in prisons or fled. After all, a war was fought and they lost.
As for the human rights violations, which are as old as the world itself, Castro eliminated them in his own country on a much grander scale than his most ardent critics, the Americans. There are no homeless in Cuba and there is no illiteracy. Since Castro came to power, every single citizen is entitled to free medical care which, incidentally, is considered one of the best in the world. And, furthermore, the people of Cuba do not share the prejudices of the West: they seem to love and respect their leader whom they refer to simply as Fidel. According to Garcia Marquez, who calls Castro a refined intellectual and a man principles, this feeling is easily understandable. Cuba, after all, was nothing more than an American colony, a kind of a trashcan where fun-seeking millionaires used to sow their oats : gamble, run dubious businesses, buy prostitutes and engage in all of the revered “freedoms” of the Western world. The majority of the Cubans existed in their own country as servants to their whims. With the arrival of Castro, these dealings were outlawed and Cubans now feel not as lackeys but as full-fledged patrons of their own home.
Personally, I fail to see any violations of human rights here. What I see in Castro is the extremely rare combination of ideals which transcend the selfish interests of a private existence and insurmountable will to make these ideals come true. What I see in Castro is the genuine revolutionary spirit, which sticks to its convictions unconditionally, and which, in fact, forms and creates conditions, rather then succumbs to them. When Castro was interviewed for American television, he was asked to name a personality whom he respects more than anyone else in history. Without hesitation, he answered: “Christ, because his teachings are what made me a socialist and what made me believe in social justice and equality.” Despite the popular opinion whose defendants like to portray Fidel Castro as a dictator and freedom-cruncher, I believe that Christ would return the compliment to him and prefer to be in Castro’s company rather then, let’s say, that of George W.Bush’s who also cited the Nazarene as his role-model. Christ, if he were alive today would hardly approve Bush’s stand on death penalty or his choice of a running mate, Dick Cheney – a man whose political career was devoted to fighting against equal rights. With the suicide of the Soviet Union, the strongest supporter that Cuba had, Fidel Castro finds himself alone and able to demonstrate that his country is not a satellite of the Soviet regime but a star of its own merit. Despite the plea of the Roman Pope to lift the trade sanctions against Cuba, the United States remains solid in their decision to punish Cuba the only way they know how – fine the “non-believers”. Anyone who feels a modicum of respect for the ability to follow through on one’s beliefs, should feel sympathy and admiration for the Cuban leader if only because he is left in utter solitude.
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