Fidel in the Evening

Fidel Castro y la religion: Conversaciones con Frei Betto

Mexico City: Siglo XXI Editores, 379 pp., (out of print)

Memorias de un soldado cubano: Vida y muerte de la Revolución

by Dariel Alarcón Ramírez and ("Benigno")
Barcelona: Tusquets, 354 pp., 2,900 pesetas


If you are in the neighborhood of forty years old and Cuban, Fidel Castro has been at the center of your heart and thoughts, for however small a second, each day of your life. Perhaps you saw him first in the Plaza of the Revolution, when doves landed on his shoulders as he made his first speech in power. Even if you weren’t there you remember this event as if it had happened to you, because the photographic image of that moment has become part of the national memory. Fidel visited the shiny new infant nurseries and kindergartens and dandled you on his knee and patted your teacher on the back and told you in his papery voice that you were the future of the Revolution. Later he would spread his solemn soaring gaze over Cuba like a protective mantle and you saw him on every poster and wall mural in your barrio. “With Fidel, our whole life!” “In every barrio, Revolución!”

You think of Fidel when you get your Young Pioneer red bandanna, and your Communist Youth credential. You cling to him for dear life when he is the only solid object standing between you and the great hazy wall of death ninety miles away. Invasion. Nuclear disaster. Total annihilation at the hands of blue-eyed destroyers. Fidel protects you from it all. You are a child, but you are moved beyond words at his courage, which becomes your courage, at his grandeur, which is yours, at his historical inevitability, which you, with your own small courage and your insignificant sacrifice, make possible. Later, when you cut cane against the clock for grueling months on end you do it to meet his goal: Ten Million Tons! That endless, agonizing harvest of 1969-1970 turns the island upside down and mobilizes nearly every able-bodied youth in Cuba. It produces barely eight million tons of sugar, and Cuba’s productive infrastructure is nearly destroyed as a result of the effort, but when he offers to resign you are in the Plaza, weeping and shouting No! With Fidel, even unto death! You donate blood for Fidel when he demands your international solidarity for disaster victims overseas, and you are awed and moved to tears again at the endless generosity, the espíritu de sacrificio with which his words fill you. Your voice thunders through the actos, the revolutionary gatherings where faith is rekindled, “Fi-del! Fi-del! Fi-del!” Such a small island, such a great role in history.

Fidel never visits Angola but he is there with you in spirit. You are not among the several thousand internacionalista martyrs who died in Africa, and for this, although you would not confess it, you are grateful. This is a new feeling, and you may or may not want to dwell on it: martyrdom used to be a blessed gift, a grail Che finally found within his grasp, but after the aventura africana you are not sure that this is the destiny you seek. What was it again that…

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