The Death of Fidel Castro: What Awaits Us Now? / Iván García
Iván García, 28 November 2016 — It was half past ten at night in the
privately-owned Perla Negra bar in Havana’s populous La Viñora
neighborhood and thirty minutes by car from the center of the city,
where the locals were drinking mojitos, caipirinhas and even stout. No
one had yet learned of the death of the Fidel Castro.
The dominant sounds were salsa music, reggaeton and Marc Anthony ballads
along with the clinking of glasses, the shuffle of canapés and the
whispers of couples in love.
No one thought to interrupt the party to announce the death of the old
guerrilla leader. At midnight, Oscar Lopez —an engineer who was
celebrating his birthday with his wife — was walking the nine blocks to
his apartment in the Lawton neighborhood. He did not notice anything out
of the ordinary other than a short line of four or five people waiting
to buy ground pork patties for their children’s breakfasts.
As is customary at this time of the morning, sales clerks at small food
service businesses were yawning in front of shelves of confections and
cold-cut sandwiches, drunkards were lying on the covered sidewalks of
Tenth of October Avenue, and a few gay and transvestite prostitutes were
trolling for customers.
“I swear, nobody was talking a about the news. I didn’t even notice any
extra police deployments. The night that Fidel Castro died was a night
like any other. I found out about his death at two o’clock in the
morning when my brother, who lives in Miami, phoned to tell me,” says
Oscar as he waits in the line to purchase bread, which Cubans have
bought from the state using their ration books since 1962.
When you ask ordinary Havana residents what they were doing when they
heard the news of Castro’s death, they respond without any hint of
drama. More than a few of them found out through text messages sent from
Miami. This is not surprising given that a large segment of the Cuban
population does not typically watch state television.
Most people watch TV through illegal satellite antennae or they rent a
compendium of programming known as the Packet, which offers melodramatic
Mexican soap operas and mediocre audience participation programs from
the other side of the Florida Straits.
Unlike Miami, where Castro’s death took place on the day after
Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and hundreds of people celebrated with
bottles of rum and roast pork, the news here was received here with
little notice or fanfare.
For Cubans, Fidel Castro essentially died on July 31, 2006, when an
unexpected illness forced him to give up power. By the time his passing
was announced on a cool autumn night ten years later, his death had been
Sahily Téllez, a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore, says Fidel was
a distant figure to her. “Unlike my parents, I did not grow up seeing
him as a dominant figure in my life. To me, he was old news, a man who
led a revolution and built a society that barely works. Fidel and other
elderly officials like him seem anachronistic, conservative. Among
people of my age, Fidel and Raúl are not very popular. It’s just that
many of us aspire to live in a consumer capitalist society. We associate
Fidel with poverty and his speeches were full of ideology.”
What most worries Daniel Pereda, a self-employed taxi driver who drives
a dilapidated 1954 Chevrolet, is what could come after the death of
“The situation isn’t pretty. There’s the crisis in Venezuela. If Nicolás
Maduro loses power because he is shipping oil to Cuba at rock-bottom
prices, it will impact Cuba and our lives. Then there is the victory of
Donald Trump in the United States. He is an unpredictable guy who will
probably not continue Obama’s friendly policies towards Cuba. This must
be giving quite a few people in the Palace of the Revolution (the seat
of government) anxiety attacks,” he says as he swerves to avoid potholes
in Cerro Avenue.
Already the state press has begun broadcasting extensive special
programming eulogizing the life and work of Fidel Castro. The funeral
planning committee has announced that on November 28 and 29 people will
be able to visit the José Martí Memorial in the Plaza of Revolution to
pay their well-deserved respects.
People are also being called upon to do something that seems
mind-boggling: “Sign the solemn oath to fulfill the concept of
Revolution as expressed by our historic leader on May 1, 2000 as an
expression of the will to give continuity to his ideas and our socialism.”
At 7:00 P.M. on November 29, a commemorative rally will be held in
Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. The transfer of Castro’s ashes will
begin the following day, retracing the route that The Caravan of Freedom
followed in January 1959. The journey will end with another rally in
Santiago de Cuba on December 3, this time in the city’s Antonio Maceo Plaza.
The internment is scheduled for 07:00 A.M. on December 4 at Santa
Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. It was also reported that the
Military Review and Combatants March, which commemorates the 60th
anniversary of the Granma landing (December 2, 1956), and Revolutionary
Armed Forces Day are being postponed until January 2, 2017.
Suspicions and rumors are spreading throughout Havana. Marino Ruiz, a
grocery store worker, believes that “Fidel Castro died days ago.
Everything fits perfectly. A weekend that correlates with December 2,
the 60th anniversary of the armed forces and a month and six days after
the 58th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution,” he observes. But
the truth is that Fidel Castro met with the president of Viet Nam, Tran
Dai Quang, at his home on November 15. And photos of the meeting were
taken by his son, Alex Castro, and his personal photographer.
According to Ignacio Gonzalez, a nurse, the memorial events will be a
nine-day nuisance. “There will be dozens of programs on radio and
television eulogizing the ’maximum leader.’ And all this racket will no
doubt go on for one or two months. You have to wonder what awaits us. If
only I could fly to the moon.”
With no power to rally supporters or a message that resonates with the
average Cuban, Castro’s death has caught the divided dissident community
“Difficult days lie ahead,” according to Carlos Díaz, an independed
sociologist.” I would not want to be in Raúl Castro’s shoes. He is faced
with an ongoing economic crisis, a system that does not work, a very
erratic Donald Trump as president of the United States and the impending
fall of Chavismo in Venezuela. He will have to move very carefully to
avoid being the one who brought down the revolution his brother Fidel
led. I believe the government will accelerate new and more significant
economic reforms. But the political process will remain closed and they
will continue exerting iron-fisted social control as long as they can.”
Julio Aleaga — head of the opposition group Candidates for Change, which
advocates nominating dissidents for the few elected offices for which
private citizens can compete — believes that “the death of Fidel Castro,
a very negative figure, can be the catalyst for profound change. The
conservative wing of the ruling party has lost a powerful symbol. And in
medium term change is unstoppable.”
Diana Armenteros, a political science graduate, is not so optimistic.
“Castroism has a lot of life left in it. They won’t be able to bury
Fidel just yet. Let’s not forget that the military controls 80% of the
national economy. Untangling this mess won’t be so easy,” she claims.
At the moment it is too soon to analyze what effect the death of Fidel
Castro will have on the current situation. The funeral ceremonies have
only just begun.
The legendary Plaza of the Revolution is being prepared to receive
millions of Cubans who will pay their last respects to Fidel. And the
Communist Party propaganda machine will continue to run at full throttle.
For a few days — probably for a couple of months — the place Cuba will
most closely resemble is North Korea.
Source: The Death of Fidel Castro: What Awaits Us Now? / Iván García –
Translating Cuba –