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The Means of a Life: Fidel Castro at 90

Cuba celebrates its revolutionary leader's birthday. Why I don't

by Mario de Varona
fidel castro

8th January 1959: Fidel Castro addresses the people in Havana with a dove on his shoulder

Fidel Castro Ruz turns 90, the central figure of Cuba during almost six decades. This fervor, did it last, or did Castro find resistance from within for his revolutionary project? A glimpse of Cuba throughout the decades and the attempts of one man to hold on to power

Reports from Havana indicate that the country is ready to party celebrating the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro Ruz.  Born on the 13th August 1926 in Oriente, Cuba, the revolutionary leader has been Cuba’s central figure since seizing control of the island nation from another corrupt politician, Fulgencio Batista.  Batista, also from Oriente, knew Fidel’s father Angel Castro, enough to donate in 1948 when Castro married Mirta Diaz Balart, the then handsome sum of US$1,000.  Some say that Batista’s wedding gift was way much more than this amount.  The honeymoon was in New York, and Mirta’s father lavished tens of thousands of dollars for the three month sojourn in The Big Apple. Castro loved New York, and intensely disliked working when returning to Havana. The marriage foundered;  Mirta’s friends from her hometown of Banes would take up collections to support her and their baby, Fidelito.

Castro went into politics, lived in the mountainous Sierra Maestra during Cuba’s Revolution, among what people say were twelve followers, and at the age of 33, came down from the mountain for a multitude of eager Cubans to greet him, cheering in Havana.  The Cuban Messiah had been cooked, prepared, and presented to the Cuban people.  Alas!, why even a white dove came down from the Cuban sky and symbolically anointed the new maximo leader on 8th January 1959.  A spiritual homecoming with even a white dove reception, the perfect adorable ‘gobernante’, if the world ever saw one. No past experience, though, he never really had liked working.

Fidel’s 1959 dove anointing fed the masses and the Cuban masses’s exuberance -“Fidel, esta es tu casa”- allowed him to at once postpone elections while the country ‘organized’, and when there was clamor for elections, the anointed proclaimed, “…..elecciones, para que?”   By then, the Revolution had been amassing fire arms from its citizens, rendering a nation’s citizens totally defenseless against the Stalinist brutality entrenching itself.

 We all know of the details of this Revolution:  a one party system, multiple executions in the early years plus disappearances of once friends, Camilo Cienfuegos comes to mind, the flight of people from the island by boat or plane, the ensuing brain drain, the division of the Cuban family, the rationing of food although Cuba has at least 80% very arable, fertile land.  Hunger, as a means of social control.  No, not the embargo.  Cuba has ample, first rate land for food production to feed itself, and to export.  Even food began to be confiscated.

It is on Fidel’s 90th a really good time to review his penchant for dates.  His tenacity for power.

Recently, Cubans both at home and abroad remembered the sinking of the 13th March tugboat on the 13th July 1994.  This very tragic chapter in Cuba’s recent history cost the lives of 37 Cuban civilians who were attempting to flee Cuba and whose vessel was rammed by the Cuban Coast Guard.  When mothers hoisted babies and children for the Coast Guard to see that there were kids on board, the latter used high pressure hoses to separate the kids from the hands holding them.  Those who did not drown, and miraculously made it back to land, were able to narrate the night’s horror.  A horror amplified because it is a date which repeats itself, along with the usual impunity.  The regime’s goons can carry out any atrocity and come out lily white.

 Yet the 13th of July 1989 saw four men brought to the firing squad in Cuba.  Heroes of the Revolution, servants of the regime, they had been arbitrarily slapped with what most people see as trumped up charges of drug trafficking.  A recent article appearing in Hispanopost.Com, written by Diana Lopez Zuleta in Medellin, sets forth that none other than our 90 year old Havana party animal was instrumental in creating Pablo Escobar’s drug empire.  “Popeye”, head of Escobar’s cronies, recently stated that it was thanks to Fidel’s active participation, that cocaine was transported from Colombia via Cuba, to theUSA.  This first hand witness of the Medellin cartel operations went on to state that Fidel Castro asked the Soviets for submarines to enable the transport of drugs to the United States, bringing a sizable cut of US$100,000,000 to none other than Havana’s Capo di Capi.

Having seen what had transpired in Panama where in 1988, Manuel Noriega was indicted via Miami of drug trafficking charges, and removed from power in 1989 by theUSA, Fidel wasted no time.

General Arnaldo Ochoa, Tony de La Guardia, Amado Padron and Jorge Martinez were indicted in Cuba, facing drug charges, and on the 13th of July 1989 took the guilt -and the bullets- for Fidel.  Arnaldo Ochoa was a beloved, brilliant army general who had commandeered Cuba’s army in Angola.  His fluency in Russian and lapse in conversing in Russian with Mikhael Gorbachev in front of Fidel when Gorbachev visited Cuba in December of 1988, some say made Fidel think that a glasnost and perestroika coup could be in the works.  Thus, by getting rid of a possible threat to his power by way of the Russian connection which no longer wanted to subsidize the Soviet folly in Cuba, Fidel had also the perfect offering to those who would ever dare accuse him of drug trafficking.  Throw in a few other men, and the plot was quickly snuffed out, of any remote possibility of a coup in Cuba through someone better fitted to liberalize Cuba’s economy, or of the Noriega type of indictment via Miami, of Fidel Castro’s known drug trafficking.

But the 13th July has more remote origins, sad ones as these involve the days when men rose against the regime that from its inception, has brutalized and destroyed the Cuban people.

The Association of former Cuban Political Prisoners in Union City, New Jersey stands guard for the thousands upon thousands of Cubans who have been enslaved and executed by the regime.  There, on the 13th of July each year, there is a commemoration for the 21 men who lost their lives in the “Second Cause” of the Escambray.  Transported from Isla de Pinos now known as the Isle of Youth, the 21 political prisoners met their executioners on this very fatidic day, in 1962.  The 21 ‘trials’ lasted but a grand total of 3 hours, and 21 more Cubans were shipped from this island paradise to their eternal bliss, to make and keep the space for the internationally acclaimed caudillo, loved by so many, who has cheapened Cuban blood, and remained in power with the adulation and admiration of those who would never wish a regime such as this for themselves.  Yes, Cuban lives do matter.

The recurrent date of the 13th of July is but a small sample of something gone deeply wrong in Cuba, also in the world.  The world’s silence to Cuba’s horror and that of other nations as well, is indeed the prelude of what already is throughout Europe and what will be.  No, Raul has not brought any solution, and as the Italian Radical Party once taught me, no peace without justice.  “None love Freedom but good men”, posited Milton.  Too late to know this, as Cuba, among other nations may be lost forever, my memory not.


Mario de Varona left Cuba as a child, and uses this pen name as he still has relatives on the island and is concerned that such an article could be used as reprisal by the Cuban regime against his family

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