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Posted October 29, 2005 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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We’ll be talking about him long after he’s gone. He doesn’t know when to let go and we, in turn, can’t let go of him. I try my darnest not to mention him—that’s really the most stinging dart—but, sometimes, Fidel Castro must be named.

After Fidel is Brian Latell’s newly published book on Castro. A 35-year CIA veteran, Latell—now retired—knows el Comandante well, and it shows, page after page. The book is excellent: for the author’s sometimes disarming honesty, always crisp prose and judicious psychological profile of his subject. Actually, subjects: Fidel and Ral Castro are the protagonists, albeit the elder is ever dominant.

Latell’s central claim—that, from the start, Ral was as indispensable as Fidel—may not be so controversial. But, if Ral outlives his brother, the regime might not necessarily go poof! after the wake. Succession could be a reality, for a while. What kind of leader would Ral be? Cruel and implacable? Forgiving and generous? Latell gives the ‘‘gentler’’ Ral slightly better than even chances of prevailing. After Fidel is full of instances of Ral’s two sides, one of the reasons it is a must read.

The Castro brothers were outsiders. In the early 20th century, Oriente—their birthplace—was Cuba’s frontier. Patriarch Angel Castro towered over his brood, fathering Fidel and six other children with Lina Ruz before marrying her. Violent and unpredictable, Angel favored Fidel and scorned Ral who, perhaps, was not even his son.

Outsiderdom left different marks on Fidel and Ral: in one, supreme self-confidence, merciless imperiousness and chilly detachment; in the other, an awareness of his limitations, for which he compensated by often ruthless order, Spartan discipline and un flinching submission to Fidel in public while nurturing caring relations in his private life. Mirror images, the brothers.

That they are orientales highlights the long-standing tensions between Oriente and Havana. The East defied Spain as the West wavered. Later, habaneros prospered while orientales languished. After 1959, the gaping differences narrowed but have glaringly reemerged in the past 15 years. Havana’s policemen—disproportionately orientales—are known as palestinos, a term meant to denigrate. Just last week, youths from Oriente descended on Havana gas stations in a tragicomic attempt to stanch the black-market flow. After Fidel, who knows how regional dynamics might play out?

The Castro brothers are also the product of a violent Cuban past. The War of 1895—the second against Spain to wrest independence—was a most brutal affair. The Liberation Army handily dispensed ‘‘justice’’ against real or imagined traitors and collaborators. During the war, deaths—from combat, disease, hunger and Spanish concentration camps—were higher relative to population than in the U.S. Civil War.

In 1912, the army crushed a black uprising in Oriente by going on a murderous rampage that took the lives of some 5,000 blacks. Today we’d call it ethnic cleansing. Political violence flourished from the 1930s through the 1950s.

Nothing justifies the violence of the past 47 years. Yet, if Cuba’s future is to bring peace, we must come to terms with our past. Soviet tanks didn’t bring us the revolution: Fidel and Ral are ours. Cuban history also has strands of civility, compromise and democracy that we must rescue and enthrone. The Constitution of 1940 is our shining moment of political inclusion.

Today’s opposition offers light and courage against a regime that needs darkness and fear. Many within official Cuba will eventually step out into the sunshine to broker a transition. That’s the road map if we want a truly new Cuba.

Fidel is certain that history will absolve him. I’m not—and still we’ll be talking about him. Ral is another story. Might he not be the first to sigh in relief upon his brother’s passing?

Having lived in his shadow, might he not seize the opportunity to go down in history independently? Just a possibility, I know, but if Ral does set the stage for a peaceful transition, history would not totally damn him. Sibling justice, if you will, for Ral would then have helped us all to let go of Fidel.

Marifeli Perez-Stable is vice president for democratic governance at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on November 01, 2005 by jesusp with 246 total posts

    It is probably true, Marifeli, that history will not absolve Fidel, however I believe it is also true that history will also condemn the U. S. for its senseless and narrow-minded policy towards Cuba for the last 46 years, not to mention the half century before that.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on August 22, 2006 by Fernando

    I agree with u jesusp, i think that the econimic position of the US would be much different if there would have been trade with Cuba for the last 46 years, yet I do think that Fidel will be absorved by history, will remain the icon of Communism for years to come.

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