Cubans speak of Fidel Castro
By Germán Piniella
The protracted celebration of
Fidel Castro’s 80th birthday has been headlined around the world, even more so
because of doubts of whether the Cuban president will make a comeback to head
his country’s government and Party. On December 2, to commemorate the 50th
anniversary of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), the first military parade
in ten years will be held at Revolution Square. More than a decade of the
Special Period forced the conservation of equipment, fuel and efforts guarding
for a possible aggression. Now, with the crisis overcome and the announcement of
over 10% economic growth in 2006, the commemoration of the FAR’s anniversary and
Fidel’s birthday has an additional significance that is not alien to the other
two celebrations: Cuba re-emerges. Fidel recovers.
When the commanding officer of
the parading troops makes his report to the highest officer present at the
ceremony, many in Cuba and in the rest of the world expect that it will be the
Commander in Chief who returns the salute and greets the troops from the stand.
Others, particularly his enemies, have already assured that his public days are
over. But regardless of any prediction, legions of followers and critics are
waiting to find out about Fidel Castro -- of his possible recovery or definitive
retirement. His time is not gone yet. At the parade or away, his more than fifty
years of revolutionary struggle have made a deep imprint that spans two
centuries. It will also mark the history beyond his death.
What do Cubans think of this
man, admired and followed by many more than those who hate him? Progreso
Weekly posed the question to a group of Cuban intellectuals. It is not a
poll, because statistics do not reflect the intimacy of feeling, and also
because through personal experience and other more significant statistics than a
simple poll, I know -- as many others in Cuba know -- that the support of the
overwhelming majority of the people for Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution is
beyond a doubt, except for the wishful thinking of his enemies (and even so,
they probably deplore, in private, that the support is really larger than their
wishes) and the ignorant complacency with the imperial power of the corporate
The question posed by
Progreso was answered by members of three generations: some of them were
adults in 1959, intellectually formed and with a vision of life and society that
they believed eternal; others grew with the Revolution, awakened to it with
adolescence and became part of the foundation on which the country was newly
built; two of them were born after the Revolution (one only four days after) and
they have spent their entire lives under Cuban socialism, with its defects and
its virtues, with its anguish and its triumphs, with its dreams.
All of them, under the
influence of Fidel Castro, found, like many others, new ways of being human, and
the sense of the maxim by José Martí: “Fatherland is humanity.”
How has Fidel Castro
influenced your life and your thinking?
Roberto Fernández Retamar
Doctorate in Philosophy and Letters at the University of Havana and Ph. D at
La Sorbonne and London. Considered one of the main poets of his generation
(National Prize of Poetry, 1951); his essays on the work and thinking of José
Martí, among other subjects, places him as one of the most lucid Cuban
essayists. Founder, with Haydée Santamaría, of Casa de las Américas where he is
It is not feasible to separate
Fidel from the magnificent Revolution he has dreamt, made possible, driven and
led. Therefore, I will say that Fidel has influenced my life and my thoughts
more than any other living person. On January, 1959, when the Revolution
triumphs, I was twenty eight; now I am seventy-six, which means that I have
lived in its midst the greater part of my existence. But in 1959, I already had
written three books of poetry and a couple of study books, I was teaching at the
University of Havana and had taught at Yale, in the United States, besides
having studied in Paris and visited other countries, from Mexico to Greece.
Nevertheless, it is tremendous how my life and my thinking has changed since
1959, since Fidel. I felt the pride of being Cuban -- and by extension, Latin
American and Caribbean. I became a journalist, a member of the militia, a
diplomat, and a cultural animator. I learned the manual work done by “the poor
of the earth,” and what I called “the other side of the moon, I mean, of the
country.” My essays, which up to that moment had been limited to literary
issues, blossomed into history and politics. I rediscovered Martí, proclaimed by
Fidel as the mastermind of the Revolution. Regarding my poetry, undoubtedly it
was also shaken to its roots by the winds of revolution. From then on my life
and my thoughts were the same and also different.
scientist and researcher, he was a member of the editorial board of the magazine
Mr. Alonso has written numerous essays on political, economic and religious
issues. At present, he is the editor in chief of the Casa de las Américas
been, undoubtedly, a decisive influence in my life and my thinking. A required
reference for any transcendent reflection. I would say that even for
disagreeing, because I learned from him the habit of thinking with my own head.
In my case, perhaps not even the acts of irreverence I am charged with are
totally my own. I have no qualms in accepting that I am in his orbit. After
fascinating me, as he did with everyone else, with the unevenly matched victory
achieved against dictatorship, the year 1959 returned to us the image of a
revolutionary leader whose stature as a statesman I could not have imagined.
With him I was able to discover how much I did not know. It was Fidel who
allowed me to really know Martí, of whom I had been taught only the sweet sound
of his poetry and the rectitude of his spirit. And he also gave me, together
with Che, the clue to delve into the socialist adventure with our own measuring
stick. Fortunately, life has allowed me to participate -- no matter how modestly
-- in his social project, and that is a true privilege. With him I learned the
value of risk, the need to rise after a setback, and that from the most adverse
scenarios a wise move may change many things. I learned that you can not
tolerate concealment, renunciation or lies. I learned that I had to be
consistent in my acts and in my thoughts, and to defend without fear whatever I
believed in. Fidel is perhaps the first revolutionary leader whom I have never
seen turn his will into doctrine, and who does not uses principles to crush
opinions. I am happy for having lived in Fidel’s time and having lived it with
him. The political and moral legacy that he will leave us is such that I believe
it will be years before it can be gauged in all its magnitude.
Doctorate in Diplomatic Law and social scientist, he is also a scholar of
history and philosophy. Editor in chief of Pensamiento Crítico
(1966-1971), his essays are regularly published in Cuba and abroad. At present,
he is a researcher at the Juan Marinello Center of Cultural Studies.
I started as a
“fidelista” almost as a child. The Cuban revolution for me has been my life and
Fidel has succeeded in incarnating the revolution during this half a century. I
have shared his positions in all essential questions, and when I have disagreed
with him I have followed him too. I admire so many of his virtues that they
would not fit in 15 lines and I know that people not of his stature cannot help
but point out his defects.
For one’s thought
to serve well it cannot be subjected to anyone. But it must serve social justice
and human liberty, to have one’s own thought and be wed to all truth that can be
seen. Fidel is a master in all those qualities and more than any other statesmen
has tried to defend them before reasons of state and politics, and before the
power he has been forced to practice. He changed the laurels heaped on him as a
famous thinker for those of popular educator and for being the motor enabling
the humble to take over their lives, of liberation and culture. But I am sure
that the day will come when he will be studied as one of the great social
thinkers of the 20th Century.
Doctorate in Historical
Sciences at the University of Havana. Director of the City of Havana’s Office of
the Historian and Director of the Program for the Restoration of Havana’s
Historical Core, deemed a Heritage of Mankind. He is an essayist with a vast
array of work; he is also a brilliant speaker.
Since my youth, practically as
a teenager, that person, so important a figure, had a very primordial place in
my life; this is taking into account that I belong to a generation that had the
privilege of witnessing the insurrection of the Cuban people and also the
triumph of the Revolution. I believe he was responsible, for a person with my
characteristics to be able to participate in such an important event as the
revolution, not only seeing it as a political happening but also a cultural one
which opened roads and spaces whereby many young and not so young persons who
were waiting for better times for Cuba could participate, and help, in
constructing Cuba’s present society. I believe that it would not be possible to
narrate the process of our lives and our times without mentioning him.
Antonio de los Baños, 1946)
Founder of the Cuban
singers/songwriters movement known as Nueva Trova, together with Noel Nicola and
Pablo Milanés, he is one of the most important figures in Cuban popular music of
all times. He has written hundreds of songs, part of which he has recorded in
more than 20 CDs. In 2004, he received the National Prize of Music and in 2006
the Spanish Academy of Music granted him the Latino Prize for lifetime
When as a boy in the late 50’s
my pals and I handled those rubber figures with which children began to imitate
war, one of our belligerent groups were “Batista’s soldiers” and the other were
“the rebels”. That means that Fidel, his passage through life, was in my head
even before I could identify him.
But I believe that what best
describes Fidel’s influence on me is expressed in the dedication which I wrote
in a songbook that Planeta is going to publish for me shortly, and it goes:
To Uncle Angelito,
who when I was a child
taught me kindness.
who then taught me what to
do with it.
(Santiago de Cuba, 1959)
Graduate in Philosophy at the
former Soviet Union, he is passionately dedicated to history and to writing
brilliant essays. At present, he is the director of the José Martí National
Fidel is a permanent presence
and inspiration for my generation, the one that was born with the Revolution. We
have grown, like all the Cuban people, with his image, his verb and his example.
Cuba is another and better place since his entrance on our national history. He
embodies the yearnings of all; the ancestral longing for justice, dignity,
patriotism and rebelliousness that sustained Cubans in their struggle against
Spanish colonialism for more than thirty years, and more recently against U.S.
imperialism. A follower of Martí’s ideals, he has taught Cubans to face all
challenges, deal with all obstacles, defeat all enemies and support all just
causes. Fidel is all of us, and his ideas will be the inspiration and the banner
that our grandchildren will raise in future battles.
A member of the newest
generation of troubadours, his songs have been included in several recording
projects. He also has composed music for the stage and TV and has written
articles in the Cuban press and TV scripts. At present, he performs as part of a
duo with his wife Amanda Cepero.
knew, by way of a close and human Fidel, away from the myth and the agitation
that surrounds him, that the essence of a people is its movement. It is the back
and forth of ideas, the stimulation and the respect for intelligence, and it is
also the indescribable wisdom of knowing the height and the color of the enemies
of life, in all the shapes that life has.
learn to look before acting, to think before speaking, to speak only when it is
necessary, when it makes a contribution, when it constructs.
have seen in his own history an almost religious eagerness for justice that
leads to understand the world as it is and not as it is sold.
When I do not agree with him it is difficult, because I am incapable of putting
myself in his place, and judging is always easier than assuming reality.
is the clearest symbol of communion between my grandfather, my father and I.