HAVANA – A year after Fidel Castro’s death, Cubans remember him as an undeniable leader, his thinking exalted as a philosophical doctrine and his image the ever-present content of official media, which see him as a hero, almost a deity, though some people criticize that idealized vision of the commander.
Visibly moved, President Raul Castro appeared on television on Nov. 25, 2016, to announce the death at age 90 of “the commander in chief of the revolution,” his elder brother, a decade after leaving office.
Confirmation of the eternal rumor of his death was followed by nine days of national mourning, when Cubans shed tears for the “patriarch” who ruled the island with an iron fist for almost half a century, and whose ashes were carried in a procession around the island to his final resting place, Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba.
After the tears, the island quickly got back to normal without great traumas over the loss of Fidel, whose legacy and character are so frequently extolled by the government’s propaganda machine.
“I would say the Cuban Revolution without Fidel Castro does not exist. He was at the center of that political process, but was perhaps too authoritarian, too messianic,” Cuban historian Enrique Lopez Oliva told EFE.
For Lopez Oliva – who studied at the Belen Jesuit Preparatory School with Fidel during the 1940s and fought secretly with him against the Fulgencio Batista regime – it is dangerous to remain stuck to his Marxist, anti-imperialist talk, which was “brilliant” at his point in history, but times have now changed.
“A panegyric is being created around Fidel Castro like a religion, but which gives a distorted idea. He was undeniably a revolutionary who changed everything, but was not a god,” he said.
According to Lopez Oliva, the great achievements of the Cuban Revolution like free education and healthcare plus the ideals of solidarity and internationalism remain, though weakened, because “the passing of time has created new needs and challenges, new generations with other aspirations,” who today find themselves facing a leadership vacuum.
However, for other intellectuals of the militant left like Graziella Poglotti, Fidel’s legacy “is more valid than ever,” particularly his “humanistic and anti-colonial” thinking, which he knew how to adapt to the needs of every historical moment.
“He not only led the battle to liberate the people, but from early on warned of the dangers threatening the survival of the human race,” said this journalist and essayist who heads Havana’s Alejo Carpentier Foundation.
About the many mentions of “Fidel’s thinking” in official media, Cuban dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua said that “more than a thinker, he was a man of action, extremely pragmatic, with four specific ideas and an overwhelming presence in Cuban society.”
“When you read his works, above all his speeches, you realize there are many contradictions at different stages, which aren’t due to changing situations but are contradictions in his own thinking,” said Cuesta Morua, who promotes the #Otro18 project for democratic change in Cuba.
For independent journalist Jose Jason Nieves, 31, Fidel’s place in the history of Cuba is “unquestionable” – he was the “most important Cuban of the 20th century and put our island on the map.”
“I believe my generation sees him as an undeniable leader...a great statesman who unfortunately directed a disastrous economic policy,” Nieves said.
Less involved in political activism than their parents, Cubans today between ages 20 and 40 complain about a lack of leadership among those now in power, compared with the ever-present guide that was Fidel Castro.