Am I or am I not Fidel? Only Cubans know the answer
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
LAS TUNAS, CUBA
For the past three days, the processional carrying the ashes of Fidel
Castro has traversed Cuba along a route that has taken it past sugarcane
fields, towering stands of palm trees, oxen working the red earth,
colonial cities, and places of historic significance.
All along the way, Cubans have gathered on the sides of rural roads, on
overpasses and lined urban streets to say their last good-byes to
Castro, who has dominated life on this island for more than a half
century and by extension life in exile.
While the mantra in Cuba has become "Yo Soy Fidel" (I am Fidel) as a
trailer carrying his ashes has slowly made its way from Havana and
across Central Cuba en route to Castro's final resting place in Santiago
de Cuba, the cry at some anti-Castro rallies in Miami has been "Yo no
soy Fidel." (I am not Fidel.)
Castro's life and death look very different, depending on which side of
the Florida Straits Cubans call home.
For some in Miami, his death is a pivotal moment that they hope will
unleash the forces of change and lead to a free Cuba.
"This is the moment that so many in our community have been waiting for
since I can remember, since I was a child," U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a
Miami Republican whose parents fled Cuba, said soon after learning of
Castro's death. "Everyone's been waiting for this moment because they
believed it would be the beginning of the end of the nightmare, and I
think that's exactly what this is: the opening of a door to a brighter
As many Cubans on the island continue to mourn the death of Fidel
Castro, most in the exile community remain cheerful.
"We are not celebrating one man's death, but the death of an ideology,"
said Carlos López, 40, who took his 12-year-old daughter, Tiffany, out
in the middle of the night to take part in the exile euphoria. "We are
celebrating that little piece of liberty we got back."
On the island, in the nine days since Castro's death was announced on
Nov. 25, there has been calm, and little sense of anxiety or sentiment
that Cuba is on the cusp of change.
Even though Castro had been ailing for some time and ceded power to his
brother Raúl — first temporarily and then officially — a decade ago,
many Cubans still said their former leader's death caught them by surprise.
"Everyone knew he was sick, but no one thought his death would be so
precipitous," said Tania Pérez, 48, who manages a vegetable warehouse in
Ranchuelo, a town in Central Cuba. "But I don't think there will be
changes here in Cuba. The government has been preparing for this for
quite some time."
Still, she said, a Cuba without Fidel Castro will take some getting used
to. "He might not have been here as a physical presence but Cubans
always knew he was here," Pérez said.
"The Cuban people are always ready for whatever comes," said Angel
Ysern, a doctor who lives in Santa Clara. "But we want peace,
tranquility — not aggression. The Cuban Revolution has some things that
need to change, but let's keep the good things and get rid of the bad
On Friday, the caravan carrying Castro's remains left Camagüey and began
traversing cities and towns across Eastern Cuba.
Some farm workers perched on tractors to get a better view, groups of
doctors and nurses in their whites sat together along the caravan route,
people brought their babies, and teenagers sported headbands saying, "Yo
Thousands of people from more distant points were trucked and bused into
areas along the caravan route, and motorists who found themselves behind
the caravan have been trapped in traffic jams for hours.
But after the Castro processional passes, people have quickly gone back
to their everyday routines, minus a little joie de vivre. Beer and
alcohol sales have been banned during a nine-day mourning period,
entertainment venues have been closed and cultural events canceled.
At an outdoor restaurant in a Santa Clara park that advertises beer and
Creole food as "the perfect play," only a single table was occupied by a
few men playing dominoes.
In the wake of Castro's death, there's been a notable increase in
security. Near the entrance to Las Tunas, security forces were posted
every 100 yards or so.
But for the most part, even those Cubans who aren't supporters and would
like to see things change — especially the economy and respect for human
rights — have been quiet. The Sunday after Castro's death, the Ladies in
White opposition group canceled their long-standing protest march in
Havana, not because they mourned Castro's death but out of respect for
those who did, they said.
Others who say they will miss el comandante have stood along road sides
for hours waiting for the caravan to pass in a matter of minutes. They
have congregated before the sun is up and late into the night to say
In the town of El Perico, flowers in makeshift containers lined both
sides of the street, and along the route of the caravan people hung
homemade signs expressing solidarity with Castro.
In small Eastern Cuba towns Friday, the caravan became a history lesson.
Thousands of uniformed students lined the streets to witness the passage
of Castro's ashes and one group even brought a large model of the
Granma, the ship Castro and rebels used in 1956 to return to the island
from Mexico to continue the armed struggle.
Televisions in shops and restaurants have been tuned non-stop to news
coverage as the caravan makes it way across the eastern half of the island.
In Central Cuba, new billboards with large portraits of Castro began
appearing within days of his death, emphasizing the government's goal of
continuity even though Castro himself is gone. "Hasta la victoria
siempre, Fidel" (ever onward to victory, Fidel), they said.
Other sign makers have been busy communicating the idea that Castro's
revolutionary ideals will live on. "Fidel continues among us," said a
large wooden sign erected in Jobabito, a small town between Camagüey and
And the sentiment "Fidel vive" (Fidel lives) has begun appearing in
hand-scrawled signs on everything from snack stands to homes. Some
people have even painted it on their foreheads.
Source: Fidel Castro's death take on different meanings for Cubans |
Miami Herald -