Fidel and Spain: A Tale of Right and Wrong


The Spanish newspapers last Sunday could barely contain themselves. The big ones, El País, ABC, El Mundo, La Razon and La Vanguardia were waiting a long time for this moment. And on cue they released whatever they had pent up inside their mediocre minds. The headlines read “Death of the Revolution”, “Death of the Cuban Tyrant”, “Icon and Dictator”, “Black History of the Red Myth” and “Symbol of the Revolutionary Dream, Dead”. They were ideologically excited, indeed happy. Like those in Miami, those in Madrid were relieved. The chief witness to their guilt was gone.

We know why Miami does it, but why does Madrid dance on Fidel’s grave?

Why? Because Fidel’s ambition was to undo everything Spain did in the World. That’s how big his project was. It wasn’t just about the 20th century. It included the last five centuries. And if truth be told it includes the next five centuries as well. That’s how great he was. His battleground is measured not in decades but centuries. And in that sense Spain was as much his enemy as was the USA.

Fidel was the antithesis of the conquistadors. And the Spanish monarchy and the Spanish church were anathema to him. As for Franco, whatever he stood for, Fidel stood against. Fidel not only refused to follow the lead of the USA but also the lead of Spain. In the battle for Latin America’s soul Miami and Madrid are partners. But both were eclipsed by Fidel. The descendants of the conquistadors – those who still rule Latin America and Spain – will never forgive him.

Fidel rejected his birthright: Spanish privilege. And by doing so he undermined the complete power structure of the Spanish speaking world. He rebelled against his blood and as a result “Spanish” fascism had him in its cross hairs. Never mind the anger Fidel causes in the USA. The bitterness felt towards him in Spain is palpable. For the fact is that Fidel embodied the Spanish Republican spirit. His embrace of equality not only offended Miami but also Madrid. While Franco could silence the Republic, he couldn’t silence Fidel. What Franco shaped, Fidel shattered. Fidel’s revolution was the answer to Franco’s counter revolution.

Fidel was the son who got away. His father came from the small village of Lancara in Galicia, northern Spain – the same part of Spain that Franco came from. However it was from Cuba that the young Fidel watched Franco and the resurrection of medieval Spain. It was up to Fidel to revive modern “Spanish” life. In 1959 he did. From then on “Spanish” honour was to be found in Cuba rather than in Spain. As Spain regressed in human terms, Cuba progressed. On the global stage the former colony outshone the former empire. Spain became a moral midget whereas Cuba under Fidel became a moral mountain.

Post-Franco Spain has been a story of opportunism. Lacking confidence in itself it has jumped onto every bandwagon that has passed its way: the European Union, the Euro, War in the Middle East and Bank Bailouts – to name the obvious ones. In contrast Fidel’s Cuba knows where it is going. And has confidence in it’s own ability to get there. It didn’t veer off course despite the blockade and the battering winds of history. Independence, integrity and realism were Fidel’s building blocks. As a result Cuba’s foundations are now not in doubt. Spain’s foundations on the other hand, are constantly questioned. Threatened by regional and social fragmentation – Spain hides its insecurity in NATO and the EU – organisations which themselves are insecure. The end result and great irony in the 21st century is that Spain is someone else’s colony while Cuba is the sovereign state.

Fidel’s wise “gamble” not only in the 1950s but also in the 1990s paid off. The second little known “gamble” being the moment Fidel refused yet again to follow the Spanish way. This time it concerned the neoliberal turn in the road. And the Spanish advice to take it. As told in Fidel’s autobiography (My Life: A Spoken Autobiography) Spain’s socialist party (PSOE) in the late 1980s and early 1990s was trying hard to sell neoliberalism to Russia and Cuba. The Spanish left under the leadership of Felipe González was infected by the liberal virus and was desperate to spread it using its connections with Moscow and Havana. Fidel however saw through Spain. And dismissed the notion of neoliberalism. Russia didn’t and paid dearly for it. Fidel treated Spain as if it was a con man. He didn’t take it seriously. And he was right to.

Spanish fascism and Spanish democracy weren’t for Fidel. He saw behind both the decrepit Spanish empire. In that sense Spain was and is like everywhere else in the West: a discredited force in the world. The future belongs to the Third World. That ultimately is the meaning of Fidel. And Spain, like everywhere else in the West, refuses to acknowledge or work with this reality. El País therefore is wrong: the real dreamers are those in the West that think their capitalism and imperialism are sustainable.

Fidel’s death is an opportunity to mock his meaning. And the West does so. However it is blatantly wrong. Because Fidel was and is right. History absolved him a long time ago.


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Aidan O’Brien lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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