Remembering Fidel

Many people here in Maine have traveled to Cuba. Together with our Cuba solidarity group Let Cuba Live, some of them celebrate on August 13,  the 96th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s birth. But we hear you saying: “isn’t a social revolution supposed be to something collective and not a cult of personality?”

True, we would reply, revolutions do need masses of people who, amid hardship and oppression, have visions of decent lives and can come together. But revolutions are not spontaneous. There is a place for leaders, someone like Fidel Castro. Just as with Jose Martí, Cuba’s great leader in an earlier era, Fidel Castro communicated goals and hope and offered strategic insight and plans. So it’s OK.

Some reflections on this anniversary date make the point. In her article appearing August 13 on, Daily Sánchez Lemus claims that, “Fidel is a country, is this people, who see in him the architect of their highest dreams.” She asks, “How can we explain what it meant [for him] to be close to the humblest people, to feel them, interpret them and share the same fate?”.

She cites a long letter Fidel wrote on July 21, 1957 to Frank País, his martyred young comrade based in Santiago de Cuba in the early days of the Revolution. She states that Castro’s “concept of people” is displayed there. At that time Castro and his band of guerrilla insurgents were fighting in the Sierra Maestro mountains. Castro writes:

“Now I do know what a people is: I see it in that invincible force that surrounds us everywhere. I see it in those caravans of thirty and forty men, with torches for light, going down muddy slopes, at two and three in the morning, with seventy pounds of weight on their shoulders, bringing supplies for us.

Where did they come from? Who organized them so marvelously? Where did they get so much skill, so much cunning, so much courage, so much self-sacrifice? Nobody knows! … They organize themselves, spontaneously! When the animals get tired and lie down on the ground, unable to keep on, men appear everywhere and bring the stuff along. [Deadly] force can’t do anything against them. They would have to kill them all, down to the last peasant, and that’s impossible. No tyranny can do that and the people realize it, and are more and more aware of their immense strength.”

From Spain’s Basque region, Paco Azanza Telletxiki, wrote in 2008 about Fidel Castro’s decision then not to seek Cuba’s presidency. He cites Haydée Santamaría’s remarks spoken at the University of Havana in 1967. That hero of Cuba’s Revolution declared that, “for me, being a communist is not being a member of a party: for me, being a communist is having an attitude towards life. Fidel is a communist with an attitude; he is more than a Party member. Fidel is the unequivocable communist who is so scarce today and who is needed to bring to fruition the just causes of the whole world.

She adds that, “In the 80’s Fidel commented that if one day the USSR disappeared and Cuba was alone, Cuba would still be socialist. Then came 1991, and the Soviet Union collapsed. When that happened, many “friends” of Cuba disappeared. In this new and complicated situation, the color red was fading. The reds of some countries faded little by little; others, devoid of shame, did so quickly. …Fidel and his Revolution continued walking along the same ideological path as always, flying the same flag.”

Mumia Abu-Jamal, a political prisoner serving a life sentence in a Pennsylvania jail, in 2008 also weighed in on Fidel Castro’s withdrawal from political life.  In his comments, Mumia Abu-Jamal points out that:

“Fidel’s nearly 50 years as Cuba’s head of state have had a far-reaching impact not only in Cuba, but in Latin America, and beyond. … Latin America, in large part due to Cuba’s strong and tenacious example, has distanced itself from the draconian governments of U.S.-supported generals and is opting for democratic governments and populist leftists.

“In the field of education, Cuba’s achievements have been exemplary. In Central and South America, the average literacy rate is 86.4 percent. Cuba’s average literacy rate is 98 percent …

“Under its socialist system, education in Cuba is free. Indeed, Cuba is the school of choice for thousands of students from all over the world, especially in higher education and medicine. …  In fact, in 1961 more than one million Cubans (mostly from rural areas of the nation) were illiterate. More than 100,000 children over the age of 10 voluntarily participated in “literacy brigades” and spread throughout the country to teach the poor and peasants to read and write …

“In foreign affairs, Cuba brought its considerable military power to the fore in the struggle against South Africa’s racist apartheid system. Cuba, supporting the Angolan armed forces, …caus[ed] such losses to the South African army that it ushered in a long road of negotiations, compromise, and [eventually] the dissolution of apartheid.”

Lastly, Patricio Montecinos offers reflections that appear today on

These days Cubans are paying special tributer to the historical leader of their Revolution, Fidel Castro. They speak of him with a mixture of admiration, respect, and longing, but for them, he is always present, even now when, physically, he is gone.

For millions of admirers on the island, Fidel – the Commander in Chief, as they always will always call him – lives on, inside all of them.  He is there in every part of the Island where he used to show up to plant ideas and hopes, and listen to his people.

Most Cubans have an anecdote they tell of their maximum leader and guide, and now on his 96th birthday celebration, this August 13, they are proud to have him with them in their various activities. Many say they still talk with Fidel, ask his advice and help with their personal decisions. Sometimes, one hears them saying this in tears, as if he were their closest and most beloved family member

He is the man the CIA tried to assassinate more that 600 times and that successive U.S. administrations tried to being down but couldn’t do so. He is present in every moment of happiness and victory for Cubans and there too in moments of adversity and sadness.

The leader of Cuba’s Revolution of January 1, 1959 is with his people always, and will be for generations, including people who never knew him.  For most young people and children, he is a guardian angel and the idol of the island that deserves the name “island of dignity.”

Fidel is also remembered on every continent. He always extended hands of solidarity to the dispossessed peoples of this world, and never asked for anything in exchange. He taught his compatriots to continue on that path and always lend a hand to anyone who needs help.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.