Fidel and Raul Castro, in a 56-year partnership in revolutionary enterprises that have changed the essence of Cuban life, have also altered the geopolitics of southern Africa and the Western Hemisphere.
The charismatic Obatalah, the religious embodiment of a majestic Don Quixote with the political cunning needed for success and survival of Machiavelli, shared tasks with his younger, lower profile brother who handled brilliantly the crucial nuts and bolts required to implement and administer the great visionary plans.
Together these Jesuit-trained sons of a Spanish army man (Angel) turned wealthy farmer grew up in Oriente Province. They have led Cubans onto the stage of world history — no matter the serious problems that plague the island’s economy.
In 2009, a very retired Fidel has become reflective. He writes essays on current political issues, reads and selectively watches television. I made my first documentary film for public television with him in 1968. Then and now he integrates his biography into the history of the times.
“My father owned the whole town (Biran), except for the post office and public school. I had the opportunity to see that small world from his vantage point, the owner, as well as from the vista of the have-nots. Sugar workers, for example, had no rights. Only the wealthy could read and write.”
Local people, including the teacher, tried to cheat his father, he recalled. “As a child I also learned about hunger from rural neighbors. In the supposed Cuban democracy of the 1930s, the poor also voted for candidates backed by my rich father,” he chortled.
“The idea of a free press was a joke,” he went on. “Who knew how to read and write? Those who went to school! The majority could not attend. I went to the best school and there was not one black or mulatto student. At the Jesuit school I attended later there was one mulatto.” Fidel spoke of those days of high infant mortality rates, short life expectancy for the poor and large scale illiteracy. “Some change from Cuba then to Cuba now!”
Speaking of the world as a whole, he declared: “There is a universal disorientation. I pity the politicians,” who face the modern challenges. “I was a politician once.” He referred to the developed world as a mixture of liberal democracy and mass media propaganda.
Ted Turner “used to come here often. He says I suggested to him that he create a universal television network. I watch it now and see lots of commercials.” He shook his head in disapproval.
“People have told me about Fox, experts in creating opinions. These networks must live from advertising revenue. Buy this! Buy that! Some shows you must cover your ears and eyes. Maybe because you live with this virus you don’t notice it.”
“Imagine,” he said, “being told what to eat, wear, and of course next year the skirts have to be shortened…. We [third world countries] do not have raw materials for that. Since you have invented most of those problems you should be the ones to provide answers to that.”
Consumerism and planetary survival might not be compatible because of global warming. “In 2000, Gore won. But he wasn’t elected. The Cubans in Miami, experts in electoral fraud, stopped people from voting. Gore had an environmental culture. That stolen election meant ten lost years in the environmental struggle in the country that burns 25% of the world’s fossil fuels. An election theft that may decide the fate of the world!’’
“Obama is aware of the environment and the importance of the health issue,” he continued, “So they accuse him of being a socialist or communist. He doesn’t have power. He’s threatened. He could be assassinated.” He shuddered at the thought of it.
I told him I had visited Gerardo Hernandez, the coordinator of the Cuban intelligence agents who had penetrated some of the violent exile groups in Miami. In 2001, the Miami judge sentenced him to two consecutive life terms.
“Gerardo proves you can take the best or worst from a man. Gerardo is an example of the best. We see those five as infiltrators inside terrorist and murderous groups, like those of Luis Posada,” the man accused of orchestrating the bombing of a Cuban airliner in October 1976, killing all 73 passengers and crew members as well as of bombing Cuban tourist sites in the 1990s. One bomb killed an Italian tourist
“We never did anything like that to the United States,” Fidel commented.
He interrupted the conversation. “What’s the score?” he asked an aide referring to the Cuban baseball team playing Korea. In 1968, I filmed him as he stopped the jeep to play in a village game in the Sierra Maestre. Only 41 years had one by!