They were convinced he had made a deal with the devil.
Mom, dad, abuela, abuelo, the tias and tios and cousins who got away. They wasted decades counting the bracelets on Fidel Castro’s wrists, attributing them to one or another African god or Satanist ritual. They theorized that Castro’s persecution of Christians, and his relative tolerance towards santería practices, proved his longevity was a gift from a lower power, bought with his soul.
Like most of my family who I know – which, thanks to Fidel Castro, isn’t very many people – Fidel Castro is dead. His brother, the tyrant Raúl Castro, announced his death on Friday night, “with a profound pain.” “Towards victory, always,” the 85-year-old pino nuevo of the Revolution announced. His older brother was allegedly 90 years old.
Fidel Castro’s body, like his soul, will be incinerated.
Fidel Castro presided over the cultural genocide of his own people – or, at least, that was the goal, employing the firing squad liberally against “counter-revolutionaries;” sending Jehovah’s Witnesses, LGBT Cubans, and other undesirables to concentration camps; punishing those with visas out of the country (“maggots,” the Communists affectionately called them) with agricultural “volunteer” work – work that he, a well-off law student, had never dreamed of doing himself.
The Cuban exile community in the United States is celebrating, expressing a manic joy filtered through the lens of collective PTSD any collective of refugees experiences. The pots and pans were out in force last night in front of Versailles, the beating heart of Miami’s Cuban community. Champagne flowed; fireworks of questionable legality blocked the traffic on Calle Ocho.
Starting to be a real crowd outside Versailles in Little Havana, cars stopping to honk and cheer “Cuba Libre!” (And “el viejo murió!”) pic.twitter.com/pzBvC4fdNV
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) November 26, 2016
— Danny Rivero (@TooMuchMe) November 26, 2016
They brought out fireworks my god pic.twitter.com/WFxhiD1IQe
— Pizza Gawd (@Dopemanbeaner) November 26, 2016
These Cubans are celebrating a death, perhaps celebrating Lucifer’s relief at finally cashing in on that half-century-old deal. But beyond that, this is an emotional release decades in waiting, well-earned after being forced to choose between handing over the natural beauty of their tropical homeland, their culture, their language, and their identities to the cancer of Marxism, or spending Act II of their lives rebuilding it in a new country. Fidel Castro may have destroyed the island of Cuba, turning it into North Korea for Canadian tourists, but Cuban identity remains more vibrant than ever.
Today, “Cuban” is as American an identity as “Midwestern” or “Californian” due to the decades of work in building businesses, raising children, and maintaining church communities that the people in these videos did, and that is worth celebrating. Our culture out-lived its worst enemy.
I generally don’t feel like celebrating, perhaps because, having been born in Hoboken in the 1980s, I was too late to participate in our people’s cultural regeneration. Perhaps I feel empty because I already celebrated this in 2007, when the Cuban government ultimately denied that Castro had died.
But the reality that has kept me from breaking out the fireworks over Rutgers this morning is the fact that Fidel Castro’s death will change nothing for the people of Cuba.
Raúl Castro is in power now. I know this because he is the one ordering the beatings, arbitrary arrests, and torture of Christian women. Castro is the one pocketing 92 percent of the salaries of Cuban workers employed by foreign companies. He has maintained this system and exacerbated its brutality so much that 500 percent more people have risked their lives on the high seas to flee between 2011 and today (Raúl took over in 2008).
Cubans would rather risk being eaten by sharks, shoot themselves with firearms, and drink bleach than live in a Cuba run by Raúl, not Fidel, Castro.
Fidel Castro’s disappearance from public life did nothing to help the prisoners of conscience, their wives and mothers praying on Havana’s streets, the silenced artists shouting their names, or their starving children. Hours after Castro’s death, the oppression has already begun: Raúl has announced nine days of forced “mourning” for his brother.
While the celebration is a long time coming, the work of rebuilding what the Castros are still endeavoring to destroy, and educating the ignorant who dismiss that destruction, remains nowhere near done. Bang your pots and pans and wave the flag high above Versailles today, my brothers, but tomorrow, the struggle continues.