January 2, 1959, Habaneros filled the streets to greet the small band of
long-haired, guerrilla warriors. The hated dictator, Fulgencio Batista, had fled
to Florida, with his entourage. But what would the new government do? Everyone
knew the reputation of the man who had miraculously led the barbudos to victory.
How could a few hundred poorly armed and trained men defeat an army of 50,000
men, supplied by the United States? What kind of policies would the guerrillas
January 9, Fidel Castro entered the capital. He had stopped in several cities on
his trek westward from the Sierra Maestra to meet and greet people and talk of
justice and independence. That evening as Castro’s speech was directed at
trying to persuade rival revolutionary groups to disarm, an extraordinary
phenomenon occurred. A white dove landed on Fidel’s shoulder. (Did he stage this
or did it just happen?)
the babalaos, the high priests of Santeria, Cuba’s popular religion, the dove
signified a clear message from the gods. From then on, Fidel took on the stature
of Obatallah, the god of immense strength and will that will guide the people on
its true course. His name on the street became el caballo, the horse, the animal
that symbolizes that diety. From then on, Fidel acquired truly charismatic
stature – charismatic meaning having god-like attributes.
this did not diminish his practical political prowess. It didn’t take a master
statesman to calculate Washington’s apprehension toward revolution. So, to
provide respectable cover for his revolutionary agenda, Fidel appointed to his
cabinet politically acceptable politicians to Washington. But real power
remained in the hands of the guerrilla leaders, like Fidel himself and Che
Guevara. Fidel quickly proclaimed an urban reform that cut rents in half. Within
months he enacted an agrarian reform designed to cut into the vast acreage held
by sugar barons and cattle ranchers, including U.S. owners.
predictable scenario unfolded. President Dwight Eisenhower, already grouchy from
heart attacks, interrupted his golf game long enough to order the CIA to
overthrow Cuba’s revolutionary government as it had done in Iran in 1953 and
Guatemala in 1954. The CIA formula meant recruiting a mercenary army of
anti-Castro Cubans who had come to the United States during the first year and a
half after the revolution, staging an invasion and replacing the popular
government with a U.S. stooge.
April 1961, when the proverbial egg broke at the Bay of Pigs, the yolk landed on
President John F. Kennedy’s face. Not since the Alamo had U.S.-backed forces
suffered a defeat from Latin Americans. Kennedy sought revenge — assassinate
Castro. But assassins do not have an easy time with Obatallah. Fidel claims that
the CIA and the more violent of the Florida-based exiles had made more than 600
attempts on his life.
forty two years, US presidents have tried terrorism; they’ve tried to isolate
Fidel, wage psychological and maybe even chemical and biological war; and
strangle his economy which, until a decade ago, enjoyed Soviet support.
1992, after the Soviet collapse, Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer’s
book, Castro’s Final Hour, won a Pulitzer Prize. Oppenheimer gave new meaning to
the word’s final and hour. One of his many mistakes was to ignore Fidel’s
2000, Fidel won the Elian Gonzalez struggle with his enemies. Unlike the Bay of
Pigs, the fight over the little boy brought Fidel onto the side of U.S. majority
opinion which included Bill Clinton and Janet Reno.
2001, Fidel remains at the helm. The babalaos discuss the issue of which orisha
will replace him. But, on the practical side, last year, according to Carlos
Lage, Cuba’s vice president, the islands economy grew by 5.6 % — despite the
tightening of the US embargo. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is half of
Washington DCs. Foreign investment has trickled in, tourism has increased
dramatically and Cuba has overcome — with difficulty — the problems that
economists predicted would necessarily destroy the socialist experiment. The
utopia on earth notion has long faded and some of the values associated with the
old Cuba have eroded with the ever-present dollar and tourism
W. Bush will be the tenth president who promises to bring down Castro and the
revolution. This is an unfair contest. Fidel should check his brains at the door
so they can start even. Imagine, Obtalallah doing battle with the Pretender to
the American throne!##
Landau is the Director of Digital Media and International Outreach Programs
for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences.