Saul Landau


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

Santeria status.


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.


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