Castro, A Personal Perspective
I was seven years old when my family left Cuba. I remember angry mobs burning effigies of Carter at the town square. They referred to anyone known to be leaving the island as guzano (worm). When my father quit his job to leave the country, we had to go into hiding. It had become common practice for Fidel Castro’s supporters to target dissenters by throwing rocks at their houses, sometimes they would land on the people. All we wanted to do was leave the island.
My grandmother tells me about her family’s days of hunger suffered under Batista. Her brothers were forced to work in rock quarries far from home for very little money. When I ask if the revolution improved their conditions, she says that it made things worse because with Castro came firing squads, mass surveillance and incarcerations. People were still dirt poor but now lived in mortal fear. She knew individuals who were murdered for peacefully voicing their dissatisfaction with the new regime. They were average town people she had grown up with.
Far from elite, my family and I have been workers all our lives. My mother and grandmother worked in sweatshops making 4.50 per hour in Newark, N.J. throughout my grammar and middle school years. My father worked two sometimes three jobs to provide for us. I went to some of the worst schools this country probably offers. I’m anti capitalist and fully understand the effects of U.S. imperialism. There’s a misconception on the left that Cubans living in this country are all right wing extremists. We are supposed to hate Castro because we come from elite backgrounds and lost our wealth after the revolution. While people like that are the ones making the most noise in Miami, they drown out stories like mine and many others that have never enjoyed such privilege. My mother did not finish school. Her family are poor farmers who work for the state in Cuba to this day. They are barely able to feed their families while the government takes the bulk of their harvests year after year. Some of their children now live here. My father grew up in a group home with his single mother and grandmother. He worked hard to earn a degree only to lose it when economic corruption forced him to migrate to the U.S. There were many like him who refused to be silenced. Some lost their lives, others lost their freedom and a few of us were lucky to escape.
My grandmother was able to leave Cuba in 1972 with my uncle. The immigration laws at the time enabled her to petition the U.S. for our visas in 1978. We had a relatively easy path into this country. The Catholic church sponsored our stay in Spain while we waited for our permits. I have friends who came during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift. They speak of the many abuses endured at the hands of extortionist boat owners. It was common practice for boats to be loaded above maximum capacity, people suffered severe illness and some even lost their lives. In the 1990’s many more Cubans risked their lives coming to this country on rafts. A lot of them were mothers with children. They were desperate to be free of Castro’s oppression.
I have never considered Fidel Castro a revolutionary hero or leader. For me, a true leader is measured by her/his ability to empower future leaders. During a 60 year span, Castro’s only successor is his brother. Despite Castro’s promise of equality, there exists a harsh class difference in Cuba. I don’t deny that the U.S. embargo has had an effect on the country’s economy, yet it is not the only contributor to the Cuban peoples’ struggle. Inefficiency, cronyism, military corruption and mass surveillance also play big roles. While foreigners are given a cherry picked perspective and enjoy access to all the country’s resources, the people have suffered state imposed austerity for decades. I can not in good conscience oppose Castro’s contribution to the South African liberation movement or medical aid to countries throughout the world. I do draw attention to the fact that he did this while brutally incarcerating and executing people in his own country.
When I heard the news of Castro’s death, I was not sad or happy. I expected my news feeds to be filled with polarized views of the man. My only concern was for the people and the island’s ecology. Economic failure and crumbling infrastructure demand a new political system in Cuba. Obama’s duplicitous lift of the embargo is a scheme which opens the door for capitalism to wreak havoc while Raul Castro plays a predictable doormat role for Washington. One twitter comment did stand out above the noise for me. It was from Jill Stein. She praised Castro as a hero. I have respect for Dr. Stein and the long standing efforts she has made to grow the Green Party. I was genuinely surprised by her lack of consideration for Cubans like my family and I. I have grown accustomed to people in American left circles claiming the man as a revolutionary hero. They completely disregard Castro’s concentration camps, economic oppression and 60 year tyranny. Somehow, I expected more from Jill Stein who claims to support GP values of nonviolence and social justice. Her statement compelled me to share my experience because I can not continue to remain silent while the Cuban narrative is lead by right wing elitist and the pro Castro propaganda of foreigners who have not shared our hardship.
I am a direct descendant of the Cuban Revolution. I stand far left of Castro with the students who paved the way long before he took unilateral control of their movement.
Happiness in Cuba on my grandfather’s motorcycle.