Fidel’s ashes.

img_7273(My parents at Varadero Beach in Cuba in the 1940s, blissfully unaware of the upheaval just ahead.)

My parents were ordinary, middle class people. Not wealthy. Not part of any one percent.

Castro’s death opened wounds I didn’t even know were there. It left me with a wistfulness I share with maybe millions of others. We are the children of the revolution, either looking in from the outside…or looking out from the inside.

We inherited the betrayal of a whole generation. To us, Cuba lived in our parents’ stories. A mysterious, elegant beautiful dream that turned into a nightmare.

For exiles and maybe Cubans living on the island, Castro’s death was supposed to revive that dream somehow, liberate us, begin to restore something sacred that was stolen.

But of course it doesn’t. It can’t. Fidel’s ashes travel across the island in an orchestrated funeral march. But they also float across the Florida Straits, mingling with the dust of so many long abandoned dreams of “next year in Cuba.”

My mom died five years ago. My dad has dementia. I’m exactly the same age as the aging Cuban revolution.

In death as in life, it’s infuriating how many people praise Castro or excuse him. President Obama called him “controversial” as if there’s a way to see tens of thousands of deaths, dehumanizing poverty, stolen property, decimated cities, fractured families and fear as anything but tragic. Oh right, literacy is ostensibly at 98 percent.

American slavery lasted hundreds of years. But no one today thinks slavery had any redeeming qualities or calls it “controversial.” No one praises the free healthcare that slaves received or argues plantation owners “loved” their slaves.

Fidel Castro was really one of the world’s last 19th century-style slave owners. No ships needed. His plantation was an entire island.

It’s easy to imagine how fear, starvation, executions, indoctrination and relentless oppression can make anyone a compliant slave, one that mourns the death of his master.

My parents took the Underground Railroad of the day–a Pan Am flight out in 1959. But many others risked and lost their lives to escape in boats or makeshift rafts…and still do.

It’s why I can’t be a tourist there. It would be like going to a picnic on a Southern plantation in 1830 and marveling at all those happy workers in the fields. “Bless their hearts. Look! They’re singing!” I personally can’t do it.

If you want to go dance salsa and drink a mojito in Havana, go ahead. I can’t yet. Not while Cubans are forbidden to leave. Forbidden to speak out against the system or its leaders.

Not while Cubans are unable to own their own property, monitored everywhere, even in their homes. Unable to sell the products of their own making. Unable to read news from the outside world. Unable to buy milk or meat or toilet paper because it’s rationed, plentiful only for tourists.

Cuba’s economy in 1954 was roughly equal to Italy’s at that time. Today it is half of what it was more than 60 years ago. Think about the repression necessary to keep people that hungry and desperate for more than half a century.

If you go there, have fun. Take pictures of the decay and stagnation and of the Cuban people whose spirit is so difficult to extinguish. But please understand it remains a prison for people who deserve better and have no way out.

I thank my parents that I’m an American.

I thank America that I can share my anti-Trump opinions on Facebook without fear of getting arrested come January.

I thank God my greatest worries are as trivial as they are…as they seemed to be for my parents on that day long ago on Varadero Beach.

3 thoughts on “Fidel’s ashes.”

  1. Beautifully said, Lucy, especially in light of your parents’ story. (Great picture too!) It honors them and all who experienced exile from the country they loved. I will add that I think many people visit Cuba for many varied reasons and only the most ignorant or naive would take the “marvel at the happy workers” mentality.

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    1. Thank you Dawn. My comment about tourists was prompted by a friend who posted her vacation pictures on Facebook days after Fidel’s death with the comment “[We] had a blast on our trip to Cuba in 2014! All the people we met are educated, warm and open!”

      Thanks for commenting.

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  2. Your reaction makes sense! Warm and open yes — and even educated — but . . . . . . . !
    Besides what I know from our family and friends, I was grateful that the group I went with gave a fuller picture of life there. And that is the ‘danger’ in a sense. It’s like tourists who think there is no problem with food because as tourists we had more than abundant food. But we had to send Vitamin B12 and other vitamins and money to Martha because they were malnourished. Our group took us to a store for people with Cuban pesos, a store for people who had ‘tourist’ money (even if sent to Cubans as we did) and the stores for ‘rations’ which every Cuban uses. I think education groups who have a license to take people to Cuba have an ethical responsibility to give as full a picture as possible. People might go with naiveté, but they should return with some of that challenged.

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