Killing Fidel

It’s been another deadly year for Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro
Castro's durability over time has helped reinforce a Castro-centric joke industry, writes Fernandez [EPA]

The year 2015 has been another deadly one for Fidel Castro. In what has become an intermittent global pastime, rumours of the demise of Cuba’s iconic leader – now 88 years old – began proliferating on social media and in careless news outlets in early January. Wikipedia briefly classified him as “a person who has recently died“.

Part of the confusion apparently stemmed from the announcement on January 4 of the death of Fidel Castro Odinga, the son of a former Kenyan prime minister.

As usual, one of the epicentres of the rumour mill was Miami, home to a Cuban exile crowd that delights in the idea of a Castro-free world.

Long before he became the subject of what we might call Twitter assassination attempts, the Cuban comandante was, of course, on the receiving end of more hands-on efforts to dispel his earthly presence.

Morbid obsession

These were largely courtesy of the CIA, which reportedly devised no fewer than 638 plots to kill him, ranging from your typical poisoned handkerchief scheme to fungus-infected diving suits and exploding molluscs.

Castro’s durability over time has helped reinforce a Castro-centric joke industry in Cuba, a few staples of which were reviewed in a short piece in the Spanish newspaper Publico in 2009.

Castro says US must respect communist system

In one joke, Castro refuses to accept a turtle as a gift because “they only live 100 years; you get attached to them and then they die”.

In another, he goes to his astrologer and asks to be advised of the day of his death. “Comandante”, the astrologer responds, “you’ll die on a national holiday”.

After temporarily transferring power to his brother Raul Castro in 2006 on account of health problems, Fidel formally resigned as president of Cuba in 2008.

He only recently broke his silence on the matter of the rapprochement in US-Cuban relations that was announced in December, which will see – among other novelties – the reestablishment of the US embassy in Havana and a host of private sector initiatives designed to envelop Cuba in the neoliberal fold.

Lack of trust in the US

In his assessment of these developments, Castro reiterated his lack of trust in US policies but stressed that this did not constitute a “rejection of a peaceful solution to conflict”.

We can't definitively close this whole unfortunate historical chapter of resistance to US overlordship while one of its primary symbols is still taking oxygen into his lungs. So we engage in morbidly wishful thinking on Twitter.

This is hardly the sort of rhetoric that threatens empires.

Which raises the question; why are imperial aficionados still so obsessed with having Castro out of the picture once and for all? If the man wants to give mortality a run for its money, why not just ignore him and blissfully salivate over imminent prospects of pillage in Cuba and the restoration of the island to its pre-revolutionary status as playground for corporate capital?

Apparently, we can’t definitively close this whole unfortunate historical chapter of resistance to US overlordship while one of its primary symbols is still taking oxygen into his lungs. So we engage in morbidly wishful thinking on Twitter.

The Cuban government has responded to the latest bout of anticipatory glee by publishing the first photographs of Castro to be disseminated since August.

Reportedly taken at his home on January 23, the images depict the former president in the company of his wife and Randy Perdomo, the head of a Cuban students’ union, with whom he was said to have discussed themes like agricultural production, baseball, and Cuba’s contributions to the fight against Ebola.

According to Perdomo, Castro also “spoke of revolutions against the dominant philosophy, and he told me that you can’t stop believing in them because every revolution ends up being reborn”.

So much for the clamouring death knells.

A reckoning with history

Obviously, Fidel Castro’s Cuba was no paradise on earth, as my father’s Cuban relatives repeatedly reminded me when I visited them in the country’s eastern province of Granma in 2006.

At the top of their list of complaints was the shortage of items required for daily life, making it impossible for them to remodel the bathroom since 1962.

But on other fronts, Castro’s track record was pretty damn good. Despite having to contend with a devastating embargo that amounts to collective punishment of a nation for the non-crime of opposing capitalism, Cuba has wowed the world with its healthcare achievements.

Or at least, it has wowed those parts of the world that haven’t been brainwashed into viewing basic rights as things for which you should pay a lot of money.

Meanwhile, Cuba is not the one maintaining an illegal penal colony – Guantanamo Bay – on territory belonging to a country with which it has not had diplomatic relations for over half a century.

Normalise relations

Regarding current efforts to normalise relations, Raul Castro has pointed out the obvious; that this can’t be done without returning Guantanamo to its rightful owners, ending the embargo, and removing Cuba from the exclusive US list of “state sponsors of terrorism”.

The list naturally doesn’t include the country that, after pursuing a long-term policy of state terror in Cuba, has continued to commit all manner of terrorist acts and mass killings abroad in the name of fighting terror.

Back in 1953, Fidel Castro famously asserted that “la historia me absolvera” – “history will absolve me”.

Whatever judgements history eventually makes about him, they’ll certainly be superior to those earned by his northern adversary – which would just as soon dispense with history and Castro’s legacy along with it.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


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