Cas­tro shunned stat­ues, mon­u­ments

. . . but still be­came an icon

Lesotho Times - - International -

HA­VANA — There are no stat­ues of Fidel Cas­tro in Cuba. No school, street, government build­ing or city bears his name. And while his like­ness stares back from bill­boards and of­fi­cial por­traits, it is ab­sent from pe­sos and postage stamps.

As the is­land’s un­chal­lenged leader for nearly a half-cen­tury be­fore fall­ing ill in 2006, Cas­tro for­bade mon­u­ments in his honor mere weeks af­ter his rebels top­pled dic­ta­tor Ful­gen­cio Batista on New Year’s Day 1959.

He then spent decades rail­ing against the idol­a­try en­cour­aged by other com­mu­nist lead­ers, such as Mao Ze­dong, Josef Stalin or North Korea’s Kim fam­ily.

“There is no cult of per­son­al­ity around any liv­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary,” Cas­tro said in 2003. “The lead­ers of this coun­try are hu­man be­ings, not gods.”

Yet de­spite his dis­taste for such hon­ors, the bearded Marx­ist stood as a glob­ally rec­og­nized sym­bol of re­sis­tance to Wash­ing­ton and free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism, a hero to left-wing Latin Amer­i­can allies whose move­ments he helped in­spire and an evil ge­nius to his foes in Mi­ami.

He was the most dom­i­nant fig­ure in Cuba, and Cuban state me­dia am­pli­fied his every public act or ut­ter­ance.

“The per­son­al­ity cult around Cas­tro ... is con­tin­u­ally en­hanced.” He “lives bathed in the ab­so­lute adu­la­tion or­ches­trated by the pro­pa­ganda or­gans of his regime,” bi­og­ra­pher Tad Szulc wrote in “Fidel: A Crit­i­cal Por­trait.”

Over the years, that pro­pa­ganda ma­chine churned out posters and framed por­traits that were hung in government of­fices and plas­tered ev­ery­where from pizza par­lors to base­ball sta­di­ums. His words be­came catch­phrases dis­played on bill­boards along the is­land’s pot­holed high­ways.

Tens of thou­sands of Cubans were sum­moned to his fre­quent speeches, which ram­bled for hours un­der the broil­ing Caribbean sun and were re­broad­cast on state tele­vi­sion.

Even af­ter turn­ing over the pres­i­dency to his younger brother, Raul, Cas­tro still cast a long shadow, pub­lish­ing lengthy es­says that were car­ried in every Cuban news­pa­per, in­cor­po­rated into school cur­ricu­lums and painstak­ingly read by news­cast­ers, who ate up air­time slog­ging through every word.

“Fidel’s pres­ence, through in­ces­sant public ap­pear­ances and rep­e­ti­tion in the me­dia of his words, was ubiq­ui­tous.

“That trumps and ex­ceeds the rel­a­tive ab­sence of Fidel im­agery” like stat­ues and mon­u­ments, said Brian Latell, a for­mer top Cuba an­a­lyst at the CIA and au­thor of the book “Af­ter Fidel.”

Cas­tro once told film­maker Oliver Stone that he “never spent one sec­ond” think­ing about how he would be re­mem­bered.

Yet friends abroad, such as the late Venezue­lan President Hugo Chavez and Bo­livia’s Evo Mo­rales, made Cas­tro a sort of liv­ing icon, treat­ing him as a men­tor and sym­bol of in­de­pen­dence from Wash­ing­ton.

Even many Cuban ex­iles grudg­ingly con­ceded the bril­liance of a man who de­fied 11 dif­fer­ent ad­min­is­tra­tions in Wash­ing­ton, sur­vived nu­mer­ous at­tempts to top­ple or as­sas­si­nate him and out­lived many of his most bit­ter en­e­mies.

The Cas­tro leg­end will grow in death, pre­dicted Jaime Such­licki, direc­tor of the In­sti­tute of Cuban and Cuban-amer­i­can Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Mi­ami.

“He’s al­ways been per­ceived as in­fal­li­ble, and that will be high­lighted even more, his legacy re­hashed so its im­pact on his­tory is greater,” Such­licki said.

Shortly af­ter Cas­tro’s rebels swarmed into Ha­vana in 1959, sculp­tor Enzo Gallo Chi­a­pardi erected a mar­ble mon­u­ment in the new leader’s honor near the Columbia mil­i­tary base.

“To Fidel, who knows how to break the chains of dic­ta­tor­ship with the call to lib­erty,” read the in­scrip­tion. A fu­ri­ous Cas­tro or­dered it torn down.

Over the years, he in­stead made other rev­o­lu­tion­ary fig­ures into icons, most no­tably Ernesto “Che” Gue­vara, whose name and face ap­pear on bill­boards, sta­di­ums, 3-peso bills and a six-story por­trait that tow­ers over Ha­vana’s Rev­o­lu­tion Plaza.

Yet now that he is gone, will Ha­vana’s Jose Marti In­ter­na­tional Air­port be re­named or stat­ues of Cas­tro erected in public parks?

One sign of pos­si­ble things to come was the 2009 des­ig­na­tion of the ru­ral home­stead in east­ern Hol­guin prov­ince where Fidel and Raul Cas­tro were born as a na­tional mon­u­ment.

How­ever, Cuba watch­ers say a pro­lif­er­a­tion of Fidel Boule­vards and Cas­tro Plazas seems un­likely, at least for now.

There is a good chance that Cas­tro’s re­jec- tion of mon­u­ments named af­ter him “will con­tinue to be hon­ored af­ter his death, though prob­a­bly with some very con­spic­u­ous ex­cep­tions,” Latell said.

Be­cause Cas­tro lived to be an ail­ing old man, his mys­tique will never ri­val that of the much-ro­man­ti­cized “Che,” said Paul Dosal, a his­tory pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of South Florida.

Gue­vara was killed at age 39, and to­day his vis­age graces T-shirts, key­chains and re­frig­er­a­tor mag­nets around the world.

“It will be dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, for any sub­se­quent government to re­cast or re­place that fi­nal im­age,” said Dosal, who is also vice provost for stu­dent suc­cess. “A rev­o­lu­tion­ary who dies of old age is no longer such a rev­o­lu­tion­ary.” — AP


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