Cubans look to fu­ture with hope, doubts af­ter Fidel’s death

Malta Independent - - FIDEL CASTRO -

His words and im­age had filled school­books, air­waves and news­pa­pers since be­fore many of them were born. Now Cubans must face life with­out Fidel Cas­tro, the leader who guided their is­land to both greater so­cial equal­ity and years of eco­nomic ruin.

Across a hushed cap­i­tal, peo­ple wept in the streets on Satur­day as news of the 90-year-old rev­o­lu­tion­ary’s death spread. While many mourned, others pri­vately ex­pressed hope that Cas­tro’s pass­ing will al­low Cuba to move faster to­ward a more open, pros­per­ous fu­ture un­der his younger brother Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro.

Both broth­ers led bands of bearded rebels out of the east­ern Sierra Maes­tra moun­tains to cre­ate a com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment 90 miles from the United States. But since tak­ing over from his ail­ing brother in 2006, the 85-year-old Raul Cas­tro has al­lowed an ex­plo­sion of pri­vate en­ter­prise and, last year, re­stored diplo­matic re­la­tions with Wash­ing­ton.

“Raul wants to do busi­ness, that’s it. Fidel was still holed up in the Sierra Maes­tra,” said Belkis Be­jarano, a 65-year-old home­maker in cen­tral Ha­vana.

In his twi­light years Fidel Cas­tro largely re­frained from of­fer­ing his opin­ions pub­licly on do­mes­tic is­sues, lend­ing tacit back­ing to his brother’s free-mar­ket re­forms. But the older Cas­tro surged back onto the pub­lic stage twice this year — cri­tiquing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s his­toric March visit to Cuba and pro­claim­ing in April that com­mu­nism was “a great step for­ward in the fight against colo­nial­ism and its in­sep­a­ra­ble com­pan­ion, im­pe­ri­al­ism.”

Ail­ing and with­out any overt po­lit­i­cal power, the 90-year-old rev­o­lu­tion­ary icon be­came for some a sym­bol of re­sis­tance to his younger sib­ling’s diplo­matic and eco­nomic open­ings. For many other Cubans, how­ever, Fidel Cas­tro was fad­ing into his­tory, in­creas­ingly at a re­move from the pas­sions that long cast him as ei­ther mes­sianic saviour or ma­ni­a­cal strong­man.

On Satur­day, many Cubans on the is­land de­scribed Fidel Cas­tro as a tow­er­ing fig­ure who brought Cuba free health care, ed­u­ca­tion and true in­de­pen­dence from the United States, while sad­dling the coun­try with an os­si­fied po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sys­tem that has left streets and build­ings crum­bling and young, ed­u­cated elites flee­ing in search of greater pros­per­ity abroad.

“Fidel was a fa­ther for every­one in my gen­er­a­tion,” said Jorge Luis Her­nan­dez, a 45-year-old elec­tri­cian. “I hope that we keep mov­ing for­ward be­cause we are truly a great, strong, in­tel­li­gent peo­ple. There are a lot of trans­for­ma­tions, a lot of changes, but I think that the rev­o­lu­tion will keep on in the same way and al­ways keep mov­ing for­ward.”

In 2013, Raul Cas­tro an­nounced that he would step aside by the time his cur­rent pres­i­den­tial term ends in 2018, and for the first time named an heir-ap­par­ent not from the Cas­tro’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary gen­er­a­tion — Miguel Diaz-Canel, 56.

Fidel Cas­tro’s death “puts a sharper fo­cus on the mor­tal­ity of the en­tire first gen­er­a­tion of this rev­o­lu­tion,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba an­a­lyst and busi­ness con­sul­tant, “and brings into sharper fo­cus the ab­sence of a group of po­ten­tial lead­ers that’s ready to take over and po­lit­i­cally con­nected to the pub­lic.”

For Cubans off the is­land, Cas­tro’s death was cause for cel­e­bra­tion. In Mi­ami, the heart of the Cuban di­as­pora, thou­sands of peo­ple banged pots with spoons, waved Cuban and U.S. flags in the air and whooped in ju­bi­la­tion.

“We’re not cel­e­brat­ing that some­one died, but that this is fin­ished,” said 30-year-old Erick Martinez, who em­i­grated from Cuba four years ago.

The Cuban gov­ern­ment de­clared nine days of mourn­ing for Cas­tro, whose ashes will be car­ried across the is­land from Ha­vana to the east­ern city of San­ti­ago in a pro­ces­sion re­trac­ing his rebel army’s vic­to­ri­ous sweep from the Sierra Maes­tra to Ha­vana. State ra­dio and tele­vi­sion were filled with non-stop trib­utes to Cas­tro, play­ing hours of footage of his time in power and in­ter­views with prom­i­nent Cubans af­fec­tion­ately re­mem­ber­ing him.

Bars shut, base­ball games and con­certs were sus­pended and many restau­rants stopped serv­ing al­co­hol and planned to close early. Of­fi­cial news­pa­pers were pub­lished Satur­day with only black ink in­stead of the usual bright red or blue mast­heads.

Many Cubans, how­ever, were al­ready imag­in­ing the com­ing years in a Cuba with­out Fidel Cas­tro.

“Fidel’s ideas are still valid,” said Edgardo Casals, a 32-yearold sculp­tor. “But we can’t look back even for a sec­ond. We have to find our own way. We have to look to­ward the fu­ture, which is ours, the younger gen­er­a­tions’.”

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