Real Wealth Society

Sunday, August 20, 2006

I’ve been thinking about Castro BY Fred Cederholm

Column for on/after August 13th, 2006

I’ve been thinking about Castro. Actually I’ve been thinking about personifications, stereotypes/caricatures, enemies, Guillermo, repatriation, and Cubans. I tend to “understand” a nation and their identity not only by what I’ve learned of their history and culture, how they have behaved within the community of nations, or what is depicted in the media; but also what I’ve “experienced” by direct, or indirect associations with specific individuals of those lands.

You see, last Sunday was Fidel Castro’s 80th birthday. He had already been in the news for a couple of weeks. On August 1st, he announced that he would temporarily transfer the reigns of Cuba’s government to his younger brother Raul (age 75) to undergo emergency surgery for internal bleeding. He has made no public appearances since. There have been press releases and photographs made public regarding his wellness and recovery, but in this age of digital enhancements and spin… what is real or what is hyped propaganda?

Castro has been in power in Cuba – just 90 miles from our shores – for almost 50 years. He is the last of the Cold War Warriors remaining in power - having outlasted 10 US Presidents and almost as many Soviet Premiers/Russian-Presidents. Surviving assassination attempts, coups, bombings, invasions, and other Black Op ventures; Castro has enjoyed more lives than a cat. Will this recent battle with death prove his undoing? At 80 years of age, only time will tell.

Whether you like him (or not), you must admit he has fulfilled the Orwellian need for personification of “the enemy,” better than anyone else in these last 50 years. It is really hard to focus the hatred and stir the troops (or the populace) against an “ISM” – be it communism, socialism, capitalism, consumerism, or terrorism. You really need some figurehead/target-head to get juices flowing. Castro with his fatigues, the beard, that hat, the nose… (cigar optional) became the perfect caricature for all that is “evil and threatening” in the Western Hemisphere.

We don’t have a lot of Cubans around our part of North Central (rural) Illinois. In the 1950’s and 1960’s – those days before political correctness and sensitivity awareness, the first Cuban stereotype I (and most) encountered was Ricky Ricardo, Lucy’s husband - the Cuban band leader. With Edward R. Murrow’s interview of Fidel, his little boy - Fidelito, and the boy’s cute little puppy on “Person to Person” on February 6th, 1959; Fidel Castro became a second Cuban for the broadest definition of us. He put his best media face forward that night.

Castro was still seeking much needed support/cash for his revolution. He was not in the Russian camp, yet... All that changed in April 1961 with the Bay of Pigs invasion. The deal was sealed by December 1961, when Fidel publicly declared: “I am a Marxist Leninist and shall be until the last days of my life.” If that didn’t guarantee his fate as the incarnate evil threat in this hemisphere, the Cuban missile crisis of October 18 – 29, 1962 did!

My first “real” direct interaction with any person of Cuban roots came in 1974, when Guillermo moved into the dorm where I served as a floor advisor at the University of Illinois. Guillermo “B” was confident (almost arrogant), yet always polite, and ever-so-charming (to the females). He was focused and directed in his academics pursuits. His car, his motorcycle, his ability to spend cash, and his drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend Sandi did not win friends with the guys at the dorm. He really hated Castro - it took me the rest of that year to learn the reason(s).

Over 200 years his family amassed homes in Havana and other getaway properties from the sugar/tobacco proceeds of their country holdings. When Castro began to seize properties, Guillermo’s family stayed too long. His grandfather secured a night passage escape for the entire family, but the captain/crew betrayed and “dumped” them on a Central American beach with only the clothes on their backs. While the family waited - doing everything just to survive, it took an uncle many months to “work” his way across Guatemala and Mexico to Miami where he accessed the family’s funds on deposit there. He then returned to rescue the entire group. While the US had been good to them in the intervening years, Cuba would always be home.

When the Cuban émigrés and two more generations of their descendents took to the streets in Miami to celebrate Castro’s ill health and possible demise, I didn’t question why? – I already knew. I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.

Copyright Questions, Inc. 2006 all right reserved.


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