At 90, Fidel Castro is symbol of Cuban resistance to change
By Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press
Friday, July 29, 2016 | 1:02 a.m.
HAVANA — White-haired, thin and bent at nearly 90, Fidel Castro in
person is a faint echo of the man who remade his country, defied the
United States and fueled socialist uprisings around the world.
But 10 years after he handed control to his brother Raul, Cuba's former
leader has taken on a powerful new role in a country suffering an
economic crisis and debating its direction in a new era of normalization
After a decade out of the public eye, Fidel Castro has surged back in
the run-up to his Aug. 13 birthday as the inspiration for Cubans who
want to maintain strict Communist orthodoxy in Cuba in the face of
mounting pressures to loosen political control and allow more private
"We reiterate our commitment to stay faithful to the ideas he's fought
for throughout his life and to keep the spirit of resistance, struggle
and dialectic thought alive," Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, the hard-line
second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party told the nation Tuesday at
the celebration of Castro's 1953 attack on a government barracks.
The peak of Castro's return to public prominence came April 19 at the
closing session of the Cuban Communist Party's 7th Congress. The
three-day gathering featured a string of speeches denouncing President
Barack Obama's visit to Cuba the month before, in which the U.S. leader
called on Cubans to look toward a future of reconciliation and greater
Castro opened with a defense of his communist ideology, declaring the
Russian Revolution of 1917 to be "a grand social revolution that
represented a great step forward in the fight against colonialism and
its inseparable companion, imperialism."
During 47 years in power, Fidel was a constant presence for Cubans but
prohibited the statues, portraits and other tributes beloved by other
total leaders. Today, his image is everywhere as the country fills with
tributes to him on his 90th birthday. Fidel is now mentioned by
hardliners in the same breath as Jose Marti, the 19th century poet and
revolutionary fighter whose status is similar to that of the founding
fathers in the U.S.
"In the ideology of Marti, and the path of Fidel, we've been warned
about the need to prepare ourselves for a war of ideas, and to be
informed, so we can't be confused," the head of Cuba's official
journalists' union wrote Sunday. "We have the historic privilege of
having shared our fate with Fidel."
The editorial went on to reject a series of recent calls by young
journalists for greater freedom to work for the foreign press.
"There isn't the slightest doubt that conservatives who don't want to
advance look for backup in Fidel," Cuban political scientist and former
diplomat Carlos Alzugaray said. "There's been a backlash from all of
those who fear change."
There are billboards across the country with Castro's portrait and
best-known phrases. State television is filled with interviews
reminiscing about his time in power. Cultural events are dedicated to
him. There's a newly created government email address to send him best
wishes on his birthday. A group of students in the central city of Santa
Clara even developed a mobile app allowing users to pull up quotations
from his written works and speeches.
His family home in the eastern city of Biran has been refurbished and
planted with trees.
"I've lived through everything and I can tell you that there'll never be
another like him," said Sara Castillo, a 77-year-old retired nurse. "May
he have more years of life and health. He should be the guide for all
But the celebration comes at a tough time for Castro's dreams of
creating a socialist paradise and setting off a leftist wave sweeping
Latin America and the rest of the developing world. Cuba has seen allies
ousted in Brazil and Argentina and its prime patron, Venezuela, has cut
the supply of subsidized oil to Cuba, leading to a cash shortage that's
increasing public dissatisfaction, particularly among the young.
"I'm not interested in Fidel Castro or politics," said a 21-year-old
unemployed former engineering student who spoke on condition of
anonymity for fear of official retaliation. "They're the past of this
He said he wants to emigrate as soon as possible to be with his
girlfriend in the United States and have a better quality of life.
Other young people say they appreciate Castro, but want their country to
focus more on its future.
"He's the father of a whole generation of Cubans, an important figure,
even though there are people against him and people in favor," said
Denet Hernandez, a 29-year-old doctor. "But the youth want to take the
reins of their own time. It's not denying history, but continuing forward."
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