I arrive from Canada at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport on Oct. 22, 2017, around 11:30 p.m. Waiting to receive me is the president of the Cuban Institute of History, Rene Gonzalez Barrientos. He has come despite my having pleaded with him not to pick me up, given his heavy responsibilities in organizing the Oct. 24–26 Second International Symposium, "The Cuban Revolution: Genesis and Historical Development." Rene insists that, as I am an invited guest, it is his responsibility to do so. Alone with a car and no driver, we haul my heavy baggage loaded with books for a presentation in Cuba’s capital. We are headed to the Communist Party of Cuba’s modest but very hospitable Hotelito.
Fidel: A Revolutionary Life
It is my first visit to Cuba since the devastating Hurricane Irma. After inquiring about his health and that of his wife and family, I ask about the situation in Cuba since Irma. What follows is the equivalent of a keynote address adapted to the conditions of driving a car through Havana late at night.
Rene points out in a lively and descriptive manner how Cuba recovers as a result of Fidel’s thinking and action on confronting hurricanes as if one has been present at each of the massive recovery efforts during the many hurricanes that have descended upon the archipelago since 1959. There are several aspects comprising what Fidel called confronting the “natural phenomena coups” (perhaps making reference to the Batista coup d’état, which Cuba overthrew during the Revolution).
One such feature is the Fidel-inspired strategy of maintaining reserves to confront either military or natural incursions into Cuba. It leaves no stone unturned. The outstanding historian and host takes his avid one-person-audience through this experience both in time and space, as confident in his country’s policy as he is in driving in the oftentimes difficult conditions.
From the very first hurricanes that violently shook the palm trees – and much more – after the triumph of the revolution, Fidel elaborated his two-pronged thinking: save lives and keep the people informed. Thus, metaphorically speaking, Cuba’s national tree, the royal palm, still stands strong despite repeated aggressions.
We arrive at the Hotelito. Rene insists on taking the time to ensure that the guest is well received and comfortably settled, overlooking no detail.
Tattoos Honoring Fidel Castro
It is appropriate to add that due to Fidel’s on-the-spot inspections and encouragement of his people during all the hurricanes, he remains a living legend brought to life once again through the photos that have been published by Cubadebate following Irma’s ravages. Are the Comandante’s actions, like that of his thinking, still valid as an example today?
Yes, his example of self-sacrifice in combatting these “coups” continues to be valid and to flourish. During Irma, for example, from my home in Montreal, I watched Cuban television’s excellent interview with a worker in one of the most devastated areas on the north-central coast of Cuba. As the worst of the recovery operations was in the process of being completed in his region, he declared in a matter-of-fact manner that he and his brigade of workers were heading to Havana to assist the effort there!
While Rene may not like the words that follow, given his modesty, it is timely to assert today, as we commemorate the first anniversary of Fidel’s passing, that the passion and depth with which the historian exposed his views on the Fidel tradition of combating natural disasters also reminds one of Fidel. Thus, Rene’s work, and that of many other such examples in Cuba, constitutes another proof that Fidel’s work and action remain valid today.
I guess that is why the enemies of the Cuban Revolution today, as they did one year ago, attempt to disparage either directly – or indirectly in a cowardly manner – the validity of Fidel today. However, the Cuban palm trees continue to weather the storm of ongoing Western-led cultural aggression against Cuba’s socialist culture.
First published in La Jiribilla on Nov. 4, 2017.