So Long, Comandante

Unlike the usual buzz concerning Fidel Castro, today’s widespread news reports indicate the iconic leader remains among us, but has stepped down from his position as Cuban head of state, which he occupied for almost fifty years.

The announcement of Fidel’s resignation comes — of course — after having secured one last election to parliament… I use the term election loosely.

The news has surely sparked what will become endless rounds of conjecture concerning the status of Castro’s vital signs — understandably so, given that the crowd seeking orator has only been seen in photos since transferring mechanical power to his brother, Raul, in mid 2006.

The man may have allegedly escaped over six hundred attempts on his life. But more than a few false alarms concerning his supposed expiry, have created a good deal of skepticism about the denouement of his seemingly endless tenure, and whether Cuban officials would publicize the true facts, whatever they may be.

I received a phone call with the news at 3 am, from a credible source listening to NPR. whom I thought was listening to NPR, but was in fact watching CNN. I reacted with standard, knee-jerk incredulity and continued writing my paper, figuring radio broadcasts are more fallible than print media. Sure enough, within twenty minutes, every major journalistic institution was running a headline about the resignation.

The original announcement was printed in Granma, the PR megaphone for the Cuban Communist party. The stories in Granma are certifiable truth (and/or propaganda) concerning all things Castro. El Comandante writes in an open letter:

To my dear compatriots, who gave me the immense honor in recent days of electing me a member of parliament … I communicate to you that I will not aspire to or accept — I repeat not aspire to or accept — the positions of President of Council of State and Commander in Chief.

Whether the frail ailing shadow of Fidel’s poised former self is giving hushed ten hour speeches to his confidantes within the presidential mansion, or speaking loudly for days on end to his massive audience in the sky, it seems definitive that after half a century, we’ve truly reached the end of an era, at least symbolically.

As a first generation American-Cuban, I have beyond complicated feelings towards the enigmatic figure that is Fidel Castro. But love El Comandante or hate him, he is an undeniably fascinating individual, demonstrating impressive intelligence, and a magnetism unmatched by any existing politician.

I’ve been hearing about this momentous day since I was a child, reminded of its importance every time a new rumor about Fidel’s passing emerged. I feel like I should be excited about the future, about the prospect of a "free Cuba." But that just seems unrealistic, for many reasons.

I really don’t see this process as anything more than romantic metaphor. As it stands, Fidel hasn’t been in power for almost two years, which seems to have gone mostly unnoticed. That is, if he is in fact, still alive. And the Cuban government appears to have a good deal of support, showing no signs of substantial civil unrest.

In reality I am more than a little ambivalent about what will become of Cuba if political tides do eventually turn more conservative, and American officials and entrepreneurs are allowed to rush in unchecked, under the guise of establishing democracy. Given our record of delivering freedom to foreign nations, maybe we should focus on addressing the failures of democracy on our own shores.