Petrini reports from Cuba: Sadness and pride

28 Nov 2016

Havana. On a November morning, under a clear sky and with a pleasant breeze, Cuba woke up to the news of the death of Fidel Castro, announced during the night between the 25 and 26 November by the current President, Raul. It’s an apparently normal morning, and there is no wild reaction to disrupt the ordinariness of a classic non-working Saturday.

The streets are perhaps a little less crowded, as many stay at home to watch TV or listen to Radio Reloj (Radio Pride), the oldest station on the island and among the oldest in Latin America. Here, the deep voices of the presenters repeat the official government communications on the commemorations for the Líder Máximo, and provide continuous updates as condolences stream in from around the world.

There is a sense of composed sadness, neatly summed up by Yoani, who works in the historic Sevilla Hotel in the center of Havana, the setting of Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana”. Yoani is about 40 years old, and grew up in revolutionary Cuba. “For us, it is like separation from a loved one, a constant presence. Like a grandfather who’d been ill for a long time, you know that sooner or later he’ll leave you, but you’re never prepared for the final goodbye. For my parents and for me he has always been a guide, he gave me the opportunity to study and to become a citizen.” I ask her what she thinks of the festivities that can be seen, even on the TV here in Havana, of the Cuban community in Miami. “It’s an inhuman reaction. It’s easy to dance and party against Cuban politics from the other side of the sea. Here it’s important to fight for the things that don’t work, which we know are numerous, but it doesn’t erase our achievements. Personally, I’m not passionate about politics, but I’m conscious of living in a historic moment for my country and for the entire world.”

I arrive in Guanabacoa, on the outskirts of Havana, where I meet an urban agricultural community that supports children with cancer. Here, the farmers donate vegetables, meat, fruit and beans to the Granjita Feliz project, run by Dario and Lizzy, filling up cases that are delivered monthly to the families of the sick children. “Financial donations don’t work here, we ask for participation, social partnership in the community to help the people with problems,” Dario tells me, welcoming me into his home. There should have been a party this morning, but it turns into a communitarian meeting of the local families. Life goes on as always, but at the same time, a sense of sadness and loss is felt by all.

The shock created by the death of a figure who was so dominant in people’s lives is evident everywhere and makes the idea of some sudden paradigm shift unthinkable, as if the Cuban people were suddenly liberated. On the contrary, it’s impossible not to be struck by the pride that shines through in all the people I meet, on all levels. A pride that does not support Cuba’s revolutionary politics unconditionally, yet is borne of a great respect for a man who changed the history of a continent.

Next Friday, December 2nd, there was to be, as every year, the historic ceremony to commemorate the landing of the Granma, the boat in which the Cuban revolutionaries arrived from Mexico, led by Fidel Castro. For the first time, this event will take place with a month’s delay, leaving space for what will be an enormous display of national mourning: from November 28 it will be possible to pay one’s respects to the Líder in Revolution Square, with the official funeral taking place at 7pm on November 29th. From there, the ashes will depart on a long voyage towards Santiago, Fidel’s birthplace, where they will be buried.

Cuba awoke to a mixed feeling of sadness and pride, aware that the country, which has been an exception in world history, has lost its chief architect. By simply strolling through the streets of the capital, you understand that in a certain sense the myth of the man, Fidel Castro, has already been celebrated in his lifetime. In the morning after his death, it is strange to see the hordes of tourists, often very young, crowding at the entrance of the Museum of the Revolution, housed in the building which was one the presidential palace of Fulgencio Batista. Will history absolve the revolution?

Photo: Associated Press.

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