Magazine article The New Yorker

FIDEL'S FAREWELL; Comment

Magazine article The New Yorker

FIDEL'S FAREWELL; Comment

Article excerpt

And that it should end so ingloriously! No fighting to the last man at the battlements, no martyr's surrender to an assassin's bullet, only a creaking, shuffling exit through the ward's doors, hospital gown flapping. We are less than a year away from the half-century marker of a most astonishing marathon, but even this artist of endurance must bow to fate and acknowledge that it's time to go. Vamonos, Fidel: no one is standing in the way.

So he leaves the field: Fidel Castro Ruz, son of a wealthy Spanish plantation owner and a Cuban washerwoman; rowdy street fighter and student leader; unstoppably audacious politician; revolutionary icon of the lordly profile; self-invented tropical socialist; epic enemy of the United States. In 1953, the extraordinary strength of his conviction persuaded more than a hundred men (and two women) to join him in an attack on one of the dictator Fulgencio Batista's principal military garrisons. Nearly half his men died in the ill-fated attack and its aftermath; he escaped unharmed and emerged a hero. In December, 1956, following a period of imprisonment and exile, he led another improbable attack--this time by sea--against Batista. Again, he lost nearly all his men but survived, along with his kid brother, Raul, and a scruffy Argentine named Ernesto Guevara. Washington had tired of the unsavory Batista, and it left the dictator to his enemies. On January 8, 1959, Fidel--in Cuba he would forever be known by his first name--entered Havana in triumph, promising Cubans an alternative to what had seemed their inescapable destiny as a Caribbean island. No more whoredom and ruffled cha-cha singers, no more death or blindness for want of simple prescription medicine, no more surrendering smiles for the tourist and the client, no more begging.

In retrospect, it is astounding how short the period of the revolution's great achievements was. The literacy campaign was completed in 1961; the health-care system and the food-rationing program (which, though loathsome, provided every Cuban with a guaranteed calorie intake) were both in place by 1962. It was all done with Soviet money, but no one else had done it, and the right to an education and a healthy life was more than enough promise for millions of the world's poor, who remained faithful to the idea of Cuba during the decades of the revolution's slo-mo collapse. Housing on the island crumbled; public transportation disintegrated; the sugar industry was destroyed; rationing became a constant form of torture; informing on suspect neighbors was enshrined as an ideal; incorrect thinking or behavior was punished with ostracism and jail; journalism withered; art congealed; and still Cuba's leader found in himself the dramatic resources to embody a dream, a goal, a purpose for an audience the size of the world.

And now what is to come? No one has failed to notice that Fidel's official stand-in, Raul, is, like his brother, not in the spring of youth. Fidel himself, in his goodbyes last week, implied that it was time to make way for leaders "who were still quite young during the first stage of the revolution." Who is to say how long the new occupants of the many posts he held will stay in power once they have anointed themselves? …

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