Tuesday, 27 June 2017 18:44

Another Cuba, Another Fidel

Written by Gerry Mullaney
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Gerry Mullaney – Northeast Ohio Chapter

A contingent of Affiliates from the Northeast Ohio Chapter—Jan and Curt Alberti, Pam Cibik, Gerry Mullaney, and Kathy Ress—had the privilege of visiting Cuba last December. An added and unanticipated element of this visit was the opportunity to experience the mourning period for Fidel Castro in his homeland. Our group came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, a time when Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution were demonized by the US government. The message we heard was the call to condemn and eradicate Castro’s atheistic, communist movement in our backyard.

What we did not hear a half century ago was the voice of a leader and a people who experienced the inequalities and injustices of the US-backed regime of Fulgencio Batista. This voice was determined to make changes.

Jesse Jackson speaks at Fidel Castro memorial.

Our visit began with attending a memorial service for Fidel at a Havana Presbyterian Church. Jesse Jackson, who delivered a rousing tribute to Fidel, led the US delegation. This was a fitting start to our education about a Castro who knew the unmet needs of his people and worked to deliver for them.

     
La Castellana School for children with disabilities          Neurological Development Center in Cardenas City

We visited La Castellana, a school for people with mental disabilities that was started after the Revolution in 1961. The Director of 50 years spoke of their emphases—independence, integration with the larger society, and self esteem—whereby all people are seen as having value and a place in the family and community.

 

These themes were evident as well in our visits to the Adult Day Care Center, the Neurological Development Center, and the Home for Children Without Parental Care. The care and dignity offered to all came with Castro and the Revolution. What emerged in presentations by the Cuban professionals and guides was a picture of a leader who remained close to his people and their needs. Today, this society provides education and health care for all.

Santa Barbara Day celebration

And yes, religion and religious practice are alive in Cuba. We learned of the evolution of the state posture toward religion—from a “honeymoon” period immediately after the revolution, to a declaration as an atheist state, to the removal of this designation in more recent years. It seems that the churches have succeeded at convincing the government that the church social programs are compatible with the aims of the government. Today, there is a rich mixture of Christian religious practice, African spirituality, and other popular religious observances.

A Cuban psychologist, Patricia Ares, spoke to us about Cuban families including the growing empowerment of women with its accompanying tensions. An interesting societal statistic is the low rate of suicide and depression—explained by the protectiveness of the community. Cuban communal life is characterized by “much noise,” open doors, neighbors and nurses and family living and visiting in close proximity, thus providing for connection and closeness to counter the isolation of depression.

Bay of Pigs display

One of our final experiences on this adventure was our visit to the Bay of Pigs. In contrast to the US interpretation of this event as a noble effort at liberation ending in catastrophe, for Cubans, this is an episode of proud triumph over US imperialism and use of CIA mercenaries. The museum on this site provided ample justification for Cuba’s fierce defense of their Revolution. There were displays of the extreme poverty of the people under the Battista regime and of Castro’s efforts to address this poverty, including a literacy campaign, various projects, and nationalization of business. In keeping with his pattern of closeness to the people, Castro visited a nearby community of very poor people the Christmas before the invasion, ate with them, and urged them to be trained in arms as he predicted an effort to defeat the Revolution.

We left Cuba with an expanded vision. We still carry our long-ago programmed perspectives, along with questions not fully answered. However, the Cuban people and Cuban society we encountered showed us another, less appreciated Cuba—a people proud of their country and their departed leader, a society working to care for all of its members, a people able to be satisfied with “enough” of life’s resources. Finally, our Cuban friends are hoping for fuller friendship and sharing with the United States.

 

 

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