The Lucrative Anti-Imperialism of Fidel Castro / Iván García
Iván García, Translator: Unstated
According to historical accounts—which in this case are obviously told
by the victors—one morning in December of 1958 Fidel Castro observed
from his command post in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra a ruthless
attack by the air force of Fulgencio Batista. After the aerial raid he
wrote a letter to his secretary, Celia Sánchez, in which he described
the destruction caused by the bombs, which had been provided by the
United States, and issued a prediction: Henceforth, his fight would be
against "Yankee imperialism."
The relationship between Castro and the neighbor to the north is a story
of love and hate. During the Second World War, when he was still a
beardless boy, he wrote a letter to the American president, Franklin D.
Roosevelt, informing him of large deposits of nickel and copper in
eastern Cuba. In exchange for this information, which the adolescent
Castro considered confidential, he demanded ten dollars. Roosevelt did
not acknowledge receipt of the letter. According to some psychologists
such scorn can cause feelings of long-term hatred in people with
Narcissists are complex. Fidel Castro grew up on a farm far from the
city, where the affections of his harsh father—a former Spanish soldier
who fought against the forces of Cuban independence—were doled out in
droplets. By the time Ángel Castro legally married his wife and formally
recognized his son, the boy was then more than six years old. His mother
used to call them to lunch by firing off a shotgun. It was in an
atmosphere of stories about the Spanish Civil War, which he heard from
the family cook, and passionate interest in the world's great warriors
that the young Castro grew up.
At university he was a gunman, agitator and guerrilla fighter. He later
became the longest serving president of any modern country. Doubts
remain as to whether his fifty-year autocratic rule was the result of a
carefully thought-out plan or an accident of history. In interviews he
has confessed that he was always a committed communist but, given the
fierce anti-communism of the times, had to camouflage his political
I don't believe it. The ideology of Fidel Castro belongs to Fidel
Castro. There is no other like it. He wears Marxism like a ring on his
finger. It is a system run by a single party without presidential
elections and with almost absolute power. He has exercised authority as
though Cuba were a guerrilla camp. He operates from campaign to
campaign. Ever on the lookout for Yankee aggression. Promising a shining
future. Building a tropical socialism that has never gotten past the
He has a bad record as an economic administrator. Not even his
apologists can defend it. Today Cuba is one of the poorest countries in
the continent and the one with the lowest GDP. The one-and-only
comandante's most essential political weapon, both internally and
externally, has been anti-imperialism.
The enemies of the United States became his enemies. Their cruelty and
tactics did not matter. From Shining Path in Peru, MR-19 and the FARC to
the bloodthirsty Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Pol Pot in Cambodia, they
all at various times received political support.
The fuel that sustains his autocratic rule is the confrontation, real or
imaginary, with the gringos. On the other side of the Florida Straits
there have certainly been some American administrations which have
resorted to destabilizing actions in an effort to overthrow him. But
Castro has been no angel either. From the earliest years of his rule he
has supported groups and individuals with dubious reputations.
Some such as ETA, FARC and Carlos the Jackal were trained in Cuban
military camps or became terrorists. Positioning Soviet nuclear weapons
on the island in 1962 was a colossal error that almost provoked a
nuclear catastrophe. In letters to Nikita Khrushchev he suggested that
the Russian leader fire the missiles first.
During his golden age, Fidel supported numerous armed groups in Africa
and the Americas with men, weapons and logistics. From a house in Nuevo
Vedado he directed the wars in Ethiopia and Angola from afar using a
large-scale model with tanks and toy soldiers. He was so meticulous that
he knew the exact quantity of chocolates and the number of cans of
sardines distributed to his troops. When the Berlin Wall came down and
the Cold War was over, Fidel Castro had to bid farewell to subversion
and war games.
There was no longer any Soviet money for such undertakings. The domestic
economy collapsed and those who were fed up took to the seas in rubber
rafts in an effort to escape to Florida. Although the anti-Yankee
harangues never disappeared from official discourse, there was a change
of strategy. At the end of the 1980s high-ranking military officials,
who were committed to bringing goods to the island that were prohibited
by the U.S. embargo, engaged in drug trafficking and held talks with the
Castro's friendship with the Panamanian strongman, Manuel Antonio
Noriega, known for his support of narcotics trafficking, was solid. If
Castro used a barrage of narcotics as means of destabilizing American
society, it has yet to be shown. Many people believe, however, that
someone who carried a notebook that tracked the rations distributed to
his soldiers could not have been unaware that various military chiefs
under his command were involved in cocaine trafficking.
Today his strongest allies are in the south. Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales
and Rafael Correa are authoritarian leaders in the making who came to
power through democratic elections. They form a relief unit that helps
guard against the alleged overseas ambitions of the United States.
Raging against the gringos sells. It is natural to want to root for the
underdog. It is the key point in the anti-imperialist discourse. When
promoting global revolution, it is politically useful to speak on behalf
of the world's poor and weep for those starving in Somalia, even if you
yourself are living like a sheik.
Castro is no longer a threat. Retired and now eighty-six years old, his
vitriolic pen still occasionally attacks the "imperial perversion." It
is what remains of his lucrative anti-imperialism.
August 17 2012