This is a recent email interview I did with Patxi Ariet, the son of Cuban immigrants to the US who supported Fidel Castro, about Castro, Cuba, the US media coverage of Cuba/Castro, and Cuba’s future.
What are your thoughts on Castro’s death and the media’s reaction?
The death of Fidel Castro marks the end of an era in the history of Cuba. To me it marks the end of the 20th century and the Cold War era and moves Cuba into the 21st century and makes room for the youth of Cuba to continue the revolution in the spirit of Fidel Castro. As to the media coverage, I feel that it was highly choreographed as to what was said. At first Fidel was referred to as the “Leader of the Cuban people,” when the news first broke about his death. As the day went on, however, he went from leader to Dictator.
We saw the political line of the American government come out through all media sources in the United States. Whether this was print or broadcast, the line was the same. There was also very little attention to given to Cubans in the island. The emphasis was on the Cuban exiles and their story out of Miami. Showing people living in Key Biscayne, which is one of the most exclusive and wealthiest parts of Miami, to get their take on the death of Fidel and of course to through some punches at his legacy. This was to be expected though, every emperor rejoices in the death of their enemy.
Tell us about your life and growing up as a Cuban whose parents supported the revolution? Why did your parents support the revolution?
To say the least, I did not fit in with the other children that came from staunch Anti-Castro, Republican homes. I would listen to the stories they have heard from their parents and I would tell mine. My family supported the revolution because they remembered and were not blind to the abuses of the Batista government. They saw the need for a total change in Cuba and its relationship with the United States. I would hear about how Havana was controlled by the Mafia and American corporate interests. They would tell me the stories about the “Saca Uñas,” the Nail Pullers.
These were special secret police that would kidnap, interrogate, imprison, even kill Anti-Batista Cubans, or just those that did not do what the secret police told them to do. My own great grandfather who was Captain of the Police force in Havana was forced to resign his post when he refused to assassinate people for the government. These were stories that many Cubans in Miami would never talk about or allow their children to hear. Along with the corruption my family remembered the poverty and injustice outside of Havana.
How people could just be thrown off their land by the whim of the foreign land lords. My own grandfather used to deliver medicine for free and provide medical care for free in these areas because they did not have any money for food much less healthcare. This is why the revolution was necessary in their eyes.
How have people received your support for Castro? Have you been shunned by members of the Cuban community?
Depends on who I am talking to. An American will sit with me and discuss the Cuban missile crisis and Bay of Pigs, of course from the American perspective. These conversations usually end with, “Huh, I didn’t know that”, from the person I’m speaking to. As far as the Cuban community, the reaction is a bit different. I never try to disrespect or put down the experiences of those Cubans that I’m speaking to that lived through the early days of the revolution. I know that any revolution is a difficult thing to live through, change is always a painful process and I try to sympathize with what they went through. For the most part I am either kicked out of where I am by the Anti-Castro supporter, or I am drawn into a long conversation about the horrors of Fidel and then kicked out.
There is a type of shunning that comes with being a Pro-Castro Cuban in Miami. People automatically know your name, recognize your face. Create elaborate stories about you, about how you are a spy for the Cuban government, how you must have killed 100 political dissidents to get to where you are. This is the basis of the Anti-Castro propaganda, lies and exaggerations. I remember once I was at a schoolmate’s house doing a project for school.
My parents struggled to send me to La Salle high school in Miami, one of the two obligatory schools Cuban exile children chose from to attend. I was doing a project at the house of a class mate whose mother was Anti-Castro, gun-ho republican. She was speaking to me about President George W. Bush’s policy towards Cuba. She went on and on, when she finished all I said was, “The embargo is the reason for the shape Cuba is in, but Fidel and the revolution has still managed to help the people of Cuba.” I was immediately told to leave. This is normal and you learn to keep your mouth shut in certain areas. I am much more well-received in American areas
There are some who would argue mistakes were made by Castro, Talk about those mistakes, but also how the media seems to ignore anything positive Castro has done.
Every government makes mistakes. To err is human. Unfortunately, when the leader of a country makes mistakes, some people suffer from it and it becomes the focal point of propaganda. In my humble opinion I feel Fidel could have done more in the way of “Socializing” industry and not just Nationalizing them. Industry should have been for the benefit of every Cuban and controlled by the workers of those industries. I see this as a major flaw to an exact Socialist state. This mistake, however, I do not even hold to much against Castro. I was never in his position and I trust he did what he thought was best to maintain the revolution in Cuba and make sure it was in the best interest of the Cuban people in the long run. I also know that there is scarcity due to the embargo so this could also be a reason to nationalize all industry, to make sure that enough is produced and distributed among the people.
However, the media looks at these “flaws” as evidence of an Evil dictator that refuses to adequately feed his people. Of course, they don’t mention the free healthcare and education systems across the islands, nor how Cuba send doctors all over the world to help those in need that cannot afford medical care. They don’t mention how every Cuban has a job, can read and write, has housing.
You never hear about the low infant mortality rate that is even lower than in the US. You don’t hear the fact that no one starves to death on the Island. There is scarcity, yes, but everyone eats and no one is starving to death. The western media ignores these facts and make Cuba look like a prison.
They distort why some people are in jail, they distort the numbers of people in jail, yet fail to mention that the US has the highest prison population in the world! How the prison system in the US is used as a modern day slave system to contract inmates, mostly of color, out to companies to do jobs for little or no pay. This is never brought up, yet the few small incidences in Cuba are blown out of proportion to be used as propaganda. It is disgusting.
What would you say is the impact Castro has had over the years and the impact he is still having?
Over the years Castro has impacted millions of lives. To begin with, in Cuba has impacted every single Cuban those who love him and those who hate him see this man as the one that changed their lives. Around the world he has impacted many, many others over the years. From his stance against the Belgians in the Congo during their fight for independence. Him sending troops to Angola to defeat the apartheid soldiers sent in from South Africa, which were supported by the US.
To the peoples of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador who looked to Fidel Castro as well as Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos as an inspiration to overthrow those in their countries that wanted to use them as slaved to continue making money and who have repeatedly sold them out to the United States so they can further their own economic interests. Even after his death he is impacting and will continue to impact millions of people daily.
He has become the symbol of revolution, the symbol of fighting for what you believe in and fighting for the right of your country and your people to be free. He stood up to the biggest empire this world has ever known and lived to be an old man. That is inspiring. His actions will never be forgotten and it is because of his action that his words and his legacy will be immortal. History has truly absolved him.
If possible, have you been in contact with anyone in Cuba who can speak to how the Cuban people are feeling?
I have a few friends of mine that are from Cuba and travel to Cuba quite frequently. None, unfortunately, that have visited the island after the death of Fidel. I can speak to how he was spoken about while he was alive. I have heard some say he was like a grandfather. Others who criticized him for not giving in to the Americans so they can have more things. Overall though the people of Cuba do not regret the revolution nor do they wish for the state to be overthrown.
As any patriotic citizen of their country, they feel that Cuba can be better, and it is exactly that feeling that Fidel Castro inspired in people and that is why Cuba will be better. Notice that those that have criticized Fidel were not harassed, nor put into prison. They criticized him openly and without fear of the state.
What do you think the future hold for Cuba, especially with regards to its relations with the US?
I think Cuba will continue to grow and move towards Socialism. With the next generation preparing to take the helm of the country I am excited to see what happens. When it comes to relations with the US. I am afraid that under President Donald Trump, the doors of diplomacy will be closed once again and the Cold War with Cuba will continue. I do not see Cuba giving in to the demands of a demagogue like Trump. I feel optimistic, however, that this will not limit Cuba’s interaction with the international community and that Cuba will continue to grow economically in the world despite the attempts of Mr. Trump to strangle it.