The Tyrant is Dying: No
News of Fidel’s brush with death brought the news media to my door,
literally and figuratively. The journalists were not alone. Even
long-lost friends suddenly surfaced, eager to hear what I had to say
about this turn of events.
Among those who came knocking, was the New York Times, asking if I
would like to write an Op-Ed piece. It was an odd request. Out of
all of the things that a Cuban exile might be asked to comment upon,
such as the ailing Maximum Leader’s disdain for human rights, or the
total ruin of the Cuban economy, I was asked to pass judgment on
those fellow countrymen down in Little Havana who were celebrating
Fidel’s demise by dancing in the streets.
The way the essay was pitched to me could not have been more
offensive, or more revealing of deep-seated prejudices. “I can’t
help but wonder if this is appropriate,” said the newspaper editor
about the dancing in the streets, “since many of them were likely
allowed to leave Cuba in the early 60’s with Castro’s blessing.” The
ignorance and insensitivity revealed in that pitch was so staggering
and appalling-so much in the same league as the Holocaust deniers or
the clueless socialites in William Hamilton’s cartoons- that it
caught me off guard.
But that was not all. The editor wanted to know what I would say, a
My opinion would have to be approved before I would be allowed to
All I could do is think of the word used most often in HBO’s
Given the bigotry already revealed in the editor’s pitch I knew that
anything I could say would probably be rejected, but I made the
effort anyway, much like a man who is given a chance to duck by a
“Yes, ” I replied. “The celebrations in Miami would make a good
subject, especially because those who are out on the street are
definitely not from the first refugee wave of the 1960’s, as you
suggest. The celebrants I’ve seen on television are all genuine
children of the revolution, much younger folk who have arrived in
the 80’s, 90’s, and the present decade. I can definitely write about
Once again, the editor pressed me to be more specific about what I
Puzzling over what might be the best way to both confirm and deny
the editor’s bias, I offered to sum up Fidel as the ultimate
Machiavellian prince. I summed up my pitch as follows: “Above all,
Fidel has mastered three Machiavellian princely qualities: the art
of being loved and feared simultaneously, the art of seeming pious
and generous while being ruthlessly cruel, and the art of having no
shadow, that is, the art of having no viable successor.
In brief, I will strive to analyze why it is that some people can
hate the Machiavellian ruler with a passion and dance in the streets
when illness befalls him, while others look down upon the celebrants
as ungrateful, selfish, insensitive oafs.”
As I expected, a terse, but vaguely worded rejection quickly
followed: “we’re afraid that this approach is not quite right,” said
Once again, I was ambushed by the prejudice that has dogged me in
exile for four decades and tempted me to change my name to Thurston
Howell III or Jacques Clouseau, or Thor Heyerdahl or any other
moniker that would not peg me as a Cuban or a Hispanic.
The worst thing about being a Cuban exile, at least for me, is
having to field proposals such as that pitched at me by the New York
Times, which display utter disdain for us exiles.. Why is it, I ask
myself, that any editor at the Times should look down her nose at
Cuban exiles who rejoice at Fidel’s demise, and then look for some
Cuban who will confirm her bigotry?
Why should any well-educated North American utter a contemptuous
remark reminiscent of Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake” to me,
hoping that I will agree with such inane and contemptible prejudice?
Does she not know that every freedom she enjoys in the United States
is illegal in Cuba? Does she not know that all those Cubans on Calle
Ocho are jumping for joy at the thought their country might be able
to enjoy the same freedoms she takes for granted? Does she care?
Even worse, why is it that my opinion should have to pass some test
before it is expressed?
How can this be?
Unfortunately, the answer to all my questions is brutally simple.
When it comes to Cuba, bigotry is still acceptable in the highest
circles. An insidious kind of prejudice still underlies the thinking
of many well-educated North Americans when it comes to Cuba, a
prejudice that allows otherwise reasonable people to accept or even
praise political and social repression of the worst sort from any
third world leader who pays lip service to egalitarian goals.
And the foundation on which this bigotry rests is at bottom a racist
one: there are still far too many comfortably affluent First World
people who judge all Third World people as inferior beings who must
play by different rules. .
This is why Fidel not only escapes the kind of censure other
dictators normally receive, but continues to be revered, despite the
fact that he has ruined Cuba, driven twenty percent of the
population into exile and imprisoned, tortured, and executed
thousands more people than his Chilean counterpart Augusto Pinochet
ever did. The mere fact that he boasts of free education and health
care for his dark-skinned people makes him a great leader.
Never mind the fact that no one who praises him in the First World
would be willing to live under his rule.
Well, call me a lout, then, and throw in cretin too, for I will
never accept my subaltern status as third-worlder. Never will I
accept it as a given that I and all other Cubans really need
“visionary” despots who abolish private property, stifle free
speech, jail all dissenters, and “allow” us ungrateful malcontents
to leave our homeland without a penny in our pockets. Never will I
accept the tens of thousands of my fellow Cubans who have been
imprisoned, tortured, and executed as a fair exchange for an inept
and repressive regime that guarantees free education and health care
only to those who obey a Maximum Leader.
As my landsman Desi Arnaz used to say, I have some esplainin’ to do.
But it is not at all of the sort that the Times editor expected from
me. The only thing wrong with the celebrations in Miami, as I see
it, is that they were premature. When Cuba is finally rid of the
Castro brothers I won’t be celebrating in public, since I live in a
small New England town where all displays of emotion are
inappropriate. But I will most certainly cut loose with selfish
abandon in the privacy of my own home and place white roses on
my mother’s grave, as I weep for joy and pray for Fidel’s immortal
Most definitely. Sí, señor. You bet. We Cubans can’t help but be
gauche. Bring out those conga drums! I need to practice for the big
day that lies ahead.