Opening Statement



Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Flowers For Fidel!

Santiago De Cuba, Saturday January 14th 2017


Rather incredulously, I briskly march through the gates of historic Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, a bouquet in hand. Announce to the armed Cuban revolutionary guards that I've got flowers for Fidel. They simply nod. Wave me through into the inner sanctum.

It's Cuba past and present! Surrounded by tall, sprawling palm trees and glorious carved stone monuments, it's tucked among the foothills of the towering Sierra Maestra mountains that surround us. The proud burial site of  founding father Jose Marti! The Heroes of the 1959 Revolution! And now El Commandante y Jefe Fidel Castro himself.

All is silent. The sun beats down. A slight breeze ruffles the otherwise stifling, late day Caribbean heat. There aren't any objections as I proceed through the large crowd of visitors gathered to pay their respects. My off the cuff speech is short, very impromptu and perhaps quite unexpected [SEE


History will remember Fidel Castro much better than many do today. He was a major 20th century figure throughout the America's, beyond the USA and right wing circles. 

Often well respected and very much loved as an unapologetic, socialist democrat and also as a Cuban founding father figure, Fidel was very much an underdog hero for our times.

Among Latin, South American, and Caribbean leaders, Fidel alone gave the Washington DC imperialist oppressors the finger and lived to get away with it. Fidel died standing. He did not live on his knees. [1]

Fidel did not die at the hands of the CIA or the mafia. Nor in those of any other much despised post colonial henchmen or bandits though the efforts were many. In the end, Fidel finally succumbed to cancer at the ripe old age of ninety. [2]


Unfortunately, Castro family friend and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn't attend Fidel's funeral. Nor does one suspect that he will return to pay his respects at the tomb site anytime soon.

Also conspicuous by their absence are the supposed leaders of Canada's left.The NDP? Our union chiefs? Other progressives? All missing in action!

The month before Fidel's death, Trudeau visited Havana to reconfirm Canada's independent foreign policy towards Cuba. It's been one of constructive engagement for peaceful change. It's been respected successively for almost 60 years now, by quite different Liberal and Conservative Canadian governments, since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Without doubt the latest, fierce, American firestorm of hypocritical, right wing extremism in denouncing Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution since his death hasn't helped matters. Even our Canadian neo cons played "Me Too! Me Too!" in a copycat fashion. It is very embarrassing and disheartening -how quickly our weak kneed Canadian "leaders" today cower in the face of such bullshit!


Heroes of the Revolution [1959]

Running? Hiding? Crawling around on bended knee? Alas, my friends, it seem for now that such small, personal visits like mine are all Cuba gets. One can only hope other's will soon start to step up in increasing numbers too. 

Should you choose to go, Fidel's tomb is located near the front gates of Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, just northwest outside Santiago de Cuba. A small fee is nominally charged to preserve this historic site. Fidel Castro's final resting place is between Cuba's nationalist Jose Marti's towering 24 meter mausoleum and the curved wall at the pantheon dedicated to the Heroes of the Revolution.

Fidel's tomb is a very simple, if not huge and rounded quartz stone. A recess has been carved out as a vestibule for his ashes, covered by a plaque that reads "Fidel". There's lots of history and symbolism here:

The quartz rock was excavated from Big Rock up in the Sierra Maestra's. That's where Fidel was captured following the 1954 attack on the Monacado Barracks. His trial resulted in the famous "History will absolve me" speech. It fired Cuban nationalist sentiments ultimately culminating in 1959 with the "Triumph on the Revolution".


Jose Marti

This unadorned rock tomb is in keeping with Fidel's final wishes.There aren't to be any fancy statues raised in his honour. Nor are any schools, hospitals, airports or other government building to be named after him either.

Instead, we are left with this simple and humbling stone memorial. It's a very fitting testament to his steadfast strength of resolve in standing up for Cuba -the "rock" upon which Cuba's socialist constitution, universal medicare and education continues to be based. A very fitting tribute for Fidel indeed!

As we prepare to leave, I stop to record the changing of the guard outside Jose Marti's mausoleum. The ceremony occurs on the half hour throughout the day, same as it has for many years. [WATCH]

Now there is one small difference. A lone soldier also marches up to maintain eternal guard on Fidel Castro's Cuban legacy too. While a very refreshing, peaceful and invigorating breeze stirs and tugs at those of us gathered in our silent reverence.


"I Am Fidel" -Statues + buildings are out. However, this slogan is frequently seen as street graffiti, here more formalized, down by the harbor in Santiago de Cuba. 

Footnote

[1] I won't belabor my views or background familiarity with Cuba here. Suffice to see my previous blogs:

RIP: Fidel Castro @ Here!

Here are 2 interesting obituaries, with plenty of info, pictures and video on Fidel, his life and times, and his recent burial in Santiago de Cuba @ BBC and @ Granma

On My Cuban School Project Links @ Here!

Cuba: What The Heck Is Going On?!? @ Here!

Cuba: What Do They Think? @ Here

Boardwalk Empire/ Havana Empire: Why The Revolution? @ There!

[2] All info on Fidel's death by cancer and his rock tomb is still, pretty new and was provided locally to me by my Cuban school teacher friends in Santiago de Cuba. Apparently he was diagnosed with cancer just before he resigned in 2006. He seems to have been in and out of remission several times but knew well in advance that his time had come.

Big Rock is a well known historical site. There seems to be more symbolism to the types of quartz found in his stone but I could not adequately nail that down, though a visit to the site could probably confirm more details. I might return in late winter, early spring but am planning a city visit to the schools and with my teacher friends. Anyway, stay tuned! I am off Cuba tripping to Havana and Varadero next, in a few weeks .....


Prof. Jose Luis Tejaro from Santiago de Cuba + I pay our respects!

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