I have strong dislike for the practice of naming buildings and creating monuments in honor of politicians, especially when these things are done soon after their deaths. The most contemptible are those who have these things done while they are still alive and even attend the opening ceremonies. The US seems to be particularly prone to this practice. At one time I thought that every public building in the Washington, DC would be named after Ronald Reagan who has been elevated by Republicans to the level of sainthood.
There should be a law that no building is named after a politician until at least fifty years have passed or least some other period of time sufficient to take a dispassionate look at their legacy and see if it befits memorializing. If people still think that someone is worthy of a monument, then that would be acceptable.
So I was heartened to learn that Fidel Castro had left strict instructions that he wanted none of that kind of adulation and that his brother Raul, the current leader, is honoring that wish and that they are even passing a law to that effect.
Cuban President Raúl Castro said on Saturday his government would prohibit the naming of streets or public monuments after his brother Fidel in keeping with the former leader’s desire to avoid developing a personality cult.
The younger Castro told a crowd gathered to pay homage to Fidel Castro in the eastern city of Santiago that the country’s National Assembly would pass in its next session a law fulfilling his brother’s desire that, “once dead, his name and likeness would never be used on institutions, streets, parks or other public sites, and that busts, statutes or other forms of tribute would never be erected”.
Fidel Castro, who died on 25 November aged 90, kept his name off public sites during his time in office because he said he wanted to avoid the development of a cult of personality. In contrast, the images of his fellow revolutionary fighters Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto “Che” Guevara have become common across Cuba in the decades since their deaths.
This article looks at how Fidel is viewed by three generations of the same family, starting with the matriarch Nona Torres, now 86, who celebrated the revolution and acknowledges the many hardships since then but also the benefits.
She would rather count her blessings – a brick house in the capital with electricity, running water and a television, as well as free healthcare and education for her five children and 11 grandchildren. Without Castro, she believes it would have been impossible to live to this standard: “His greatest legacy is in education, health and equality. We – the blacks – were discriminated against by the whites. Today we are all treated the same.”
Torres is certain things would be much worse without Castro. “You can never forget someone who has only done good for you. That’s how I will remember him. I’m very thankful for the revolution. It has given opportunities to my children and enabled them to have good professions.”
Many young Cubans never saw Castro in person. He spent most of his last decade ensconced at home in the suburbs of Havana. Instead, they came of age under the government of his brother, Raúl Castro, who has introduced modest market reforms, opened up travel opportunities and restored diplomatic relations with the US.
This has raised expectations of greater openings: many now want a better economy, fewer restrictions on their activities, a faster, cheaper internet, and a chance to choose their leader. However, they also don’t want to lose the benefits of a socialist nation. Compared with neighbouring countries, Cuba has a literate and healthy population with little fear of crime and a strong sense of community. The key to a successful future will be to maintain the best of Castro’s legacy while discarding the worst.
While the three-day long procession with his ashes retraced the steps of the revolution that overthrew Batista and gave the public a chance to say goodbye, there was no lying-in-state and even his burial ceremony was private and local and international media were kept out.
The ceremony lasted more than an hour and took place out of the public eye, after Cuban officials made a last-minute cancellation of plans to broadcast the events live on national and international television. International media were also barred from the ceremony.
Afterward, members of the public were allowed briefly inside the cemetery to see the tomb, a simple round stone about 15ft high with a plaque bearing his name. The tomb stood to the side of a memorial to the rebel soldiers killed in an attack that Castro led on Santiago’s Moncada barracks on 26 July 1953, and in front of the mausoleum of the Cuban national hero José Martí.
Mourning for Castro has been fervent and intense across the country, particularly in rural eastern Cuba, where huge crowds have been shouting Castro’s name and lining the roads to salute the funeral procession carrying his ashes.
“All of us would like to put Fidel’s name on everything but in the end, Fidel is all of Cuba,” said Juan Antonio Gonzalez, a 70-year-old retired economist.
“It was a decision of Fidel’s, not Raúl’s, and I think he has to be respected.”
I hope more politicians follow Castro’s example and leave similar requests.