Yet, it is Fidel’s legacy the one most Cubans and non-Cubans will remember. And this legacy is, whether we like it or not on the island, history-related.
We all carry a personal memory with us. This is a vast archive of both conscious and unconscious moments we have carved out in our lives. Personal memories do not exist in isolation even if the act of re-enacting them is as solitary as the very act of remembering. Personal memories are shaped by our social, cultural and historical environment. There are more elements to consider but these are the ones I will use in tonight’s column.
What will become of Cuba after Fidel dies is a mystery, even to Cubans. I am sure it will be a bathos-filled, catharsis-inducing, tear-jerker of an event but one spectacle we will not witness is the toppling of statues of the Maximum Leader. There are no statues of Fidel in Cuba. At least, none I have seen or heard of.
What this means is that the Fidel-inspired history that has given form and content to my country’s almost six-decade-long socialist fairy tale might be subject to revisionism. Without wanting to upset fellow Cubans who oppose the regime as much as I do, this would be a big mistake.
Meanwhile, in Britain...
Recently there has been a campaign in Oxford University to bring down a statue of Cecil John Rhodes. This man was the British administrator of southern Africa. Part of the British colonial and imperialist machine, Rhodes has become the latest focal point of a past many people on this island would rather leave behind or at least not talk about it.
|We topple the statue and then, what?|
I understand where the protesters are coming from and share some of their views and yet I have my doubts. I think their demands are too short-term-focused. The one action we can take in relation to the past is to put it in a present, effective, pragmatic context with a view to building a better and less divisive future. Knocking down a statue does not amend the Rhodes problem overnight. Especially if the underlying conditions that led us to make the decision to topple said statue have not been addressed. A better use of the energy needed to whack down this public symbol would be, in my opinion, to explore ways to change the perception created by the person to whose memory the statue was erected. The under-representation of state-funded schools pupils and ethnic minority students at Oxford is a much bigger issue and one that deserves more attention. An equally important target would be the romanticism and rose-tinted-glasses perspective through which British colonialism is still seen nowadays (mainly in comparison to other imperial powers such as France, Spain and Portugal). To challenge this is worth knocking down ten Rhodes statues.
To go back to my earlier analogy-based example, If Fidel’s demise does wind up as historical revisionism I will feel cheated and let down. That is not what the new Cuba deserves. We cannot erase the past, especially when our past was not always dictatorship-shaped. The achievements we had at the beginning of the Revolution should not be underestimated. That, in my opinion, Castro’s government became a paranoid, cutthroat, totalitarian nightmare is a whole different issue. It is the same with Britain. Should we bring down Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square because of his views on gassing civilians, Red Indians in the States and black people in Australia? Or, should we rather use the most valuable tool we have at our disposal, education, to teach our future generation about the nuances of human nature?
Churchill, as well as Rhodes and many others, promoted a theory of “superior race” vs a feeble and inferior one. This was not explicitly stated in many cases but rather implied and hinted at. It is this subjective feature we need to address and target. Intelligently. Knocking down public symbols might be good in the short-term as a wrong-righting exercise but without a coherent and forward-thinking agenda it will have the same effect of all those Lenin statues that were pulled down as soon as the Berlin Wall collapsed. What were the Russian people left with? Putin.
What will become of Cuba when Fidel is gone? I have no idea because the person in charge, to my chagrin, is his brother, Raúl Castro. The one outcome I would like us to avoid is historical revisionism. Bringing a statue down with no follow-up plan sometimes has that effect.
Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Wednesday 9th March at 6pm (GMT)