Celia Hart on Fidel’s Fall:
“The Man with the Long Stride”
This translation by W.T. Whitney, edited for Labor Standard, is based on the Spanish text posted October 26, 2004, on the Madrid-based web site www.rebelion.org.
20, 1868, the new army formed by Carlos Manuel de Cespedes
took over the city of
exquisite cunning and iron will took them by the hand there in that little
chunk of the world, and our nationhood was shaped. You only have to see how the
citizens of Bayamo burned their houses and belongings
in order to hand over ashes—and nothing more—to the Spanish.
That’s why it
made good sense to establish October 20 as the day of Cuban culture. Culture
has certainly been the
way, what with the ferocious incoherence of the 20th century, the world was
collapsing. While many were changing sides quickly or mouthing pathetic
In the midst
if the most incredible vicissitudes, it moved ahead along the only possible
path that would protect the homeland; it called for love for the world and
education for all. Blind patriotism [narrow nationalism] is a nation’s most violent
enemy. Ask about that in
The 20th of October is also the birthday of Abel Santamaria Cuadrado. My mother saddled me with an unsettling inheritance. From my Uncle Abel I inherited two questionable, wandering eyes. The one inheritance she took from him changed her life, infecting it with revolution. That young man in some way fashioned the secret modalities of my irreverent education.
Abel Santamaria was born in Encrucijada.
Yes, in a little town in the center of
My uncle had
been stubborn from boyhood. He took the road to the left and arrived in
One, or two, books were enough for that young man—who I have to thank for my turned-out eyes—to understand that the time had come to stop the postwar world and turn it decisively to the left.
Abel Santamaria studied Lenin without renouncing Martí—or more exactly, on account of not having renounced him.
One evening, someone new came into that little apartment. He introduced himself. Abel sensed right away that this was a man of the world. Mama told me only that his cigar ashes dirtied up the place, and also that this huge man stalked around as if they would be deciding the future right then and there.
the one who strode about, organized in just a few months the most disciplined,
tight, and combative group that the worldwide movement of the left would ever
know. They were not a makeshift outfit, a pile of suicidal hysterics. They were
a militant, rigorous group that cast off their youth like ballast into the sea
and caught fire for all time with that revolutionary flame of
Was it a group with communist ideas that attacked the Moncada Garrison in 1953? Was Uncle Abel a communist? What did those two men say to each other after they read that old Karl Marx book on political economy that lies in peace in the museum at 25th and 0 Street?
Those boys led my people along the true road. The road may be rough, but it’s the only true one.
They say that
philosophical truth comes undone after a tough exam. My mother never had much
time. Only once did she make herself into a fighter over my uncle’s eyes. A
little small town girl with six years of schooling confronted a bloodthirsty
thug with these words: “Abel has not died, because to die for the country is to
live.” Those are the verses we sing in the national anthem — those lines that Perucho Figueredo wrote out one October 20 on his sweaty horse. My
mother in her grief responded by appealing to what those verses really meant.
This woman grabbed onto who her brother was. She joined the best Cubans, bet on
Fidel, and got back her smile from knowing Che—that rogue
who had promised to drink mate with her when they left to make the revolution
in Argentina. That other brother, the spiritual one, convinced her that it would
not be good for
In those few
years Haydee transferred her love to
handwriting of the man with the long strides is splashed all over critiques on
political economy. Perhaps some day he could even tell us where they found
Marxist literature to read. But there can be no doubt that a legion of Marxists
was there quietly in the Moncada with Fidel and my
uncle—even though those young guys were not aware of them. Yes, Fidel Castro’s
revolutionary project relied upon a vanguard party to bring us along into a
socialist revolution. Not even once was thought given to the possibility of
Soviet support. Surely, those men had a whole legion on their side—a legion of
the assassinated. They killed our Mella, and Leon Trotsky. They slowly snuffed
out Antonio Gramsci in prison, and, as for Lenin, in
a certain way, they killed him too. And they even murdered our Luxemburg. Che was killed quite a bit later. A great group of the most
knowledgeable Marxists in history gave their lives to the revolution. We have
more martyrs than Christianity. Frederick Engels said
something like that. They are all gathered together in a magisterial orchestra,
directed by Jose Martí. That music inspired
Those ceaseless enemies forgot to kill Fidel. He gives them all something to live for, but still he is spared. Oh sure, they’ve tried, but it’s impossible. They’ve messed up hundreds of times.
And on this
Che and Abel, together with their best compañero, were celebrating the graduation of more than three thousand young people receiving bachelor’s degrees in the humanities and in art instruction. In less than five years the country now has more than 20,000 students of art and culture registered in 15 schools. Curiously, these plans are put into the category of what’s called the “battle of ideas.” (Think about this phrase.) And they are flourishing here, a long way from the disaster of “European socialism.” And those who say the revolution is stagnant ought to think about the Protest of Baragua, where we decided to keep on fighting until imperialism is done with. That’s the cause that Fidel and his people have dedicated themselves to.
So good! This battle of ideas means that we now have teachers of art to fill the schools, the houses of culture, and the neighborhoods. I ask myself if this man of the long steps and Abel ever could have imagined this in that chat when my mother was so upset because of the ashes on the floor. That’s OK; there are no more ashes now. Fidel won a medal from the World Health Organization for giving up tobacco, and the Comandante keeps on striding around. We count on enlightened young people, and our young people feel they are part of the revolution, in fact, a new revolution. Ever since the battle of ideas began, these young people have become the best antidote possible for whatever ideological adventures are mounted against the revolution. Let them multiply and move rapidly towards a realization that theirs is a fresh and truly revolutionary party.
The event was coming to an end. The artificial light showed off Che and Fidel, who seemed to be really affected, with genuine pride in his eyes.
Tears of happiness from a multitude of expectant children dressed up in colorful uniforms looked like sweating on the television cameras. They held their diplomas up like flags and were looking forward to the lovely party they’d have with the Comandante.
concluding. “Long live the nation! Long live the Revolution! Long live
socialism!” And as Che said on returning to
The man with the long stride stepped out. It brought to mind those long steps taken on Abel and Haydee’s tiny floor where he began his revolution, also Abel whose birthday it was, and Che, with whose words he bade farewell. Off in the distance he saw the happiest children in the world, laughing, and he was burning with a desire to embrace them.
citizens of Villa Clara, agitated as they were, saluted him. One step and then
another and this time his left foot went out into empty space. He had not
realized that there was a drop there, distracted as he was by emotion. For an
instant, the earth’s rotation stopped. We were paralyzed, our hearts in distress,
all of us Cubans, plus a battalion of friends throughout the world. Fidel
stumbled and using his guerrilla skills, he protected his front. There was
nothing to feel, even the flies stayed their flights, and for just an instant
the lights of that night went out, in our pupils. Two seconds, three, just ten.
How about ten centuries! And at last, seated in a chair with his usual smile,
“I beg your pardon for having fallen.” He joked about publicity that would come, said he was anxious to see how the foreign press would cover his accident. “The bad timing is what upsets me most, and the suffering I may have caused them with this.” He asked that they keep on with the fiesta, but the crying young people wouldn’t hold back, the way little children do. They asked that during his trip to the capital Fidel himself call them and say how he was doing. They wouldn’t accept whatever an intermediary would say. He reassured them as best he could and begged them to continue with the party; “I wouldn’t be very happy if you suspended the activities.”
Fidel is not allowed to sneeze. He reassures us so much about his health, that we take away his right to get sick or have an accident.
But this man of the long steps is always on campaign, and if he stumbles, it’s only his way of looking for a new victory.
The surgery on the knee lasted a bit more than three hours. The patient was conscious and taking in every move of the surgeons as they skillfully reconstructed the knee of the man of the long strides.
The next day he wrote a detailed report of what had happened to him and dedicated it to the people. Once more, Fidel knows and feels who his best ally is.
I ask myself
what would happen if the candidates for presidency of the
believe that any of those presidents would stumble because of emotion while
saluting their people. In fact, there was a September 11 filled with sadness
and uncertainties when no President was on hand to support the people of
They don’t teach these things at Yale.
October is now finished. We feel better, yet are uneasy, knowing that we will not soon be back to seeing him with his wonderful long stride.
Those are the
steps that took him across Uncle Abel’s little apartment, the same that with
six hungry men and a million stars in the soul entered into the mountains of my
country and built one of the most unusual armies of this last stage of our
history. These were the steps that, according to Che,
gave strength to the world during the
Next year we celebrate the release 50 years ago of Fidel, and his long strides, from jail. We have gone on more than half a century at his side, and it happens that even now more and more young people want to take that route to the left for which he is our guide. The blood and ideas of so many men have prepared that road, and sown the seeds.
Fidel’s responsibility is this: he of the long stride accompanies us in a revolution that does not end.