Under Fidel Castro, Cubans lived in fear but revolutionary hero put nation on world map

Fidel Castro once said that if assassination attempts were an Olympic sport he would have won the gold medal.

He cheated 638 officially-recognised sorties to kill him including poisoned cigars, a ballpoint pen with a lethal venom called Blackleaf 40 and even a cigarette that would blow up on being lit. Many of these efforts were masterminded by the CIA with the help of exiles in little Havana in Miami and one of the most bizarre was the effort to smuggle in a jar of cold cream through his ex-girl friend Marita Lorenz and she had agreed to collude.

The story goes that when Castro heard about it he handed her a gun and told her to shoot him. Clearly she didn’t.

The 639th attempt was by the Solitary Reaper and no one gets to beat him nor does he need the help of the CIA. A frail Fidel let the rope go.

It is reported they that are popping champagne in Little Havana but in Cuba itself the legend who was loved and hated and took on and drove 11 US Presidents round the bend with his scoffing of the most ‘powerful man in the world’ there is an aura of sadness and loss and silent relief that an icon is dead and an era over.

Just as there is concern that nothing changes and the ghost will survive.

Under Fidel Castro, Cubans lived in fear but revolutionary hero put nation on world map

A file photo of Fidel Castro at a sugar plantation near Havana. GettyImages

The longest living revolutionary forged in the romantic mode, Fidel brought none of that romance to his almost tyrannical rule in Cuba.

Lovely country and delightful people living under a miasma of fear. I remember trying very hard to get an interview with him when a relative of ours was the Indian Ambassador there but it was not destined to happen.

In the days we were there, conditioned as we were by American media’s filtering of the country, the sense of fear was palpable. My luggage was taken away at the airport for a special check. Our guide, Carlos would not accept more than a dollar tip because a higher denomination was not permitted. The local newspaper, boring as hell and pure propaganda, had the peculiar name of Granma and I remember being cautioned for making fun of the name.

You went shopping and you had Cubans asking you to buy them milk for their children. Don't give money, do our shopping. Everyone kept looking over their shoulders for the secret police and people were just edgy.

Castro never opened the economy and kept all his people on a severely restricted fiscal diet. If we spoke to a few locals they would be terrified to answer. There was no question of living in Cuba and being critical of any aspects.

Foreigners were not allowed to visit the homes of Cubans and Carlos apologised for not taking us to his flat.

That said, there was no howling poverty and even in the oppressed atmosphere there was music and dance and a sort of canned merriment which, even by order, finally became a habit.The cars of the fifties ironically US made ran slashes of blinding colour as they whizzed past...or wheezed past.

Consequently, the clash between the despotic regime and the constant awareness that the knock on the door could be the beginning of the end on the one side, and the visual imagery of a happy and contented Cuban population in bright clothes on the other, was strident. And the music in the air drowned out the screams of the dissidents in the hellhole called La Cabana (now a tourist attraction) and the current jail Combinado del Este.

As I write this piece without touching on the stuff everyone knows, I hear that in Miami there is dancing on the streets and it is party time. People are jumping with joy and hailing the end of their exile.

Seems a bit pointless. Fidel, in the past few years, had become a shadow of his former self. Raul Castro, his brother had taken over and perhaps tomorrow this beautiful Caribbean nation with a history that resonates across the world will be a democratic stronghold.

But for now let the old man go in peace…for better or worse, he and his cigars put the country on the world map.

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Updated Date: Nov 26, 2016 14:01:41 IST

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