Impressions of Fidel Castro

WHILE Fidel Castro was in New York for the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations he was invited to a meeting in Harlem. I found myself one of an enthusiastic, chanting crowd of around 1,500 at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. It was an experience I will never forget. Castro spoke for about an hour. I can now understand why people gladly listen to him for three or four times as long. He was witty and entertaining. And his words carried a powerful political message.

Here is a man who - after more than three and a half decades of revolution - is still thumbing his nose at imperialism, still more comfortable wearing battle fatigues and speaking to an audience in a Harlem church than he is in a business suit hobnobbing with other government leaders at the United Nations, still committed to the vision of a better life for the poor and downtrodden of the world.

That is not the image of a bureaucrat.

What seemed notable to me is how much stress Castro himself put in the summary that follows on the humanitarian and anti-imperialist accomplishments of the Cuban revolution.

What I heard that night was a genuine voice for a better world, one where human solidarity will replace economic compulsion and military intervention. That Castro can still present such a vision with so much clarity and forcefulness at the age of 63, after so many decades of struggle, is a tribute to him as an individual and to his role as a revolutionary leader - whatever failings and shortcomings we might note about his leadership in other respects.

Certainly we must not lose sight of these negative realities which are obvious to any objective observer. And that is one reason why I found myself particularly put off by the hero-worship of the Harlem crowd, the repeated chants of “Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!” I wished that a few more of those in the audience would really dedicate themselves to working for revolution in this country with even a fraction of the intensity of Castro himself. That would impress me a bit more.

Steve Bloom