By: Paige Nielson
With the death of Fidel Castro, the former dictator of Cuba, many changes in Cuba are likely to occur. However, his death may be more symbolic, since he has been out of power since 2008, and the country has been run by his brother Raul Castro. Find out about the first-hand perspective of Ms. Bielskis and students who went to Cuba with St. Mary's last spring break.
On November 25, Fidel Castro, chief commander of the Cuban Revolution and defier of America, died in Santiago de Cuba Province, Cuba. While Fidel has been out of power officially since 2008, his shadow still looms large in Cuba today. Last spring break, St. Mary’s juniors and seniors, chaperoned by Ms. Bielskis and Dr. Lyon, visited Cuba and experienced a country loyal to its revolutionaries but struggling to get by.
Ms. Bielskis says Fidel’s legacy can be seen everywhere through the “bridges that lead to nowhere,” literal representations of the many projects abandoned when Soviet support funds ran out at the collapse of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Alina Perez (12), who went on the trip last spring says, “people continue to love him, and the society he established is still run the same way.” Perez, whose family fled from Cuba in 1962 shortly after Fidel Castro took control in 1959, says “there were almost tears of joy,” as her family became heard that the man who was a emblem of their hardships is now gone. As for Raul Castro, Castro’s brother who assumed the role of President of Cuba in 2008, Alina says, “the feelings are less direct, but my family members still see him as a communist and someone who stripped everything away from them. Someone who is still not giving all the rights to the Cuban people.”
Despite it being nearly a decade after the end of Fidel Castro’s rule, both Ms. Bielskis and Alina commented on the limited reforms they encountered while visiting. As Alina says,“it’s a lot more overt to the rest of the world, but there is still immense control over everything.” While the reforms, including the extension of entrepreneurship opportunities and fewer restrictions on the size of businesses, would seem like steps in the right direction, they are a part of a larger government-built façade projected to outsiders. The current administration has passed backdoor laws that defeat most of the reforms, rendering them unhelpful to the Cuban people.
Currently, there is still incredible poverty in the country. Ms. Bielskis remembers encountering several people begging for soap. When she asked their tour guide why people were begging for soap instead of money, the guide responded, “There are no goods to buy.”
The group visited a Cuban school where they found the walls filled with art restricted to likenesses of Fidel or Che Guevara, another revolutionary, and heard kids repeating chants about pledging to uphold Castro’s Revolution. The hours at the school showcased the ever-present influence of the Revolution in Cuba and the long road Cubans have before them as they develop as a country.
Yet, with Fidel’s death, many skeptical analysts and hopeful citizens are considering whether or not Raul will break from Fidel’s legacy and enact more reforms. To that, Ms. Bielskis says, “I think any change is going to be long in coming; it is not going to happen overnight.”