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Fidel and I… two degrees of separation

21 July 2012

Simply reading these news items shows the possibility and the necessity we have of enriching our knowledge which today is fragmented and scattered. Perhaps it takes us to more critical positions on the superficiality with which we deal with cultural and material problems. I have not the slightest doubt that our world is changing much more quickly than we are capable of imagining.

(Fidel Castro)

Writing in Counterpunch, Nelson P.Valdes refutes the new popular meme that’s been popping up lately to the effect that 86-year old Fidel Castro is gaga.  The evidence of gaga-hood is apparently that Castro isn’t going in for record-breaking discourses on Marxist-Leninism or anti-imperialism so much as publishing shorter, pithier published observations on — well — everything from global warming to baseball to yoga.  The “problem” — if there is one — is that Castro isn’t quite used to the idea of twittering (and although I’m a few decades younger, neither am I ready to reduce complex ideas to 120 characters) and even blogs are not meant for lengthy, complex arguments (I know… I get lost in them sometimes,but I see this as more a draft for potential future writing, or just random pointers on Mexico and Latin American news that otherwise gets missed than as the final word on… anything).

And, as Valdes points out, the guy is a retiree with the time to read about, and comment on, things that wouldn’t have fallen under his old job description.  Which is something I can sort of comment on from (in)direct experience.

The latter observation isn’t new. I had worked for a “Business English” service in Mexico City that went belly-up when the owner took off with the school’s funds (and those of a couple private grade schools she owned) for her native Cuba (we think).  Besides the gringos and Mexicans, a couple of Cubans and an Argentine were stuck with out a job.  Trying to turn lemons into limonada, a few of us got together and contacted our better paying clients (the ones that absconding Cubana hadn’t totally pissed off, and/or robbed), and tried to start our own company. One of the more prestigious clients even providing us office space for a time, as long as we agreed to have an on-site person to assist the client with their routine English-language customer inquiries. Our on-site person, another Cuban, had a more interesting work history than most of us. She’d been one of an office full of translators working for el Comandante.

So… I got to hear some office gossip from inside Cuba, about 10 or 15 years later: when word came down that Fidel was heading down the hall, if you weren’t quick to go on break, or suddenly remember that important meeting that you just had to attend, you were likely to be stuck translating something like a Ford ad for new pickup trucks or a couple of paragraphs out of Vanity Fair> or Car and Driver. It wasn’t so much that it was a hard assignment (usually it was just that Castro didn’t recognize some English word in an article, or wasn’t quite sure he understood something correctly), but that having done work for el Comandante, there was a lot of national security restrictions on people who are privy to personal communications with a head of state anywhere, and the paperwork is a pain in the wazoo to fill out.

I don’t think the guy is anywhere near gaga, and — though I think making himself Cuba’s “indispensable man” for several decades was a mistake — it does confirm my sense that great leaders are not narrowly focused people, but are those with insatiable curiosity… and that Castro is a more creative thinker than we want to give him credit for. That, and while geezers don’t always completely “get” or avail themselves of all the new technical doo-dads (heck, I can’t figure out what all the features are on my latest cell phone) they aren’t around the bend, just because they’re over the hill.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 22 July 2012 11:14 pm

    I think Castro, and also Chavez, illustrate a fundamental problem with Latin American politics: leftist leaders can only stay in office if they are military officers, because they can prevent military coups inspired or encouraged by the US. Military officers are autocratic and poorly-equipped to build movements. They don’t train successors. So Latin America seems stuck with either autocratic leftist governments or kleptocratic right-wing governments. Brazil and Argentina are really the only exceptions, and those only in the last decade or so. It’s not clear to me that the Kirchners built a succession, so the left may end up in disarray there, as well.

    A healthy system needs a healthy left and a healthy right. The Americas, from the US south to Brazil, don’t have either one.

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