Many families live under the heavy hand of a self-willed patriarch who always knows best. The last half-century of Cuban history demonstrates the effects of extending patriarchal power over a whole nation. Today is Fidel Castro's 87th birthday.He still tells his people what: in weekly "reflections," Fidel summarizes books that Cubans are not allowed to read and specifies the faults that they ought to find in them if they could.
Fidel was always special. The son of a Spanish immigrant, he had the new arrival's intense love of his country and the foreigner's conviction that it could be shaken into shape. He was always moving forward: "I was born in Oriente province.We do most of the work; we make the most rum and sugar. We make the most money, too." At the age of 12, he wrote to Franklin Roosevelt offering to show him the "bigest mines of iron of the land" and asking for $10 in return.
He was well educated in private schools, then went to the University of Havana, where politics was waged with an intensity only slightly below that of gang warfare. He trained as a lawyer (and still writes like one), before sliding left and eventually becoming the figure we know so well: the bearded cigar-wielding revolutionary in fatigues appearing out of the jungle to liberate his country.
For a time, the liberal bourgeoisie who had financed Castro's coup believed that he would deliver on his promise merely to purge the land of corruption and rein in Mafia-backed gambling and prostitution. "Power does not interest me, and I will not take it," he proclaimed;"from now on, the people are entirely free." Well, that was until his sister sold some cows from the family ranch without asking - then she became classed as "a counter-revolutionary." Within 100 days of seizing power, Castro was overturning court decisions and replacing cabinets; within five months, he was forcing out the President; within nine, he was suspending habeas corpus and shooting old comrades without trial. He didn't want to, of course, but people can be so ungrateful.
In time, Fidel settled down to family life with his country. His youth had been filled with passion, defiance, turbulence, love - but now that he had found out all the answers, no one else needed those things. His speeches, delivered to million-strong crowds in the concrete Plaza de la Revoluci n, were less the fiery diatribes of the demagogue than the after-dinner ramblings of a man secure in the knowledge that he will not be interrupted: " the voyage of the Granmagrasping landlordstireless workers of [insert name of cooperative]Cheour often-mentioned neighbor to the North [pause for vociferous chanting]." His talent for impromptu five-hour speeches has only dimmed in the last few years.
In many families, there are members who are essentially in it for the food - who will put up with anything for the sake of access to the collective table. Where fidelismo is the political creed, then fidelity to the man is all; the Comandante may (or, say some, may not) live an austere and Revolutionary life, but it is certain that his nomenklatura has claimed all the perks on this poor and isolated island. Like dictatorships everywhere, his r gime can always count on the support of the few who have just a bit more of the little there is to go around.
In many families, too, there is also an awkward daughter who swims against the current - and in Cuba, her name is Yoani S nchez, whose simple mission she describes as the "'womanly' labor of weaving together, despite the chatter, the frayed tapestry of our civil society."She writes a blog, , that notices all those things the patriarch did not: the silences around the table, the loss of ambition, the waste of talents. Her public character avoids the hot-blooded posturing that gives Latin politics its savor; she is sad, contemplative, hopeful without confidence, brave without bravado. And she is now well-known enough to have annoyed the Castros and attracted the attention of their police.
The patriarch will soon die, but there is no such guarantee about his patriarchy. Cubans - proud, industrious, cultured as they are - will need to invent a new family, in which they themselves are the adults.