He talked with difficulty but without help. His assistants advanced at his side, aware of every step, but I imagine he had ordered them to leave him alone. He sat in his seat, forever his, although he was no longer formally a member of the Central Committee. The last session of the 7th Party Congress was underway.
He spoke. The voice of the Comandante en Jefe again reflected the exact tone of his great speeches, although at times it thinned, like the sound of a radio station that fades in and out. There is something, however, that was never extinguished: his penetrating eyes, irradiating light. The photos of him taken by his son, collected in a beautiful, supposed-retirement, album confirm this. Fidel was already an old man, a grandfather who was a bit hunched, but his eyes continued to be young. He spoke, and we all felt he was bidding us farewell:
“Soon I should be having my 90th birthday, such an idea would never have occurred to me, and was never the object of my efforts, it was a whim of chance… We will all have our turn, but the ideas of Cuban Communists will endure, as proof that on this planet, if one works with fervor and dignity, the material and cultural goods that human beings need can be produced, and we must wage a relentless struggle to obtain them. We must convey to our brothers and sisters of Latin America and the world that the Cuban people will triumph.
“This may be among the last times I speak in this hall. I have voted for all the candidates submitted for consultation to the Congress, and I thank you for the invitation and for the honor of listening to me. I congratulate you all, and first of all, compañero Raúl Castro for his magnificent efforts.
“We will set forth on the march, perfect what we need to perfect, with absolute loyalty and our forces united, like Martí, Maceo and Gómez, on an unstoppable march.”
It was, of course, a Congress of Communists, and Fidel wanted to reaffirm before the delegates, and history, that he continued to be a Communist. Martí had written to his friend Mercado shortly before his death in battle, “I know how to disappear. But I would not disappear my thinking, or aggravate my obscurity.” Fidel shared the same conviction as Martí: “We will all have our turn, but the ideas of Cuban Communists will endure.” He was asking for confidence, loyalty to principles, unity, as well.
My son will probably have memories of the Fidel of these last 15 years, from the 21st century. He will remember him as an energetic, venerable old man. But my generation saw him in another light. For us, he was the omnipresent father, who appeared at a Havana school, talked with students, maybe even played a little basketball, and a few hours later reappeared in Santiago or Bayamo. His presence marked the entire life of my generation, with his teachings expounded in long, spellbinding speeches and his legend renewed.
Every generation of Cubans, over the last 70 years, has its own image of Fidel, and photos preserve him in their memory like those of family members: at the Moncada Garrison; leaving the Isle of Pines prison; on the Granma; with his rifle in the Sierra Maestra; greeting the euphoric people along the Caravan of Liberty in the streets of Santiago or Havana; jumping from a tank at Playa Girón; cutting cane; visiting schools and factories; under the rain and facing all hurricane winds, the political as well as the meteorological.
In his farewell letter, Che wrote, “I have lived magnificent days, and felt at your side the pride of belonging to our people during the luminous and sad days of the Caribbean Crisis. On few occasions has a statesman shone as brightly as on those days,” or, I add, as during the self-criticisms, stepping up that August 5 in Havana, being the first to walk on the path he urged others to take.
The images cover the entire second half of the 20th century: Fidel with Frank País, with José Antonio Echeverría, with Malcolm X, Amílcar Cabral, Neto, Mandela, Che and Camilo, with Raúl, his brother in blood and ideas, with Lázaro Cárdenas, Salvador Allende, Omar Torrijos, during the reborn Sandinista Revolution, with Hugo Chávez, Evo, and so many others.
Fidel is also the people of Cuba – and in this regard, the analysts of imperialism err. That is why I like the poster Ares made for the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists’ Congress, entitled provocatively “Cuba Post-Castro,” featuring the face of Fidel multiplied many times over.
All Cubans, as of today, will bear this difficult responsibility to be Fidel, to be like him, like Che, like Martí. Glorious is the people who have such figures to look up to. He died on the day we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Granma‘s departure from the Mexican port of Tuxpan; but he did not die, he set sail again.
Fidel is an island that sails toward the isle of Utopia, Fidel is Cuba, which will not lower its sails, always in stormy seas, looking for itself, reconstructing itself to reach the greatest justice possible-impossible, the greatest solidarity, beauty. Fidel has set sail, 60 years after the first time, on the seas of history. Long live Fidel! Long Live the Cuban Revolution.