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Fidel Castro: The Cult of Personality Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 10th, 2021

Introduction and thesis

Cult of personality has a long history and is mainly connected with strong and charismatic and strong leaders, mainly in the political sphere. Fidel Castro is one of the brightest examples of the charismatic political leader who have managed to control people’s thoughts and actions in Cuba for already 50 years1. Scholars nowadays see inherent leadership traits in Castro whose personality was destined to become idealized by the overall promotion by the Communist Party and the media controlled by it. Accordingly, the cult of Castro’s personality can be considered a successful merad of the Communist party of Cuba to promote the very regime of communism in the country. Castro is a popular personality whose leadership adds greatly to the popularity of the Communist Party of Cuba in that he has helped maintain the party in power for half a century and has quelled any opposition from the beginning of the regime. This has been done in most part by controlling the media and reporters by manipulation to the extent that the media has turned its back to the whisperings of the common people2. In view of this study was designed to explore this topic.

Argument

Social economic background of Cuba before the revolution

Before the revolution period in 1950s, Cuba was a rapidly though unevenly developing country in areas of health, education and individual consumption. The problem was how to distribute it evenly. The economy of the country was dependent on agricultural production mainly sugarcane growing and other seasonal crops which meant unemployment and underemployment between harvests. Coupled with low earnings of agricultural workers, poverty

levels were high. There also existed great disparities in income distribution among families in the rural areas and those in urban areas with purchasing power. A census in 1946 showed that annual income of a six-member peasant family averaged $548.75 of which 50%of agricultural workers families could not attain and who represented 34% of Cuba’s total population and received 10% of the national income3.

The 1953 Population, Housing and Electro census found a high degree of illiteracy in the general population and especially the rural population with 73% of 14 year olds who could read and write and Havana University, the largest in the country, having 25,000 students and 2500 professors a number which declined during after revolutionary as young people and their professors joined the revolution in 1960s4. Again disparity is shown in access to education between the rural poor and the urbanites. Figures from this census show that 77% of people aged 5-24 years did not attend school; this was attributed to rural poverty which made children and youths to work in the fields at an early age to support their families. The number of schools both public and private was also small where in the 1958-1959 school years there were 7,567 schools in the whole country which employed 17,355 teachers. The ratio was thus 2.3 teachers per school which was hardly enough5.

Poverty is further manifested in the housing conditions of the population. During the 1953 census, 47% of dwellings were found to be in deplorable conditions and housed 53% of the total population, 30% of urban population and 75% rural population. Habitable dwellings were 40.4% which housed 37% of the total population, 50% in urban areas and 24.4% in rural areas and only 13% (20% in urban areas and 0.6% in rural areas) was considered as good dwellings occupied by 10% of Cuban population6. Common housing in rural areas was built from wood i.e. the trunk of palm trees and branches with earthen floors with the help of family and neighbors. These houses have little sanitary facilities and those available are built from these materials. The census also recorded that indoor or outdoor toilets either for individual or collective use, were found in only 7% of houses both in rural and urban areas with 87% of houses in rural areas lacking the facilities7,8

Fidel Castro’s early live

In his early years as a university student, Castro adopted a revolutionary spirit that has been very successful in propagating his personality cult. This was not so much as in principles or intellectual convictions but in an affinity for conflicts and search for political leadership in whatever way possible and with no thoughts of the consequences9.This is demonstrated in his acts in April 9, 1948 in Bogotá the capital of Colombia. He was attending a student’s congress as part of the Cuban students’ delegation when the Colombian Liberal Party leader was assassinated. Violent uprisings and fires resulted as his supporters demonstrated. Castro, instead of staying in his hotel room to await evacuation to his country, joined in the mayhem and even went to a nearby police station to incite them to join the uprising and called that it a revolution. He was arrested and later taken back to Cuba after negotiations between the two governments to release students. This instead of taming him was reported to have exited and satisfied him greatly, not physically but the thought that he was a revolutionary; this proved that he had extraordinary leadership qualities10.

As an improvising and bold leader, Castro built his personality cult in his formative years successfully. He had no laid down plan only a mind for improvising situations that will put him to the top. In January 26, 1953, Castro led a group of young Cubans from Orthodox (Manuel Corrales, Luis Mas Martin, Baudilio Castellanos, Eduardo Corona, Antonio Carneado, Jaime Grabalosa, Juan Bradman, Jorge Quintana, Flavio Ortega, Arquimedes Poveda, Agustin Clavijo, Raul Valdes Vivo, Antonio Nunez Jimenez, Alicia Alonso, Oscar Camps, Walterio Carbonell, Alfredo Guevara Valdes, Adan Garcia and Baldomero Alvarez Rios) members of his party then, to a coup to overthrow Batista who had replaced Prior Carlos in a coup also. His plan was simple: attack several garrisons among them Moncada, arm the people and call for a general upraising to pressurize the government to bow out and call for elections. The attack failed and Castro was captured and tried during which he delivered the famous ‘History will absolve us’ speech11.

Fidel Contribution to the cult personality

Fidel has successfully portrayed a charismatic personality that has maintained his personality cult especially to the media in other countries. He projects the image of a visionary revolutionary and also that of an absolute leader who can inflict mortification and then flatter and offer comradeship at other times. Castro even manipulated the journalists by charming them when he wants and threatening those against him. This is portrayed by Herbert Mathew’s articles in the New York Times when he says that Fidel Castro is a man of ideas, courage and extraordinary leadership qualities and who has an intense personality; the reporter had visited Castro and his guerrilla militias in sierra Maestras in 1957 who gave him publicity and worldwide fame12.

He has been portrayed as a figure of morality and intellectual authority, at least to the Cuban people, in his words and judgments. In his long speeches, torrents of words are delivered with wild gesticulations, gibes and expressions of anger as he draws a line between public enemies and friends and what is to be believed and what is to be opposed depending on his stand on issues13. His words are taken as gospel truth and define how people conduct themselves. In a speech on May Day 26 1980 at the Jose Marti Revolution Square, people applaud him insistently and he told them to show discipline by being silent. He then went ahead to demonise what he refers to as the enemy of the people who will not fool around with revolutionary people of Cuba. The enemies in this case are the rebels who were opposed to them and their ally aiding them, the USA14.

He is also an eloquent speaker and his speeches can go on for eight hours without interruption (his audience listening intently without moving or talking about anything that comes to mind) and with an authoritative tone of voice. In a speech in January 21, 1959 in Havana, addressing a million of Cuban workers and peasants, he started by ordering everyone to silence telling them that it is not enough to attend but to be silent is a demonstration of discipline and went ahead to wait for them to be silent. He then read a long speech covering every thing from municipality problems to what he thought of Trujillo dictatorship in Haiti, jails and media censorship15.

Castro’s cult of personality is also apparent when he engages people face to face. When talking to one or two people he becomes captivating, attentive and very inquisitive. He does not talk much, only listens and asks questions and wants to know every small details and figures. This has endeared him to the media especially whom he gave exclusive interviews and to his friends of the moment. He charmed a reporter of the L’Unita, of Rome in an interview on 1 February 1961 in Havana. The reporter says that he gave him an extensive interview where he was cordial and kept an open mind. In this interview he was informal in approach and even called the reporter chico a name he uses for friends16.

Castro’s cult of personality has been successful due to his unwillingness to change his mind or admit his mistakes. He believes that as a leader he can not make mistakes and when other people say he is wrong it is them living a lie not him. After the fall of the Soviet Union and subsequent dissolution of communism hundreds of friends and accredited economists came to convince him that the Marxist-Lenin regime was a big mistake and impossible in today’s real world but he never accepted that and continued to hold on to his beliefs. He is sure that the whole world is wrong and he is right17.

Role of the party in creating the cult

The Cuban Communist Party has helped a lot in the successful creation of cult of personality around Castro. He is known world wide as leader that represents the ideas of the Cuban Communist party and all social and economic initiatives taken by Castro are taken in the name of the party since he become its secretary in 1965. He declares his own policies as the policies of the party18.

The party has promoted this cult of personality around Castro by allowing him to make decisions of the ruling party as his own without any protest. This is portrayed when the USA refused to grant Castro a development loan in 1959. He went ahead and implemented ideological changes from what he describes imperialist to socialist and nationalized private companies even those owned by the USA nationals and called himself ‘Marxist-Leninist’. From here he forges alliances with USSR and remains in power for half a century19.

The Cuban Communist Party has helped in the creation of personality cult both in Cuba and to the whole world. This is demonstrated in Castro’s successor, Raul Castro’s inauguration speech in February 24, 2008. He suggested to the National Assembly of People’s Power that they seek advice from Castro on important national matters such as defense, foreign policy and socio-economic development of the country. This was unanimously passed by 597 members of the National Assembly and without hesitation. He also remains the first secretary of the party20.

Examples of cults of personality

Castro’s personality cult has been enhanced by his no survive spirit from the time he was a guerrilla to his abrasive relations with no world power United States of America in his rule. This is portrayed in the various attempts on his life by assassinations. In 1961, the Franklin Kennedy administration plotted to have Castro killed in an operation called the Mongoose operation by spraying the Havana studio with a mind altering chemical. This did not succeed plus other subsequent attempts from 1960-65 in which poisoning of his cigars, planting of explosives where he scuba dived. All this helped enhanced his personality cult21.

Castro’s charismatic and strong leadership qualities have been displayed many times enhancing the personality cult around him. After he was captured in Sierra Maestra on 26th July 1953 and his subsequent release after escaping execution, he regrouped with his guerrilla militants in Mexico and signed the Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra agreeing to hold elections under the Electoral Code of 1943 within the first 18 months of his time in power under the Constitution of 1940 ignored by Batista even though was not to be22.

The political stability of Cuba since Castro took power half a century ago has portrayed him as a strong leader enhancing his personality. This is even more apparent in the ‘Bay of Pigs’ attack on April 14, 1961 when about 1,300 CIA- trained Cuban exiles invaded Cuba. This attack was well planned by the CIA and backed by the Kennedy administration, but last minute changes and the half hearted support from Kennedy made it an obvious failure. When the attackers landed ashore at the ‘Bay of Pigs’, they were met with fire from fighter planes and tanks from the Cuban brigade. They surrendered and some died and others were caught and given life sentences in Cuban prisons. The fact that Castro was able to defeat a force supported by the USA, made him a hero in the eyes of the world and most importantly the people of Cuba23.

Conclusion

The Communist Party of Cuba successfully used Castro’s cult of personality to promote communism in the country. One reason for this success was the promise to improve the social economic level of the Cuban people when poverty, unemployment and underemployment and illiteracy levels were high. Castro was a charismatic, energetic and strong willed youth who had a revolutionary spirit that saw him at the guerrilla war forefront when he was a university student. Castro himself has created this personality cult to some extent either through the media or his long intimidating speeches and giving a force image of morality and intellectuality. The party has also taken part in the success of the cult mainly by allowing Castro to make and implement party decisions as the party’s without opposition. Those in the party opposing him are quickly intimidated or silenced by being declared enemies of the people of Cuba in public speeches. There are numerous occasions when Castro or the party has publicly displayed this cult of personality such as electing unanimously him to be consulted on major decisions in the country after his retirement and ill health.

Footnotes

  1. Fidel, Castro and Ramonet, I. Fidel Castro: My life: A spoken autobiography. (NY: Scribner, 2008), pg.56-59.
  2. Marie Bunck, Fidel Castro and the quest for a Revolutionary Culture in Cuba. (PA: Pennsylvania University Press, 1994), pg 256-67
  3. Marie Bunck, Fidel Castro and the quest for a Revolutionary Culture in Cuba. (PA: Pennsylvania University Press, 1994), pg 256-67
  4. Fidel, Castro and Ramonet, I. Fidel Castro: My life: A spoken autobiography. NY: Scribner, 2008.pg.56-59.
  5. Jules Dubois, Fidel Castro: Rebel, Liberator, or Dictator? (Indiana: Bobbs-Merril, 1959).pg.48-53.
  6. Jules Dubois, Fidel Castro: Rebel, Liberator, or Dictator? (Indiana: Bobbs-Merril, 1959).pg.48-53.
  7. Fidel, Castro and Ramonet, I. Fidel Castro: My life: A spoken autobiography. NY: Scribner, 2008.pg.56-59.
  8. Marie Bunck, Fidel Castro and the quest for a Revolutionary Culture in Cuba. (PA: Pennsylvania University Press, 1994), pg 256-67
  9. Maurice Halperin, The Rise and Decline of Fidel Castro: An Essay in Contemporary History. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1972), pg 34-198
  10. Robert, Quirk. Fidel Castro. (NY: W. W. Norton, 1995), pg 102-578
  11. Fidel, Castro and Ramonet, I. Fidel Castro: My life: A spoken autobiography. NY: Scribner, 2008.pg.56-59.
  12. Jules Dubois, Fidel Castro: Rebel, Liberator, or Dictator? (Indiana: Bobbs-Merril, 1959), pg.48-53.
  13. Marie Bunck, Fidel Castro and the quest for a Revolutionary Culture in Cuba. (PA: Pennsylvania University Press, 1994), pg 256-67
  14. Robert, Quirk. Fidel Castro. (NY: W. W. Norton, 1995), pg 102-578
  15. Jules Dubois, Fidel Castro: Rebel, Liberator, or Dictator? (Indiana: Bobbs-Merril, 1959), pg.48-53.
  16. Marie Bunck, Fidel Castro and the quest for a Revolutionary Culture in Cuba. (PA: Pennsylvania University Press, 1994), pg 256-67
  17. Jules Dubois, Fidel Castro: Rebel, Liberator, or Dictator? (Indiana: Bobbs-Merril, 1959), pg.48-53.
  18. Fidel, Castro and Ramonet, I. Fidel Castro: My life: A spoken autobiography. (NY: Scribner, 2008), pg.56-59.
  19. Maurice Halperin, The Rise and Decline of Fidel Castro: An Essay in Contemporary History. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1972), pg 34-198
  20. Jules Dubois, Fidel Castro: Rebel, Liberator, or Dictator? (Indiana: Bobbs-Merril, 1959), pg.48-53.
  21. Fidel, Castro and Ramonet, I. Fidel Castro: My life: A spoken autobiography. (NY: Scribner, 2008), pg.56-59.
  22. Fidel, Castro and Ramonet, I. Fidel Castro: My life: A spoken autobiography. (NY: Scribner, 2008), pg.56-59.
  23. Jules Dubois, Fidel Castro: Rebel, Liberator, or Dictator? (Indiana: Bobbs-Merril, 1959), pg.48-53.
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