I was surprised by the death of Fidel Castro. I had expected him to live to 100 at least. That expectation was heightened from witnessing so much lap-frotting down the years from news outlets anticipating his imminent death.
Today I have seen a lot of people give their verdict on Cuba based on a short visit. When I was in Cuba, a woman there gave her verdict on Ireland based on a short visit. I didn’t like Ireland, she said. I was in Leixlip for three months. I stayed in a house there. It was so lonely and cold. Here in Cuba we have scarcity, but we have solidarity.
We had arranged to meet, in front of the Cathedral in Havana, because her son had asked me to deliver some things to her. There was a book fair on that day, and to thank me she gave me an anthology of Gabriel García Márquez’s journalism (there’s a great piece in García Márquez’s book on all the assassination attempts on Fidel). It felt like far too much, since it had been no trouble for me to bring along a consignment of trainers, chocolates, painkillers, razorblades and pens. It also felt strange since I can’t imagine anyone in Ireland giving a book to someone they didn’t know for performing a small favour.
That meeting came to mind by chance a few hours before the news came that Fidel Castro had died. I remembered what she said about the house in Leixlip after I did a translation of a poem by Marcos Ana.
Marcos Ana, a Spanish poet, died on Thursday. ‘Marcos Ana’ is a pseudonym: Marcos was his father’s name and Ana his mother’s. He was from a poor family of day labourers. He went to the front in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, aged 16, then joined the Spanish Communist Party. His father was killed the following year, in a bombing raid by the Condor Legion of the Third Reich. Marcos Ana wound up in a concentration camp, and was then sentenced to death for murder, and later had the sentence commuted to 30 years in prison, because he had supposedly committed the crimes as a minor. He spent 23 years imprisoned under the Francoist dictatorship.
The image below shows him in Cuba, with Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother. He kept this photo on display in his house.
When Che Guevara was found in Bolivia, the poems of Marcos Ana were found in his rucksack.
Marcos Ana wrote this poem (my translation):
My home and my heart
(dream of freedom)
If one day I go out into life
my home will have no keys:
always open, like the sea,
the sun and the air.
Let night and day come on in,
and the blue rain, the evening,
the red bread of the dawn;
The moon, my sweet lover.
Do not let friendship halt
its steps at my threshold,
nor the swallow its flight,
nor love its lips. No-one.
My home and my heart
never closed: come on in
the sun and the air.
I don’t have much to say about Fidel Castro’s death right now. My feeling is that it would be better to let the general outpouring of idiocy pass. I am talking about the kind of people who have nothing to say about US imperialism in Cuba- invasions, terrorist bombings, swine fever, dengue, and a crippling embargo- and yet feel free to hold forth on human rights in Cuba.
I am talking about the kind of people -in Ireland- whose political and religious forebears backed the efforts of the Condor Legion that wiped out Marcos Ana’s father but who, ignoring such facts, feel free to talk about democracy in Cuba.
I am talking about the kind of people who would have you believe that progress -in the form of free healthcare, or free education, or the right to culture- is a gracious concession from capitalism, and likely just around the corner once the unions have been properly buried and public institutions subjected to market forces, rather than something won through the flesh-and-blood struggle, the solidarity and the conscious striving of many millions, with their symbols of defiance and resistance, and, among them, the poems of Marcos Ana and the example of Fidel Castro.
For this kind of people, the dream of freedom stops at keys to a house. What the rest of us have to fight for is the home with no keys. Hasta siempre.