BBC Radio Essex
Few Catholics probably realise just how deep Fidel?Castro’s religious
convictions and beliefs ran underneath his public Marxist persona. Yet new
research examines those early formative Catholic experiences that created
the character and personal psychology of the revolutionary leader who 50
years ago this year brought the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon as
America and the Soviet Union prepared to launch intercontinental ballistic
missiles at each other.
America had previously regarded Cuba as a possession run by puppet
politicians, who allowed organised crime to set up in Cuba to launder
criminal proceeds through brothels, casinos with a disregard for the poor,
former slaves and ordinary Cubans excluded from the wealth generated by
sugar production. The sugar industry had always been a mainstay of Cuba’s
economy but until the 1959 revolution it was under monopoly ownership by
American companies, exporting the lucrative crop and the profits it
generated back to America.
Fidel Castro cites his Catholic upbringing and his Jesuit tutors at colleges
in Santiago and Havana as influences on his conviction to liberate Cuba from
colonial rule and improve conditions for the poor, slaves and socially
excluded the people of Cuba. A close adviser once told a visiting journalist
that Castro was badly misunderstood. “What people don’t realise is that
Fidel is a Jesuit first and foremost,” the adviser said, “a nationalist
second, and then third a Marxist.”
In 1992 Castro visited the small farmhouse in Galicia where his father,
Ángel, was born for the first time. This journey is sometimes called a
homing instinct, or a desire to connect with the past, especially deceased
parents or ancestral locations. It speaks of a desire to understand oneself.
So we can imagine Castro at the age of 64 seeking something that could
explain himself to himself, to answer questions he had been asking for
decades and to make some sort of sense of himself. It is often forgotten
that just before this “pilgrimage” both his step-siblings, Pedro and Lidia,
had died and we know that the death of older relatives is a reminder of
one’s own mortality that can stimulate someone to undertake such a
long-harboured mission. Castro is quoted at the time of this almost
spiritual journey as reflecting on his father’s character, recalling the
kindness he showed his estate labourers, his homesickness, his violent
temper and, perhaps most poignantly, his sadness.
This may have been a cathartic journey for Castro and it is probably no
coincidence that in the same year he removed the atheistic absolute from the
Cuban constitution culminating in the first papal visit to Cuba by John Paul
II in 1998, more recently replicated by Pope Benedict earlier this year when
Castro spent time alone with the Pontiff. The events can be perceived as
Castro tying up loose ends, trying to resolve long-held internal conflicts,
perhaps reconciling within himself, as far as he was able, matters of great
Castro’s childhood presents a picture of a troubled youngster whose Catholic
family suffered loss and bereavement before Castro was even born. His
personal story is shrouded in loss, rejection and separation. His mother was
a most devout Catholic and a follower of Santería, an African-Cuban fusion
of high colonial Catholicism with indigenous beliefs. His love-hate
relationship with his father is well documented. So in Castro’s revered José
Martí, an earlier fervent nationalist, he found the perfect role model:
someone who could personify the self-sacrifice and iron will to fight and
die for his beliefs. Martí could act as a substitute for Castro’s father,
who in the late 19th-century enlisted in the colonial Spanish army to
suppress rising nationalism.
The young Castro was an outsider who did not fit into any of the positions
or roles usually available in Cuba at that time, whether within his family,
local environment, schools, social strata or sexual relationships. He was a
poignant figure who disguised his inner doubts, insecurities and anxieties
at immense emotional cost.
A generally unhappy young man, Castro found an outlet for his frustrations
and feelings of shame, guilt and internal conflict in external
circumstances, which offered a conduit to channel unconscious energy and
profound fears of revealing weakness and meaningful personal attachments.
Hence the overcompensation by total dominance of those around him: the
relentless self-reliance echoing Jesuit self-sacrifice, absolute dedication
to a cause and risks to his own personal safety.
The strongest theme in Castro’s childhood is the overwhelming influence of
his family, local culture and education, especially the Jesuit teachers at
his high school. He cites these teachers as the biggest influence on his
life and the foundation of his determination to help the Cuban revolution
and liberation of the poor and exploited.
Castro had to disguise his inner convictions in order to gain the support of
the Soviets when the Americans tried to subvert the revolution in the early
1960s. But he drew enormous strength from his early childhood exposure to
Catholic teachings and, of course, after the collapse of the Soviet Union he
no longer had to disguise his beliefs, which explains the decision to
rescind atheist absolutism.
As he nears his death, Castro’s Catholicism will very likely become more
evident and overt. He has not been drawn to Catholicism in his old age.
Rather, he has known nothing else since his early years. It is more a
calculation about how and when he could admit to his most profound beliefs.
These are the foundations of his personality – a painful inner world he has
protected, but could not stop being leaked out unconsciously in a variety of
actions and attitudes. He clearly found strength in his Catholicism, in his
own quiet, secret thoughts so there is much more to his acknowledgement of
the Jesuits than he realises.
It is fitting, then, that the final words should be left to those whom
Castro cites as being among the most significant influences on him. These
are the words of his final school report written by his Jesuit teachers at
Collegio Belen in Havana in 1945: “Fidel Castro Ruz, 1942-1945. He always
distinguished himself in all subjects related to arts and letters. An
excellent student and member of the congregation, he was an outstanding
athlete, always courageously and proudly defending the school’s colours. He
won admiration and affection of all.
“He will study Law, and we have no doubt that he will make a brilliant name
for himself. Fidel has what it takes and will make something of himself.”
Fidel Castro’s Childhood: the Untold Story by Steven?Walker is published by
Troubadour Publishing (Troubador.co.uk), priced £11.99. Ten per cent of the
book royalties will be donated to the children’s orphanage Hogar para Niños
sin Amparo Filial Bayamo, Reparto Antonio Guiteras in Bayamo, Granma, Cuba.
by Catholic Herald
What makes this biography particularly refreshing is how it crosses so deftly the boundaries of history, politics and psychology to give us a greater understanding of the development of both a man and a country. In general, it is remarkable in the field of biography how little weight is given to subjects' early years especially when you consider that a commonly used synonym in this context for 'early' is 'formative'. Indeed, how many biographies have you read where, having had your appetite whetted by a chapter or two on the subject's childhood and adolescence, the description of later years of struggle and then achievement are something of a let-down by comparison and inadequately liked to the thin material on those crucial beginnings? Walker expertly remedies this situation with his work on Castro, a man whose extraordinary longevity has in itself tended to inhibit earlier biographers from giving due weight to those far-off days of his childhood which, of course, as time rolls on, form an increasingly small proportion of his span on earth. By contrast, for Walker, the child is and remains the father of the man and the author excitingly sets himself the task of exploring the complex connections between these two states.
It is important to underline here that Walker is not pedalling the reductionist thesis that Cuba's destiny may be traced only to Castro's upbringing. He has far too much political understanding than to take such a simplistic stance. His argument is more about how historical, political and psychological narratives are intricately woven together. And it is also worth noting that when considering the psychological sphere, Walker convincingly develops perspectives drawn from both the psychoanalytic tradition and more recent systemic approaches with their emphasis on relationship, interaction and pattern.
In sum, this work is a triumph of trans-disciplinary research and exploration and I heartily recommend it no matter which or none of your syllabuses it is on! Join the revolution in biography!
by Amazon.co.uk review