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The Cuban revolution as a religious faith

Cuban revolutionary totalitarianism proposes substitutes for God, the Messiah, faith, ideology and rituals.

FEATURES FUENTES Evangélico Digital AUTOR 247/Yoe_Suarez 10 DE ABRIL DE 2024 16:00 h
An outdoor Cuban Santería altar / [link] Susanne Bollinger [/link], Wikipedia CC.

A recent visit of Miguel Díaz-Canel to the municipality of Río Cauto, in eastern Cuba, made the responses of several women to state television go viral.

They expressed their admiration for the dictator in a religious way. One said that seeing Díaz-Canel had reminded her of “the god Fidel”, another considered that the visit of the first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) had been “a gift from God” and that by placing “his blessed feet” in the village, local problems would be solved.

They also spoke of prodigious reactions: two of them said that they got goose bumps just at the mention of the meeting.

Sharing the same faith is the glue that holds society together, the way to generate and strengthen community, and the means to transmit moral principles.

The Che Guevara aim of creating the “New Man” faced a gigantic obstacle when faith demanded to value the “old”, the tradition, and the moral knowledge accumulated over centuries.

That is why totalitarianism has proposed substitutes for those elements. For God, the state; for the Messiah, the leader; for faith, ideology; for community, mass organisations; for rituals, acts of revolutionary reaffirmation.

Totalitarianism is a twist of Christianity, a corrupted worldly copy that seeks power for men. Authors such as Norberto Fuentes have acknowledged “the religious idea of altruism” that (falsely) haunts the Cuban revolution.

For example, at the beginning of the Revolution on the island, a largely Catholic country, there were small cards that read: “Fidel, save us from the scribes and the Pharisees! Continue and complete the principles of Christ. He, your people and all the peoples of the world support you. Thank you Fidel”, Cuban writer Rafael Piñeiro López has reported.

“Fidel is God” can be read on a wall in Havana. Vigils are held in his name, such as the one on 24 November 2021; Christmas is celebrated, as the director of the official PCC organ, Yailín Orta, did in 2021, public processions are held with giant posters in the streets.

Official propaganda depicts Fidel Castro looking from the sky at the people mobilised for the revolution, as the ministry of domestic trade did on 25 November 2021.

[destacate]For God, the state; for the Messiah, the leader; for faith, ideology; for community, mass organisations; for rituals, acts of revolutionary reaffirmation [/destacate]Political police officer David Manuel Orrio described the dictator in a supernatural way, recalling the day he met him. “It was as if you are caught by a high-voltage electric current, because Fidel emits a personal energy that transcends his political figure. You shake his hand and it is as if you connect with the history of Cuba and the planet, and it is there where even your smallest cell tells you that somehow he is a chosen one".

Other religious groups, such as the Yoruba Cultural Association, also venerate the leader-messiah. Those leading the group point out that, for non-believers, Castro was “the Commander”, but for believers he was Olofi, “the one who rules the earth", the supreme being of the Yoruba pantheon.

In 2008, the leader of the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba, Antonio Castañeda, who told Reuters that he prayed daily for “the Commander”, did not hesitate to declare that, according to Olodumare (God), “Fidel is the one who has to be there [in power] and, as he is there, he is untouchable”.

The vision of a Fidel Castro as “the chosen one" began just after the 1959 triumph, when a white dove landed on his shoulder during his first speech in Havana.

For Afro-Cubans, the dove was associated with Obatalá, the orisha of creation, and in the Christian tradition it recalled the Holy Spirit and the baptism of Jesus, crucified at the age of 33, the same age at which the rebel leader ascended to power.

It is said that the performance of the dove was a propaganda strategy to astonish the very religious Cuban people.

What seems to be clear is that even though Castro, educated in Catholic schools, reigned in a country that silenced Christianity, he practised a religious faith and understood the manipulative power of the religious sentiments.

Although there may never be an official confirmation, because the revolution claimed to be a Soviet-style atheist and considered religion a bourgeois setback, several sources claim that Santería and spiritism were present in the socialist leadership.

Fidel Castro's relationship with Santería dates back to the early days of the guerrilla group against Fulgencio Batista in the Sierra Maestra. Writer Richard de Broussard claimed that the dictator asked native santeras from the eastern mountains to make protective amulets for him, his brother and a select group of other close associates.

The condition imposed by the santeras was that they return the amulets once the revolution had succeeded, reports Broussard, who said he interviewed the person in charge of returning the amulets, who is currently outside the island.

Former Cuban officials have confirmed the existence of a specialised unit, called Grupo M, in charge of linking alleged paranormal powers of santeros to military issues.

Officer Eduardo Rodríguez, one of the founders of the Cuban political police, who defected in 1995, gave the FBI a detailed report on the use of hypnosis, parapsychology and drugs in the Castro military corps.

[destacate]Even though Castro reigned in a country that silenced Christianity, he practised a religious faith and understood the manipulative power of the religious sentiments[/destacate]For US sociologist Juan Clark, while religion has been denied access to the mass media since 1960, “the government, which controls everything, has subtly promoted Santeria, which lacks a strong moral code, through the media”.

He believes that “such syncretism between Afro beliefs and Catholicism is presented as the majority religion in Cuba, in a clear effort to undermine traditional Christian denominations”.

It is well known that Fidel Castro's official trip to Africa in the 1970s took him to countries such as Guinea Bissau, from where slaves arrived on the island during the Spanish rule.

A Havana Largualargua (the name given to older priestesses or santeras in Afro-Cuban religions) remembers him dressed in white and surrounded by babalawos (Cuban witch doctors) in Nigeria.

The woman told the independent press after Castro's death that the dictator was “son of Oddua", which in Santeria syncretises with Jesus Christ.

Towards the end of his life, Castro also used esotericism to control and influence his allies. When I was a student at the University of Havana, a professor confessed to the class that the Central Committee of the PCC had one or more official babalawos. One spoke to Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos during a visit to Havana and advised him to avoid air travel. Torrijos died in a plane crash in 1981.

The most successful case for Castro was that of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, who publicly presented himself as a Catholic, but who had no qualms about cursing Israel, and in fact had an intimate relationship with spiritism.

Knowing this, Castro sent the “main leader of 21st century socialism" babalawos to advise him. In turn, Havana received abundant information that facilitated the transformation of that South American country into an overseas ideological colony for Castro.

During Chávez's first years as president, his trips to Havana became more frequent. Senior military officers and ministers also visited Cuba for political meetings.

The political approach and cultural exchange ended with the arrival of an army of Santeria priests who filled public enterprises, ministries, and the upper ranks of the armed forces.

For Raúl Baduel, former personal friend and defence minister of Hugo Chávez, that discreet invasion “was a plan by Fidel Castro, who, taking advantage of Chávez's superstitious character, filled the upper spheres with those advisors to control decision-makers and inform their chiefs in Cuba”.

Cuban totalitarianism, while it crushed Christianity, found in the Yoruba faith a way to manipulate its political allies and part of the Cuban population, which was closely tied to the indigenous syncretisation between Catholicism and cults of African origin.

Even today, Miguel Díaz-Canel favours those connections, at least at a propagandistic level, to emphasise an idea of popularity, of a bond with Cubans.

Weeks after the 11J demonstrations, the dictator walked through the La Güinera neighbourhood, where one person was killed, injured and arrested, hand in hand with a well-known Santeria priestess.

[destacate]Cuban totalitarianism, while it crushed Christianity, found in the Yoruba faith a way to manipulate its political allies and part of the Cuban population [/destacate]Iliana María Macías opened the doors of her home for Díaz-Canel to pay respects at the altar in her living room. She rang a little bell and then said to the state press, who presented her as a “community leader”: “We have to ensure that Díaz-Canel does not feel alone, because there is a lot of flattery and everything is very nice, but it is not from the mouth outwards, it is in the heart, deep inside”.

She has been denounced as a collaborator of the political police for filming the protests of 11 July 2021 from her home in that neighbourhood and then handing the videos over to the authorities, so that facial and physical recognition specialists could identify the demonstrators and prosecute them.

On 13 August 2021, there was also a “celebration” in La Güinera for the birth of Fidel Castro, which included drumming by an Afro-Cuban music group, and dances of that religious folklore.

In 2023, before a defining game of the Baseball World Cup, first lady Lis Cuesta asked the babalawos to “activate” themselves to ensure the victory by pouring “husks and water” on the field.

The Letter of the Year, a collection of annual recommendations and predictions on national destiny produced by the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba, is very popular among Afro-Cuban religious people on the island.

But some have denounced that it has also been manipulated by the state with the consent of the priests who write it, possibly in the hope of controlling or guiding its followers.

When in 2020 the Letter of the Year warned of increased embezzlement, violence and the removal of a government caused by a coup d'état, the president of the Yoruba Cultural Association, José Manuel Pérez Andino, called a press conference to stress that the predictions were not only for the island, because “nothing will happen internally”, and “the problems are in other countries” in Cuba “religion and the state protect and educate the population”.

Among the document's recommendations in 2023 were to resume preventive health measures, to warn about the use of biochemicals in organic food and to change the mentality for the development of new socio-economic perspectives, all in line with guidelines promoted by the state.

A resistance has arisen among Afro-Cuban groups, with leaders such as Loreto Hernández, now imprisoned by the dictatorship, who have promoted an independent Letter of the Year.

These reflections on the deification of the revolution would be incomplete without mentioning that an institutional sector of the churches openly washes its face and praises tyranny.

The bishop of the Lutheran church in Cuba, Reverend Ramón Miguel Benito Ebanks, said in 2006 that Fidel Castro's orders would be carried out by the whole church and that he wished that Fidel would continue to “enlighten and strengthen them to defend this revolution, which is the continuity of the social project that our Lord Jesus Christ left us through his apostles and his gospels, at whatever cost necessary”.

[destacate]An institutional sector of the churches openly washes the face of the revolution and praises tyranny. Fortunately, this group represents only a tiny minority of Christians [/destacate] “For Cuba, for the revolution and for socialism. We will win. I speak in the name of my Church and in my own name and I am sure that we will be consistent with our ideas of homeland or death; socialism for life”, Reverend Ramón Miguel Benito Ebanks added.

Another painful example is the Federation of Baptist Churches of Cuba (FIBAC), founded by Reverend Raúl Suárez, which, along with the Martin Luther King Memorial Centre, promotes a liberation theology that divinises socialism, considering it the earthly realisation of the doctrines of Jesus of Nazareth.

Fortunately, this group represents only a tiny minority of Christians. Of the one million Protestants on the island, the churches with the largest membership are conservative, opposed to collectivism.

According to the World Evangelical Alliance, 92% of evangelicals belong to this group and others not recognised by the state.

Castrism has tried to inoculate them with a poisonous political apathy, the virus of the cheerleaders and, with it, the twisting of faith, which looks to heaven rather than to the satrap's tribune.

Yoe Suárez, Cuban journalist.




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