542: THE CHRISTIAN UPBRINGING OF FIDEL CASTRO

“A warm Cuban welcome (cue music, e.g. Guantanamera) to Zingcreed, the one religious blog that looks for convergences between Christianity and communism (or socialism/anarchism). Where better to look than in the traditionally Catholic former Spanish colony of Cuba. The revolutionary leader Fidel Castro overthrew an American backed dictator there in the middle of the last century  and installed a communist regime. Few people knew how religious his upbringing had been, or how he kinda saw his revolutionary politics as an outgrowth of applied Christianity. He would not claim to be a Christian, so I can’t include him in the Zingcreed series of Red Christians (see index on title page). I managed to squeeze his compañero Che Guevara into that category – just! This post should be read alongside Red Christian Documents (Fidel Castro and Frei Betto, 1985)  I hope you find this interesting.

In solidarity,
Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”

Fidel Castro was born on 13 August 1926 on a remote farm in Oriente province, Cuba, to a wealthy Spanish father and a local semi-literate mother. She filled the house with statues of the Virgin Mary and various saints. Fidel imbibed Catholicism with his mother’s milk, and learned the rosary, the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary at an early age. They couldn’t go to church however because there wasn’t one nearby. (The policy of the church was to concentrate on wealthy city dwellers and to ignore the rural areas.) When he was old enough, he was sent away to elite church boarding schools. The first run by the Christian Brothers was fairly easy going  but the third one, run by the Jesuits, was run on strict military lines. Fidel never questioned his religious upbringing: he just accepted Catholicism as being the way things were.
In 1950 he graduated from Law School in the University of Havana. In March 1950, an American-backed coup installed the puppet dictator, Fulgencio Batista. In July 1953 Castro led an unsuccessful assault on the Moncada barracks. He was caught and imprisoned. At his trial he read out his pamphlet called “History will absolve me.” He was released in May 1955 after a public campaign and he went to Mexico where with a band of fellow revolutionaries he set sail back to Cuba in a boat called Granma. He promptly linked up with his guerrilla army in the mountains and harried the government’s forces until, after 2 years of fighting, Batista capitulated and fled to Florida.

Castro became the new government’s first Prime Minister, then President. In 1965  the Cuban communist party was formed with Castro as First Secretary.

In 1985 he had a series of conversations with a Brazilian Dominican priest called Frei Betto which were published under the title “Fidel and religion”.   As Betto put it,”It was the first time that a communist leader in office had spoken positively about religion and admitted that it too could help to change reality, revolutionise a country, overthrow oppression and establish justice.” Castro added, “I tell you there’s a great coincidence between Christianity’s objectives and the ones we communists seek, between the Christian teachings of humility, austerity and selflessness and loving thy neighbour, and what we might call the content of a revolutionary’s life and behaviour. Responding to different motivations we advocate attitudes and behaviour quite similar. We could endorse nearly all of the Commandments. The things that Catholic nuns do in the hospitals are the things we want communists to do. Taking care of people with leprosy, TB, and other communicable diseases. A person who is devoted to an idea, to their work and who sacrifices him or her-self for others is doing what we want communists to do.
I never had faith: it was just a mechanical, not a rational thing. I am rather well versed in Christian principles and in Christ’s teachings. I believe that Christ was a great revolutionary. His doctrine was devoted to fighting against abuse, injustice  and the degradation of human beings. His entire doctrine was devoted to the humble and the poor. I’d say there’s a lot in common between the spirit and essence of his teachings and socialism.
My mother prayed with us every day. At the age of 6 I was sent to the Christian Brothers school in Santiago de Cuba, and at 9 I went to the La Salles boarding school.  There I learned the catechism and the bible. Everyday we would go to Mass as well as praying the Our Father and the Hail Mary. Lastly I ended up in the Jesuits’ Dolores College. They were Spanish and school was rigorous and demanding. They were too dogmatic. We had to recite Latin and Greek mechanically. We didn’t know what it meant. At the age of 16 they had us meditating on punishment and the what the eternity of hell meant. The bible didn’t come into it much. I found out that the Spanish teachers were pro-Franco, i.e. they were right wing reactionaries.”

 

Source:
Betto, Frei “Fidel and Religion” Ocean Press (Australia) second edition (2006). (First edition 1985)
[This book was accessed in the reference section of the Carnegie Free Library, San Fernando, Trinidad].

Related Zingcreed Posts:
543: Red Christian Documents  #40: The Accord between religious doctrine and revolution (Fidel Castro & Frei Betto, 1985)
Red Christians #20: Che Guevara
Red Christians #25: Frei Betto

 

 

 

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