Cubans share a ‘human’ Castro

PERTH’S Cuban community is holding an exhibition to celebrate the 90th birthday of the country’s communist leader Fidel Castro.

Regularly portrayed in Western media as a moustachioed Cold War villain, defying Lady America with every authoritarian puff of his cigar, the exhibition is designed to put a more human face on Castro.

It’s being organised by the Cuban embassy, the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society, the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People and the local branch of the CFMEU.

Curator Christopher Crouch has selected images taken by Castro’s personal photographer Roberto Chile which show the leader around the time he stepped down from power in 2006.

• Photographer Roberto Chile captured Cuban leader Fidel Castro as he prepared to step down from power.

• Photographer Roberto Chile captured Cuban leader Fidel Castro as he prepared to step down from power.

The most visible and vocal Cuban expat community lives in Miami, most strongly anti-Castro. The US government has long pointed to that community’s distaste for their homeland as evidence Cuba is a crumbling second world dystopia ruled by a dictator.

Since coming to know Perth’s Cuban community, Dr Crouch has discovered views here are far less one-sided.

Unlike Miami’s diaspora, many return regularly and speak fondly of the country’s culture, where they don’t have 17 brands of margarine but do have free healthcare and education.

“No human being is universally liked by everyone,” Dr Crouch says, but he reckons there’s a genuine warmth to the commandant that dictators usually have to manufacture.

”What the photos show is a Cuban perspective of Fidel, someone who is seen as a wise father figure. Whether we agree or not is neither here nor there.

“It’s a very interesting insight into an old man stepping down from power.”

In one image Castro looks frail in a hospital bed, his spotted hand sporting a bandaid which is likely covering the hole from an intravenous drip.

But he’s still an active mind: “What you have in these photos is an old man, stepping down from power, still talking, still head of state, but there’s a sense of the man’s intelligence and sophistication and his ability to communicate… he’s intellectually active, but physically frail.”

It’s a view of a leader that rarely seeps out in western politics, which often involves carefully curated images of leaders in suits, shaking hands, kissing babies.

“The political rhetoric and the rhetoric of life in Cuba is very different,” Dr Crouch says. “The idea of Tony Abbot being photographed being vulnerable, it wouldn’t happen. Everything is based around this centred, empowered, masculine world. It’s a very different conception of who you are in Cuba.”

The For Fidel exhibition is at Tafe’s Gallery Central at 12 Aberdeen Street, August 17 to 20.

by DAVID BELL

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