Chicago Fidel Castro supporters say farewell to a controversial man

Signing tributes to Fidel
Mourners mark Fidel Castro's passing

By David Jordan

Ilona Gersh of the Socialist Worker’s Party offered solace through remembrance Monday by selling mourners books of transcribed speeches from the late Fidel Castro. She also offered relief through other such left-leaning works as, “Is socialist revolution in the US possible?”

Since the death of Castro, she has seen a lot of curiosity about the late leader’s legacy and the wider socialist movement.

“People want to know why the United States government has been so vicious to tiny little Cuba,” said Gersh at a gathering on behalf of the late Cuban leader. Somber speeches and expressions of gratitude were in abundance.

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The event, held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bronzeville, was hosted by the Venezuelan Consulate and Consul-General Jesús Rodríguez. The Rainbow-PUSH Coalition, the Midwest Workers Association, the Nation of Islam and the Chicago Cuba Coalition, among others, provided support.

In the main hall of the church, the mood was simultaneously mournful and celebratory as the crowd of diehard supporters focused on what they saw as his accomplishments, both in Cuba and abroad. There was the chance to sign a condolence book for the late leader, and a screen broadcasted his bits of his most notable speeches.

Although the Obama administration has worked to normalize diplomatic relations with the island nation, the embargo that began in February of 1962 is still in place, and President elect Donald Trump has expressed his desire to terminate the deal.

During the service speakers pointed to the numbers of doctors in the impoverished nation as a noteworthy accomplishment.

“One of Fidel’s greatest achievements was developing the human resource, and from 1959 until the present we can see that Cuba has achieved what other Latin American countries have not. Let’s look at the number of doctors Cuba has sent all over the world,” said José López of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

Others highlighted his work in South Africa and Angola, where he challenged the apartheid government and its intervention during the Angola Civil War.

The event also commemorated the life of the former Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States Bernardo Álvarez, who died of a heart attack in Washington, DC the same day as Castro. Álvarez took a prominent role to defending Venezuela’s socialist revolution to skeptical governments, and was a close ally of the late President Hugo Chávez. Castro had worked closely with Chávez and his successor, the current President Nicolás Maduro.

The speeches only mentioned the negative human rights record of the Castro government in passing. The crowd of roughly fifty was largely made up of entrenched supporters, and for them he was spoken of with language normally reserved for a revered grandfather.

Trinity Church has been long associated with political movements on the left. In 2012 the church controversially offered to host protestors in town for the NATO conference, and the church’s leadership has put an emphasis on grassroots activism, partly due to its location in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

“Trinity Church has always been a beacon for justice before peace, and I use that phrase not lightly,” said Rev. Errol Narain, the rector of the church. “Without justice there can be no peace.”

The speakers repeatedly made it clear that they see the death of Castro as the death of an individual, not the death of the movement. And as the crowd began to leave the church many called out “¡Viva Fidel!”

A mourner signs a condolence at a memorial for Fidel Castro at Trinity Episcopal Church. The service was hosted by the Venezuelan Consulate of Chicago. (David Jordan/MEDILL)