One Cuban family, three generations under Fidel
One Cuban family, three generations under Fidel

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One Cuban family, three generations under Fidel 04:43

Fidel's Cuba: 3 generations under 'El Comandante'

Updated 1739 GMT (0139 HKT) December 3, 2016

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Havana, Cuba (CNN)When Fidel Castro and his bearded rebels descended the Sierra Maestra mountains, Maria del Socorro Cadet was a teenager in the southeastern Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba.

The first shots of Castro's epic revolution were fired there. It's also where his ashes will be delivered to a final resting place on Sunday.
A 550-mile, cross-country funeral procession this week traced, in reverse, the triumphant 1959 march of Castro's ragtag guerillas from Santiago to Havana nearly six decades earlier.
Cadet, 73, in 1961 made the journey to the capital in the early stages of El Comandante's socialist experiment.
In Havana, she gave birth in 1964 to her first child, Manuel, who is now 52. She lives with him in a run-down concrete house next door to her granddaughter, Fatima, a 20-year-old University of Havana student.
Even within their close-knit family, the wide rifts created by Castro's long domination over this island of 11 million endure.
In the days after the Cuban leader's demise at age 90 one week ago, Cadet, her son and granddaughter reflected on Castro's reign and his revolution.
For many in the older generations, it is a time of grief and sorrow. Castro was like a father to them, an almost mythical figure who shepherded the island through conflict and despair.
Large swaths of the younger generations, however, are indifferent to his passing. Castro has been out of the picture most of their lives. They never sat through his hourslong speeches.
They surf the internet. They own smartphones. They chat with friends abroad on Skype. The all-consuming political battles that marked life in the time of Castro don't matter to them.
Cadet, old and frail, waxes nostalgic about the revolution's many achievements. Her middle-age son speaks of disillusionment and broken promises. Her granddaughter believes Castro's passing augurs new opportunities under younger leaders.
The story of three generations of Cadet's family is, in many ways, the story of Castro's Cuba.

Maria del Socorro Cadet Napoles, 73

Cadet, born in 1942, learned to toil the land in her father's small farm as a young girl.
After losing their mother to a heart attack, the 10 Cadet children lived with their father in a village outside Santiago near the shrine to Our Lady of Charity, the island's venerable patron saint.
She was 7 when her mother died. She went to work on the farm, carrying water-filled tins on her shoulders or stacks of firewood on her head.
"Life was hard," Cadet said. "If you didn't work, you didn't eat. We never missed a meal because we learned to work."
Her village was made up of mostly black, illiterate peasant farmers. Many walked around in their bare feet. Adequate health care was scarce.
Lighter-skinned Cubans dominated the economy and government under Fulgencio Batista, whose dictatorship was known for corruption, violence and cronyism.
Cadet, who is black, remembered the police regularly beating black Cubans, especially when they congregated to talk about the anti-Batista guerillas in the nearby mountains.
"In those days, white people stiffened at the sight of a black man," she said. "They viewed all blacks as thieves."
In 1961, at age 18, Cadet went to live with a sister who worked in a Havana preschool.
For a time, Cadet said, she earned a few pesos a week cleaning the homes and hand washing the clothes of well-heeled families who had not yet fled the island for Miami.
She did domestic work for Spaniards who were constructing factories in the early years of the revolution.
Cadet later cooked and served food at a military unit run by the late Vilma Espin.
A onetime socialite who fought alongside the Castro brothers in the mountains, Espin married Raul Castro and became an advocate of women's rights.
Cadet recalled serving food and drinks to "internationalists" every International Women's Day.
"I tended to them all," she said. "I worked like a mule. I was tired, but had to keep going."
The revolution enabled her, a black woman, to appear in movies and novelas after she answered a casing call by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry. Cuba's hotels and nightclubs opened for the first time to blacks under Castro's reign, she said.
She was reminded that it was Raul Castro who lifted the ban on Cubans staying in tourist hotels in 2008.
"Under Batista, we were worse off," Cadet said.
Her son erupts in laughter.
"I'm being sincere," she said.
Cadet lived through key moments during the heady first years of the revolution.
There was Cuba's victory in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which was led by US-backed exiles intent on toppling Castro. In October 1962, a tense 13-day standoff between Washington and Moscow over the installation of Soviet missiles on the island brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Last Saturday morning, Cadet turned on the radio and learned of Castro's death. She recalled seeing him on state-run television several weeks earlier. His frail appearance pained her.
"I never thought Fidel would die," she said. "I thought he was eternal."
She took pills for her nerves that morning. Her heart pounded.
"That man did so much for Cuba and the world," she said.
"Look at how many doctors he has sent all over the world. I know everyone has to die some day but I thought he would live forever."
She said she's unsure of what course current President Raul Castro will take her beloved country.
Does she have as much faith in him as she did in his brother?
"I can't answer that," she said.

Manuel Giron Cadet, 52

Cadet gave birth to her first son, Manuel Giron Cadet, in Havana on October 12, 1964. She later separated from his father.
Giron learned about Castro's revolution in school and from his mother. He grew up around fading communist slogans plastered across billboards throughout the capital.
"I was taught a lot about the revolution, but I wasn't very revolutionary," he said.
As he got older, Giron started to ask questions about the struggles of everyday life under the socialist-nationalist system. About the inequalities and racism that persisted over the years.
"I was very tough," he said. "I spoke the truth."
For a time, Giron said, he attended the same schools as the children and grandchildren of Fidel and Raul Castro.
"I saw the differences in our lives," he said.
"That made me a little rebellious. There were the haves and the have-nots. The government people were not the same as the rest of us. They lived in houses with swimming pools. They traveled to Europe. We couldn't do that."
Cadet lived through the scarcity and severe hardships that started in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba's longtime benefactor.
The Special Period in Time of Peace, as the Castro euphemistically called it, lasted through the decade. Cuba continued to struggle well into the 21st century.
"It was all very hard for me," he said. "We have been living a lie."
Over the years, as Cuba slowly experimented with free-market reforms, Giron became disenchanted with the growing economic divide.
Three generations have differing views of Fidel Castro's legacy.
"There is a new bourgeoisie -- people with small businesses and people who receive money from abroad," said Giron, who earns just over $20 a month -- about the national average -- as a massage therapist.
The Castros have maintained power through repression, Giron said.
Human rights groups have said that among the practices that emerged under Fidel Castro's rule included surveillance, beatings, arbitrary detention and public acts of repudiation.
As a gay man, Giron said, he has never lost sight that gay men were put in labor camps in the early days of the revolution. Today, there is a little more tolerance.
He knows he could be jailed for his comments, he said. He has never spoken out publicly against the government.
"I'm not afraid," he said. "Raul himself has said we need to discuss things more openly. I speak the truth."
The pillars of Castro's revolution -- free access to public services such as health care and education -- have been undermined by repression, Giron said.
Giron is not in mourning. The state, however, has held a number of public events honoring Castro
Millions of Cubans -- many waving flags and chanting "Fidel! Fidel!" -- lined the route of the rebels' cross-country caravan. Flags are being flown at half-staff. On the streets of Havana, where music is always blaring, there was an eerie silence during a nine-day mourning period. Only some tourist hotels sell alcohol.
Many Cubans, like Giron, go about their days as usual. They say they expect little change.
Giron, whose nickname is Manolo, said he felt nothing at the news of Castro's death.
"I'm not a communist," he said. "I'm not a Fidelista. I am Manolo."
He added, "The revolution will not die. This is a dynasty. It's all in the family."

Maria de Fatima Bell Zerquera, 20

Maria de Fatima Bell Zerquera, the only child of Cadet's daughter, was born in the Cuban capital on May 13, 1996. She studies accounting at the University of Havana.
Bell's mother works in a bank, her father at a market. They used money from their meager salaries to construct a small, two-story concrete house on what was a garden on the side of Cadet's home.
"We used to live better," she said. "After the construction, we've had to limit ourselves economically."
The two homes share a narrow backyard. The family cooks and eats together. They watch TV or sit on the front porch on hot nights. Their ability to laugh at their differences has brought them closer.
"My grandmother is a revolutionary," Bell said the other day.
Her uncle shot back, "No, she's a communist."
They burst out laughing.
"No, my grandmother isn't a communist or a revolutionary," Bell said. "My grandmother is Fidelista."
Bell said she has benefited from the fruits of Castro's revolution. She's grateful for the free health care and university education afforded to her.
But she admits there could be more personal freedoms and economic opportunities.
"Not everyone has the same rights," Bell said. "There are people who just move a finger and they accomplish everything and people who work harder than others."
She was 10 when an intestinal illness that required several surgeries forced Castro to relinquish his duties temporarily to younger brother Raul in July 2006.
Castro resigned as president in February 2008. Raul took over permanently.
Bell had little exposure to the man who was Cuba's leader for 47 years.
"I didn't know him and, in this time of my life, he wasn't in charge," she said.
Her uncle interjected, "Yes, I had to get Fidel."
They laughed.
Bell added, "What I can tell you is that Fidel did a lot of things that we should applaud and he will always be a part of Cuba's legacy. He's the most important person Cuba has had and he will always be."
When she awoke last Saturday, her mother told her Castro was dead.
"It wasn't that painful or emotional," Bell said. "I didn't have that feeling that other people who knew him felt, people who benefited from him."
Bell hopes Castro's death portends a new beginning.
"I'd like to see a lot of changes... toward more freedom, a better economy, something better," she said.
"We need more freedom of expression, liberty to ... travel, to know other countries, study in other countries, learn other cultures."
Bell's generation will be the real architects of change, she said.
"I don't consider myself a revolutionary," she said. "I consider myself a Cuban who is loyal to her country and who can help achieve big changes...a Cuban who wants to prosper and work for the well-being of her country."