Posted on May 29, 2004
Castro At 140
It's not as far off as you think
Believe it or not, 77 year-old Fidel Castro may still have almost half his life ahead of him. According to his physician, Dr. Eugenio Selman Housein, the Cuban dictator could live to be at least 140. "I am not exaggerating," the doctor insists.
If you remember the profiles of Fidel that ran in the broadcast and print media on his 70th birthday, it's not hard to imagine how the news coverage will look on the day that he doubles that mark. But then, why strain your imagination when we can simply hop aboard Mr. Peabody's wayback machine, shift it into fast forward, and see for ourselves? So try to dress appropriately for the future (Che Guevara tee-shirts are definitely out of style by then), dial up Fidel's 140th as our destination, and away we go.
This is Tad Insipid reporting live from Havana, where the Cuban people have taken to the streets in what can only be described as a spontaneous outpouring of affection for their beloved leader, Fidel Castro, as he celebrates the big One-Four-Oh. The old-timers among us might remember when the president's personal physician predicted that the elder statesman would reach this age, but how many of us ever thought we'd live to see the day?
Despite having survived well beyond the average human lifespan, the still-vibrant revolutionary leader continues to care for his people in a firm but fatherly manner. Has he discovered a fountain of youth in some recess of this island paradise? I was privileged to ask him that among other questions when he graciously allowed me a few minutes of his time on this most remarkable day.
TAD: Mr. President, I'm sure I can speak for everyone who matters when I tell you what an honor and a thrill it is to be in your presence, on this day or any other.
FIDEL: Yes, I have that affect on lots of reporters.
TAD: To what do you attribute this amazing longevity of yours?
FIDEL: It is a result of living in a country with the greatest health care system in the world, combined with the natural vigor of my own indomitable spirit. To put it another way, I sit before you as living proof of Cuba's victory in the Battle of Ideas.
TAD: So you see your health as a political victory, then.
FIDEL: Absolutely. Perhaps your people are unaware of this because you don't have the world's leading educational system like we do, but there has never been a president in U.S. history who has lived anywhere near 140 years.
TAD: That's going to come as a bit of a shock to some of our viewers, who tend to hold their presidents in high regard. I suspect that most Americans have just sort of assumed that we've had a 140 year-old president at one time or another. What do you think has made my country's leaders so fragile?
FIDEL: Their decadence makes them weak. Have you seen some of the menus from White House dinners? They contain all sorts of extravagant dishes, like fish. There is no rationing, no sacrifice. As a result, they become soft. Even among the ones that are still alive, none of them stayed in power longer than eight years. I've outlasted them all. And I still have the strength to have women who are only one-seventh my own age.
TAD: Yes, that's wonderful. But of course, our presidents can only serve two terms, and they have to run for re-election after four years.
FIDEL: We also have elections in this country, imbecile!
TAD: Uh ... I-I-I didn't mean to imply... I hope you didn't think I meant ... Mr. President, I assure you that ... um ... oh, what have I done?
TAD: Oh, thank you, your excellence. That's very magnanimous of you. So tell me, how many times have you been re-elected?
FIDEL: Six. And every time, I got almost one hundred percent of the vote. Compare that to your current president, who didn't even get fifty percent of the vote. Nor did his predecessor, for that matter. Do your people call that democracy, when a man can take office without the support of the masses? A representative of the people should represent all of the people, the way I do.
TAD: I see. But you say you've received almost one hundred percent. What about those few Cuban people who have voted against you? Is there a reason for that?
FIDEL: Actually, we've had problems with confusing ballots in some districts. When election officials contacted the people who voted against me and advised them of the problem, all of those voters realized that they had meant to vote for me, but believed they had made mistakes when casting their ballots. They are now being given remedial training in our re-education camps, to assure that they are not disenfranchised this same way in the future.
TAD: That's a brilliant idea. I wish we'd had a program like that after some of the electoral problems we've had. My country has so much it can learn from you. Do you think it will ever listen?
FIDEL: Not until there is a radical change in its leadership. There needs to be a revolution, and afterwards I will travel to the U.S. and see if I am respected as I ought to be. Up until now, your country has done everything to shame and humiliate me whenever I've gone there. Ike refused to meet with me. He sent me Nixon instead. The Senators told me I could not throw a breaking ball. Clinton shook hands with me. How much of this treatment is a proud man expected to take?
TAD: It surprises me that you should mention your tryout with the Washington Senators, because I've read on the internet that this was a myth, that you never had a tryout with a professional baseball team.
FIDEL: What's this you're telling me? They say it never happened? But I can show you records of my outstanding baseball career in my official national archives! It's bad enough that those capitalist swine refuse to acknowledge my victory in the Battle of Ideas. The least they could do is admit that I was a good ballplayer. But no, it's a "myth" you tell me. You probably believe the one about the cigars making my beard fall out, though. The United Nations should outlaw this "internet." How can people be allowed to write anything they want like that? It's madness!
TAD: I apologize. I didn't mean to bring up such a sore subject.
FIDEL: I once pitched against Don Hoak! If the CIA hadn't infiltrated Major League Baseball, I could have been in the World Series. Now this "internet" is taking away what little recognition I've gotten. But your president throws a ceremonial first pitch, with nobody hitting the ball back at him, and people talk about him like he's the second coming of Vinegar Bend Mizell. There is no justice in America. That's why it can never become a great country like Cuba.
TAD: You have my sympathies, Mr. President. I hasten to point out, however, that you have plenty of influential friends who can help improve your image in the States. In fact, many of our most visible celebrities are big fans of yours.
FIDEL: You're telling me! See what I have here? That's a picture of me and Robert Redford, saving the planet together by clipping up plastic six-pack rings. Now I ask you, which of those two guys looks like he's closer to 140? Honestly.
TAD: Yes, I see your point. I'm sure you're aware, however, that there are some cynics who refuse to acknowledge the occasion of your 140th birthday. They're actually accusing you of lying about your age.
FIDEL: There is a lot of jealousy in this world.
TAD: This incredulity on the part of the extremists appears to stem from the proclamation you issued last month, in which you declared yourself to be 139 years old. Some right-wingers and members of Miami's exile community question the legitimacy of that decision. How do you respond to them?
FIDEL: I repeat that this only proves we have won the Battle of Ideas. My becoming the oldest living person in the world just goes to show what is possible. In your country, President Bush could not do what I have done, not even with the approval of Congress. This exposes the limitations of your form of government, and it doesn't surprise me that the traitors from my country are now jealous of the majestic land they left behind.
TAD: It's interesting, though, that you've managed to live so many years in such a relatively short period of time. Americans who remember the Elian Gonzalez controversy might note that in the time that you've aged from 72 years to 140, Elian has only grown from six years old to eleven.
FIDEL: Everybody has to develop at his own pace, and I can't expect Elian to keep up with me, although he must strive to do so, just like every Cuban citizen. By this I am not saying there is anything lacking in Elian's development, though. He is a good little worker. I mean, boy.
TAD: Many of us in America were grateful to you for reuniting that boy with his father, and we'd be comforted to know whether Juan Miguel and Elian are still together to this day.
FIDEL: Yeah, well, in a sense, we're all together, aren't we? Here in the people's paradise, no one is ever alone. All of Cuba's children belong to one big, happy family, headed by me, Papa Fidel.
TAD: That's a beautiful sentiment. Do you think the world appreciates your love for the Cuban people?
FIDEL: Of course. I think that's obvious to anyone. I mean, if I did not love my people, would I give them each a bar of soap every other month?
TAD: That's proof enough for me, but if any remaining doubters exist, they can just look at the throngs of supporters who are parading here today in your honor.
FIDEL: Isn't this magnificent? The people's loyalty to me is a great inspiration. They don't have to be here today. They could be drifting around the Caribbean on inner tubes. But no, instead they all come out to wish me happy birthday.
TAD: It should be noted that the last time a crowd this size addressed President Bush in Washington, it was a protest, not a celebration like this.
FIDEL: That's right. In fact, I've been in office for more than a century now, and in that time I've never seen any leader in any capitalist country embraced by his people as warmly as I am here.
TAD: More than a century in office. That's truly amazing. Mr. President, you'll bury us all.
FIDEL: One can only hope.
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