In recent history, this world has seen its fair share of leaders. From men like Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, and of course Fidel Castro, they have shaped the course of nations and have been etched into our memory possibly for generations to come. The question soon arises, what do these men have in common that makes them so memorable? Certainly it cannot be said that they are memorable for exactly the same reasons as a celebrity, after all, you won’t find these men on “People Magazine’s Top Ten Sexiest Men”, or some garbage like that. I would venture that one key factor that enabled them to sway crowds is their undeniable charisma. This charisma would not be at all possible without either self-confidence or a firm belief in what was being done, both were present in the case of Fidel Castro.
One important thing to establish is a working definition of what charisma is, as well as frame what Castro may have attributed his ability to. Charisma can be defined in several different ways, two of which I will present here. One definition of charisma is theological; a divinely conferred gift or power. The other definition being a spiritual power or personal quality that gives an individual influence or authority over large numbers of people. (dictionary.com, “charisma” Def. 1,2) Castro felt vey much that these definitions would have applied to him when he said:
“I was born to be a politician, to be a revolutionary. When I was eighteen, I was, politically speaking, illiterate. Since I didn’t come from a family of politicians or grow up in a political atmosphere, it would have been impossible for me to carry out a revolutionary role, or an important revolutionary apprenticeship, in a relatively brief time, had I not had a special calling.” (Balfour, 22)
Castro always had a charismatic talent that could not be ignored, even as a young man at Havana University. He had mad himself known to be a powerful public speaker, rather than a rash and violent man, despite his youthful bravado. (Balfour, 27) Castro’s talent for activism aided him in his later endeavor to invigorate the spirit of Cuba. He became a frequent guest on radio programs, as well as being a regular contributor to the daily newspaper called Alerta, following the example of his mentor, an Orthodoxo senator, using these opportunities to berate the current administration and making his voice heard.
It is difficult to imagine that a man with such conviction, who would take every opportunity to make his views known, and who had such an ability to rally followers to his cause, that he would not eventually rise to power in Cuba. Very few men could do what Castro had done after being jailed for the Moncada barracks attack. Knowing that his movement would land him in prison, in his defense speech, he had still ended up rallying followers to his cause as he ended his speech with this:
“I know prison will be hard, harder than it has been for anyone, filled with threats, with callous and cruel barbarity, but I do not fear it, just as I do not fear the fury of the despicable tyrant that tore out the lives of seventy of my brothers. Condemn me, it does not matter, history will absolve me.” (Balfour, 41)
Funnily enough, Batista, the very man who had once jailed Castro, and the man he sought to overthrow had set him free, in an eager attempt to appear kind and merciful to his constituents. But upon his release, Castro jumped right back into the fire, then later sought asylum in Mexico in order to regroup. Later, after a brutal two year campaign, in 1959 Castro had succeeded in ousting Batista from his seat of power, and Castro had finally risen to risen to his seat of power. (Balfour 45)
As any great and charismatic leader knows, aside from shaping your policies and quelling your opposition, the most important key to gaining power as well as maintaining it, is to become a veritable master of holding on to and controlling public opinion.
There is a fictional figure with comparable charismatic flair within the popular media. In Lucas Film’s Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Chancellor Palpatine delivers a speech to the republic senate with similar undertones and ideals to those of Castro.
Palpatine’s speech is as follows:
“Citizens of the civilized galaxy, on this day we mark a transition. For a thousand years, the Republic stood as the crowning achievement of civilized beings. But there were those who would set us against one another, and we took arms to defend of way of life against the Sepratists. In doing so, we never suspected that the greatest threat came from within.
The Jedi, and some within our own Senate, had conspired to create the shadow of Separatism using one of their own as the enemy’s leader. They had hoped to grind the Republic into ruin. But the hatred in their hearts could not be hidden forever. As last, there came a day when our enemies showed their true natures.
The Jedi hoped to unleash their destructive power against the Republic by assassinating the head of government and usurping control of the clone army. But the aims of the would-be tyrants were valiantly opposed by those without elitist, dangerous powers. Our loyal clone troopers contained the insurrection within the Jedi Temple and quelled uprisings on a thousand worlds.
The remaining Jedi will be hunted down and defeated. Any collaborators will suffer the same fate. These have been trying times, but we have passed the test.
The attempt on my life has left me scarred and deformed, but I assure you my resolve has never been stronger. The war is over. The Separatists have been defeated, and the Jedi rebellion has been foiled. We stand on the threshold of a new beginning.
In order to ensure the security and continuing stability, the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society, which I assure you will last for 10,000 years. An Empire that will be continues to be ruled by this august body and a sovereign ruler chosen for life. An Empire ruled by the majority, ruled by a new constitution.
By bringing the entire galaxy under one law, one language, and the enlightened guidance of one individual, the corruption that plagued the Republic in its later years will never take root. Regional governors will eliminate the bureaucracy that allowed the Separatist movement to grow unchecked. A strong and growing military will ensure the rule of law.
Under the Empire’s New Order, our most cherished beliefs will be safeguarded. We will defend our ideals by force of arms. We will give no ground to our enemies and we will stand together against attacks from with or without. Let the enemies of the Empire take heed: Those who challenge Imperial resolve will be crushed.
We have taken on a task that will be difficult, but the people of the Empire are ready for the challenge. Because of our efforts, the galaxy has traded war for peace and anarchy for stability. Billions of beings now look forward to a secure future. The Empire will grow as more planets feel the call, from the Rim to the wilds of unknown space.
Imperial citizens must do their part. Join our grand star fleet. Become the eyes of the Empire by reporting suspected insurrectionists. Travel to the corners of the galaxy to spread the principles of the New Order to barbarians. Build monuments and technical wonders that will speak of our glory for generations to come.
The clone troopers, and proudly wearing the name of Imperial stormtroopers, have tackled the dangerous work of fighting our enemies on the front lines. Many have died in their devotion to the Empire. Imperial citizens would do well to remember their example.
The New Order of peace has triumphed over the shadowy secrecy of shameful magicians. The direction of our course is clear. I will lead the Empire to glories beyond imagination.
We have been tested, but we have emerged stronger. We moved forward as one people – the Imperial citizens of the first Galactic Empire. We will prevail. Ten thousand years of peace begins today.”
Castro echoes a similar sentiment in terms of uprooting apparent corruption when speaking to the fears of Cuban businessmen, “I know revolution sounds like bitter medicine to many businessmen. But after the first shock, they will find it a boon – no more thieving tax collectors, no plundering army chieftains or bribe-hungry officials to bleed them white. Our revolution is as much a moral as a political one”. (Balfour, 58)
It seems as though George Lucas took his cue for the Jedi mind trick from people like Fidel Castro. How else could people be so moved to at times, seemingly mindlessly play “follow the leader?” Let us hope that as Cuba’s future lies in the hands of Fidel’s brother Raul, that those bold and noble intentions one day lead Cuba into prosperity, because that country’s revolution is what that is still taking place.