Cinderella Castro

By Jonathan Jacobson

I can’t believe he’s really gone. That dazzlingly full and unkempt black beard. The cigar smoke billowing gently above his head. And, oh, those thick, dark eyebrows. Truly, anyone who cherishes a good personality will miss Fidel Castro, retired president of Cuba, a Caribbean nation known best for its revolutionary zeal. Oh, and the conga dance.

Of course, we can look at all the awful things he’s done. Sure, he went after his enemies with Stalin-style efficiency, isolated his people from the developments of the modern world and, OK, sure, he brought the world very nearly to the brink of nuclear war.

But haven’t things been more fun with Castro around?

Without a bully to pick a fight every once in a while, the international schoolyard is going to feel a bit lonely. Now that “El Comandante” is finally crossed off the list – albeit of his own doing – should we be in search of a new Caribbean antagonist? Can we find someone with the proper chutzpah, the right oomph, to fill those now-abandoned, trendy green khakis?

In reality, this job opening has been posted for some time. The public hasn’t had a real glimpse of Castro since July 2006, though we have been led to believe that he is, in fact, alive.

Remember that photo of him recovering from surgery with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez? Chavez looked great – love those pearly whites – but Castro donned a fire-red pajama shirt that looked more befitting of a Hugh Hefner impersonator who fell ill before an engagement than a beloved dictator.

Indeed, the man lost his spark some time ago. And Raul Castro, who has assumed power in his brother’s absence, just doesn’t have that revolutionary glow about him. Between his diminutive, portly appearance and those coke-bottle glasses, the greatest battle he’s capable of leading is for control of the dessert table.

So who do we turn to now?

Well, fortunately, there are a whole bunch of repressive totalitarian regimes on this great, green Earth to choose from. But who can compete with Castro?

How about Kim Jong-Il of North Korea? Problem is that “Dear Leader” is still standing in the shadows of his deceased father, the real revolutionary. Also, some questionably botched nuclear tests last year hint at a lack of virility that is absolutely unacceptable for any real dictator. Though we may find his reputed love of cinema endearing, he simply doesn’t have what it takes.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is a good bet. Given those unfortunate Holocaust-denying tendencies – yeah, yeah, we know it’s a “myth” – and his newfound strategic partnerships with Russia and Venezuela, he seems like he could be a good fit for this position. We’ll have to see that cover letter, first, though.

As it turns out, Ahmadinejad is really just the ugly face on a much uglier monster. Pulling his marionette strings is the Supreme Leader of the country, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

All those titles make me nervous, but I’ll bet they scare Mr. Ahmadinejad much more. And since Fidel reported to no one except God – and maybe his mother – there’s just no room at the top for a second banana.

Which brings us to our final applicant, Vladimir Putin. He’s got some tough consonants in his name, which is a step in the right direction. His people, though maybe not his journalists, certainly love him. He’s got some humble beginnings as the son of a factory worker. And those blue eyes: What a lady-killer!

But Mr. Putin has his drawbacks, too. He is cold and calculating, rarely smiles and generally lacks that joie de vive that Fidel exuded from his very pores.

When Time Magazine chose him as their person of the year for 2007, the first line in their cover story was, “No one is born with a stare like Vladimir Putin’s.” Though Fidel has never been chosen for that honor – ah, to be beaten by the likes of Charles de Gaulle and Newt Gingrich – he is, at his core, a charismatic leader. The only thing Putin exudes is the ghost of Peter the Great who, as it turns out, wasn’t so great at all.

It seems no one can take Fidel’s place. Perhaps the best answer is to hold a kind of Cinderella contest, with all the world’s evil leaders lined up down the block, waiting to see if the combat boot fits. But, then again, some people aren’t meant to be followed.

Jonathan is a senior in English and rhetoric, and he misses the hegemonic bliss of Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun.