The uncanny timing of a dictator’s death foreshadows times to come

Photo credit: Kristina Leonardi

Although I am not Cuban, I have had two personal experiences with Fidel Castro, so his death brought up lots of memories …

The first one is very Forrest Gump-like and a bit insane; you’ll have to buy me a drink and hear that story in person ;).

The second is when I went to the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001, right before 9/11. One of my motivations for embarking on this crazy solo trip was that the closing ceremony was supposed to feature a keynote by Nelson Mandela.

It turned out that Mandela happened to be ill at the time, so his replacement, to my great dismay, although to the delight and fervor of the majority of conference attendees, was none other than Fidel. But, as I found out, he was admired greatly by developing nations and oppressed peoples everywhere; my guess was because of his ideology and initial redistribution of wealth to the poor, but mainly the adoration seemed due to his standing up to imperial powers, especially the United States.

I thought how disturbing it was that they replaced Mandela — a man of such integrity, dignity, intelligence and understanding — with a charismatic dictator filled with such hate, paranoia, narcissism and megalomania.

They handed out Cuban flags to the crowd, and there was no shortage of enthusiasm in waving them.

I was so angered by Castro’s hypocrisy and the illusion he created, sounding like a big tough-guy in his rambling speech — and I mean rambling, with gestures and yelling for over an hour and a half, majorly disrupting the schedule and bumping nearly all the other speakers. He portrayed himself as a hero to all of these people, who by the very nature of the conference were the most oppressed and downtrodden on the planet, while being an absolute tyrant in his country, oppressing his own people with the best of them!

I looked in my journal (see, this is why you keep them!) to read what I had written about the day. It was several pages’ worth but can be summed up with these two statements: “I was angry, really angry and saw exactly how negativity works, the most dangerous kind — this man knows exactly what to say to get the crowd riled up, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Ugh! …” “It was a terrible ending devoid of any sense of unity, upliftment or hope.”

It was, however, a fitting end to a conference that was so rife with chaos, controversy, frustration and anti-American sentiment that I felt like I had been in a war zone. Then I came back to New York, and eight days later 9/11 happened. And so our own trajectory was reset and, as my friend Dan would say, “Karma is a boomerang.”

I realized then that the sustained disempowerment and disenfranchisement of a particular group — there were large delegations of Palestinians, Dalits [Untouchables], Native/First Nation peoples, Roma [Gypsies], and African-Americans — can make people desperate for a savior, for a strongman to stand up for them, to give them a voice, to be the David versus Goliath, to seemingly find a path toward some kind of liberation and social and economic justice. I get it.

But history has shown us that desperation often leads to dangerous deception and despotism, which is why I think it’s uncanny/auspicious and no accident that the Universe chose NOW for Fidel Castro to pass on. It forces us to revisit that history, confronting us with who he was, how he got there and what will be his legacy, and our own.

Hope we pay attention.

Originally published on my personal Facebook page on November 26, 2016

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Kristina Leonardi is a career and life coach who helps people to make the most of their personal and professional lives, allowing them to recognize, connect to, and fulfill their role in the world at large. Known as a dynamic, inspiring and down-to-earth speaker with unique yet practical perspectives on the topics of career development, work/life wellness and personal growth, she has presented to organizations such as Saatchi and Saatchi, UBS, HR Association of NY, American Women’s Business Association, and New York’s Science, Industry & Business Library.

Kristina offers individual, corporate and group coaching privately, as well as in affiliation with The Muse and New York Women in Communications. She is the founder of The Women’s Mosaic (TWM), a nonprofit organization that produced over 100 unique events over 10 years for more than 2000 women of diverse backgrounds to connect to themselves, each other and the world around them. She holds a B.A in International Relations from Boston University, and has taught extensively for NYU’s Center for Hospitality, Travel and Tourism and the Center for Career and Life Planning. Kristina was listed as one of Hispanic Magazine’s Top Latinas of 2004, received Tango Diva’s 2007 Diva Visionary Award, was honored by the WNBA’s NY Liberty as part of their 2009 Inspiring Women Night, and has been featured as a career expert in Forbes.com, Inc. Magazine, Psychology Today, Money and The Huffington Post.

Kristina is also the author of Personal Growth Gab (PGG), Volume One: Thought-provoking, inspirational and entertaining essays to keep you connected with yourself and make sense of this journey called Life, a beautifully designed and practically organized compilation of nearly five years of weekly blog posts that both stimulate and address the questions of who we are, where we are going and how we can get there in today’s rapidly changing, fast-paced world.

For more information visit www.kristinaleonardi.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter for up to date posts, helpful articles and inspirational thoughts. Text CLEARLYKRISTINA to 22828 to be added to her mailing list.