Monday, 28 November 2016

Vale Fidel Castro

"A revolution is not a bed of roses..." - Fidel Castro

Although former president and revolutionary leader Fidel Castro has been out of Cuba's national and political limelight for more than a decade, it was still sad to read of his death on 25th November.

Much has been said about Fidel Castro, most of it incorrect and wildly misleading.  But one thing is for sure: unlike many political leaders of our time, Castro was a man who stuck to his principles despite the poverty enforced by the crippling embargo that has kept Cubans out of the international mainstream for more than 50 years.

It is particularly sad to see how many so-called leaders applauded his demise and yet Castro demonstrated to the world a dedication and honesty that few can come close to.  Sure, he stamped out any factions that strove to challenge his authority - Cuba is, after all, a one party State - and a lot of Cubans have left the country because of its unwavering politics.   If President-elect Trump has his way, Cuba would be ripe for 'development' again, and all the social reforms that Castro fought so hard for - free education, health care, social equality - all of which are not freely available in the US, would be gone. And this attitude comes from a man who has not paid any tax for 20+ years.
 Although initially involved in fighting right-wing governments in Colombia and the Dominican Republic, it wasn't long before Castro turned his attention to fighting for equality in his homeland. At that time much of the wealth was generated by the sugar industry and this was predominantly owned by foreigners - Spanish landowners who had little interest in a Cuban independence.

In the fifties Cuba was controlled by the US-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista. He seized power in 1952 and, because he was seen as being so Western-friendly, enjoyed the full political and financial support of the United States. In fact, prior to the Revolution, many notorious criminals from the US  treated Cuba as their personal  playground: for running prostitution rackets, drugs and money laundering.

Many modern day travellers have visited the Hotel Nacional in Havana - this is an art deco monument that was the virtual HQ for gangsters like Meyer Lansky, and Lucky Luciano. These ruthless criminals ran gambling and drug rackets in Cuba with absolutely no restriction from the local authorities, while the general population struggled to eke out an existence from the land.

In the mid to late fifties Castro eventually formed a cohesive band of revolutionaries wanting freedom from a dictatorial system and, more importantly, an independent Cuba for the Cuban people.

His 26th of July Movement resulted in the people's revolution which eventually overthrew the Batista regime in 1959, replacing it with a left-leaning government fighting for social reform.

In late 1959, a few months after toppling Batista, Castro visited the US hoping to open up relations but was publicly snubbed by the then president, Eisenhower. The US government clearly didn't like what had happened in Cuba and was not about to support a new leader that they had not sanctioned. This is a disastrous foreign policy that the US continues to inflict on supposedly sovereign nations to this day. (I am sure most of us can name at least half a dozen US-approved leaders that have subsequently turnout out to be complete duds. I'd name the countries here, but it would take up too much space).

In 1961 the CIA trained a number of what I suppose you might call 'political fundamentalists' Bay of Pigs incident was defeated in three days and left the US with a certain amount of political egg on its face.  Nevertheless, (or maybe because of) this loss of face caused the US to instigate a blockade and embargo on trade with Cuba, which still exists today.
Billboard in Eastern Cuba stating "Blockade - the largest genocide in history"

At the time, Castro could get no assistance from the US, so desperately needing the funds he  went to the next bidder, which was Russia. The rest, as they say, is history.  Interestingly Ho Chi Minh experienced the same problem when campaigning for Vietnamese independence (from colonial France). No one in the West was willing to get involved, so the Communists stepped in.

A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.”
During Castro's presidency, there have been more attempts to have Castro assassinated than any other figure in history (Castro claimed there were 634 attempts on his life).  Many of these attempts were, apparently, instigated by the CIA. The Bay of Pigs for example, was clearly organised entirely by the CIA, others, like an exploding cigar, were possibly more fantastic than practical.

Whatever your opinion of Fidel Castro, the facts about his life are unequivocal: he was a strong leader, believed fiercely in freedom for the Cuban people, never wavered under the pressures brought to bear by other nations - and he fought for justice.

The ever more sophisticated weapons piling up in the arsenals of the wealthiest and the mightiest can kill the illiterate, the ill, the poor and the hungry, but they cannot kill ignorance, illness, poverty or hunger.”   

"I am not a communist and neither is the revolutionary movement.”
-  Fidel Castro

The question of course that everyone is asking is "what will become of Cuba now?".  Most would suggest change is the only way  -  in fact, a lot has changed between my first visit in 2012 and my recent trip to Havana earlier this year. But clearly it's not enough to satisfy the younger generation who are chomping at the bit to live in a more developed nation. Quite understandable looking at the state of the infrastructure and economy. If you are Cuban, the changes can't come fast enough, but in reality, I think any changes will still happen, but slowly if the current regime has anything to do with it...