Saturday, November 26, 2016
Business Recorder editorial Nov 26, 2016
End of an era Arguably the last of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro’s passing away at the age of 90 on November 26 represents nothing less than the end of an era. A towering figure on the world stage, Fidel will always be remembered for the brave and unflinching defiance of the superpower 90 miles away since the revolution took power in 1959. Born in 1926 to a well off landed family, Fidel as an intelligent, conscious young man growing up in Cuba could not help but be repelled by the prevailing corrupt and unjust system prevailing in his country, with radical contrasts between the millions of his people in poverty and a privileged elite hocking Cuba’s sovereignty and independence to US interests and criminal mafias treating Cuba as an offshore playground. When President Fulgencio Baptista mounted a military coup and seized dictatorial powers in 1952, the fiery young lawyer Fidel came to the conclusion that the time for his adherence till then to peaceful political struggle from the platform of the Ortodoxo Party had passed. He and his radical comrades mounted an armed attack on the Moncada military garrison on July 26, 1953, a date that became the title of his revolutionary July 26 Movement. The attempt was crushed and Fidel arraigned on anti-state charges. At his trial, his historic speech, “History will absolve me” electrified Cubans, Latin Americans, and revolutionaries of many succeeding generations. Imprisoned in the maximum security prison on the Isle of Pines, Fidel was eventually exiled. He found refuge in Mexico, from where he launched the Granma (the name of their boat) expedition with 62 guerrilla fighters in 1956. The guerrillas were almost wiped out while landing, Fidel and 12 comrades (amongst whom was Che Guevara) managing to escape the ambush and make their way to the Sierra Maestre mountains from where a classic guerrilla campaign with the help and support of the peasants, workers and progressive intelligentsia succeeded in overthrowing Baptista in 1959. Initial outreach to Cuba’s powerful northern neighbour were rebuffed, driving Fidel to openly declare Cuba a socialist country by 1961. The Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles opposed to Castro’s regime organized by the CIA followed that same year, but was beaten with heavy losses by the Cuban revolutionary army. The open US hostility, economic blockade and threat compelled Cuba to move closer to the Soviet Union. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 triggered by the US discovering Soviet missiles on Cuban soil brought the world to the brink of an all out nuclear war, only prevented by Soviet leader Khrushchev backing down and sealing a secret deal with the US to remove the missiles from Cuba in return for the removal of US missiles from Turkey, which threatened the Soviet Union. Castro was compelled to swallow this humiliating retreat, but this did not prevent him retaining cooperative relations with the Soviet Union while supporting revolutionary anti-imperialist movements throughout the world. This and his needling defiance of the US earned him many bizarre CIA assassination attempts over the years, all of which failed. Castro outlasted nine US presidents bending their backs to see the back of him. He was the longest serving leader of the 20th century (50 years). The accomplishments of Cuba under his leadership are all the more astounding when the economic blockade and hostility of the US is taken into account. Tremendous advances and achievement of global standards in education, health and the welfare of the people despite dire circumstances stand testament to Fidel’s inspiring leadership. The ‘Special Period’ following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has been negotiated intelligently and successfully without abandoning the basic socialist principles of the revolution. The Cuban exile community in Florida across the water has once again badly exposed its counter-revolutionary character by celebrating the death of Fidel Castro. These exiles are from the Cuban elite that fled Cuba after the revolution or their progeny or economic migrants. Their (and Washington’s?) hopes for change in the direction of capitalism (under the guise of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’) in Cuba are unlikely to be fulfilled, given that the transition to Fidel’s successor, his brother Raul Castro, occurred in 2008 after Fidel fell ill and the Cuban Communist Party is not only solidly in power but enjoys the support of the Cuban people.