Opinion Pieces

Comrade Fidel Castro and 26/11:A defiance against iniquitous forces

This article was submitted to Ergo by Neep Saikia, a second-year student at the Gujarat National Law University.

“History remembers those who create History”-John Dewey

Another day passed. The 26th day of the November month stepped in.Around 2000 km away from the national Capital, I welcomed this day.

The clock strikes at the 6th hour of the day and the Newspaper vendor handed me the newspaper-“Axomiya Pratidin”, the largest circulated vernacular newspaper in the whole North East India. The newspaper has been known for its anti-establishment nature. I suddenly came across a column that moaned the death of 166 souls and honoring the sacrifices of 17 soldiers in the attacks that took place in Mumbai in this same day eight years ago.

I realized that 26/11 is little different. This day bears the abysmal and obnoxious smell of cry, grief and agony; a day that our great nation will not try to remember for its bitterness and a day that will not be forgotten for the valour.

Well, I think that I don’t need to pen down much on 26/11.I don’t want to reiterate those memories of agony. But the love, respect and grand salutes to Tukaram Omble,Hemant Karkare,Ashok Kamte,Vijay Salakar,Shashank Shinde,Sandeep Unnikrishnan and Gajendra Singh will stand forever.

I’m at my internship right now, which is going on at full swing. At sharp 11’o clock, I made my entry at the register and entered into the chamber of Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate where I occupied my table. I started my compilation work. After an hour, the whole atmosphere became mundane and murky. To counter the lackluster ambience, I picked out my cell phone to assist me. As soon as I switched on my Data, WhatsApp started giving constant notifications. The very first message that I responded to was of Swagat Boruah,my batchmate and a person whom I regard as a man of Infinite wit and wisdom. The message reads, “Castro dead at 90.”

Alas! Suddenly the whole dull ambience froze. I couldn’t believe. There was uneasiness inside me to agree with Boruah’s message. But the MSN news alert confirmed it.

Fidel Castro, a man and a leader, on whom no single definition will apply to curve out the identity of him. Even the globe was splinted into two pieces. For the western Hemisphere Castro was no less than a ruthless leader, actually a less leader and more a dictator. The Eastern Hemisphere portrayed Castro as a leader of the mass and a liberator.

But History has sided with Comrade Castro and projected Castro as the leader of the mass.The mass who had been exploited by the capitalist and imperialist forces. The noble ideals of Communism was sown by Castro which brought larger benign to his countrymen and inspired millions across the world. Castro liberated his countrymen from the evil forces of capitalism and thereby grabbing a glorious feat in History.

“I began revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I would do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and plan of action.”

—Fidel Castro

It was as a young radical that Fidel Castro debuted on the international stage, inspiring his supporters and overthrowing the Cuban government. The year was 1959 and within weeks the bearded, cigar-smoking rebel had become Cuba’s leader, a title he held onto for the rest of his life.

To many he was a romantic revolutionary, a persuasive and moving speaker who had the affection of his people. His longevity and the stability of his tenure as the top figure in Cuban politics withstood the fall of the Soviet empire and the unravelling of Communist doctrine in China.

He dominated far-left politics in the second half of the 20th century, establishing his power over Cuban society with the help of the Soviet Union, and assisting like-minded regimes and figures in neighboring countries. Castro thumbed his nose at US sanctions, survived a reported 638 assassination attempts and ultimately departed the world stage on his own terms.

A divisive figure at home and abroad, many Cubans opposed his regime while others supported the socialist policies of his government. He was a charismatic, hands-on politician, with a history of vociferous, forceful politicking.

The coup failed before it even started but the flame of reform within Castro was lit and he turned his attention to right-wing Cuban ruler Fulgencio Batista. Batista had assumed control of Cuba in 1933 through a military coup, and ruled for 11 years before stepping down.

By then, Castro had joined the Partido Ortodoxo, a political party targeting corruption in Cuba. After Batista resumed his position in 1952, Comrade Castro began a lengthy rebellion against him, which led to jail, exile, and ultimately, Mr. Castro’s 59-year rule of Cuba. In July 1953 Castro was arrested after a failed attempt to wrest power from Batista and later that year was sentenced to 15 years jail.

Building a movement while in jail, Mr. Castro and his fellow revolutionaries, including his brother Raul, built the 26th of July Movement, which would eventually overthrow the Batista government. Under pressure, Batista granted Comrade Castro amnesty and released him from prison in 1955.

Comrade Castro travelled to Mexico, where he met Argentinian Marxist Che Guevara and spent time raising funds and building opposition to Batista. He returned to Cuba in 1956 to conduct a guerrilla war against the Batista government, and in 1959, his 26th July Movement successfully assumed power of the country after Batista was forced to flee.

Comrade Castro then became prime minister, establishing a Marxist-Leninist regime. While the United States initially acknowledged his government’s legitimacy, Castro’s covert military and economic relations with the then Soviet Union led to a breakdown of relations.

He continued to accept both military and economic aid from the Soviet Union, bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1961 in what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. This nail-biting event was followed by the imposition of a trade embargo by the US government.

Numerous assassination attempts knowing of Castro’s fascination with scuba diving, the CIA planned to assassinate the leader by hiding explosives in a giant, brightly colored mollusk. Another plan involved planting a skin-irritating fungus in his wetsuit and exploding cigars were also a risk. “If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal,” Castro once said.

Comrade Castro responded to the US embargo by further linking Cuba and the Soviet Union, and by supporting political movements which opposed US policies of imperialism and capitalism.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba was left without a strong ally, and economically devastated. But the people’s leader Castro retained control of the country and remained popular with Cubans who received free health care and education. Under his rule, literacy rose to 98 per cent, 10,000 new schools were opened and infant mortality decreased.

He was elected Cuban president in 1976 and continued in this role until health problems overwhelmed him. In 2006, he underwent surgery for intestinal bleeding and was forced to hand power to his brother Raul while recuperating. He ultimately relinquished the position of president to Raul Castro in 2008, at the age of 81.

After retiring, Castro wrote political columns for the official press in Havana. He was awarded China’s Confucius Peace Prize in 2014 for his “important contributions” to world peace. He also gave up smoking the cigars, ironically just as the US signaled the end of their trade embargo with Cuba, which has stymied cigar fans for 52 years.

During the Cold War, Castro’s regime heavily involved itself in anticolonialist struggles in the African Continent. Cuba involved itself in many liberation struggles in Mozambique, Namibia, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Guinea-Bissau, and Angola. Cuba’s intervention in the Angolan War against Portugal was especially decisive, since it played a part in the end of the Portuguese empire and its transition to democracy, secured Angolan independence, as well as the independence of Namibia, and checked a potential invasion by Apartheid South Africa. Castro also provided much support and inspiration for Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress, and he dispatched doctors across Africa to provide aid to the poor. For these reasons, Castro and Cuba in general have a heroic reputation in Africa, and Nelson Mandela considered Castro his friend and mentor.

Still, Castro managed to overcome these difficulties through a rigorous re-structuring of the country’s economy. Cuba is now a major tourist destination for non-Americans (Americans are forbidden to go to the island by the US government) and much of its economy is based around tourism.

Although Cuba remains a poor country with very limited political and economic freedom, Castro’s regime did much to improve public education, sports and particularly public health. Cuba still exports doctors to many Latino-American countries and has an average life expectancy on par with your average first world country. On the other hand, a lot of basic living commodities are rationed, many buildings are in a poor state of repair and the human rights record of the government is poor (though it has slowly improved over the years and it’s record is significantly better than the average dictatorship). The country does have a good rating on the sustainable development index, though this likely has more to do with the poverty than conscious government policy (i.e. they waste little resources because many things are in short supply, and their living standards are low so they don’t consume much anyway).

In looking back on Fidel Castro’s life and the astonishing impact he had on not just Cuba or Latin America but the whole world. Cuba completed 60 years since Capitalism smashed from the nation. The Cuban Revolution, a socialist revolution that has made big advances in achieving environmental sustainability, has also been largely untouched by the economic crisis sweeping the capitalist world owing to its planned, nationalised economy and its strong ties to its new revolutionary ally in Latin America, Venezuela.

To survive for 60 years, despite a constant and aggressive counter-revolutionary campaign waged by the US imperialists involving military attacks, sabotage, assassination attempts and a brutal economic blockade, is a world-historic achievement. Socialist Cuba has achieved social, political, economic and environmental achievements unequalled by any other Third World country, and some unmatched by many First World countries.

New Year’s Day in Cuba in 1959 was marked by a general strike in Havana that culminated a three-year revolutionary war against the US-backed regime of Fulgencio Batista. That day, Batista fled Cuba. On January 8, 1959, Fidel Castro’s Rebel Army rolled victoriously into Havana to cheering crowds. With the revolutionaries in power, great strides began to be made, starting with a radical land reform program and then later a wave of company nationalisations. The revolutionary changes that were made to Cuba’s economy reorienting it toward serving the needs of working people instead of capitalist profit laid the economic basis for the impressive social achievements that Cuba has sustained since then.

 A real education revolution

Since 1959, Cuba has carried out a genuine education revolution. Illiteracy and educational backwardness were chronic social problems prior to 1959. The first and greatest of revolutionary Cuba’s achievements in education was the abolition of illiteracy, which stood at 23% in 1958. A mass literacy campaign, led by 280,000 volunteers teaching some 100,000 students, eliminated illiteracy in just one year.

Not long after, free education was established for all Cubans. From preschool to PhD, free education was guaranteed both in the Cuban constitution and in practice, with the socialisation of the cost of tutoring, books, pencils and pens. Cuba now has more teachers per capita than any other country in the world.

Cuba’s great strides in education were motivated by more than just goodwill on behalf of the government. The Cuban revolutionaries understand the great importance of education. They have had a genuine concern for the ability of the individual to develop all of his or her potentials so that they can contribute to the life of the country as best they can. But education has also been a way to increase social equality. Even in a society where class inequalities have been largely overcome, professional and educational inequality persists. By making education as accessible as possible to all people, a certain social levelling can take place.

Miracles in health care

As with education, healthcare in Cuba is completely free from the cradle to the grave. And not only is it free, but Cuba’s health system is among the best in the world.

Before 1959, the vast majority of Cubans had very limited access to health care. The capitalist elite had their private physicians but the poor had only a handful of rundown hospitals, and medicines were mostly unaffordable. In the countryside it was even worse; health care was virtually non-existent.

The revolution established that health care is a basic right of all Cuban citizens. It established a new ethic in health care not for profit, but for service to the people. Cuba’s 1976 constitution states: “The state guarantees this right by providing free medical and hospital care by means of the installations of the rural medical service network, polyclinics, hospitals, preventative and specialized treatment centres; by providing free dental care; by promoting the health publicity campaigns, health education, regular medical examinations, general vaccinations and other measures to prevent the outbreak of disease.”

According to the World Health Organization, life expectancy in Cuba is now 78 years, 76 years for men and 80 years for women. In comparison, the US life expectancy at birth is 75 and 80 years for males and females respectively. In 1959, average life expectancy in Cuba was just 58 years.

In 2008, infant mortality in Cuba was 5.9 deaths per 1000 live births. In 1959 it was 10 times that. Many other countries in Latin America still have an infant mortality rate more than 10 times that of Cuba. Infant mortality in the US is 7 deaths per 1000 live births. According to the WHO, Cuba has nearly twice as many physicians per capita as the US 5.91 doctors per 1000 people compared to 2.56 doctors per 1000.

In fact, Cuba also has more doctors per capita than any other country in the world. In 1959 there were only 6300 doctors, most of whom soon left for the US. Today Cuba has 70,000 doctors; 30,000 abroad and 40,000 resident in Cuba. There are some 90,000 Cuban students currently studying to work in health care. Cuba is also training free of charge 76,000 foreign students in medicine. Cuba also has a flourishing biotechnology and pharmaceuticals industry. It has developed a vaccine for meningitis B and exports the world’s best hepatitis B vaccine. It also developed the first synthetic vaccine for pneumonia prevention.

Not only does it look after its own people, but the Cuban Revolution exports its world-class health care to other poor countries. In 2008, 36,500 Cuban doctors were sent to 81 Third World countries to provide health care to people who would otherwise not have received it. This is a greater number of doctors than is provided by the WHO or by all of the rich countries to the Third World.

The Cuban government has also entered a health care “joint-venture” with the Venezuelan government, called Mission Miracle. The aim of Mission Miracle is to eliminate blindness. Patients fly free of charge to Cuba where they receive a free eye operation. The vision of more than one million Latin American and Caribbean people has been restored through this program.

Defeating racism and sexism

Cuba is also a world leader in overcoming the scourges of racism, sexism and homophobia. From the arrival of the Spanish in 1492, centuries of racial prejudice have persisted in Cuba. The Spanish colonisation was only made possible by the massacre of Cuba’s indigenous peoples. The Spanish colonial masters used racism to justify this brutality. Racism was also used to justify more than three centuries of enslavement of African-Cubans working the sugar and tobacco plantations. According to a common racist expression of the time, “children are born to be happy; blacks are born to steal chickens”.

Cuba was the last country in the Americas to formally abolish slavery, doing so only in 1886. But its official abolition, and the end of Spanish colonial rule in Cuba, made little difference. A succession of US-backed Cuban governments imposed discriminatory legislation, marginalising black Cubans.

The victory of the revolution in 1959 was a great triumph for race relations. It raised up Cuba’s most downtrodden. The radical redistribution of land from May 1959 and the reduction of housing rents to a maximum of 10% of a person’s income were among the most important measures in undermining racism. They gave livelihood, security and dignity where before there was none. Black Cubans were also assisted with affirmative action programs, and the discriminatory private health and education systems were abolished. Free health care and free education benefited blacks the most.

Not limiting itself to economic and social reforms, the Cuban government as early as March 1959 began an ideological campaign against racism. Fidel spoke out against it at many public events.

Cuba’s revolution is well known internationally for its anti-racist stance. Most impressive was Cuba’s role in the helping end the racist South African apartheid regime. From late 1975 to 1988, 300,000 Cuban internationalist volunteers participated in the war in Angola, routing the invading South African armed forces, thereby hammering a final nail in the coffin of apartheid.

Like Cuba’s black population, Cuban women were also at the bottom of the social pyramid in pre-revolution Cuba. They made up the majority of illiterates and the unemployed. Today the situation of Cuban women is worlds apart. By 2002, 62% of university graduates were women, many of whom were studying in non-traditional areas, such as the sciences and economics. Women constitute 65% of Cuba’s professional and technical workers, while 51% of scientific researchers and 72% of doctors are women.

Gay and transgender rights

Before 1959, to be gay in Cuba was to be a social outcast. Homosexuality was illegal and police harassment of gays was rife. While the Cuban Revolution improved life for most Cubans, it unfortunately inherited some of the homophobic attitudes of its machismo history as well some anti-gay attitudes picked up from its close relationship with the Soviet Union.

But beginning in 1986 with the “rectification process”, the Cuban government began a conscious campaign to combat homophobia. Homosexuality was made legal and the government sponsored attempts to eradicate homophobic ideas in the broader Cuban society. The sharp turnaround in the revolution’s attitude to homosexuality was most clearly symbolised by the 1995 May Day procession, which was led by Cuban drag queens. The Cuban National Assembly is currently discussing legislation that would recognise same-sex unions, along with inheritance rights. It would also give transsexuals the right to free sex-change operations and allow them to switch the gender on their ID cards, with or without surgery.

Centuries of colonialism in Cuba left behind an environmental nightmare. The Spanish conquistadors razed forests and mountainsides to turn Cuba into a sugar, coffee and tobacco export zone. Sugar plantations and cattle ranches replaced most of Cuba’s lush tropical forests. After the Spanish, came the North American imperialists, who continued the same practice for most of the 20th century.

The Cuban Revolution inherited this mess and immediately set about cleaning it up, drawing on the thought of Cuba’s national hero, Jose Marti, who stressed the dependence of human society on the natural world. Today, Cuba has the world’s best environmental record, having increased its forest coverage by over 50%, drastically reducing electricity used for lighting, and implementing a revolution in organic agriculture. Today it stands as the only country in the world designated by the Word Wildlife Fund to be developing sustainably.

Cuba is well-known for its contribution to the thought and practice of organic farming. Forced to produce the bulk of its own food after the collapse of the USSR left it without imports, Cuba carried out a real revolution in food production. The agricultural revolution was not limited to the countryside.

Havana, with 20% of Cuba’s population, became a focus for an urban food production experiment. Anyone who was willing was given land to cultivate. An urban agriculture ministry was established to give support to the new urban gardeners. By the mid-90s, there were more than 28,000 urban gardens in Havana, cultivated by 50-100,000 people. Urban community gardens are also commonly found attached to factories, colleges and hospitals, producing food for the employees’ lunches. So successful was the urban gardening experiment that organic agricultural methods for food production was made Havana law. Today most of Havana’s food is produced in the city itself.

Cuba is also leading the way in the global struggle to overcome fossil fuel reliance. The government agency, the Development Program of National Energy Sources, continues to develop alternative, renewable sources of energy, such as hydroelectricity, wind farms and solar power. Cuba is also well-known for its widespread use of bicycles for urban transport. It also uses the waste products of its sugarcane industry bagasse as an alternative source of fuel.

The way forward

The importance to humanity of these social gains in 50 years of the Cuban Revolution cannot be overstated. Cuba shows what is possible- even in a blockaded Third World country that had inherited deep poverty and an economy distorted by colonialism and imperialist exploitation.

Perhaps the greatest achievement if the Cuban Revolution is that it demonstrates that it possible to build a society that is motivated principally by human solidarity rather than personal greed. The health care in Cuba is based on solidarity with its own people and with other communities in the world. Indeed, all of revolutionary Cuba’s social achievements would have been impossible without its adherence to the fundamental socialist principle that the advancement of each working person is only possible through the advancement of all working people.

Humanity today stands at the same crossroads as Cuba stood on January 1, 1959. Either we continue down the capitalist path, into a new century of growing social inequality, poverty, disease, war and irreversible environmental damage, or we take a radically different path, bury the capitalist system and rescue the future of humanity by building socialism.

Fidel’s Cuba always enjoyed good ties with India, with both countries supporting multilateralism internationally and need for a more democratised United Nations. Both Indira Gandhi and Castro joined hands to make a way clear for the third world nations to occupy front seat in the international arena. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Fidel during his visit to Havana for a NAM summit in 2006, “I had gone there only to greet him, but he engaged me in intense discussion. We covered a whole range of issues, including the future of the international financial system, the future role of NAM, India’s development prospects and how we are dealing with our population, food and energy problem. I felt I was in the presence of one of the greatest men of our times.”

With the death of Fidel Castro, the last of the iconic revolutionary figures of the 20th century is now no more. The word, “revolutionary” is a bit too easily bandied out these days to describe leaders, but there is no better description to encapsulate the 90-year-old Cuban leader’s life and achievements.

“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” Castro said at an April 2016 communist party congress where he made his most extensive public appearance in years. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof that on this planet, if one works with fervour and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need and that need to be fought for without ever giving up.”

Fidel Castro has died. A towering Communist and hero whose life work was fighting for the emancipation of the Cuban people. He trained as a lawyer and made his own defence when he and fellow revolutionaries were arrested in 1953, in the famous “History Will Absolve Me” speech. Later, he led the guerrilla campaign against the dictatorship, alongside Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and many other comrades. He was an internationalist who met with Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X; Cuba has been one of the foremost supporters of national liberation, against racism and exploitation. He and others put Cuba on the road to Socialism, so that they would never return to the squalor and servility to U.S. imperialism that was the norm before for their country.

It is difficult to sum up his life in a few words. With Fidel’s passing away, the era of state-led socialism can’t be called to have ended. There is still a long way to go. The ideals of Castro paved a way and cast light on a road for Socialism, the road which will drive to the ultimate perfection ofImportant General Knowledge. Human race. His ideas on internationalism: a truly democratic world order and solidarity among the people of the third world; a thorough reorientation of the state to promote overall human development; – hold true and important today and for the foreseeable future. The Cuban’s muerte (death) will not just be mourned in his patria (fatherland), but the world over. Fidel is no more, but the revolution he unleashed, persists and the revolution must go on.

                Hasta la victoria siempre…Viva La Revolucion…Long Live Socialism


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