The Legacy of Legend

Posted on November 26, 2016

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A piece co-authored with Jyotsna Singh while studying at Asian College of Journalism, Chennai (2010-2011).

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Photo: Sven Creutzmann/Mambo Photograph/Getty Images

“For every firecracker that the imperialists pay for, we are going to build 500 houses! For every firecracker … we will make three times more cooperatives…nationalise a yanqui sugar mill…nationalise a yanqui bank…refine hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil…build a factory…create a hundred schools in our rural areas…convert a garrison into a school…make a revolutionary law…arm at least one thousand militias!” said Fidel Castro while addressing the Cubans on 50th anniversary of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) on September 28, 2010.

The part mentioned here was a repeat of his famous speeches delivered in 1960 to mark the birth of a new nation which successfully overthrew the oppressive USA client regime of Sergeant Fulgencio Batista. Fifty years later, the ideas are as fresh and relevant. Castro seems to have summarised his legacy in his own words. Situated 90 nautical miles away from the superpower USA, this tiny island has been a thorn in the flesh for the imperialist world.

The Batista government degraded Cuba to the being the playground for the wealthy American, enjoying the night clubs, pubs and jineteras (Cuban slang for female sex-workers). Determined to give Cuba its real identity, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz attempted his first rebellion in 1953, but failed.

He returned in 1956 with Ernesto “Che” Guevara. They took up to guerrilla warfare, building an army. After the withdrawal of American military aid in 1958 to Batista, the rebellion gained steam capturing Havana in 1959. Castro became Prime Minister of Cuba, the first move before progressing to take total control of the country till 2008.

After Castro’s unofficial visit to the States in April 1959, economic embargoes were slowly imposed. Thereafter, Castro made his nationalisation agenda clear hinting at the emergence of a socialist state. Sugar exports to the USA dropped and Cuba needed to look up other ways to rake in income. The failed attempt to capture the Bay of Pigs in 1961 by CIA-trained Cuban exiles led to Castro’s announcement of Cuba’s alignment with communism and the USSR.

The USA went to great lengths to curb the growth of communism all over the world, but failed in its neighbourhood. It imposed two way blanket bans on travel, trade and investment with Cuba. The countries which maintained economic relations with Cuba also suffered. The Helms-Burton act of 1996 was a clear violation of trade laws, but highlights the sheer desperation of the USA to pull down the Cuban economy. CIA made multiple attempts to assassinate Castro, notable among them was the attempt by his ex-lover Marita Lorenz who smuggled poison pills into his room. But none were successful.

The radical movements of the 20th century received a blow with the fall of the USSR and change of regimes in Eastern Europe. Cuba remained an exception; it had to survive for nine years without any major ally before Chavez joined in 2000. Cuba adopted new strategies. Tourism replaced sugar exports as her primary source of income.

Amidst all this, Cuba has demonstrated that socialism works for the common people. It has achieved 100 % literacy rate, 98.3 % employment rate and a low infant mortality rate of six despite low GDP. It has proved itself during disasters like Hurricane Ivan which struck Cuba in 2004. People were shifted to their designated shelters along with neighbourhood doctors and veterinarians. They could take their belongings and cattle along. Thus, not only the lives, but also livelihood was saved. The United Nations also cites Cuba for its disaster preparedness.

Castro’s commitment to socialism is not limited to Cuba. His foreign policy also demonstrates it. Cuba stood by Africa during its anti-colonial conflicts. In 1963, Cuban doctors travelled to newly independent Algeria to deliver health care which suffered shortage of medical professionals owing to French departure. In 1975, Cuban troops fought alongside Angolan soldiers in response to South Africa’s invasion of Angola aided by the USA. Even as recently as November 13, 2010 Rodolfo Puentes Ferro, chair of the Association of Cuba/African countries friendship, expressed Cuba’s willingness to help Angola in national reconstruction.

Within Latin America and the Caribbean, Castro has extended friendship to the progressive governments. He sent an army of doctors to Venezuela in 2003 to provide free health care to millions of poor. In 2004, when the US overthrew the democratically elected government of President Aristide in Haiti, even under grave pressure of the USA to send Cuban doctors back, the new government could not do so as the country had no other alternative.

Cuba and Venezuela established the Alba (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) in 2004 in response to the U.S.-sponsored FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), differing from the latter in advocating a socially-oriented trade block rather than the one solely based on profit maximisation. Bolivia joined in 2006 and subsequently many other countries too became a part of Alba. Castro has truly led the transformation of Latin America which has created a lot of excitement among the progressive forces of the world.

Cuba is working to make herself self-sustained. Fidel Castro has admitted the Cuban model is not working with reference to exporting the Cuban Revolution, but there is more to the model which is not working. Raul Castro in the revolution’s 50th anniversary speech said, the nation will struggle incessantly for the next 50 years. He referred to the economic changes being introduced.

The government has realised that encouraging the growth of the private sector, which was closed down in 1968, is vital to maintain stability. Fifty years back this move would not have been thought of. Cuban population is now highly educated, healthy and well cared for, and is ready to take up enterprises on its own. Cuba has high social indicators; however it needs to keep its treasury filled. However, it has to ensure that the gains of the past five decades of struggle are not lost. The international forces have to stand in solidarity with the Cuban revolution, as pointed out by British-Marxist Perry Anderson on his recent visit to India.

Under Barack Obama, USA has made it clear that talks with Cuba are possible only if it changes its ways. Raul Castro has not ruled out talks either, but has stood firm on Cuba being socialist.

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