The Last Authentic Revolutionary

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Fidel Castro, Cuban revolutionary leader, dies at age 90
Following the death yesterday of the former Cuban leader, Mr Fidel Castro at the age of 90, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi described him as “one of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century”. It is a sentiment shared by many people across the world. Castro was not just the leader of a revolutionary Cuba; he was also a force for freedom and liberation around the world.

It is on record that thousands of Cuban troops fought with the Angolan people to defend the sovereignty of their fatherland. By repelling the powerful apartheid army, the Cubans contributed to the decolonisation of the Southern African region. In his death therefore, humanity has lost a strong advocate.

In the area of education and health, many Nigerian doctors and engineers were in the 1960s and ‘70s given scholarship to study in their country even as almost 50 per cent of Afro-Cubans have traced their roots to our country. Castro’s campaign for a new international economic order and debt relief for poor countries eventually led to debt cancellation for highly indebted countries, including Nigeria.

From the first day in January 1959 when he and his band of guerrilla fighters completed the overthrow of the regime of Fulgencio Batista until 2006 when he left office on health grounds, Castro presided over the affairs of his country without any personal scandal. And he was, above all, a man who lived by example and led his nation to many firsts – in primary health care delivery as well as in economic self sufficiency under an authentic socialist economy that was even miles ahead of that of the former Soviet Union and which survived long after the latter’s demise and disintegration.

On the world stage, Castro repeatedly held the United Nations General Assembly spellbound with his long speeches and provided a window of credible dissent and alternative voice in a world dominated by a few powerful nations. Though autocratic and dictatorial, when viewed from liberal eyes, Castro’s conception of democracy and power relations were rooted in the hearts of the Cuban people many of whom idolised him. That was how he derived legitimacy from a political structure that was derided by liberal thinkers but which secured a form of participation through grassroots mobilisation.

Despite the proximity to the United States, Castro’s Cuba stood for an ideological opposite of that country at a time the Cold War divided the world into two opposing and mutually antagonistic blocs sworn to mutual destruction. He did that against strong odds as there were repeated and spirited attempts by the awesome intelligence and security apparatus of the United States to liquidate the Cuban revolution and eliminate Castro himself. But all the machinations against him, including assassination attempts through poisoning, failed resoundingly.

Ordinarily, succession does not come easy for autocratic despots. Arguably, Castro was not a despot but his rule was autocratic nonetheless. In fact, he ruled his country with iron hands, was intolerant of opposition and many were jailed for dissent under his leadership. However, when age and nature made it impossible for him to continue to preside effectively over the affairs of state, he voluntarily gave up power, albeit to his blood brother Raol Castro. Yet viewed against the backdrop of the hierarchy of the Cuban revolutionary struggle, Raol was his natural successor, not just as his brother but as an effective ally and comrade in his own right.

It is noteworthy that Castro transcended his small nation of 11 million people and that is why his death reverberated across the world. In Latin America for instance, Castro was not only an inspiration to younger revolutionary leaders in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Guatemala and many other nations within the hemisphere, his influence was an effective counterweight to US dominance and less-than-altruistic interest in the region.

While Castro therefore shared the credits and pitfalls of some of these revolutions, his influence also inspired respect and recognition of an alternative reality in a hemisphere where many states would have caught the ‘Haiti disease’ of neglect and hopeless dependence.
May his soul rest in perfect peace.

QUOTE: Castro’s campaign for a new international economic order and debt relief for poor countries eventually led to debt cancellation for highly indebted countries, including Nigeria