The Horizon Kayode Komolafe, firstname.lastname@example.org 0805 500 1974
History will certainly absolve Fidel Castro because the verdict of history will not be at the discretion of the right wing cynics and reactionary enemies of the Cuban revolution. All lovers of human progress in mourning at the exit of this giant exemplar of humanity should take solace in this logic of history at this period that compels deep and critical reflection.
To be sure, the legacy of Comrade Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz has eloquently offered its own self-defence. Way back on October 16, 1953 Castro himself had declared prophetically that “History Will Absolve Me” while on trial for his leadership role in the revolutionary grand assault on the Moncada Barracks. So a posthumous defence of Castro as a historical figure might seem unnecessary.
There is a point often lost on the Castro haters who talk as if they wield the prerogative on how posterity would look back on the Castro era: all historical figures had their strengths and weaknesses. It is left for history to dispense its justice on the balance of evidence provided by the legacy of the individual. As Karl Marx put in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, “men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”
This is why it is important in an African perspective to refute ideologically the imperialist demonisation which some of our public intellectuals unfortunately parrot in assessing the Castro’s legacy. To start with, it was Donald Trump of America who led the assault saying Castro died “a brutal dictator.” This has been orchestrated by the community of Cuban exiles in Miami, just 91 miles away from Havana. To this group of assessors, Castro’s life and times could be summarised as denial of human freedom. But a sickening hypocrisy is hidden in this claim.
Today the only Gulag that exists on the Cuban soil, the Guantanamo Bay, is owned and controlled by the United States of America. The detention camp was established former President George H. W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack on America. It is because of the egregious violation of the human rights of the detainees that the Bush administration put them in the military base outside American soil.
What goes on inside the camp in Guantanamo Bay constitutes a crime under the American laws. Human rights organisations have decried in vain the torture, dehumanisation and detention without trial reported in the camp. President Barack Obama pledged two days after his assumption of office in 2009 to close the camp, but few weeks to the end of his tenure that promise remains unfulfilled. By the way, America got Cuba to cede that part of its territory for the support the powerful neighbour gave the tiny island during the Spanish- America war of the late 19th Century.
Now, will the tenures of Bush and Obama be defined by the atrocities perpetrated at the Guantanamo Bay? Is it democracy that the United States is practising in Guantanamo Bay? The neo-conservatives in the United States have defended the situation in Guantanamo Bay on the grounds that the detainees are held as “combatants” in the war against terror. In other words, it is a state of emergency. Has Cuba been in a less emergency with the 55-year old blockade imposed by the United States, hundreds of assassination attempts backed by the CIA and an unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion? Similarly, the opposition mounted by the Cuban exiles is not only a civil agitation for a change in Cuba.
There are violent tendencies in the opposition who wanted the leadership of the Cuban revolution especially Castro dead. Some elements in the opposition have acted like “combatants” working towards overthrow of the Cuban government. Strictly speaking, with the most powerful nation bent on asphyxiating the revolution, Cuba could be said to have been in a state of war in the last 57 years. Symbolically, that was probably why Castro wore the combat fatigue all his days in office as the Commadante of the revolution. Yes, whether it comes from the Right or Left human rights abuse should be condemned. But the matter should be historically situated for the purpose of clarity.
Beyond that, one of the greatest issues of democracy in the 20th century was colonialism with its untold inhumanity especially in Africa. Cuban troops with Castro as the Commander-Chief shed their blood fighting for freedom and the dignity of human person in Southern Africa. The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale was one of the fiercest ever fought on the African soil. At issue was freedom – the independence of Namibia and sovereignty of post-colonial Angola.
At the end of the battle, South Africa withdrew its troops from the Angolan territory and the process for Namibian independence was hastened. Cuba under the leadership of Castro supported the struggle of the South African people against apartheid. From across the Atlantic, almost 5,000 miles away, Cuban soldiers came to Africa to defend genuine freedom. About 36, 000 soldiers of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) fought in the war out of which 4, 300 died. While Castro provided leadership in this direction, the democratisers in the West could not be counted on the side freedom and human rights.
The powers now demonising Castro were either the colonisers or supporters of the colonisers of African people. As at the time the Cuban troops fought for freedom in Southern Africa Ronald Reagan was engaged in “constructive engagement” with the apartheid South Africa and Margaret Thatcher was busy calling the African National Congress (ANC) a “terrorist organisation.” Yes, the ANC was once branded terrorist in the West for fighting for freedom.
Yet the United Nations declared apartheid “a crime against humanity.” Reagan and Thatcher opposed even economic sanctions against the odious apartheid regime, much less supporting military action. That was the moral point Nelson Mandela made when on his release from prison he went to Cuba to say thank you to Castro and the Cuban people. On that occasion, Mandela described Castro as a “source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.” The democratisers in the West especially America never liked Mandela’s gesture; but the sage had a deeper understanding of freedom and human rights than the hypocrites. So who should be lecturing the other on genuine human freedom?
The hypocrisy of the West in assessing Castro could be further situated historically. While America studiously imposed blockade against Cuba for nationalising American enterprises as part of the revolution, the super power embraced some of the worst dictators of the 20th Century. For instance, under maximum ruler Agustino Pinochet, over 3, 000 people “disappeared” in Chile on the allegation of being communist. Washington never brutally sanctioned Chile. That was no surprise. After all, the CIA backed the September 11, 1973 military coup of Pinochet against the democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende. America was never hard on other Latin American military regimes because they took dictation from Washington on the capitalist mode of development.
The point being made is that history will not only judge Castro on the human rights of those who wanted him dead. History will also assess him based on the stupendous gains of the Cuban revolution under his able leadership. The massive investments of the revolution in the social sector have yielded good returns for the Cuban people. Education and health services are free in Cuba. These socio-economic needs are human rights in Cuba. That is the social democratic content of the revolution. The revolution has produced an educated people.
The literacy rate in poor Cuba is higher than those of many developed countries including the United States, the richest country in the world. Even an unyielding critic of the Cuban experiment, The Economist of London, has described the health sector of Cuba as “first-world.” Life expectancy figures in Cuba match those of America. Thousands of Cuban doctors are saving lives in different parts of the world especially rural Africa. Cuba has long banished polio, diphtheria, meningitis, tetanus and measles. Infant mortality rate at six in 100, 000 births is one of the lowest in Cuba. Under Castro, Cuba established the Latin America School of Medicine where poor students from Latin America, Africa and Asia are trained free as doctors.
Cuban doctors have exuded the humanity imbued in them by the revolution when other countries found themselves in crisis situations. Cuban health workers have been put on their mettle during hurricanes and earthquake in Haiti. Two years ago, Cuban doctors were on ground to combat Ebola in Liberia, Sierra-Leone and Guinea. Later, in an October 14, 2014 editorial entitled “Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola,” the New York Times had this to say about Cuba’s achievement in the health sector : “The global panic over Ebola has not brought forth an adequate response from the nations with the most to offer. While the United States and several other wealthy countries have been happy to pledge funds, only Cuba and a few nongovernmental organizations are offering what is most needed: medical professionals in the field.” The newspaper called on the United States to swiftly restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Castro was not only a commander of guerrilla struggles; he also led a battle of ideas. Castro spoke against the debt trap of the poor countries in the 1980s saying that the debt were ‘neither payable nor collectable.” He has been proved prophetic. He warned against the ecological consequences of the reckless capitalist development of the industrialised countries. It is a fitting tribute that before his demise the world saw the wisdom in the climate change agreement. He was unyielding till the end in pointing out the enormous human costs of neo-liberalism, the idea dominating a world in which of 1% owns more than the 99% out of the global wealth. Today, global capitalism (euphemistically called globalisation) is being assailed from the Left and the Right for different reasons. Neo-liberalism has no answer to the wave of populism rising in the West. The beasts in liberal democracy are becoming manifest. Yet, some public intellectuals dare say Castro lost the argument!
Castro was principled and disciplined till the end and provided a model of leadership. For example he dropped his signature Havana cigar when the World Health Organisation appointed him an ambassador in the campaign against smoking even when tobacco was a major export of his country under the yoke of American blockade. An intangible gain of the revolution under Castro’s leadership is the development of a people with enviable national pride and human dignity. The revolution is rooted not just in socialism, but also in the Cuban nationalism. This is one of the reasons for the exceptional durability of the revolution. A typical Cuban revolutionary is likely to tell you that he is more inspired by the story of Jose Marti, the Cuban nationalist hero, than the theory of Karl Marx or Lenin.
Doubtless, the Cuban revolution is a human experiment with its inherent contradictions. The Cuban revolutionaries are by no means utopians. Armed with historical materialism, the leadership of the Cuban revolution is more aware of the contradictions than the cynics. The people live with the shortages of consumer goods, the deprivations and the grave human issues.
They are confronting the socio-economic and political costs of the revolution. The momentum for greater economic opportunity and widening of the popular democratic space will continue after Castro. But the resolution of these contradictions will certainly not be dictated by Trump’s America, for that matter. The gains of the Cuba people’s experiment with the creation of a just, humane and popular- democratic society will surely outlive Castro.
May his dreams of a socialist world come true!