Issa Aremu pays tribute to the Cuban revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro

On Wednesday, November 25th, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) marked the 4th anniversary of the death of the death of comrade Fidel Castro Ruz, the iconic Cuban Revolutionary leader. The anniversary manifestation, attended by score of ambassadors, progressive activists and friends of Cuba also turned out a warm historic reception for the new Cuban Ambassador to Nigeria, Clara M. Pulido- Escandell. Thanks to Comrade Tar Ukoh, Director – General, National Troupe of Nigeria and head of the globally acknowledged cultural group Mambisa who provided danceable revolutionary songs laced with Sahel two-stringed fiddles, goje (the Hausa name for the instrument!), and legendary talking drums! Some comrades, diplomats and revolutionaries danced to them all, including yours comradely (in memory of a “beautiful” icon Fidel)!

At 90, Fidel Castro Ruz lived the fullest of time like his life-long comrade, Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected South African President. He died some three months, after his 90th birthday in 2016. What has longevity then got to do with revolutionaries who endured challenges including, fatigue of struggles and numerous assassination attempts? Wikipedia reported several moves to kill Fidel while alive as a serving President by you-guess- who- from which country. The Cuban Intelligence agency says Fidel was a legendary survivor of not less than “600 assassination plots” in half a century! The late Cuban revolutionary leader was born on the 13th of August 1926 near Birán. He eventually emerged as the revolutionary leader of Cuba, following the historic Cuban revolution he led in 1959, at the prime age of 33. Not too young to make a radical transformation in Cuba! In July 2006, President Fidel Castro had gastric surgery and temporarily handed over control of the government to the former Defence Minister, Raul Catsro. He stepped down from power in 2008, 50 years after. With his compatriots in the Cuban Communist party, they transformed an island of 11 million people, (size of Lagos!) into the first socialist independent/welfare state in the Western Hemisphere. Cuba just recently upscaled from 73rd to 72nd position, among 189 countries listed in Human Development Index, categorization issued by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The criteria include long and healthy life, ( life expectancy at birth), education index: Mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling and a decent standard of living! Nigeria ranks 158 out of 189! Literacy rates in countries like Cuba, Poland, and Estonia are as high as 99.8 per cent compared to Nigeria’s 60 percent. Indeed in Nigeria there is a new emerging illiteracy with ( take a breath!) some 14 million children (more than population of Cuba) out of schools! So much for size and development! And so much for leadership, ala Fidel’s Cuba!

Four years after Fidel passed on, the world had witnessed a lot of quantitative, not so qualitative changes, with respect to global justice, equality, peace, removal of 60-years economic blockade against Cuba, by United States of America.

For one, what would have been Fidel Castro’s reactions to the Presidency of the of Donald Trump inaugurated on January 20, 2017, few months after his death? As far back as 2008, Fidel Castro damned endemic racism in God’s own country, USA. He observed (rightly too) well before life was snuffed out of George Perry Floyd Jr., and president-elect Joe Biden commendably acknowledged the fact that “Racism is deeply-rooted in the United States where the mind of millions of people can hardly reconcile with the notion that a black man, with his wife and children (read: the Obamas) could live in the White House, which is precisely called White.” Fidel said “It’s a miracle that the Democratic candidate (Barack Obama) has not met the same destiny as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and others who only a few decades ago dreamed of justice and equality.”

What would have then been Fidel’s reactions to Black Lives Matter (BLM) in USA?

Of course, Donald Trump who derided the war credentials of the late Republican Senator John McCain posthumously against all ethics did not spare his ideological enemy. He predictably labeled, Fidel Castro a “brutal dictator”. What would be Fidel’s in his great literary reflections on the current Donald Trump’s obscene dictatorship of results in an election he miserably lost in a “democratic” America? Covid- 19 had claimed as many as 1.4 million deaths with almost 60 million infection rates. United States alone records almost a quarter of global COVID fatalities (some 260,000 deaths!), compared to Cuba’s 133 deaths, 8, 000 cases and 7428 recoveries. What would be Fidel’s reactions to the disastrous numbers from the “Empire up north”? Fidel presided over the world’s acknowledged medical capital which Cuba is, what would be his reactions to Donald Trump’s scandalous withdrawal from a World Health Organisation (WHO) in the midst of a global pandemic? António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, ably delivered this year’s (2020) Nelson Mandela ( NMD) Annual Lecture speech entitled “TACKLING THE INEQUALITY PANDEMIC: A NEW SOCIAL CONTRACT FOR A NEW ERA, “ in New York on the 18th of July. It was truly revolutionary (Mandela/ Fidel Castro-like!). He reminds the world about the “inequality (social) pandemic” against the background of the current health pandemic caused by “a microscopic Covid virus”. What would be Fidel’s reactions to the damning statistics that between “1980 and 2016, the world’s richest one percent captured 27 percent of the total cumulative growth in income”, as disclosed Guterres, confirming the 2020 data released by Oxfam ahead of Davis World Economic Forum (WEF), according to which “world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6billion people who make up 60 per cent of the planet’s population”?

Remarkably we don’t need to agonize about what the leadership of Fidel Castro would be like at times like this. He was motivated and led by timeless ideas of justice and equity for all, and acted so. As far back as 2000, Fidel has warned against neo- liberal globalization with his attendant poverty for the bottom billions. That was well before Paul Collier, the British Development Economist at Oxford University did his seminal work : “The Bottom Billion”: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About (2007), Fidel warned. Witness him: “Globalization is an objective reality underlining the fact that we are all passengers on the same vessel… But passengers on this vessel are travelling in very different conditions. Trifling minorities are travelling in luxurious cabins furnished with the Internet, cell phones and access to global communication networks. They enjoy a nutritional, abundant and balanced diet as well as clean water supplies. They have access to sophisticated medical care and to culture. Overwhelming and hurting majorities … that is, 85% of the passengers on this ship are crowded together in its dirty hold suffering hunger, diseases and helplessness. Obviously, this vessel is carrying too much injustice to remain afloat and it pursues such an irrational and senseless route that it cannot call on a safe port. This vessel seems destined to clash with an iceberg. If that happened, we would all sink with it.”

True to Fidel’s predictions and analysis, the neo- neoliberal globalization “ship” actually sank in 2008, with all the casualties of mass job losses, deaths, suicides and feverish return to discredited states for bail outs. What would be Fidel’s to the current socialization of the economic impacts of Covid: 19? Contrary to capitalist received wisdom, Central banks, not private sector are printing monies to bail out corporations, with attendant unfair privatization of the benefits and the provoked pandemic riots (read:#EndSars protests).

Castro once said of Cubans: “We are a Latin-African nation…African blood flows through our veins”. Yours comradely was among the Nigerian delegates to the historic 5th Solidarity Confab in Windhoek, Namibia between 5th and 7th of June 2017. Many takeaways from Windhoek! The most memorable for me was when Namibian third President, Hage Gottfried Geingob betrayed Presidential emotions, broke down in tears while paying homage to Fidel and Cubans. He asked rhetorically: “If someone buys you a car, a cloth what do you say to him? And what do you say to someone who sacrificed his life as Cubans did to get you freedom and a homeland?” The solidarity song that rocked the conference hall gave appropriate answer. Fidel and Cubans stand for humanity, stand for principles as contained in UN. It would be recalled that 1990 March, Namibia got liberated after centuries of resistance. At the centre of it all was Cuba. At the battle of Cuito Cuanavale the combined forces of Angola, Cuba and SWAPO repulsed the South African apartheid forces with South African heavy losses. The new Cuba’s Ambassador Clara sums it up. What made Fidel extraordinary was his unparalleled love for humanity which explains Cuba’s global solidarity in the current fight against COVID- 19 with unprecedented export of doctors, nurses and PPEs just as the small island did in the fight against Ebola, Malaria and Cholera. Definitely the spirit of Cuba for freedom, independence and sovereignty lives on without Fidel Castro, a signature to his enduring legacy!

Aremu mni is a trade union activist and labour leader