With the death of Fidel Castro, the last great leader in the revolutionary movements of the 20th century has gone.
It is with sadness that I learned about the death of the founder of modern Cuba, Comandante Fidel Castro. For the younger generations his may not be a familiar name, but for us who were looking for alternatives to international capitalism Castro and the Cuban Revolution was an inspiration. The revolutionaries were radical nationalists who rose against the tyranny of Fulgencio Batista—a brutal dictatorship led by a corrupt family that exploited the people ruthlessly and used terror and torture extensively against the opposition, while enjoying the support of the United States.
The US began to treat the Cuban revolutionaries as dangerous communists after they had overthrown Batista regime. It is then that Castro and his comrades turned to communism, and it was the Soviet Union that came to their help. Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara and other revolutionaries carried out extensive reforms and brought into being a welfare state that has been successful in providing a fairly decent standard of living and free education and medical help to citizens.
During the 1970s, Cuban volunteers fought in the liberation wars in Africa, such as against Portuguese colonialism in Angola. Unlike the founders of the Soviet Union and the Peoples’ Republic of China, the Cuban communists always drew a distinction between the legitimate use of force and its illegitimate use. Therefore, force was treated as the last resort when peaceful means failed.
With the death of Castro, the last great leader in the revolutionary movements that grew in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917 is now gone. His legacy will inspire us to keep on struggling for a fairer and more just world. People like me, who were witness to the history of American carpet-bombing of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, US support of blood-thirsty military juntas of Latin America and Islamist regimes of the Middle East, know that during the Cold War the US cared two hoots for human rights. In fact, the US is the post-war greatest criminal when it comes to crimes against humanity. It was not a communist who set up the International War Crimes Tribunal against US excesses in Southeast Asia but a liberal anti-communist Sir Bertrand Russell.
Of course, crimes committed by communist regimes should also be condemned without any apologies if we are to be considered credible public intellectuals. So, I hold no brief for any violation of human rights and human dignity by leftists.
However, I do not live in a fools’ paradise. I am witness to the way the Cold War was conducted by both sides and it was the new nations of the world created out of decolonization, forced to choose sides, which most did one way or the other.
Friend of the devil
I have moved away from dogmatic leftism and subscribe to a fundamental human right of social democracy. However, that has never made me accept the US as a leader of any such movement.
The US will support the devil if it needs to secure its interests—and that’s all. Fidel Castro stepped in to secure freedom of his people from a ruthless dictator supported by the Americans.
Castro was forced toward communism as the result of US myopic foreign policy. After the tyrannical regime was overthrown and its property confiscated, the US treated it as proof of the Cuban nationalists being communist agents. It was reminiscent of the way the British MI6 and CIA conspired to overthrow Mohammad Mossadeq of Iran and other radical nationalists, impelling the young Cuban state to seek help from the Soviet Union.
Socialism does have a tendency toward totalitarianism. Therefore, I prefer social democracy of the Swedish type instead because it combines equality with freedom and rewards hard work while ensuring that nobody falls out of the security net needed for all. This version of social democracy is its best manifestation. But when we talk of a brutalized people trying to rise out of poverty and degradation, socialism has been successful in providing those basic services needed to maintain a level of dignity and of substance.
Fidel Castro and his comrades fought for the freedom of their people crushed by a brutal dictatorship. In building up Cuba, Castro had to resort to authoritarian measures just as all liberal democracies have done in their formative phases. He was, however, able to maintain an egalitarian social-welfare system and that has benefited the downtrodden.
As of 2014, there are around 50,000 Cuban-trained healthcare workers aiding 66 nations. Cuban physicians have played a leading role in combating Ebola in West Africa.
According to the UN, in 2013 life expectancy in Cuba was 79 years. This ranks Cuba 44th in the in the world and 4th in the Americas, behind only Canada and Chile. Infant mortality in Cuba declined from 32 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 1957, to 5 per 1,000 live births in 2015. In 2015, Cuba became the first country to eradicate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, a milestone hailed by WHO as “one of the greatest public health achievements possible.”
One must choose sides and cannot reasonably throw out ahistorical liberal accusations against a struggling regime when the big bully is responsible for creating conditions where progressive change of any sort was considered a concession to communism. This capitalist system has ruined the lives of millions of US pensioners because of the greed of Wall Street when financial insolvency it brought about led to the collapse of banks in which their savings were invested. How is that any less a gross violation of human rights?
Fidel Castro stands out tall among the leaders of the 20th century because he defied US pressure and maintained the sovereignty of his tiny nation. That is in itself a great achievement of our times. – Fair Observer
* Ishtiaq Ahmed holds a PhD in Political Science from Stockholm University where he taught from 1987 to 2007 and retired as professor. He is an Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) at the National University of Singapore. This article, first published in November 2016, was reproduced in remembrance of the second anniversary since the death of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro.
New Era Reporter
2018-11-27 10:14:16 8 months ago