Love him or loathe him, you just cant ignore him, Fidel Castro is the last great Latin American revolutionary, and might I add there have been hundreds of them. He is a man that inspires confidence with charismatic flair, even his hardest opponents will not disagree. This week for the first time in nearly fifty years he ceded power to his younger brother Raul Castro and as if he never left the spotlight was back in international headlines. Many claim this is the beginning of the end of communism and Castro, but if history has taught us one thing as long as there is blood flowing through his veins he will never bow down to America. Communism will survive, and the so called “imperialists” or capitalists will not over take Cuba. In short he lives and breathes for Cuba, and it will take more than intestinal bleeding to put him down.
Castro has led a long life, longer than many people in the world would have liked but his fervour for revolutionary causes has never dimmed. He in one of the few leaders that has stayed true to the medium that gave him power. Some say that it is this very aspect of his personality that has crippled Cuba, while others say that is his claim to greatness. It is all a matter of perspective and one would commonly agree that we are governed by western views of the world, thereby enabling us to look at him as some great demon undermining freedom. That may partially be true but then again the people who lambaste him internationally are no angles either. Dare I say, they are both perpetrators in their own right, but we only hear one side of the story. The great Nelson Mandela said “Cuban internationalists have done so much for African independence, freedom, and justice.” Years after he uttered that famous line Mandela invited Castro visit South Africa, while on his visit he was awarded the highest civilian honour for foreigners “The Order of Good Hope”. One might think that Mandela caused an international stir, but none of that happened. Instead with muted pleasure he accepted the award that seemingly should have brought him international respect. That was not to happen, for America and the rest of the capitalist world, he was still viewed as a pariah. One could parallel his life with that of Yasir Arafat, they were international hate figures for most of their natural lives, yet they still had a magnetic power that made people believe in their causes. All I can say on that matter is the Pope John Paul II openly spoke for Castro's cause and with divine help like that on ones side, who needs America.
But lets be objective, after it is all said and done he has forced an economic model on his people. Without a referendum in December 1961 he declared that he was Marxist-Leninist and that Cuba was adopting Communism. He then oversaw broad ranging socio-economic policies, ranging from land reform to public funded healthcare. Most of them were greeted with icy silence around the world as they fast progressed into a full fledged communist state, where even free speech and political dissent were turned into criminal offences. Here is where the west and Cuba will never see eye to eye, while they have a wholly different view of human rights and leadership they have condemned Castro into public enemy number one. They claim he is the Latin American Saddam, while that may be true, it does not explain Cuba's high ranking in the human development index. Where is the so called inequality and lack of freedom then? Not everything can be seen from Castro's point of view, he has openly admitted that Cuba holds political prisoners, but has repeatedly said that they are in jail not because of their political beliefs, but because of their “Counter-Revolutionary” crimes. That argument does not hold water for a number of reasons, firstly because in Cuba there is a law criminalising political dissent and because after a number of eye witness accounts claim that the prisoners are not treated under international norms that govern human rights. That is where Castro the dictator and revolutionary shows his hard line attitude to any element that challenges his leadership. One could possibly conclude from his actions that he is unsure about his position as leader of Cuba, but from his demeanour that is the last conclusion that one could come to.
Fidel Castro's charm, personality and ruggedness has made him the perpetual symbol of revolution. Second only to his close friend and ally Che Guevara. He commands respect and portrays and attitude of nonchalance when it comes to matters that would usually require tact and guile. He has been dressed in his military fatigues for more than fifty years and still evokes the image of the sprightly thirty year old who won over the world half a century ago. The New York Times famously wrote a series of articles on him and his revolutionary efforts before he overthrew General Batista, there he was portrayed as a romantic revolutionary and that image has stuck. Even his rank of “Comandante” soon entered main stream pop culture and the word now evokes thoughts of him fatigue clad and unshaven, a hero in waiting. In the decade of turbulence the 60's, Castro and Guevara were the ultimate revolutionary pin up boys. They made it “cool” to be a revolutionary. Funnily enough now he is portrayed as exactly the opposite of a revolutionary. He is now a dictator hell bent on protecting his power. Revolution is the word most associated against him, rather than for him. How times have changed. To most downtrodden people he is still a symbol of strength; he aided many revolutions across Latin America and Africa. He helped liberate a generation that has not forgotten his deeds. In parts of Africa he is a national hero from a different country. Yet his good deeds alone cannot save him from his apparent “tyrannical rule”. He rules with an iron fist and since the fall of communism in the early nineties, it is his governance that has come under intense scrutiny. He has not made the best decisions for his country and seemingly still likes to antagonise big brother America. That has not helped the economic situation of his country, where the last decade and a half have seen extreme downturns, leading to shortages of everything. One might say if you live by the iron fist, you die by it. For the case of Cuba, they are starving by it.
Two days after this will be published Castro will celebrate his 80th birthday probably from a hospital bed. That will not dampen his smile nor will it signal the end of his regime. His personal doctor once said he will live to a hundred and forty. Judging by his attitude and will to live that was a fair estimation. He is the rebel who just won't give up. An icon to his followers and a tyrant to his opponents. His hair may have thinned and his beard whitened, yet his cigar smoking revolutionary ferverism has not dimmed. In 1953 he was tried in Cuba for a failed uprising against General Batista. Castro defended himself and delivered a famous speech. There he said “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.” One wonders if he is still waiting for absolution.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006