He was 90. Anyone who looked at the frail body of Fidel Castro could predict that the time was near. Yes, he survived assassination attempts orchestrated by the CIA but surviving assassination attempts does not mean you can live forever. And so Fidel Castro left for his heavenly abode on November 25…in a peaceful way.
No, that potbelly in east who goes by the name of Kim Jong-un is a disgrace to communism. That fellow is a dictator; Castro was a leader and that’s what made Castro so appealing to generations of communists as well as non-communists.
Castro rode to power in Cuba in 1959 when he overthrew the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. That was a revolution indeed for the people of Cuba were facing some of the worst years of their lives under the Batista regime.
A young Fidel Castro photographed in Sierra Maestra in 1958, a year before he overthrew Batista. Yale University
Under Castro, Cuba became a communist state in the very backyard of the world’s greatest capitalist (or imperialist, if you rather), the United States of America. Within a year, Cuba under Castro and the US under Dwight D. Eisenhower would become bitter rivals – a state they would maintain till 2014, when diplomatic relations would be re-established.
Then, in 1962, Cuba lent its name to the only time in history when two superpowers – the US and the USSR – brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war with a missile crisis. That Russia was able to plant nuclear missile silos in Cuba scared the shit out of the US.
Many assume that Castro was no better than Batista, the dictator he overthrew. Yes, he did execute Batista loyalists and, yes, there were many who fled Cuba for the United States during his reign, but these do not justify the ‘dictator’ tag.
Fidel Castro in a meeting with Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow. Amanda Macias/Business Insider
Everything went well for Cuba till the collapse of the Soviet Union. That collapse and the embargos placed on it by the United States hit Cuba’s economy. Yet Castro kept a firm grip on the island nation. That firm grip was partly because of his own charisma and partly because of the reason that Cuba managed itself well with whatever it had.
It is that healthcare system which has ensured that Cuba has one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates and highest life expectancies. The system produces doctors like US produces weapons. When the Haiti quake happened, Cuba was the first responder sending in medical teams and setting up makeshift hospitals amidst the debris. The US-controlled media did not highlight that.
A Cuban doctor treating a patient. Diego Giudice/Bloomberg
Such has been Castro’s reign. He ensured that notwithstanding the embargos placed on his country, his people do not go untreated. What is more, the quality of healthcare Cubans get in Cuba rivals that of the developed giant just across the Straits of Florida.
Unlike Kim Jong-un, whose people go hungry, Castro focussed on the welfare of his people – just like a true communist. Over 99 per cent of Cubans have electricity, the industrial growth rate is 9.5 per cent, which places Cuba in 11 place in the world, the literacy rate is 99.8 per cent, over 94 per cent of the population have clean drinking water facilities, etc.
Unlike Kim and his North Korea, Castro did not join an arms race, and his country was open to those who wanted to visit it. His people, with their creativity, made the country welcoming to tourists. Though the Yank Tanks continue to run on the streets of Cuba because of the embargos, Castro’s Cuba turned it into an attraction for tourists.
If those are the statistics of a country bogged down by a host of embargos, then there is no doubt that the leadership has done something worth praising.
This is Havana, Cuba’s capital. The cars in the picture are called Yank Tanks, after the Australian slang for decades old American cars. LISETTE POOLE/NEWSWEEK
And Castro was wily enough to find a smart way to pay for the oil Cuba got from Venezuela – their single largest ally in the Americas. In exchange for oil Cuba sent its legendary medical personnel to Venezuela.
The hardcore imperialists would always find flaw in Castro. But this communist was the last of the men who stood for the people and were justly romanticised by subsequent generations. This is why Castro’s revolutionary friend Che Guevara is hailed as a hero and not a villain despite the US propaganda to paint the Argentine in those colours.
In 2015 Pope Francis meets Fidel Castro. Cuban Foreign Ministry
Unfortunately, the communists we have in the world today idolise the likes of Che and Castro but do not follow their ideals. They think that picking up the gun is called revolution. They assume that shouting at the top of their voices against the ruling government signifies their love for the people. It is because of their flawed understanding of communism and everything associated with it that they are branded Naxals or Separatists or Anarchists.
Here in India, states with communist governments failed miserably on the economic and social welfare fronts despite being a part of a country which is a leading member of every major economic group. This is because of their myopic understanding of the core concepts of communism and their fall into the quagmire of vote-bank politics.
Castro was a communist. He actually gave those who wanted a good Cuba, a good Cuba. Yes, he was stubborn to some point, but had it not been for an entire gamut of embargos and the fall of the Soviet Union, much of Cuba’s problems would not have existed. (Provided we do not see everything under the Capitalist lens.) Castro’s communism followed the chapters taught by the old school masters, where the leader had to be a part of the people and not above them. And that’s why his own people loved him.
Like he said on October 16, 1953, “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”