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Tribute to a Third World Hero: Fidel Castro Stands Alone

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with former Cuban President Fidel Castro. | Photo: Reuters India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with former Cuban President Fidel Castro. | Photo: Reuters
My eldest brother was named after the Third World hero and political force of the Americas, Fidel Castro. In that regard, I tell people, I grew up with Fidel. I could understand my father’s attraction to the figure like many of those of his generation of Caribbean dreamers. Perhaps only Hannibal Barca in his campaign against the Romans compares to Fidel and his liberation of Cuba.

These are the very myths that keep the revolution alive. In Cuba, there is a system of myths, whether it is the valiant bearded guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra or the indomitable spirit of Che. While myths are hard to keep alive and impossible to sustain, Cuba was a necessary myth for the Caribbean. If we did not have Cuba, history would tell us a longer story of Caribbean defeat and loss since the Haitian Revolution.

As an island, Cuba is a society of contradictions; the Cuban Revolution is no different. Fidel, Third World Hero, in his long campaign, made mistakes from which we must learn. Those failures, some unforgivable, must always be remembered and cannot be repeated. In the record of the revolution, and even within its most socially progressive period, the somewhat blind acceptance of socialism and its scientific European mode of development were out of touch with Cuban cultural practices and notions of freedom.

Soviet planning of the economy enshrined the rigidity of state bureaucracy rather than create room for the construction of a more manageable process of economic change in tune with the mood and capacity of the Cuban people. At times, there was a search for socialism, which was similar to a puritanical search for God, thus, dogma stood in the place of creative tensions and democratic concessions in the revolutionary process. But no other man was on Mandela’s mind after his first breath of freedom, and no man inspired an entire generation of Caribbean-American youth and their movements with the hope of leading the decolonial process than Fidel. Fidel Castro stands alone.

There was an obvious resonance of the Cuban Revolution to the newly independent Caribbean countries of the 1950s and 1960s. Through state planning and the building of local expertise, the eradication of absolute poverty, agrarian reform, widespread educational campaign, the reputable literary institution of Casa de las Americas brought prestige to Cuba in the area of human development. Advances in health care and most strikingly, the reconstitution of the economic order in society broke down the size of an exploitative upper class and a permanent base of an excluded and disenfranchised poor. This proved to be an inspiration for a "new society."

Castro’s assessment of racism in Cuba as a “cultural problem” that will work itself out in the revolutionary process may have fallen on the deaf ears of the newly radicalized black conscious revolutionaries and youth approaching the end of the 1960s. Cuba still, offers, a model and an example of colonial and US imperialist defiance. Soon after, English-speaking sympathizers and its imitators would learn that a Cuban revolution was not replicable. Caribbean revolution in Cuba was entirely Cuban.

The antecedents of Marti’s Nuestra America, the intersections between liberation theology and Marxist humanism, the militancy of youth political organization and the excessive violence and corruption let loose by the Batista regime, made the revolutionary conditions of Cuba culturally unique. For this reason, it is the nationalist character of the Cuban revolution that stands out and above any Marxian analysis of stages in the revolutionary process.

“We will re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, but we will not go into the sort of high profile exchanges as before, frankly, because they are not worth the trouble they cause,” lamented Michael Manley in 1986. Fears about communism came true in the Cuban example and were embodied by Fidel. The multi-party democracies of the English-speaking Caribbean would resist any attempt to curtail the political freedoms valued in our form of Westminster parliamentary system. State justification of violence against classes in the society did not help the arguments of young radicals in the 1960s and 1970s attempting to mobilize their populations.

Pro-Cuba lines were seen as pro-communist stances by the US. Both Michael Manley of the People’s National Party and Maurice Bishop of the People’s Revolutionary Government in Grenada paid the price for their alignment with their Spanish-speaking Caribbean neighbor. Yet it was no accident that both nationalist leaders and historians Juan Bosch and Eric Williams wrote historical overviews of the Caribbean titled “From Christopher Columbus to Fidel Castro.” The Caribbean, as we know it today, is a product of colonial conquest and imperialist European “discovery.”

Fidel Castro and his grand socialist experiment is a marker in Caribbean history for a decisive break from our colonial past and another story of the long resistance for true independence and liberation. A political distance or relationship of convenience may have been practiced by some Caribbean nations but generally, the historical meaning of the Cuban revolution was recognized by the people and leadership.

Historians are not in the business of predicting the future but hypotheticals of the past are equally faith-based. There is no doubt that the income inequality, frustrated intellectual and middle classes, anti-US nationalist sentiment and organized party structure of the Communist Party that would inherit the mantle of the revolution after the July 26th Movement, are all explanations for the possibility of a Fidel Castro. But there is no guarantee that a Cuban Revolution could be possible without a bearded young radical who wore the historical cloak of Jose Martí and charged history with absolution.

Amílcar Sanatan, interdisciplinary artist and writer, is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies and coordinator of the UWI Socialist Student Conference at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus. Reach him on Twitter @amilcarsanatan.

  • Countries: Cuba