by Bernard D’Mello
EPW | Vol. 51, Issue No. 49, 03 Dec, 2016
Big media in the United States (US) gave ample coverage to a few hundred reactionary, right-wing Cuban exiles in the Little Havana quarter of Miami celebrating the passing away of Fidel Castro. The sombre mourning of a majority of the Cuban population not far from the US coast did not seem to matter. But what was utterly disgraceful was the Indian media’s copycat journalism, reproducing the dancing in the streets in the Little Havana quarter of Miami, but caring little in its coverage for the feelings and sentiments of the people in Cuba. Perhaps this too is understandable, for, in the minds of those schooled in the culture of imperialism, the Cuban exiles represent the “Dance of Democracy.” But, leaving aside big-media coverage, we need to talk of the life and legacy of Fidel Castro and the new Cuba he had a big hand in creating.
The “26th of July Movement” that Fidel led and which overthrew the Batista dictatorship and with it US neocolonialism in Cuba can be better understood if one knows of the influence that the legacies of Simon Bolivar and the Cuban revolutionary poet Jose Marti had on Fidel, as also Fidel’s understanding of Cuban history and the mistakes that anti-imperialist progressive forces had made since 1898. As this unforgettable quote from Marti states: “All true human beings must feel a sting when another human being is slapped in the face.” For Fidel, and for his close comrade Che Guevara, the struggle was about achieving this kind of human dignity. Did not Marx once say: “The proletariat needs dignity even more than it needs bread”?
So who made the Cuban revolution? The main force of the revolution was the campesinos who worked on the plantations as rural proletarians. The typical latifundium was a plantation owned and managed by a corporation, most often an American corporation if it was a sugar plantation. What did the rural proletarian campesinos want? Adequate wages, steady employment, humane working conditions, and dignity. But US neocolonialism was written all over Cuba, although the country was formally politically independent. With Batista as Washington’s stooge, the US naval base was at Guantanamo and US-owned business entities ran everything, from the plantations to the telephones and the telegraph, the electricity, gasoline stations, the radio and TV, and supplied the cars, the fridges, and the foodstuffs. Indeed, even the influential gamblers, gangsters and other shady wheeler-dealers operating in Cuba had come in from Miami, Chicago and New York.
The communist party however did not play any part in organising the campesinos, and even in the immediate aftermath of Castro’s takeover of political power, they didn’t side with his 26th of July Movement. Indeed, even the urban declasse section of the working class seemed to have had better political sense. The communist leaders came on board only after the revolutionary government nationalised the industrial enterprises and the industrial workers had shifted allegiance to Castro. In the face of Washington’s intense belligerence and intransigence, the revolution began to embark on the transition to socialism. But, it has remained in the “transition period” ever since. Why?
Revolution, it must be understood, is always accompanied by counter-revolution. And counter-revolution, as far as Cuba is concerned, has its central base in Washington DC. A small country like Cuba was left with two options: surrender to Washington or turn to Moscow for support. Cuba had little choice but to opt for the latter, even though Castro was in agreement with Herbert Marcuse’s critique of Soviet “socialism”. Indeed, in 1960, he had told Jean-Paul Sartre and C Wright Mills that Cuban “socialism” would allow intellectuals freedom of speech and expression. State security personnel were to have no say in such matters. But, certainly, Cuba failed on the civil liberties front, albeit this, largely because of the onslaught of the counter-revolution led by the US.
But Cuba has succeeded in the fields of health and education; indeed, not only did it far surpass the neighbouring Dominican Republic in these fields, but its literacy levels are higher and its infant mortality rate lower than that of the US itself! And, Cuban medical missions are known and appreciated by the poor and the needy not only in countries like Haiti, Brazil and Venezuela, but even in those of West Africa when they were badly affected by the Ebola virus, and also the South Pacific. Cuba’s advances in medical biotechnology, with the patents held by the government, have benefited the lives of people not only in Cuba, but in other parts of the underdeveloped world too in the form of cheap biotechnologically engineered medicines and vaccines.
Cuba faced a desperate economic and social crisis in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent rise of naked imperialism. But the devastation caused by neo-liberal capitalism inevitably brought progressive movements to the fore, leading in Brazil to the victory of the Workers Party led by Lula, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. The new lease of life that anti-imperialist Latin American solidarity got helped Cuba weather the storm. But, more recently, this progressive phase seems to be receding. In the meantime, there has been a sort of rapprochement between Havana and Washington, leading to reopening of the US embassy in Havana, and US President Barack Obama visiting Cuba in March this year.
Washington perhaps thinks that now is the opportunity to turn the clock back. But Fidel, in his column “Reflections” in the Cuban media, maintained the dignity of the Cuban people. The piece, entitled “Brother Obama” (28 March 2016), ended thus: “I would point out that we are capable of producing the foods and material wealth that we need, with the efforts and intelligence of our people. We do not need the Empire to give us any gifts.” Truly, even as US imperialism and its agents killed Che, they have not been able to kill the example he set; and they will never be able to kill his ideas and his spirit. The credit for much of this must go to Fidel Castro and the Cuban people.