Travelling with Fidel Castro

E P Menon

Frontier | Vol 55, No. 10, Sep 4 – 10, 2022

Way back in 1966 when I received an invitation to join the Indian Delegation to Cuba for participating in the first ever Tri-Continental Conference involving only those countries from Latin America, Africa and Asia, I was delighted and agreed immediately. It was a 14-member group under the leadership of Aruna Asaf Ali and endorsed by the Government of India.

More than 1500 delegates were accommodated in the majestic Hotel Havana Libre for two weeks and after the 10-day events we were all given a country-wide tour for two weeks which was indeed very educative and forward-looking for building better human solidarity and world peace. Two specific events can never be erased from my mind.

One morning as the huge dining hall was full by breakfasting participants, Fidel Castro suddenly appeared with a surprise announcement : “Dear friends, is there anyone interested in joining me for four hours to climb a mountain and think about the fate of the world. All those interested, please come, most welcome.”

I immediately got up and raised my hand, saying, “Yes comrade Fidel, I want to come.” So also about 30 young people raised their hands. In the next 15 minutes we were all packed into a waiting military truck and sped away, Fidel and his secretary ahead in a car. After half an hour drive in the beautiful sunshine we reached a military base camp near the mountain where we were all provided with warm jackets and started climbing, Fidel in front.

About an hour and half we reached on top of a flat hill with lots of trees and birds circling above. “Here we are,” said Fidel pointing us to sit in a circle, “now we shall discuss world events. Before that I would tell something about the hills and forests that played a major role in Cuban Revolution”. And our curious eyes and ears focused on him.

“Now I have a special question in mind. I need your response and advice to me what should I do? You see we in Cuba have very little production of rice. So China has agreed to supply us 50,000 tons of rice which is already on the way scheduled to reach our ports next week. But I feel today people of Vietnam need more food than us. You know they are already suffering under American attack and starvation. So, what should I do? Shall I direct that ship to go to Vietnam? Please advise me.”

Without a moment delay all of us said to him clapping our hands, “Fidel, please send it to Vietnam. Let them survive and fight the Americans.”

That very evening, in the huge gathering of Cubans and foreign visitors in the city playground, Fidel Castro announced the decision to redirect the ship to Saigon. “Send it Fidel, send it to Vietnam”, such cries and applause reverberated in the atmosphere for several minutes.

Another unforgettable event was in a magnificent campus of an engineering college 100 miles away from Havana, during our country tour. A young dynamic interpreter narrated its history with joy and pride. “This whole place was a huge jungle 4 years ago. We had no engineering college. So Fidel suggested to the experts to first recruit few hundred aspiring students, and let them join the construction experts and build the college for themselves as part of their experiential education. For two years the students worked during the day, and slept in the night with cloths hung on strings tied between two trees. More than 400 students thus became builders of their own college which made them engineers after 3-4 years. Credit goes to Fidel and Che Guevara who have taught us the value of self-reliance. Nobody can defeat the Cuban revolution.”

With such valuable philosophy of education and promoting people’s commitment to the cause of revolution and reconstruction, indeed, who can defeat the Cuban revolution? How many leaders can we find in the so-called democratic world today who can match the spirit and dedication of Fidel and Che?



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