My first thought on the passing of Fidel Castro, former president of Cuba, was that he died with his head unbowed. The man who led a successful revolution against the corrupt Batista regime had every reason to be proud. He had gone where no other Cuban had dared to go. Success to me is to defy the odds – to accomplish that which no one expected of you. I saw Fidel through the lenses of the Catholic Church where I grew up. When I examine the human condition in the world it leads me to compare revolutionaries like Fidel to what Jesus did. Did Fidel chase the money lenders and gamblers from his beloved homeland? Did he help the poor and raise the Magdalene of Cuba to a new place of dignity?
It is impossible to have grown up in the church as Fidel Castro had, and not dwell on such questions. The church was cowardly and weak in the face of the excesses of Batista and his foreign exploiters, hence Fidel’s problems with it. That winking collusion between church and state can turn a conscious nationalist against the hypocrisy. But the Cuban revolution was never about Fidel Castro, the man, or the church. It was against Batista’s rule and a more profound theoretical understanding of how a country’s economy ought to work for the benefit of all its citizens. Fidel and his comrades saw Capitalism hiding behind the façade of freedom and called it as they saw it.
In the fifty years he ruled Cuba no one questioned his sincerity or his wealth. Compare this to the little tin gods that people the rest of the Caribbean and the third world. Fidel most likely died poorer than when he first entered politics. The revolution was about personal sacrifice, the type which sets people like Fidel apart. This is what qualifies him to sit among titans, such as Jesus and a handful of others.
Sadly, those Cuban/Americans who celebrate the death of Fidel have never repented their excesses over the Cuban poor, under Batista. They are not prepared to let go of the past. They therefore cannot expect the people of Cuba to forgive them. Their dream to make Cuba the 53rd. State of the Union, so that they can fly between prostitution clubs in Miami to others in Havana as their grandparents did once, will not soon happen.
The display on the streets in Miami was nothing short of vulgar. A behavior some of us understand. We also understand why of the hundreds who Fidel helped to regain their eyesight and health, so few returned to say thanks. We understand because a long time before Fidel someone else had cleansed several lepers of which only one returned, to say thanks.
How was Fidel able to outlast so many powerful and hostile US administrations, a mere three hundred miles from Havana? That question will be debated by students of politics for a very long time. I offer his ‘legitimacy’ as a possible answer. Fidel had the backs of the Cuban people and they had his. In fact, Cuba became Fidel and Fidel Cuba.
Can Cuba relax its strict fiscal and monetary policy (and laws), without inviting the free-for-all greed and the excesses of the Batista era? The Cuban regime knows better than most that America has the capacity to purchase any elections, in any third world country. The world has learned that America can embrace the vilest and most corrupt dictators as long as they do her bidding. There is no country that talks more freedom, and yet so quickly deprives its citizens of that freedom.
Some may ask why Fidel chose this time to leave us. Perhaps the great I-AM has decreed that president Obama should outlast him. It may be poetic justice that the only US president who made a genuine effort to normalize relations between Washington and Havana should have outlasted Fidel. Can anyone deny that the Democrats lost Florida in the last elections because of that rapprochement? Fidel had predicted that he would not see an African American as president of the USA in his lifetime. He was wrong. He was also wrong for not finding an original and creative way of dealing with those in Cuba that did not support him.
On the announcement of his death last Friday, some pundits have predicted that president elect Trump will return to the hard, stubborn relations between the US and Cuba. This is still an open question as Trump’s only agenda in my view is to spread the Trump business brand. If Trump were to fall back to the pre-Obama US/Cuba relations, he is in for a rude awakening. He will discover that the Cuban revolution (and people), will outlast him, the Trump brand and the next ten US presidents combined.
Fidel Castro was a keen student of American history and politics and he understood that country. He was aware of the deep racism and anti-black sentiments in the US; hence his earlier prediction about a black man becoming president of the US. Clearly, he had underestimated the pragmatism of US capitalism.
I was one of the first citizens from Saint Lucia to have visited Cuba (1971), in the modern era. I was in Havana to attend an International Congress of Workers. Fidel was at the congress and made a point of meeting every delegate. But the man of the Cuban revolution who I most admired was Che Guevara. To me Che was Jesus Christ, Allah, Yahweh all wrapped into one. Fidel, Che and their comrades covered themselves in glory by liberating Cuba from the excesses of capitalism.
Fidel Castro left behind him an imperishable name that will long be remembered by the people of Saint Lucia. No other country has done more to educate the youth of Saint Lucia than Cuba. No other has provided the quantity and quality of health care to Saint Lucia. Few have embraced Saint Lucia as tightly as Fidel did. I predict that Fidel Castro will be more honoured in death than in life. His head may be bloody, but it remains forever unbowed. Fidel is dead; viva Fidel!
The author is a former government minister and a long-time admirer of Fidel Castro.