When the blandishments of life are gone, the coward sneaks to death, the brave lives on.’
It was a late invitation which, at first, I considered skipping out on but, out of deference to the Saint Lucia/Cuba Humanistic Society and Cuban Ambassador to Saint Lucia, I agreed to attend ‘Homage for Fidel’ at the Ambassador’s residence in Reduit. I was happy that I did. The recalled memories of the life and work of Fidel Castro Ruiz, former President of Cuba, did not disappoint. I garnered nuggets about the generosity of the man in relation to Saint Lucia, the Caribbean and the world.
The main speakers were three well-read Saint Lucians who did not disappoint. First was Comrade Lansiquote, aka Pell, who was among the third batch of Saint Lucian students to gain scholarships to Cuba. He gave a fascinating and, at times, witty account of his early years in Cuba. Pell seemed to have developed a fascination for the Cuban landscape as he journeyed throughout the country during his early years there. My background in agriculture tells me that there must have been a splendid array of flora and fauna in Cuba to have earned Pell’s life-long appreciation. Such stories that touch our common humanity, and therefore our foibles, are captured in Longfellow’s ‘A Psalm Of Life’: “Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate.” Pell later served as a diplomat in Havana.
The former CARICOM Ambassador to Haiti, Earl Huntley then addressed the gathering. He dealt with the issue of Cuba-CARICOM relations and then spent time elaborating on the ways in which Fidel Castro and Cuba helped to liberate the countries of southern Africa from colonialism and white oppression. Huntley showed how the presence of thousands of Cuban troops had persuaded certain European powers to curb their grand design for control over southern Africa. Portuguese rulers in Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique were known to have fled for their lives under the determined assault of Fidel’s army, aided by their brothers from southern Africa.
Those who are old enough will remember organisations such as MPLA, UNITA and FINLA. For many Cuba admirers, the story of liberation of these southern African countries can be summarized in two words: Fidel Castro! Nothing needs to be added here except that at one point there were over 400,000 Cuban troops in southern Africa, fighting to win independence with their African sisters and brothers. After victory was assured, Cuba then had more teachers, nurses and doctors based in these newly independent African countries than any other country in the world. Every student of politics at UWI ought to be required to write a six thousand-word essay on how Cuba helped liberate our African sisters and brothers.
Finally, it was the turn of the CEO at the OECS desk on Morne Fortune, Castries, to address the gathering. I was intrigued by how Fidel Castro was alleged to have placed the Holy Roman Catholic Church in Cuba – a church whose persuasion he shared – under heavy manners, as they say, declaring the Catholic Church a foreign and hostile enclave. Yet, in his support for Maurice Bishop’s revolution, Fidel did not insist that Bishop and Grenada drop their allegiance to the church. Instead, he offered help freely to all Grenadians who needed it. Didicus Jules (CEO of the OECS) was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education in Grenada, and he personally supervised the departure of the first batch of one hundred students from Grenada to Cuban universities.
I had followed the early successes of the Cuban revolution with interest. At the time some persons in Saint Lucia who had no idea of any consequence to share, nevertheless condemned Fidel in full voice. There were competing anti-Castro attitudes that loudly proclaimed their passions. These had little use for the church but they felt better appreciated (and valued?) expressing sentiments that were popular with the local church community.
As the Cuban revolution became more firmly entrenched, there were whispers among certain senior men around Columbus Square in Castries (that’s what it was called before Josie, Odlum, Deterville and others forced the government to change the name to Derek Walcott Square). Yes, tell your mamas and your papas and our detractors too, that you read this in the STAR newspaper.
“What were those whispers about?” you may ask. They were about the positive manner in which Fidel Castro treated freemasons in Havana, and Cuba generally. At the time I knew not of what they spoke, and my father, who was brought up in strict Catholic tradition, did not chance exposing his hand in freemasonry. The full import of Fidel’s accusations against the church was sorely missed. He did not utter a negative word against the freemasons. That had surprised many. The group was therefore free to practise its rites and ceremonies. Some Castro admirers have explained that the freemasons were not a religious order and that some of their signs, symbols and rituals had their origin hundreds of years before Christianity.
Dr. Jules gave some insight into the lifestyle of Fidel Castro. He was not the sort of leader who would leave his lieutenants eating dry biscuits and dry corned beef outside while he hid in the kitchen of a restaurant gulping down stewed chicken, red beans and rice. No! Fidel Castro would never do that.
Notwithstanding our own idiosyncrasies, it appears to this writer that a large swath of the Saint Lucian population remains grateful to the Cuban government and people for the tremendous assistance they are providing in health care to this island, especially at the eye clinic. By the way, many of the doctors and health technicians from Cuba who serve in the Ministry of Health in Saint Lucia were present at the homage to Fidel last Saturday evening. It appears that everyone who turned out had an enjoyable evening.
I do not enjoy ending on a negative note but if I do not say it, no one else will. In the final analysis we may love and admire Fidel all we like but building Saint Lucia is a job for the people of Saint Lucia. Saint Lucian politicians with large sugar-filled stomachs (and larger pockets) must be condemned for neglecting to live a healthy lifestyle and for fooling the people in the process, using marches as exercise events. They need to be reminded that ‘The greatest of faults is to be conscious of none’ – Thomas Carlyle, ‘Heroes and Hero-Worship’. Also, I suggest they need to grow a backbone that enables them to stand firm on matters of principle.