Castro: colossus of the Caribbean

By Raffique Shah
November 28, 2016

Raffique ShahIN response to a request from one young reporter for me to comment on Fidel Castro after the legendary Cuban leader died last Friday, I blurted out: he was a colossus of the Caribbean who walked the world stage tall like a giant.

I don’t know if my one-sentence summary of the complex character that was Fidel was original, but I certainly think it was accurate. Never before in the history of the Caribbean had we seen a leader of his stature. And, like him or loathe him, the titans who straddled the world stage during his 50-year tenure at the helm of Cuba dared not ignore him, with many of them grudgingly respecting him.

To paraphrase Shakespeare in (and of) Julius Caesar: his life was not gentle, but the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to the world, this was a man.

In his early years, the tenacity with which he fought and liberated Cuba from the clutches of the brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista (Donald Trump should read up on this monster before he opens his unschooled mouth) and the American mafia made him and his revolutionary comrades youthful legends. No one believed the “rag tag rebels”, as they were described, could wage and win a protracted war against a military dictator who was backed by the mighty USA.

But they did. And Washington, which had hand-made some of the most savage despots throughout Latin America and even the Caribbean (“Papa Doc” Duvalier in Haiti, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic), spurned Fidel because he refused to be their puppet.

Thus began the alienation of Castro from the Americas and his drift towards the Soviet Union and communism at a time when the Cold War was very hot. This would lead to many confrontations, the most perilous being the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Suffice it to say that Fidel had no choice but to align with the Soviet Bloc, which led to Cuba being isolated in the West—no trade, no aid, no diplomatic relations, nothing.

It was as if the largest island-state in the Caribbean did not exist. It was during that dark period of Cuba’s history that Fidel’s leadership counted for just about everything. He hurdled past enormous obstacles as he pursued the revolution’s goals of first, literacy, then universal education, and a health system that provided for all.

He would, in the ensuing years, surpass those goals, making Cubans among the most literate people in the world. The health system not only delivered to citizens of that country, but through research and development, transformed Cuba into one of the few countries to offer revolutionary procedures for dealing with a range of ailments, from cancer to diabetes, eye surgery to neurosurgery.

Cuba has exported teachers, nurses and doctors to countries across the world, and has itself become a prime health care destination for patients seeking superior services at affordable prices. Many people from Trinidad and Tobago, among them former prime minister Patrick Manning, have been to Cuba for medical attention.

Such astounding achievements did not happen by accident: there was vision and teamwork that involved many Cubans, maybe even professionals of other nationalities who gave generously to Cuba. Then there was inspiration that came from one man—Fidel. He had that aura, that charisma that earned him the title “Comandante”.

His critics and detractors will argue that these and other achievements came at a high cost in human rights violations, the suppression of dissent, the primacy of the Communist Party and draconian laws that spelt death or imprisonment for those who dared to disagree with the leader or the government.

These charges are true, although I’m sure the numbers have been exaggerated. But consider this: with the US next door sanctioning hundreds of attempts to assassinate Fidel, conducting scores of deadly sabotage-attacks, and launching an invasion that was repelled, can you blame Havana for dealing drastically with suspected traitors?

Moreover, critics conveniently ignore draconian laws in countries they favour, such as Singapore (spitting on the pavement, chewing gum) and Saudi Arabia. Washington insists that Cuba must allow a multi-party system as a pre-requisite to normalising relations, but it dare not demand that of China.

While it is true that many Cubans are poor, it is also true that Cuba is possibly the only Third World country that has no stinking slums surrounding its cities or vagrants sleeping on the sidewalks. It is one of the cleanest countries in the world, and the safest, because of an enviably low crime rate.

Many Trinis might queue up to surrender some of their rights and freedoms if, magically, our country can be transformed into the haven that Fidel left as his legacy.

As for free elections, look at what America got—Trump! And we got Bim and Bam-Bam!

Adios, Comandante.

6 thoughts on “Castro: colossus of the Caribbean”

  1. Having been to Cuba I must say the Cubans take pride in their history and culture. Cuba is one of the best nations for cars from the 1950s. The people were allowed to keep their car as their own as long as they desired, those who wanted a car was given a government issue car a newer model but they were required pick up people on their way to Havana.

    There is old Havana and new Havana. As I walked in old Havana I came up to the governor quarters and was taken back to the 15th century. There right in front of his quarters were specially design board walks to keep the noise of the horses and carriages down especially during the night. I entered the governor quarters and first thing that caught my eyes was a marble statue of the great sea mariner Don Christobal Columbus kept in immaculate condition. I entered the rooms and for each room was given a history lesson on the many governors with stately paintings and their contribution to Cuban society. It was quite impressive. I thought about history and how important it was to these people for its preservation.

    My next visit was to revolution square a large area where communist party groups from the various provinces gathered and the place where Castro made his famous 5 hour speech. With the Ministry of Defence building on one side and opposite a large “cut out” the famous Che hanging the entire length of the building. It was impressive. Our guide told us of the long hours Castro worked and his special request that there be no monuments of him on the island. So unlike dictators such as Sadam who had paintings and monuments of himself all over Iraq or like the Un family of North Korea. I saw no pictures or monuments of Castro. Castro love Cuba and the Cuban people. No wonder his last request was to be cremated.

    Our guide spoke about the embargo and the terrible effect it had on Cuba. The Americans punished the Cuban people unnecessarily. Cuba is a Caribbean island always held a special place in my heart. Cuba could have languished in poverty and decay similar to Haiti, or become a playground for the rich and famous American and the mafia. Indeed the latter was happening when Castro stepped in. Today the west still call Castro a dictator but I choose to call him a revolutionary, yes he made enemies, and jail some people but America does not have the moral authority to point fingers at Castro. The embago caused enormous suffering in Cuba, causing thousands to leave as Castro emptied the jails.

    America has the highest per capita of person in jail in the Western Hemisphere. Cuba does not! Richard Nixon sent 59,000 young Americans to their death in Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson “carpet bomb” Hanoi. The Americans slaughtered 3 million Vietnamese, 1/2 of those people innocent civilians, they imprisoned and disenfranchised thousands of black people at home. Injected black men with STDs. The worst was the use of “Agent Orange” in Vietnam to this day children are suffering the effects of this horrible racist attack on defenceless people. The suffering is indescribable. Yes the real dictators were Nixon and Johnson not Castro. Castro sent doctors and medicine to poor nations, not bombs and death. He supported other nations such as Angola against the imperialist forces.

    He was by no means a perfect leader but a leader born to rescue his nation from Western colonization. Had there been no embargo Cuba would have been the Dubai of the West. He was punished and ignored by Washington. He was indeed a great Caribbean leader hated by some loved by many. May he rest in peace!

    1. “Viva El Commandante,” indeed ,Kennedy, and ‘me think,’you just ensured dat a smile, crease de face of Comrad Shah, re your response.
      Sadly though , too many 3rd World classroom intellectuals-who continually get’s their rocks off, pontificating to gullible college students,subjective media blokes, revisionist Historians,and misguided political pundits, tend to look at the life of Fidel , through unclean, outdated bifocals.
      Hopefully, a real political leader, can finally emerge from Cuba , who can guide the long suffering people – especially those of color -forward.

      Yep ,and to extend on the proffered theme ,I’ll even suggest , That Josef Stalin, Lenin , & Mao ,were likewise “Colossus ,” but does anyone still care?
      Unfortunately , most military styled Revolutionaries , make terrible political leaders. It ain’t the same thing- fighting , and peaceful political action.
      The baton needs to be passed in Cuba , and no , it ain’t for 85 year old Nepotistic beneficiary , Raul Castro.
      I’m talking about a progressive , less ideological force , akin to say a China’s Deng Xiaoping, or USSR’s Mikhail Gobachev , of ‘Perestroika,’ ‘Glasnost,’fame.
      Without Gobachev , the former Eastern Bloc Slovenian Chica ,Milinda Trump, won’t be ‘an American -with de ugly accent 1st Lady elect ‘today, and if no Deng Xiaoping, China would be just a larger version of ,borderline Failed State ,isolated North Korea, and certainly not the Emerging economic/ political power , who can give de middle finger/ and or, tell President elect De Donald , ‘Good luck with bringing back jobs ,’to Pax Americana. Ain’t happening Donald.

      Tell you what , our Latin regional, not too distant neighbor Cuba ,is nicely poised for a new socio economic – com political revolution,and hopefully the new leadership ,can build on some of the wonderful past folks across the globe are applauding Castro for , sidestep/ not repeat the ugly past, and therefore help Cubans , home and abroad reach their full potential.
      Failure so to do , could make the political craziness, that is presently taking place ,in ex military Junta Chavez, still mismanaged fiefdom,look like a Boys Scout Jamboree , in comparison.
      Not that we’ll mind here in sex starved T&T- mind you. 30,000 Venezuelans – chiefly females -, ready to jump to our Paradisio,to share their skills, and fine culture.
      Just think , the same amount, ready to flee Cuba , for La Trinity, and if the suspect, recently signed , Columbian Peace Treaty falls through- as many secretly anticipates – yet another 30 thousand , ready to….., well you get my drift , si?
      Where you at Dr Keith ? Do you have de gravitas , to tell Raul – in Ronald Reagan fashion – to “break down dat wall?”What’s that, you await de lead of President Trump? As I suspected.
      Stay Vigilant T&T!

  2. “Cuba has exported teachers, nurses and doctors to countries across the world”, you have not mentioned some of the best military leaders the world has ever seen. Remember post apartheid South Africa and Nelson Mandela would never have been without Cuba and their superior military capabilities during the battle for Quito Carnivale where the might of the Western backed South African forces were brought to their knees, changing southern Africa forever.

  3. Castro was indeed a Colossus in the Caribbean. The many Caribbean people that I have spoke to including those from Cuba have a lot of respect for him. Castro epitomizes what suffering and sacrificing is all about for a collective good. When a leader can keep those principles in tact regardless of what the Cuban exiles in the US say (re- Marco Rubio) then the Cuban people having the required faith will realize that one day they would ride high. (“Faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen”). Ironic as it may seem Fidel openly stated he is an atheist irrespective of his Jesuit upbringing. Prophetically he is just as mortal as we are all meant to be.

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