“A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.”
Fidel Castro Ruiz, leader of the Cuban revolution and hero to generations, has died, aged 90.
The media response has been largely what one would expect, running the gamut from tepid praise for the “controversial leader”, to condemnation/celebration of a “dead communist dictator”.
In the wake of the recent US election it’s fair to say mainstream reporting has been a little more slanted than usual. Jingoism and neo-McCarthyism are rampant in the press, even though Russia has been capitalist for 25 years, and China has morphed into hybrid state-capitalism. Throughout the years of change Cuba has remained a torch bearer for socialism and a beacon of resistance against US imperialism.
It’s no surprise to see the new US president-elect denounce Fidel as a brutal tyrant and murderer of his own people – in his former career as real estate tycoon, Trump would have liked nothing better than to put a chain of Casinos on the island. The irony here is easily lost on our short historical memories. Illegal gambling and prostitution were among the things which drove the revolution 57 years ago. Those who operated the brothels and gambling dens were the first to flee rather than face discipline at the hands of the new regime, many making their way to the Florida coast in rickety boats.
Still the criticisms keep coming from the conservative press and people who really should know better. I awoke on Sunday to find this comment on my facebook wall. “This is the most backward country. They have cars that are from the 1950s era. Not to mention that there is no productivity in general, to speak of. Total oppressive regime [sic]”, to which I responded in short shrift:
What do you think happens to a country when the greatest power on earth, which happens to be Cuba’s closest neighbour, places a completely restrictive trade embargo on it so they can’t even sell their sugar to anyone? THIS IS WHY CUBANS DRIVE CARS FROM THE 50s. This is why people are poor, NOT because of a socialist government who stood up to US imperialism. Do you know what life was like BEFORE Fidel? Have you even heard the name Fulgencio Batista? Have you read history AT ALL or do you just go along with what you hear in the western press? The US has wanted to own Cuba for 200 years. Lincoln wanted to annex Cuba as a holding pen for black slaves. Read the Ostend Manifesto from 1854 calling for war with Spain over the colony. In fact there was scarcely a president up until the American Civil War who didn’t seek to Annex Cuba. Backing the Cuban revolutionaries in 1898 was not about Cuban independence, rather an opportunity for the US to lay the boot into a fading colonial power and make its own debut on the world stage. Kicking the Spanish out of Cuba and taking control of Guam and Puerto Rico was a cakewalk, but seizing the Philippines became a quagmire – America’s first Vietnam – Even warmonger-in-chief Teddy Roosevelt would be left catatonic by the end of it. The US has been invading other countries and overthrowing their governments ever since. Why do you think there is constant war in the Middle East? Do you not see who the aggressor is? Or do you really believe in America’s manifest destiny to spread freedom and liberty throughout the world? Ever considered that other countries might also want the right to independent self-rule – the right to choose their own governments and not be dictated to by US policy makers?
Cubans love Castro because he stood up to US bullying. In spite of strangling economic sanctions, Cuba’s successes have been many. Cubans have the highest literacy rates, best healthcare, lowest infant mortality, and best social services in Latin America and indeed most of the developed world. Cuban doctors were on the frontline responding to the Ebola outbreak. Cuban emergency workers were the first respondents to the Haitian earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Mathew in 2016. If this still fails to make the point, Cuba currently sponsors an adult literacy program in Wilcannia in north western New South Wales. Not the NSW government. Not the federal government. Cuba. Let that sink in.
There is a certain sense of irony when those who denounce Castro as a “communist dictator” refuse to acknowledge their own slave-like conditions under the dictatorship of capital. Are these not the very same people who complain about the unaffordable cost of healthcare, housing, and the burden of student debt? The same ones who will be condemned to poverty when they’ve outlived their usefulness because pensions have become an ‘unsustainable’ burden on the economy?
When the closest thing to humanist values we can show for ourselves is the guarantee of ‘equal opportunity’ to fend for one’s self or be damned, are we really in a position to criticise others? Does the fact that we imprison would-be migrants in tropical hell holes to stop them “taking our jobs” make us any more civilised than those backward Cubans with their 1950s cars?
This is a time of mourning for the Cuban people, and a time for the rest of us to reflect. How did the United Sates, a nation built on the principles of individual liberty and popular self rule, become the greatest imperialist power the world has ever seen? What right does the West have to impose its will on other countries? Cuba has eliminated homelessness and child malnourishment, given the world 4 vaccines against cancer and become the first country to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV – all whilst in the choke hold of a crippling US embargo. What might this poor Latin American county of 10 million people have achieved without this intervention?
Newt Gingrich, likely pick for Secretary of State in Trump’s new cabinet, says he wants to reinstate the House Un-American Activities Committee. But perhaps instead of trembling in terror at a reanimated “red scare” in all its cartoon-like absurdity, we should instead confront what was widely known in the late 19th century as The American Peril. At a time when the jackboot of US imperialism poses such an enormous threat to human endeavour, Cuba stands as a beacon of hope, thanks to the courage and vision of a great man.
Vale Fidel Castro, and Vive la Revolución!