What a world of difference. Cuba, a small Latin American country struggling to overcome several decades of a crippling US embargo, has just solemnly buried a hero of their country, of their Revolution (yes, with a capital R, because it is a real social revolution) — “El Comandante” Fidel Ruz Castro. In the Philippines, a “hero’s burial” was surreptitiously rendered to the plasticized remains of a brutal despot, a certified plunderer, and human rights violator, a traitor who sold national economic and political sovereignty to foreign, principally US, imperialist interests.
Many young people were roused from political apathy by the burial of the Dictator Marcos on supposedly hallowed ground. They displayed their rejection of the political rehabilitation of the Marcoses in two big mass demonstrations held in the span of less than two weeks. They, and for that matter all Filipinos, have much to learn from and be inspired by the example of the Cuban people and their genuine, modern-day heroes.
Fidel Castro has been eulogized by countless writers as the icon and incarnation of the Cuban revolution. This is in reference not only to the daring overthrow of the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in a guerrilla war that lasted six short years but also to more than half a century of building a socialist society and system of government in the face of unrelenting US attack. This includes more than 600 CIA-hatched assassination attempts, an economic blockade that the UN General Assembly has repeatedly voted to be put to an end, and counter-revolution including the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 that Castro roundly defeated.
Fidel Castro’s life has been full of color and drama intertwined with the writing of his nation’s spectacular history. Immediately after the overthrow of the Batista government, Castro began Cuba’s transformation by ending Batista’s rule of terror, carrying out land reform and wealth redistribution. He incurred the ire of the USA by nationalizing US-owned companies and land.
Cuba’s elite left the country in droves and settled in Miami, Florida.
To this day the Cuban émigré community serves as a bulwark of anti-Castro sentiment, the base of a powerful political lobby for continuing the US embargo and recruitment for CIA plots to assassinate Castro and overthrow the Cuban government.
On the other hand, Castro won the overwhelming support of the Cuban people by expanding social services and eventually eliminating illiteracy, making higher education accessible to all, realizing universal health care of high quality and providing affordable housing to more than two thirds of the population.
Cuba’s disaster prevention, mitigation, relief and rehabilitation programs are a model for other poor, underdeveloped countries because of the way it is anchored on the mobilization and organization of the people at the grassroots level to lessen the impact of the typhoons that annually slams the tiny island nation.
Cuba has sent its doctors and other health personnel to developing countries especially those reeling from disasters such as Haiti, those struggling to sustain its pro-people programs and policies against elite and US sabotage such as Venezuela, and many other countries in Latin America and Africa. As of January 2015, more than 51,847 Cuban medical personnel, half of whom are physicians, were working in 67 countries, mainly in the developing world.
According to the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS), “Under the leadership of Fidel Castro, the revolutionary proletariat and people of Cuba have stood out as the most formidable revolutionary force inspiring the people of Latin America to fight for national independence, democracy and socialism against US imperialism.”
Even during the “special period” when the Cuban economy was devastated due to the disintegration of the USSR (the country lost approximately 80% of its imports, 80% of its exports and its Gross Domestic Product dropped by 34%) the Cuban government and people did not waver in their anti-imperialist resistance.
Most recently, Cuba has worked closely with Venezuela and other Latin American countries in building the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) according to the principles of social welfare and mutual economic aid and in opposition to imperialist and reactionary policies, especially neoliberalism, subversion and military intervention.
Much earlier, Fidel Castro and the Cuban people had demonstrated their boundless internationalism by playing a major role in the tricontinental movement of anti-imperialist governments and peoples earlier inspired by the Bandung Conference and then by the Non-Aligned Movement. Castro sent Cuban troops to Africa to fight South African apartheid armed forces and helped paved the way for the liberation of South Africa and several other African countries.
Castro governed Cuba for 47 years as prime minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as president from 1976 to 2006. He relinquished his presidential duties to the vice-president, Raul Castro, his brother and revolutionary comrade, when he became gravely ill on 2006 but continued to write on global issues and major developments and to influence Cuban policy.
Addressing the final session of the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party on April 19, 2016, Castro declared, “This may be one of the last times that I speak in this room, but the ideas of the Cuban communists will remain as proof that on this planet, by working with fervor and dignity, we can produce the material and cultural wealth that humans need.”
Inspired by their leader’s fighting slogan “Socialism or Death!” the Cuban people have united and resisted in their millions to defend Cuba against US intervention and aggression and to carry out the social transformation of Cuba even in the midst of the most difficult internal conditions and most unfavorable external conditions.
The ILPS, in its highest tribute to Fidel Castro, stated, “(He) will always be remembered as a great revolutionary leader who held his ground in Cuba, accomplished what was possible and continued to fight for the cause of national and social liberation, for socialism and for the ultimate goal of communism despite the dismal conditions resulting from the betrayal of socialism by the modern revisionists, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent ideological, political, economic and military offensives of the US and its imperialist allies.”
Fidel Castro has been hailed as the most influential Latin American leader of the 21st century.
After a four-day “Caravan of Liberty” starting with a massive gathering in Havana’s Revolution Square where Castro delivered his rousing, marathon speeches, and tracing in reverse order Castro’s journey from Santiago de Cuba to Havana in 1959 to mark the triumph of the Cuban revolution, his ashes will be laid to rest at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, which houses the remains of Cuban independence hero Jose Marti and other national heroes.
It is a fitting farewell to a quintessential revolutionary leader beloved by his people. And according to Dr. Helen Yaffe, a specialist on Cuban and Latin American economic history, “Somewhere, rising up through their grief will be a sense of pride; that nature took El Comandante, and not the enemy.”
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.
Published in Business World
Dec. 5, 2016