Vol. XL No. 32 August 07, 2016

Fidel, History Absolves You

R Arun Kumar

THIS 13th August, we will be celebrating the 90th birthday of one of the living legends of our times – Fidel Castro Ruz. Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926 in a relatively well-to-do family and studied in various religious schools for the wealthy, before graduating in law from the University of Havana. For many, this would have provided the perfect platform to pursue conservative politics. But not for Fidel, as he is fondly called. He chose a different path, to become one of the greatest and finest revolutionaries. He not only challenged the imperialist hegemon, the US, from what it considered was its 'backyard', but stood up to it without flinching. All the attempts of the US to bring down Cuba to its knees have spectacularly failed. Instead of Cuba getting isolated in the region and the world, it is the US, which is getting increasingly alienated from the people of the world. And Fidel Castro had a major role to play in all these developments.

Fidel took an interest in student activism while studying law and was attracted to Left, anti-imperialist politics. He was a voracious reader, a trait we observe in many of the leading revolutionaries. Though he was aware of the writings of Marx and Lenin, having read them, it was Marti who had a tremendous influence on him, whom he read and re-read extensively. Taking inspiration from Marti, he joined the rebellions against right-wing governments in Dominican Republic and Colombia, apart from protesting the dictatorial rule in his own country. During his early days of activism, he joined the Party of the Cuban People (Partido Ortodoxo) led by Eduardo Chibas, attracted by its slogans for social justice, honest government and political freedom. It is during this time he started publishing a clandestine newspaper El Acusador (The Accuser), exposing the corrupt and anti-people Batista regime. It is during this time, that he started mobilising people against the Batista government. As a part of these efforts, Fidel and his group planned to attack the Moncada garrison on July 26, 1953. Though this attack failed and many of the participants, including Fidel were captured, it marked a significant turning point in the history of Cuban revolution.

In a speech he gave enthusing the participants in the attack on Moncada garrison, he stated: “In a few hours you will be victorious or defeated, but regardless of the outcome – listen well, friends – this Movement will triumph...If we fail, our action will nevertheless set an example for the Cuban people, and from the people will arise fresh new men willing to die for Cuba”. These words are indeed prophetic, because Moncada attack had failed, but the 'Movement' lived. People began organising under the banner of 26 July Movement, which played an important role in the overthrow of Batista government and success of the Cuban Revolution. The speech Fidel gave in defence of his activities, during his trial in the court, 'History will absolve me', became very famous and was considered as an exposition of the ideals for which the fight should be carried on.

After being released from imprisonment due to popular pressure, Fidel once again plunged into mobilising people against the Batista government. Announcing that he was “leaving Cuba because all doors of peaceful struggle have been closed...I believe the hour has come to take our rights and not beg for them, to fight instead of pleading for them”, he left for Mexico, where he organised a group of revolutionaries. It is here that he had met Che Guevara, who joined the Castro brothers – both Fidel and Raul – along with other Cuban revolutionaries in the famous Granma expedition. They started with 82 people on board but many lost their lives immediately in the attack that followed on their way towards the Sierra Maestra mountains. According to Fidel, the fight resumed “with seven armed men, who managed to reunite on December 18”. After the addition of some more members of Granma yacht who joined the group, “A small force of no more than 18 expedition members and a number of young campesinos from the Sierra achieved the first victories on January 17 and 22, 1957”. It is because of this heroism and never-say-die attitude even in the face of fierce repression that Fidel Castro became famous.

The barbudos, the bearded guerillas, as they were called, were supported by the Cuban people, both in the urban and rural areas. The local leaders of the July 26 Movement were active in the cities and rural areas, supplementing the armed struggle of the guerillas in the mountains. Unable to withstand the increasing popular anger against the regime and having failed to defeat the guerillas led by Fidel, Batista was forced to flee from the country on January 1, 1959. The Revolution triumphed, with a victorious Fidel, accompanied by Che, Raul and Camillo marching into Havana. Fidel served as the prime minster of the country from 1959 to 1976 and then as the president from 1976 to 2008.

The US began its efforts to subvert Cuban revolution, immediately after the decrees passed by the revolutionary government undermined its economic interests in the island. The nationalisation of US companies that were exploiting the Cuban people and resources for many years, had further angered the US corporates and the government. It is then that the US government had imposed its infamous trade embargo, to squeeze and bleed Cuba to submission. The US, all the years hence, instead of withdrawing the embargo, only further tightened its screws through the imposition of Helms-Burton Act and Cuba Adjustment Act. It is undoubtedly to the credit of Fidel Castro and the people of Cuba that they withstood this inhuman blockade without compromising.

Fidel Castro became the first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba in 1961, after the Revolution declared its socialist characteristics and continued in this responsibility till 2011. In 2002, socialism as an irrevocable characteristic of the Cuban State was enshrined in the constitution. Eight million Cubans have signed the petition for this change to be brought into the constitution, as a response to the threat issued by Bush to 'change the socio-economic, political system in Cuba, in the aftermath of 9/11 (2001). The reasons for people's belief in socialism were not far to fathom, when one considers the transformation achieved in Cuban society. The tremendous advancements made possible by the Revolution, in the fields of education, health, social equality and employment, in spite of the blockade, inspired people to stay true to the cause of socialism. This was also made possible because, Fidel and the Communist Party took the people into confidence in all the decisions that were taken and also admitted frankly before them the mistakes that were committed in the process of socialist construction.

Fidel Castro says: “For a pretty long time, there's been a tendency here to assume that criticism, denunciations of things not done right, play into the hands of the enemy, aid the enemy, aid the counter-revolution. Sometimes there's a fear of reporting on something because people think it might be helpful to the enemy...And we've encouraged a critical spirit. I have been stimulating (that critical spirit) to the maximum, because it's fundamental to perfecting our system. Of course we know that there are drawbacks, but we want responsible criticism. And despite the possible consequences, anything is better than the absence of criticism”. And further, “In this battle against vices there will be no quarter given anyone, we're going to call a spade a spade, and we are going to appeal to the honour of each sector...And a revolutionary's first duty is to be extremely harsh with himself. We are going to fight this battle, and use the highest calibre weapons we have”. It is this brutal honesty with the people that Fidel employed in his communication with them, that had won their trust.

Fidel has enormous confidence in the people. This is reflected in his response to the US efforts to project socialist system as a failed and outmoded concept. He invited the then president of the US, George Bush to come to Cuba and debate with the people. He promised to mobilise people, filling up the Plaza de la Revolucion and also setting up loudspeakers all over the country so that their arguments can be heard by all the people. Fidel confidently states, “the vast majority of the people of Cuba support the Revolution unwaveringly” and that socialism is “not a question of living by dogmas, it is a question of defending what you think on the basis of arguments, reasoning”.

Fidel, is one of the finest orators who is heard in rapt attention, even when he speaks for hours together. He is considered a workaholic, whose day ends at two or three in the early morning. He barely sleeps for more than four hours and he continued to work at this pace till he relieved himself of all his responsibilities. He saw the US governed by ten presidents spend millions of dollars to subvert socialist Cuba. He survived nearly 600 assassination attempts on his life. On another plane, many eminent intellectuals, statesmen, artists, sports personalities expressed their admiration for him. People thronged to see him and hear him speak, not only in Cuba and in Latin America, but in other parts of the world as well.

In spite of all this adulation, he modestly assesses himself as: “I like actions; I am not interested in glory. I'm also witness to the fact that throughout the years, influence, power, rather than gradually making me conceited, vain and all that – every day, I think, I am less conceited, less pretentious, less self-satisfied. It's a struggle against your instincts, you know. I believe that it's education, or sincere and tenacious self-education, that turns a small animal into a man. One thing I see quite often: when men have a little power, they get all puffed up and want to use it; sometimes it's almost like a drug. You see all those things, and it's a constant struggle. And I know that as the years pass, it's possible to have not less enthusiasm, but more; not less energy, but more – energy stems from conviction...I never lose spirit, and I believe in people; I have never had any sense of ingratitude”.

It is his conviction in socialism, equality, social justice, freedom, liberty and belief in people that earned him the admiration of the oppressed people all over the world. Love him or hate him, Fidel is someone, who cannot be ignored.

On his 90th birthday, let us learn from his life and rededicate ourselves to the struggle for a world free of exploitation and discrimination. Hasta la victoria siempre! (Until the eternal victory)