Fidel Cas­tro – a study in para­dox

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

LIKE WITH most of the rest of the world, in Ja­maica, at­ti­tudes to Fidel Cas­tro, es­pe­cially at the height of his pow­ers, tended to­wards the ex­tremes. Peo­ple ei­ther loved or loathed him. The emo­tion that Mr Cas­tro never elicited was in­dif­fer­ence.

Now that Mr Cas­tro has died, aged 90, it is per­haps op­por­tune for Ja­maican aca­demics, and oth­ers, to en­gage in frank anal­y­sis, ab­sent of par­ti­san af­fil­i­a­tions and myths, of how he and Cuba in­flu­enced the in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics of this coun­try dur­ing the in­tense ide­o­log­i­cal pe­ri­ods of the 1970s and early 1980s. Truth­fully, un­der­stand­ing this pe­riod of Ja­maica’s his­tory is likely to con­trib­ute to solv­ing some of its present prob­lems, in­clud­ing the ex­is­tence of gar­ri­son com­mu­ni­ties and their roles as pro­duc­ers of crim­i­nal vi­o­lence.

This news­pa­per, of course, never shared Fidel Cas­tro’s Marx­ist ide­ol­ogy or his eco­nomics. There is, how­ever, no gain­say­ing that he was among the tow­er­ing fig­ures of the 20th cen­tury, and we be­lieve that there are as­pects of his in­ter­na­tion­al­ism, of which Ja­maica has been part, and con­tin­ues to be a ben­e­fi­ciary, that are wor­thy of cel­e­bra­tion. It is among the para­doxes of those tur­bu­lent ide­o­log­i­cal times that one of the lead­ing Ja­maican an­tiCas­tro pro­tag­o­nists of the pe­riod, the for­mer prime min­is­ter, Ed­ward Seaga, ob­vi­ously ap­pre­ci­ated about the Cuban leader.

In the 1970s, Ja­maica, gov­erned by the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party (PNP) un­der Michael Man­ley, in de­fi­ance of Amer­i­can wishes, led a num­ber of Caribbean coun­tries in nor­mal­is­ing re­la­tions with Cas­tro’s com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment. But there was some­thing more to Ja­maica’s ac­tion, dur­ing this time of the Cold War. The PNP re­asserted its ide­ol­ogy of demo­cratic so­cial­ism, while Man­ley took an ac­tive role in Third World is­sues and deep­ened bi­lat­eral part­ner­ships with Cuba.


The Cubans built schools in Ja­maica, sent doc­tors and nurses to work here, and gave schol­ar­ships for Ja­maican stu­dents to study in Cuba. Ja­maica sup­ported Cuba’s in­ter­ven­tion in An­gola against apartheid South Africa’s in­va­sion, even al­low­ing Ha­vana’s war planes to tra­verse the coun­try’s airspace on their way to south­ern Africa. The global per­cep­tion, gen­uinely held or con­trived, was that Man­ley was in­tent on mak­ing Ja­maica a Marx­ist satel­lite of Cuba.

It is not sur­pris­ing that when Mr Seaga’s Ja­maica Labour Party (JLP) came to of­fice in late 1980 with its sound anti-com­mu­nist cre­den­tials, among the new prime min­is­ter’s first acts was to in­sist on the re­call of the Cuban am­bas­sador, Ulysses Estrada, and, later, a full sus­pen­sion of diplo­matic re­la­tions. How­ever, at the time, Mr Seaga said that the ex­pul­sions didn’t ap­ply to Cuban med­i­cal staff work­ing here.

Those at­ti­tudes have re­treated. Even be­fore Fidel Cas­tro ceded the Cuban pres­i­dency to his brother Raul a decade ago, no one any longer per­ceived Cuba as an ex­porter of revo­lu­tion. JLP ad­min­is­tra­tions, in­clud­ing the in­cum­bent one led by An­drew Hol­ness, have been keen on ex­pand­ing eco­nomic re­la­tions with Ha­vana. Barack Obama ended Amer­ica’s 50-year diplo­matic rup­ture with Cuba.

Fidel Cas­tro’s death may pro­vide some space for an ac­cel­er­a­tion of re­form in Cuba, but given the large shadow he cast on that coun­try for nearly 60 years, we don’t ex­pect a new revo­lu­tion any­time soon. But an un­der­stand­ing of the Cas­tro phe­nom­e­non will help those who want to nudge this along and to ex­pand their toe­hold in a chang­ing Cuba.

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