Fidel Castro – a study in paradox
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.