‘Fol­low­ing Fidel’

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - An­nie Paul An­nie Paul is a writer and critic based at the Univer­sity of the West Indies and author of the blog, Ac­tive Voice (an­niepaul.net). Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com or tweet @an­niepaul.

IN OC­TO­BER 2016, just be­fore He­roes Day, the cur­rent Gov­ern­ment passed a bill ex­pung­ing the crim­i­nal records of four na­tional he­roes, as well as those of their ‘sym­pa­this­ers, sup­port­ers and par­tic­i­pants by as­so­ci­a­tion’, in the re­bel­lions they led. Mar­cus Garvey had been charged with con­tempt of court and con­victed in 1929 for crit­i­cis­ing Ja­maica’s le­gal sys­tem. Sam Sharpe and Paul Bogle were con­victed and hanged for their roles in the 1831-32 Christ­mas and 1865 Mo­rant Bay re­bel­lions, re­spec­tively, while Tacky was im­pli­cated in the 1760 St Mary slave re­volt.

It has taken ap­prox­i­mately 85 to 250 years for his­tory to ab­solve these men and women, al­low­ing them to be recog­nised to­day as the au­da­cious, li­on­hearted fight­ers they were. We can only won­der how many decades it will take the world to recog­nise Cuba’s Fidel Cas­tro as the commanding, awein­spir­ing leader he has been.

Suf­fice it to say that for many of us, Cas­tro’s hero­ism has al­ways been ev­i­dent, made even more so by the vi­cious attacks on him by those who still view him as the en­emy. For you can’t con­duct a suc­cess­ful re­volt or achieve mean­ing­ful change with­out cre­at­ing en­e­mies. If the slave own­ers had pinned medals on Sam Sharpe and Tacky, feted and re­warded them, you know we wouldn’t be cel­e­brat­ing them as he­roes to­day.

To un­der­stand what pro­duced the likes of a Fidel Cas­tro, you have to know the his­tory of Cuba, its re­la­tions with the US and its ma­raud­ing dic­ta­tor Batista, whom Cas­tro over­threw in 1959. Stuart Hall doc­u­ments some of this in Episode 6 of his 1983 TV se­ries on the Caribbean, Redemp­tion Song. Ti­tled Fol­low­ing Fidel, the episode has Hall visit­ing Cuba,

tak­ing a close look at life un­der the Rev­o­lu­tion.


Hall laments “the de­based life” that ex­isted un­der Batista on “an is­land that was vir­tu­ally an Amer­i­can colony, with ru­ral poverty wide­spread, and Ha­vana the brothel of the Caribbean”. He men­tions the hu­mil­i­a­tion of Cuba that fuelled the anti-Amer­i­can feel­ing that

gave rise to the rev­o­lu­tion. In 1949, a group of drunk US marines uri­nated on the statue of José Martí, the equiv­a­lent to the Cubans of what Ge­orge Washington is to the United States.

The very next day, the US am­bas­sador at the time, Robert But­ler, filmed an apol­ogy to the out­raged Cuban peo­ple.

“I want to take this oc­ca­sion to apologise to the Cuban peo­ple on be­half of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, for the in­ci­dent that hap­pened last evening, at the des­e­cra­tion of the mon­u­ment of—.” But­ler stops mid-sen­tence then abruptly de­parts the stage—he is un­able to recall the name of Cuba’s most revered hero, José Martí. Talk about adding in­sult to in­jury. As Stuart Hall put it:

“Am­bas­sador But­ler ac­tu­ally for­got the name of the pa­tron saint of the coun­try to which he was ac­cred­ited, but Cubans didn’t for­get. The sur­vivors of the Granma (the yacht that trans­ported Cas­tro, Che Gue­vara and other in­sur­gents from Mex­ico to Cuba in 1956) – found sup­port among the peas­ants in the Sierra Moun­tains, and af­ter a long and bloody guer­rilla war, Fidel and Che en­tered Ha­vana.” So­cial re­form be­came the hall­mark of the Cuban rev­o­lu­tion.

The 700 Cuban sol­diers he sent to An­gola to help the army defend the coun­try against racist South Africa ce­mented Fidel Cas­tro’s place in his­tory, earn­ing him the ad­mi­ra­tion and love of op­pressed peo­ple all around the world.

The post-apartheid South African leader, Thabo Mbeki, cap­tured the enor­mity of what the Cubans had ac­com­plished in this trib­ute to Cas­tro: “His­tory will never for­get the im­mense con­tri­bu­tion rev­o­lu­tion­ary Cuba made to the de­fence of the in­de­pen­dence of An­gola and the re­lated sub­se­quent in­de­pen­dence of Namibia, through the de­feat of the apartheid army of ag­gres­sion which had in­vaded An­gola from oc­cu­pied Namibia. Those his­toric vic­to­ries opened the way to the lib­er­a­tion of our own coun­try, South Africa, and there­fore the fi­nal liq­ui­da­tion of the sys­tem of colo­nial­ism and white mi­nor­ity rule in Africa.”

For me, the sin­gle most elo­quent, mov­ing trib­ute to Fidel Cas­tro came from singer and song­writer Tanya Stephens, part of which I quote here:

“He was good or bad, de­pend­ing on who you speak to. I fell in love with the ro­man­tic por­trayal of the Cuban rev­o­lu­tion in high-school his­tory class. I couldn’t ex­press that at home. I later took more de­tails into con­sid­er­a­tion and lost some of my love for the man while ex­er­cis­ing em­pa­thy for the many refugees who fled the coun­try to seek more favourable so­cio-eco­nomic con­di­tions else­where. Then I went to Cuba and my love was re­newed. There’s no hu­man on this planet who gets a perfect score from ev­ery other hu­man. What I saw was an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem which works. Health care which works. Na­tional se­cu­rity which works”.

“To all the other Caribbean Gov­ern­ment heads, please take a page from his book. One of the good pages. Craft our ed­u­ca­tion and health sys­tems like you AC­TU­ALLY have our in­ter­est some­where in your ... hearts.”


In this 1958 file photo, Cuba’s leader ‘Fidel Cas­tro’ ques­tions a man charged with ban­ditry, as Celia Sanchez, Cas­tro’s con­fi­dante and clos­est friend be­fore dy­ing of can­cer in 1980, looks on dur­ing a trial held in the guer­ril­las’ base in the Cuban moun­tain range of Sierra Maes­tra.

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