Jamaica Gleaner - - FEATURE - with Dr. An­dre Houghton

Why was Fidel Cas­tro im­por­tant to Ja­maica?

CAS­TRO WAS the po­lit­i­cal leader of Cuba from 1959 to 2008. He trans­formed Cuba into the first Com­mu­nist coun­try in the Western Hemi­sphere for more than six decades. For­mer Prime Min­is­ter of Ja­maica and leader of the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party, Michael Man­ley, was good with Cas­tro. They shared sim­i­lar views and ide­olo­gies re­gard­ing so­cial­ism, the mar­ket mech­a­nism and the al­lo­ca­tion of re­sources among eco­nomic agents. Many ex­pan­sion­ary fis­cal poli­cies that Ja­maica em­barked on in the 1970s were par­al­lel to Cas­tro’s ex­pan­sion­ary poli­cies in Cuba un­der the so­cial­ist ide­ol­ogy. Cas­tro be­lieved in equal­ity. He ex­tended so­cial ser­vices to all classes in his so­ci­ety. He made ed­u­ca­tion and health care free of cost to everyone and ev­ery adult was guar­an­teed em­ploy­ment. He was a global leader who rep­re­sented small, vul­ner­a­ble coun­tries in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs.

Cas­tro and Cuba have contributed health care and ed­u­ca­tion to many coun­tries around the world, in­clud­ing Ja­maica. Cuban doc­tors, nurses and teach­ers are al­ways shar­ing their ex­per­tise. Ja­maican med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers have also ben­e­fited from free train­ing in Cuba. Cuba has do­nated four ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions to Ja­maica – the G.C. Fos­ter Col­lege, José Marti High School, Garvey Maceo High School and the Mont­pe­lier School, now known as the Fidel Cas­tro cam­pus of the An­chovy High School. Cas­tro died on November 25.

Who was Fidel Cas­tro?

Fidel Ale­jan­dra Cas­tro Ruz was born on Au­gust 13, 1926 in Bi­ran, Cuba. He grew up in a bet­terthan-av­er­age life­style. His fa­ther was a wealthy busi­ness­man from Spain who had a con­tract to sup­ply su­gar. Cas­tro’s mother, Lina Ruz Gon­za­les, was his fa­ther’s ser­vant whom he later mar­ried and had seven chil­dren with. As a child, Cas­tro was an out­stand­ing ath­lete; he played base­ball, bas­ket­ball and did track and field for his Catholic high school. He en­tered the School of Law in 1945. In 1947, Cas­tro and his con­fed­er­ates made a failed at­tempt to in­vade the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and over­throw Gen Rafael Tru­jillo. In 1948, he took part in ri­ots in Bogota, Colom­bia. Af­ter com­plet­ing his law de­gree in 1950, he joined the Cuban Peo­ple’s Party.

Why did he come to promi­nence?

Cas­tro and more than 150 men at­tacked the Mon­cada mil­i­tary bar­racks in San­ti­ago de Cuba on the July 26, 1953. Most of the men were killed, but he, his brother Raul and oth­ers were ar­rested. They were tried and sen­tenced to prison for 15 years. They were re­leased in 1955 in an amnesty deal with the Batista gov­ern­ment. They fled to Mex­ico, where they met Che Gue­vara and formed their group called the 26th of July Move­ment.

On De­cem­ber 2, 1956, Cas­tro and ap­prox­i­mately 80 con­fed­er­ates re­turned to Cuba with guns and am­mu­ni­tion. Most of them were killed by Batista’s army but Fidel, Raúl, Che Gue­vara and a few oth­ers es­caped into the Sierra Maes­tra Moun­tain to re­group. From 1956 to 1958, Cas­tro’s army grad­u­ally in­creased in num­bers. His steadily grow­ing forces waged a guer­rilla war against the Batista gov­ern­ment. Through ef­fi­cient or­gan­is­ing of re­sis­tance groups in cities and small towns across Cuba, Cas­tro was able to es­tab­lish a gov­ern­ment par­al­lel to Batista’s, which he used to con­ducted agrar­ian re­form and con­trolled prov­inces with agri­cul­tural and man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­duc­tion. Cas­tro’s guer­rilla army grew to ap­prox­i­mately 800 men, which he used to de­feat the Cuba’s 30,000-man army. Batista fled the coun­try on Jan­uary 1, 1959. Cas­tro came to full power in July 1959 and cre­ated a one-party dic­ta­tor­ship gov­ern­ment.

What ef­fect did the Cuban em­bargo have on the econ­omy?

The United States Procla­ma­tion 3447, signed on Fe­bru­ary 3, 1962, es­tab­lished an em­bargo against Cuba to re­duce its trade and eco­nomic re­la­tion­ships with most of the world. Not­with­stand­ing this, an­nual av­er­age gross do­mes­tic GDP growth rate was es­ti­mated to be 2.7 per cent. In re­cent times, GDP per capita is ap­prox­i­mately US$6,000. The GDP com­po­si­tion can be bro­ken down into the fol­low­ing: house­hold con­sump­tion is ap­prox­i­mately 58.3 per cent, Gov­ern­ment con­sump­tion 36.9 per cent, in­vest­ment in fixed cap­i­tal 9.3 per cent. Ex­ports make up 21.1 per cent of GDP, while im­ports are 19.2 per cent of GDP.

What is the Bay of Pigs?

On April 14 1961, Cas­tro de­clared Cuba a so­cial­ist state. A few days later, the Bay of Pigs was in­vaded by Cuban ex­iles who wanted to over­throw Cas­tro. The re­sult was fu­tile; many were killed and more than 100 cap­tured. Cuba de­pended heav­ily on pref­er­en­tial treat­ment from the Soviet Union to sus­tain its ex­ports. Their re­la­tion­ship with the Soviet Union in­creased af­ter the Bay of Pigs, but de­clined af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Cas­tro gave up pres­i­dency on Fe­bru­ary 19, 2008, due to his de­te­ri­o­rat­ing health and med­i­cal con­di­tions.

Fidel Cas­tro salutes dur­ing a speech in Ha­vana, Cuba, on May 20, 2005.

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