Vul­tures over Ha­vana

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion - James McEn­teer

WHEN Fidel Cas­tro died in his sleep at 90 on Novem­ber 25 in Ha­vana, Amer­i­can news con­sumers might have been for­given for think­ing he was slain in bat­tle. “To­day, the world marks the pass­ing of a bru­tal dic­ta­tor who op­pressed his own peo­ple for nearly six decades,” said Don­ald Trump, ac­cord­ing to CNN.

“Fidel Cas­tro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimag­in­able suf­fer­ing, poverty and the de­nial of fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights. While Cuba re­mains a to­tal­i­tar­ian is­land, it is my hope that to­day marks a move away from the hor­rors en­dured for too long . . .” Trump promised to join with the Mi­ami Cubans to­ward a fu­ture in which “the Cuban peo­ple can fi­nally be­gin their jour­ney to­ward pros­per­ity and lib­erty.” That should make the Cubans afraid. Very afraid. As jin­gos jeered and cheered, even jour­nal­ists you thought must know bet­ter, leapt upon the burn­ing bier. In an ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled, “Fidel Cas­tro Fi­nally Dies,” The Daily Beast’s John Avlon ex­co­ri­ates Cas­tro as “a bully and a thug: the lat­est in a long line of self-in­ter­ested op­por­tunists who rule through fear and pre­tend that it is love.”

Avlon con­demns ev­ery­one who swal­lowed the myth of Cas­tro as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary hero: “One of the most preva­lent forms of moral my­opia on western cam­puses and their down­stream af­fil­i­ates is a ten­dency to ex­cuse what­ever op­pres­sive to­tal­i­tar­ian vi­o­lence is com­mit­ted in the name of the left.

“. . . And when the full story of Cas­tro’s per­sonal en­rich­ment and para­noid hold on power for more than a half-cen­tury at the ex­pense of in­di­vid­ual rights and in­di­vid­ual life be­comes bet­ter un­der­stood, those folks who fell for the com­bi­na­tion of po­lit­i­cal myth and per­sonal charisma, the late night con­ver­sa­tions over drinks and cigars, will have been ex­posed as en­ablers to his trop­i­cal tyranny.” Is Avlon jostling for a po­si­tion with the Trump regime? Not only does Avlon try to drive a silver stake through Cas­tro’s black heart, he de­spises and de­monises any­one ever naïve enough to think Cas­tro was any­thing but a self­ish tyran­ni­cal dic­ta­tor. It’s the id­iom of Trumpian bom­bast, not rea­soned dis­course.

Avlon con­demns Cas­tro’s pol­i­tics and meth­ods but ig­nores his tac­ti­cal ge­nius, his im­mense courage, his decades-long po­lit­i­cal sur­vival bal­anc­ing act and his many ed­u­ca­tional ad­vances in the face of a cruel and stupid US block­ade that be­gan decades ago and con­tin­ues to­day. That block­ade im­posed hard­ship and suf­fer­ing on the Cuban peo­ple, but never threat­ened the Cas­tro regime.

Be­fore Fidel Cas­tro took power in 1959, Cuba suf­fered un­der gen­er­a­tions of US-backed dic­ta­tor­ships that kept 60 to 70 per­cent of Cubans in poverty. The is­land was a US tourist vas­salage and sugar plan­ta­tion, start­ing in 1898 when the Amer­i­cans drove out the Span­ish. Congress passed the Platt Amend­ment in 1901, giv­ing it li­cense to med­dle in Cuban af­fairs. And med­dle it did, dis­card­ing in­con­ve­nient rulers and in­stalling com­plaisant pup­pets at will.

The con­sum­mate mar­i­onette was an army sergeant named Ful­gen­cio Batista, who led a mil­i­tary coup in 1933. He en­riched him­self and sus­pended civil lib­er­ties and when his pop­u­lar­ity waned he brought in the US Mob to open casi­nos and help run in­ter­fer­ence with his own peo­ple. US cor­po­ra­tions loved him but Cubans hated him. Batista stayed in power by ever more dras­tic mea­sures. When he lost a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, he staged an­other coup. But many Cubans were fed up with the pros­ti­tu­tion and gam­bling that sus­tained him.

Batista was still in power in 1959 when Fidel Cas­tro and a few dis­si­dents in­vented a guerilla war that be­came a revo­lu­tion. For most Cuban peo­ple, who led im­pov­er­ished lives un­der the ra­pa­cious Batista, Cas­tro was a bless­ing. He gave them lit­er­acy and self-re­spect. He took them se­ri­ously and they loved it.

Cas­tro en­cour­aged ed­u­ca­tion on all fronts. Cuba be­came a med­i­cal pioneer and treat­ment cen­tre, turn­ing out doc­tors and mak­ing med­i­cal ad­vance­ments de­spite the in­tran­si­gent US block­ade. Cuba has long ex­ported med­i­cal help and train­ing to many poor na­tions in Latin Amer­ica and Africa, who have no other re­sources. Treat­ing pa­tients who never saw a doc­tor be­fore, Cuba has be­come beloved in many dark cor­ners of this planet where US aid has never been seen.

Cas­tro’s ex­am­ple elec­tri­fied Latin Amer­ica. From his small is­land he had faced down the almighty grin­gos and made them blink first. That was his great­est threat to the United States. Cas­tro in­spired many peo­ple in var­i­ous coun­tries liv­ing un­der US-sup­ported despotic regimes — who un­til then con­sid­ered their sit­u­a­tions in­evitable and in­tractable — to rise up against in­equal­ity and in­jus­tice

Fidel was the god­fa­ther of Latin Amer­ica’s left­ist turn: in Nicaragua, Hon­duras, Venezuela, Bo­livia, Ecuador, Ar­gentina and Brazil. The pop­ulist spirit has al­ways been em­bat­tled in Latin Amer­ica. Fidel proved it could tri­umph. He sur­vived the regimes of 10 US pres­i­dents, each of whom fig­ured to crush him and none of whom could.

Fidel Cas­tro was no saint. But he was not the cor­rupt, blood­thirsty despot Trump and Avlon make him out to be. He was a per­spi­ca­cious fel­low who knew the po­lit­i­cal score at an early age and took ac­tion. That makes him a hero. Many see the wrongs of this world but very few move to right them. Cas­tro did.

It is worth­while find­ing out in de­tail about how he or­gan­ised his “in­va­sion” of Cuba from Mex­ico. With a few dozen men, Fidel Cas­tro crash-landed a leaky boat in the mid­dle of nowhere and took to the hills to op­pose the en­trenched, op­pres­sive US-backed Batista govern­ment. The odds were never in their favour. But their quixotic ac­tion was the spark that ig­nited an in­cip­i­ent rage for jus­tice, in Cuba and be­yond.

Fidel Cas­tro was the Road Run­ner to the USA’s Wile E Coy­ote. He with­stood decades of in­trigue against him by the United States, in­clud­ing as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts, a naval block­ade and mil­i­tary in­va­sion. He played the Cold War su­per­pow­ers off against each other in a high-stakes gam­ble for his na­tion’s sur­vival. Trump and Avlon’s defam­a­tory anger be­speaks their frus­tra­tion with a smarter, braver po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent. Mil­lions around the world loved the show.

Fidel Cas­tro was a sym­bol of hope and in­de­pen­dence among darker, mil­i­taris­tic spheres of in­flu­ence, a po­lit­i­cal gi­ant of the twentieth cen­tury.— Counterpunch

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