An immortal Fidel Castro

Fidel represented the oppressed people because “An oppressed people are authorized whenever they can to rise and break their fetters” as Henry Clay puts it. 

by Anwar A. Khan

Fidel Castro died on November 25, 2016 at the age of 90, but Fidel Castro is Fidel Castro and he is his exception only. William Henry Steward says: “Revolutions never go backwards” and Fidel’s revolutions naturally went forwards. However, the Cuban Revolution was an armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro’s 26 of July Movement and its allies against the authoritarian government of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. The revolution began in July 1953 and continued sporadically until the rebels finally ousted Batista on 1 January 1959, replacing his government with a revolutionary socialist state. 

The 26 of July Movement later reformed along communist lines, becoming the Communist Party in October 1965. His performance was unrivalled and so, he has made history. The Cuban Revolution is a witness to timeless racing traditions. It doesn’t just tell time. It tells history with full of courage, deep love and true patriotism for Cuban mass people.

With the revolutionary rebel spirit of the proletariat, Fidel and his co-fighters launched a furious offensive to sweep away reactionary, decadent bourgeois and feudal influences, and all old ideas, culture, customs and habits. This mounting revolutionary storm swept the island of Cuba. It is like as if let Fidel’s thought occupy all positions; use it to transform the mental outlook of the whole of society; swept away all ghosts and monsters; brushed aside all stumbling-blocks and resolutely carried the great proletarian revolution through to the end! This is the militant aim of the revolutionary fighters. 

Their revolutionary actions everywhere received the enthusiastic support of the revolutionary masses. There had been a new revolutionary atmosphere in the streets after Fidel and his fighters won the Revolution. Drums and gongs had been sounding around Cuba. It was the great Communist Party of Cuba and their great leader Fidel Castro who led his people in winning their emancipation and thus they were brought to a happy life. The broad masses of the country unanimously pledged themselves to give strong backing to the Fidel and his fighters and battled shoulder to shoulder with them to transform the island state of Cuba into a new, highly proletarianised and revolutionised country.

On hearing the death of Fidel, Cuban people’s reactions may be put as under: 

“Flag-waving Cuban students broke into a mass chant of “I am Fidel” to salute Fidel Castro who dominated the communist island of Cuba’s political life for generations. “For me, it’s my mother first, my children, my father, then Fidel,” father-of-five Rafael Urbay, remembering his early years spent on a remote island off the mainland with no drinking water. “We weren’t just poor. We were wretched,” he said. “Then came Fidel and the revolution. He gave me my humanity. I owe him everything.” 

Cubans reactions have clearly spelt how popular Fidel was in Cuba as is learnt from various news reports: At Havana University, Castro’s alma mater, hundreds of students gathered to wave huge Cuban flags and shout “Viva Fidel and Viva Raul.” “Fidel isn’t dead because the people are Fidel,” shouted a local student leader dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt. “I am Fidel,” he continued, a refrain quickly adopted by the crowd. “Fidel put Cuba on the map, and made Cuba a paradigm for the people of the world, especially the poor and the marginalised,” said another university student, Raul Alejandro Palmeros. 

Castro studied law at the university in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when it was a hotbed of leftist politics, setting him on the path that led to his toppling of Batista in 1959. Despite years of ideological strife and increasing hardship under a US economic embargo, Castro’s Cuba became renowned for high education standards and world-class doctors. “What Fidel did with education and free health stands out on the world stage. It was unique,” said Rene Perez, a retired accountant and Communist Party member. “It’s his main legacy.” Giant rallies are planned in Havana’s Revolution Square to commemorate him. 

Overthrowing Batista government, Fidel and his party took actions to destroy the old ideas, culture, customs, and habits of the exploiting classes. They did just the opposite to protect the proletariats. They met head-on every challenge to change the outlook of society and transform education, literature and art, and all other parts of the superstructure that did not correspond to the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system. The effects of the Cuban Revolution directly or indirectly touched essentially all of Cuba’s population.

It is a day for reflection for all freedom-loving people for Fidel Castro. A local internet Daily adds: “Standing well over 6 feet tall, the bearded Fidel was for years a cigar-chomping bulwark of ideological resistance to the United States, decked out in green military fatigues and cap. “Everyone here is sad. Everyone is a Fidelista,” said Anaida Gonzales, a retired nursing professor in central Camaguey province. “People are just going about their business, but sad. Me, I’m very sad for my Comandante, it really took me by surprise.” 

More reports say Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States and for five decades defied US efforts to topple him. The bearded Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and ruled Cuba for 49 years with a mix of charisma and iron will, creating a one-party state and becoming a central figure in the Cold War. Still, the passing of the man known to most Cubans as “El Comandante” – the commander – or simply “Fidel” leaves a huge void in the country he dominated for so long. 

It also underlines the generational change in Cuba’s communist leadership. A Jesuit-educated lawyer, Fidel Castro led the revolution that ousted US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista on Jan 1, 1959. Aged 32, he quickly took control of Cuba and sought to transform it into an egalitarian society. Like Victor Hugo, he might have believed: “Revolution is the larva of civilization.” 

The Revolution was a sociopolitical movement that took place in Cuba. Set into motion by Fidel Castro, its stated goal was to preserve true Communist ideology in the country by purging remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Cuban society dictated by oppressive government of Batista, and to impose proletarian thought as the dominant ideology within the country. The Revolution marked Fidel to a position of power after the Great Leap Forward. 

Fidel represented the oppressed people because “An oppressed people are authorized whenever they can to rise and break their fetters” as Henry Clay puts it. His government improved the living conditions of the very poor, achieved health and literacy levels on a par with rich countries and rid Cuba of a powerful Mafia presence. Angry at social conditions and Batista’s dictatorship, Fidel Castro launched his revolution on July 26, 1953, with a failed assault on the Moncada barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. “History will absolve me,” he declared during his trial for the attack. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but was released in 1955 after a pardon that would come back to haunt Batista. 

Castro went into exile in Mexico and prepared a small rebel army to fight Batista. It included Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who became his comrade-in-arms. For most Cubans, Fidel Castro has been the ubiquitous figure of their entire life. Many still love him and share his faith in a communist future, and even some who abandoned their political belief still view him with respect. 

A towering figure of the 20th century and Cold War icon, Castro stuck to his ideology beyond the collapse of Soviet communism and remained widely respected in parts of the world that struggled against colonial rule. “When I found out Fidel had died, I felt such pain. I cried,” said 39 years old Badanys Rodriguez. Transforming Cuba from a playground for rich Americans into a symbol of resistance to Washington, Castro crossed swords with 10 U.S. presidents while in power, and outlasted nine of them. At home, he swept away capitalism and won support for bringing schools and hospitals to the poor. 

The death of the man known to most Cubans as “El Comandante” – the commander – or simply “Fidel” leaves a void in the country he dominated for so long. It also underlines the generational change in Cuba’s communist leadership. Castro also won friends by sending tens of thousands of Cuban doctors abroad to treat the poor and bringing young people from developing countries to train them as physicians. Still, for most Cubans, Castro has been the ubiquitous figure of their lives. Many loves him and share his faith in communism, and even some who abandoned their political belief still respect him. “For everyone in Cuba and outside his death is very sad,” said Havana resident Luis Martinez. “It is very painful news.”

The broad revolutionary masses gave the heartiest and resolute backing to the revolutionary rebel spirit of the young fighters during the Cuban Revolution. Launching a fierce offensive against all old ideas, culture, customs and habits, Cuban people have pledged never to make or sell such trash. But it is with deep sorrow that we learnt on November 25, 2016 of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President. 

Fidel Castro was a larger-than-life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, he made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation. He is recognised for his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”. We offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Castro. We join the people of Cuba in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader. He leaves a national legacy of nearly 100 percent literacy, a health system and life expectancy of 79 years on par with some developed countries, and athletes who are respected around the world.

After leading an armed revolution 65 years ago, Fidel created a socialist state allied with Moscow in direct defiance of Washington. He wanted to free Cuba of U.S. economic domination. In carrying out those objectives, he was inevitably going to clash with the US. At the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, Washington was so anxious to topple Castro that the CIA sponsored many outlandish assassination attempts.  Fidel’s personality cult was based on his long, rambling speeches, which made him famous as one of the great orators of the 20th century. 

His discourses were aided by an incredible memory, honed as a law student when he forced himself to depend on his memory by destroying materials he had learned by heart. He could speak for hours without text — his record was nine hours in 1959. As a shy young man, Castro had forced himself to speak in front of a mirror, but as a world leader, he relished addressing crowds as large as one million.

Fidel Castro maintained his image as the eternal guerrillero by keeping his beard, wearing olive-green military fatigues and black combat boots, and traveling in jeeps. To his supporters, he was a romantic figure, an idealist who corrected a litany of evils that afflicted his country and stood up to the hegemony of the United States. They always point out the revolution’s successes — literacy and infant mortality rates on a par with rich nations, universal health care and one of the world’s highest ratios of doctors to the population. The World Bank reported that in 2010 Cuba had 6.7 physicians per 1,000 inhabitants, the highest in the world.

Castro was a man of panache, a romantic figure, an ever-defiant, imaginative, and unpredictable rebel, a marvelous actor, a spectacular teacher and preacher of the many credos which he was embodied. Though his personal popularity in Cuba is immense, he is also a much-respected figure to many in the world including Bangladesh. 

In 1952, Castro was set to run for a congressional seat when Fulgencio Batista overthrew the government of President Carlos Prio Socarras in a bloodless coup. Batista cancelled the election and quickly won the backing of the United States, which saw him as a bulwark against communism. An irate Fidel saw revolution as the only way to topple Batista. In a Santiago court, Castro gave an impassioned two-hour sermon about Cuba’s social ills that became the manifesto of the Cuban Revolution and was later referred to as the “History Will Absolve Me” speech. “I know that jail will be as hard as it has ever been for anyone, filled with threats, with vileness, and cowardly brutality,” he told the courtroom. “But I do not fear this, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who snuffed out the life of 70 brothers of mine. Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me!”

Castro embarked on radical agrarian reform that put his government on a collision course with the United States. A new law limited land ownership to 966 acres per individual, and sugar, cattle and rice plantations to no larger than 3,300 acres. At the time, some U.S. companies owned as many as 480,000 acres. To show how serious he was about agrarian reform, Castro nationalised his family’s own farm. This proves his strong selfless character. 

In following years, he supported revolutionary movements in Africa and Latin America, sending hundreds of thousands of troops to Angola and Ethiopia. Che Guevara left Cuba for armed missions in the Congo and Bolivia, where he was executed in 1967 after being captured by the Bolivian army. Cuban internationalism also included thousands of Cuban doctors, nurses and teachers sent to developing nations. Currently, there are an estimated 50,000 Cuban doctors on humanitarian missions in 66 countries.

In 1976, Fidel unveiled a new Constitution that defined Cuba as a “socialist state of workers and peasants” and the Communist Party as the “highest leading force of society.” He was named leader for life, with a corollary that it would be unconstitutional to challenge him. In retirement, he wrote a regular opinion column called “Reflections” that were published by official newspapers and websites. 

In 2012, he announced that he was retiring as a columnist as well, although he continued to publish occasionally. In the end, Castro undoubtedly died believing his legacy would outlast him. “I am prepared for death 100 percent,” he told American filmmaker Oliver Stone in the 2004 documentary “Fidel Castro: El Comandante.” “I have complete confidence that if I die tomorrow my influence will grow … the revolution will not be weakened.” 

Fidel Castro, the father of communist Cuba who led the country for nearly half a century, died at the age of 90. The former president was expected to be cremated, as he wished. The Cuban government announced nine days of national mourning and culminating with a burial ceremony. In the meantime, a mass gathering was held in the capital. His ashes would embark on a four-day tour of the country retracing the “Caravan of Liberty” he led after ousting his predecessor in 1959.

For 49 years Castro ruled Cuba, transforming what was once an American playground with striking social inequalities into a poor, isolated country with a notorious record on human rights. He was a hero. Through a rigid system of socialised medicine, education and cultural facilities, Castro’s government elevated Cuba’s most impoverished citizens and reduced the sort of racial inequalities prevalent throughout the Americas. For challenging and insulting U.S. policies and presidents, he won the devotion of like-minded leaders, including the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. In a 2004 speech slamming the U.S. war on terrorism, for example, Castro accused President George W. Bush of hypocrisy and fraud.  

His political views were further shaped at the University of Havana, where he studied law. After graduating, he delved deeper into revolutionary politics and ultimately organised the rebellion that would overthrow Batista. Joined by his brother Raul, and the legendary guerrilla fighter Ernesto “Che” Guevarra, Castro succeeded in ousting his predecessor in 1959 after two failed attempts, one of which landed him in prison. Fidel’s prolific writing and famously long-winded speeches regularly featured tirades against the U.S. and insistence that Cuba would never change its course: “Socialism or death! Fatherland or death!” was the motto. He demonstrated throughout his life, his willingness to die for his vision and values. 

Like the red sun rising in Cuba, the unprecedented great proletarian revolution is illuminating the land with its brilliant rays. Long live the Cuban Revolution armed with Fidel Castro’s thought! Long live Fidel, Cubans great teacher, great leader, great supreme commander, and great helmsman!

All Cubans joined hands to carry the great revolution to a new and broader and more profound stage under the leadership of Raul Castro. Vertical and horizontal scrolls filled with revolutionary sentiments have now been posted on the doors of many establishments. People now say: “We are going to make plenty of revolutionary clothing quickly, and we are going to speedily sweep away all outlandish clothing; and up with the proletariat, down with the bourgeoisie!”

Fidel Castro is a towering personality. An iconic figure like him had passed away. He is like another Himalayas. He was the true friend of the have-nots throughout the world. We have lost a great friend of Bangladesh. He didn’t care the red eyes of the oppressive Batista government. To him, Antoine Saint-Just was correct when he said: “To dare: that is the whole secret of revolutions.” And our red salute is to immortal Fidel Castro.

–The End —

The writer is an independent political analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs.

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