Fidel Castro Didn’t Wilt

P. Kharel


Fidel Castro, who died last fortnight at age 91, leaves a legacy of consistent rule notwithstanding several decades of condemnation, threats, intimidation, numerous conspiracies to assassinate him, and deployment of “scholars”, “human rights activists”, “civil society” and the mass media serving as propaganda tools for funding agencies against the one-party state ruled by an arch socialist.

Castro’s Cuba since 1959 constituted a galling and embarrassing presence for the giant neighbour United States, as emphasised by the fact that Cuba is just a few hundred miles away from the grimacing US. Bearer of the banner announcing itself as the mightiest military and the richest nation, the United States tried every means and tool at its disposal to topple the communist regime next door. In fact, it established an information broadcasting service exclusively directed against the Castro regime.


Survival skill

The money Washington spent annually on propaganda against Havana alone was larger than the assistance it provided to any single recipient in much of the least developed nations. All along, however, Castro held strong on his own, and widely supported by most Cubans who admired him for the non-corrupt communist leader who unveiled attractive social welfare schemes, the like of which are not to be found in most non-communist regimes elsewhere.

Castro survived a parade of ten US presidents starting from Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan to George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Although Havana was at the centre of the 1962 missile crisis provoked by the Soviet Union’s move at stationing of nuclear missiles in fellow communist Cuba, Castro survived the collapse and disintegration of the world’s first country to experiment with communism as a political system.

Theirs was a policy of relentless and multiple methods aimed at bringing down the Castro rule to an end. No president softened the line toward Cuba; and none succeeded in ushering in “democracy” there. This only highlighted the David-and-Goliath-like scenario in the comity of nations, and enlarged Castro’s image of withstanding the might of the US. 

Economic and other sanctions against Cuba were imposed for so many decades, and yet Havana steered its course on its own. Cuban lifestyle and stability proved to be far better than what some of Washington’s most “reliable” partners in various parts of the world had to do with. Whereas military dictators and outright authoritarians were propped up and supported by some of the powerful Western countries, Castro refused to change his political course.

Contrary to relentless barrage of foreign propaganda, Castro’s was a policy that proved to be the successful without the support of so many economically powerful “liberal democracies” that did not tolerate any independent country especially in their hemisphere pursuing an ideology radically different from their own. Their punishing trade embargo was a blatant demonstration of the attitude. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and with it the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe did not deter Castro.

When it came to criticism of the Havana government, the American news media also echoed voices similar to those of the Washington establishment. Strangely, however, the same news media are found far less critical of the Cuban government than they used to be prior to President Barack Obama’s administration in 2014 making the first move to normalise relations with Havana. Needless to overemphasise, Washington’s criticism of the communist regime has, of late, also become conspicuously subdued.

Why such change in tone and tenor by the most powerful nation on Planet Earth? Obviously, Washington finally decided that “engagement” with Havana would be more effective than belligerence that only projected the US as a big nation that could not have its way in relatively tiny Cuba. Eight years ago, Fidel Castro passed on the baton of power to his younger brother Raul Castro.

Even if officially holding no political position, the elder Castro continued actively advising the successor to ensure that his legacy strengthened and the country’s political system did not collapse after he was no longer in the scene. It was only in the last four years that the ailing leader’s role declined but he continued to be the government’s source of inspiration and ideological unity.

Amid all this came the US overtures for normalisation of bilateral relations. Although the US government massaged the media to believe that it was the Vatican that enabled the two countries to break the ice, the initiative was Washington’s. At the same time, The New York Times commends President Barack Obama’s “pragmatic engagement” with Cuba, and suggests that if the recently elected Donald Trump’s administration were to roll back the Obama initiative on Havana, it would be “monumentally misguided”.

The operative word “pragmatic engagement” in the editorial line of the leading American news daily is an admission  of Washington’s policy on Cuba had not succeeded, and hence the need for a change. In other words, down the several decades spanning as many as 11 presidents, including Obama, the US policy of isolating Cuba and the demonising Castro failed miserably. At long last, the US and, with its closest partners, changed their course and are chanting the slogan “constructive engagement”. This happened not because Havana made any significant change in its policy but because its former opponents decided to blink first, as underscored by the speed with which they restored normal diplomatic ties with Cuba and probe into possibilities for economic opportunities.


Flight to Cuba

When on a visit to Paris in February, President Raul Castro met with the keenly awaiting French President Francois Hollande. In March, European Union’s Foreign Policy Secretary Federica Mogherini became the highest ranking EU official ever to visit Cuba.  A month later, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s trip to the Cuban capital came not long after Obama paid a trip to Havana. Hammon said: “As Cuba enters a period of significant social and economic change, I am looking forward to demonstrating to the Cuban government and people that the UK is keen to forge new links across the Atlantic.”

More world leaders will be paying visits to the Cuban capital in the days ahead. A roll-back of the new policy on Cuba is, therefore, unlikely.

Power equations have changed dramatically since World War II, and especially in the new millennium. Fidel Castro’s legacy is that he worked for his country’s independence, territorial integrity and economic progress, and succeeded where many others either blinked first or wilted when confronted with the economically mightier and militarily more powerful. That is a legacy many a leader anywhere would publicly or privately envy.  


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