It is said that “one’s man’s hero is another man’s villain” or, in some sayings, “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter”.
These sayings aptly describe the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He was certainly a hero to many and in the eyes of others, especially in the United States of America, a villain. American media would have us believe, by looking at the images among Cubans in Miami after the news of Fidel’s death broke, that it was all celebration. However, even the same media couldn’t ignore the thousands who followed his funeral procession in Cuba and turned out for memorial events.
On trial in 1953 for leading a rebel attack in Santiago de Cuba, Castro, then a young lawyer, concluded his own defence by declaring, “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.” History is now left to record Fidel Castro. He will no doubt be among the legends of the 20th Century.
I had the opportunity to visit Havana in December 1990. As International Affairs Chairperson on the Guild of Undergraduates at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, I was invited to represent Barbados at a meeting in Cuba of Students’ Unions from the Caribbean and Latin America. That visit was an eye-opener for me and an opportunity to meet and hear directly from Fidel Castro.
He was certainly a revolutionary leader who invoked a passion among the Cuban people. I recalled being surrounded by hundreds of young Cuban men and women at an informal gathering when Fidel Castro turned up unannounced and, in unison, the deafening chant by all present was “para que se lo, Fidel!”
Undoubtedly a hero among many Cubans in Cuba and persons in other parts of the world where Castro ensured that support was provided for causes against oppressive regimes. As Telesur records: ‘After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela traveled to Cuba to meet Castro in person and to thank him for sending soldiers to Angola during the 1970s and 1980s to fight apartheid regimes, widely believed to be a significant catalyst to the eventual ending of apartheid’.
In his speech, Mandela said, “We have come here today recognizing our great debt to the Cuban people. What other country has such a history of selfless behaviour as Cuba has shown for the people of Africa? How many countries benefit from Cuban health care professionals and educators? How many of these volunteers are now in Africa? What country has ever needed help from Cuba and has not received it? How many countries threatened by imperialism or fighting for their freedom have been able to count on the support of Cuba?”
Nelson Mandela, himself a villain and terrorist to white South Africa transformed to hero of the world, made his position quite clear on Cuba and Fidel Castro. He stood with those who stood with his noble cause against the apartheid regime.
Fidel Castro’s story cannot be told without looking at the revolution he accomplished in 1959 against a brutal regime in Cuba. The regime of Fulgencio Batista. They are those who would have such records overlooked but it is important to know what caused the Cuban people to rise up and revolt against corruption, a corruption that impoverished a people. Batista received financial, military and logistical support from its big neighbour, the US. He created an elite ruling class of landowners which deepened the divide between rich and poor. He also opened Cuba to the American mafia to create a playground for America’s elite and rich. Batista was a ruthless dictator aided and abetted by the US Government and its agents.
What Fidel Castro accomplished through his revolution was not only an overthrow of a brutal dictator but the removal of a corrupt system that was controlled by the super power America right on their doorsteps. It is no wonder that the US imposed a crippling embargo on Cuba and attempted over 600 times to assassinate Fidel.
When I visited Cuba 1990, they were trying to recover from the breakup of the Soviet Union, a longtime ally and key supporter. I saw a country ensuring its survival by living on the basics, making what they had work for them. I witnessed a people who, in a gathering of government ministers, Fidel Castro and students were discussing how together they can make out under the sanctions and without much help from a broken Soviet Union.
I saw first-hand students saying they will use bicycles and not drive cars as a result of fuel shortages. I heard students saying they were growing their own food on several campuses. And I heard ministers being questioned over their responsibilities. At that time, I wondered what Cuba would be like after Fidel.
CARICOM member states must be congratulated for taking the very important step of establishing relations with the Cuban Government years ago that opened the door for Caribbean people to benefit from Cuba’s’ outstanding successes in education and medicine. It also certainly opened the door finally for a US President to go boldly where no other US President since the 1960’s dared to go, re-establish relations with Cuba. President Obama did the unthinkable for a US President but his resolve in doing it is extremely commendable.
Obama re-established relations with Cuba to the annoyance and condemnation of those Cuban Americans and other Americans who expected that punishment of the Cuban people was to last as long as the Castros were in power. The policy was a failure. It didn’t cripple Cuba, it strengthened their resolve. It is interesting that those persons most vocal in their condemnation of Obama and his administration’s policy to Cuba are the children and grandchildren of the dictator Batista and his supporters. They have openly supported Donald Trump who has promised to reverse such policies.
I hope that the Cuban people will be able to build upon what they have accomplished under tough conditions. I hope there will be more freedoms but freedoms that come with the responsibility to build a better society for all and not just a few.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: