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Caricom honours Fidel- History will absolve him

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During the closing ceremony of the recently concluded 3rd Caricom-Cuba Summit, Caribbean leaders presented the “Order of the Caribbean Community” to Fidel Castro. I have to applaud Caribbean leaders for doing so, particularly at this time, a time when Cuba is embarking on celebrating fifty years of its Revolution.{{more}} It is an honour that was long overdue. Diplomatic relations with Cuba were first established in 1972 when the independent countries of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Barbados defied opinion in some areas of the region and demonstrated support for their sister Caribbean country. As other Caribbean countries joined the rank of independent states they too fell in line, allowing for the development of a relationship that has remained even with the hostility of Ronald Reagan and the debacle of the US led invasion in 1983.

Fifty years is a milestone for any organisation much less a state that has been under constant attack from the most powerful nation in the world from the early 1960s, marked by the 1962 blockade which has remained and which has drastically set back the development of that Caribbean island. The Cuban nation and people have been beset by numerous problems but at the same time there have been remarkable developments particularly in the field of education, health and sports. Fidel himself has been the victim of many plots hatched by agents of the United States Government. The longevity of the revolution and the developments in the areas mentioned had been due to the astute leadership of its captain, Fidel.

Quite often critics of Castro and the Cuban regime have failed to understand that Cuba is a poor, developing nation. Despite this, Cuba has given its support to progressive causes, particularly in Africa and Latin America. The American invasion of Grenada had long been planned. President Regan was creating the climate for what happened in 1983. He tried to convince Caribbean people and the world generally that Cuba’s gift of an airport to Grenada was, among other things, to facilitate military adventures to Africa. If that was indeed so it was all geared to assisting the struggle against apartheid and imperialism in Southern Africa. But Cuba has lent its support to humanitarian efforts in areas where it had no perceived benefits, except of course goodwill, so we must not gainsay Cuba’s assistance.

CARICOM has been the recipient of massive assistance in education, health and energy conservation. Cuban professionals, particularly in the medical field have worked in many, if not all, Caribbean countries. Cuba has given unflinching assistance to all of these countries regardless of the political colouration of their governments. No conditions were attached to this assistance for Cuba has recognised its place as part of the Caribbean family and has been prepared to share what it has with other members of the Caribbean family. It is within this context that Caribbean people should assess the role of Cuba and the leadership of Fidel Castro.

Some of Cuba’s critics at home have misread the situation and seem to have the impression that associating with Cuba will lead to some element of contamination, although one isn’t too sure about the nature of this contamination. I remember the comment made by Beverley Manley who stated clearly that Fidel had warned about trying to replicate the Cuban model. Castro understands the region and the political culture of the people. He does not want the region to undergo what Cuba is experiencing. Really, beyond a shadow of doubt his contribution to the CARICOM region can only be described as significant

Castro is obviously not a wealthy man and has not fleeced his country as so many of our leaders living in so-called democratic domains have done. The unfortunate thing about the Cuban experiment is that we would never know what Cuba would have been like under Fidel, without the criminal American embargo and the hostility that came with it. Most of the world has recognised the economic blockade against Cuba as cruel and unjust and have for years been calling for its lifting. There is a great deal of optimism that Barrack Obama will begin the process of removing this nasty stain from his country’s history. CARICOM has indeed begun the call on the President Elect to end this 46 year old economic blockade.

Fidel in a piece carried in the Granma newspaper stated, with a great deal of humility, “The Honorary Order of the Caribbean Community is an immense and undeserved honor, for which I am infinitely grateful.” Certainly not undeserved! One suspects that history will absolve Fidel and he will be declared one of the giants of the 20th century.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.