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Who is Fidel Castro?

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by Veritas Juxtitas 07.MAY.10

Fidel Castro should not be alive today. He has defied the laws of logic and the laws of probability which predicted his demise a long time ago. His continued existence is little short of miraculous. What manner of man is this who has been able to withstand everything the powerful USA could devise – from assassination attempts to terrorist attacks, from a propaganda war to an economic embargo, from the collapse of the sugar price to the collapse of the Soviet Union?{{more}} A lesser man would have crumbled under any one of the enormous pressures he has had to face, sometimes simultaneously, over the past 50 years.

Born in 1926 to a fairly wealthy peasant farmer-turned-landowner in rural Cuba, he showed a determined and rebellious streak from early on. From his Spanish-born father he inherited the Galician sense of honour (something that would be little understood in these parts today). He was sent away from home at the early age of 6 because there were no schools in the immediate vicinity. He attended Catholic schools where he learned values and discipline. He excelled in sports, particularly basketball, baseball and athletics. In 1950, he graduated from the University of Havana (founded in 1728) with triple doctoral degrees in law, international law and social sciences. Throughout his University career he was actively involved in politics (as was usual for students at the time) but did not ally himself with any particular faction or party. His brief law career was spent in mostly pro bono work for the disadvantaged. In 1952 he was a candidate for the National Assembly but the scheduled election never took place because of the coup staged by Fulgencio Batista.

The young Fidel, already well-known for his oratorical gifts, proceeded to organize an underground resistance movement determined to overthrow the corrupt and repressive Batista. In July 1953, the group mounted an attack on the Moncada barracks in central Cuba in order to obtain weapons. The attempt failed and most of the conspirators were captured, tortured and killed by the army. When Fidel was arrested several days later his life was spared by the senior officer who prevailed against the soldiers who wished to execute him immediately. He was imprisoned until 1955 when he was released under a general amnesty and went into exile in Mexico where a dedicated group of guerilla fighters was trained. At the end of 1956 the group of 85 returned to Cuba, and over the next 2 years fought against the Cuban army as Batista grew increasingly unpopular. As is well known, Batista fled Cuba at the end of 1958 and the revolution was proclaimed victorious.

It must be understood that throughout the first half of the 20th century, Cuba was a turbulent and politically unstable place, with the US marines invading on 3 occasions, and daily gang violence on the streets of Havana. Most of the sugar estates, telecoms, the utilities and banking sectors were controlled by US interests. And US crime syndicates (the Mafia) controlled much of Havana running the casinos and rampant prostitution. This is what Fidel Castro stood against. He has repeatedly laid his life on the line and has sacrificed a normal family life to the cause of the revolution. He has shown courage and fortitude on the battlefield as well as in prison when subjected to inhumane conditions. When he gave the order to set fire to the canefields and later on when the size of private holdings was reduced by law, his family properties were not exempt. For this some members of his own family have not forgiven him.

No-one who has met the man has failed to be awed by his encyclopaedic knowledge, his understanding of world affairs and history and his grasp of detail in an enormous range of subjects. His biographers have all noted his sense of honour and unfailing courtesy. His self-discipline and gift for oratory are legendary. In intellect and moral fortitude he could put any US president of the last 50 years to shame. He is a master of political as well as military strategy and an expert in international diplomacy.

Does Fidel Castro live in luxury while the rest of the population starves as has happened with so many African and other leaders? Has he constructed palaces and siphoned off money into private bank accounts? No, he has built schools and universities and hospitals and housing so that the lives of ordinary Cubans could improve. He has given the Cubans back their dignity and their independence. And they know it. He has something more important than electoral victories….he enjoys the respect and the consent of the governed. Cuba of today is now so rich in human resources that it can provide assistance to dozens of other developing countries in the form of skilled personnel entirely free of cost as well as providing free medical training to students from around the world…including the US. What Cuba has achieved in the fields of education, health, medical research and new technology is truly astounding.

By any criterion, Fidel Castro is an exceptional human being and one of the most exceptional leaders of the 20th century. A leader such as was dreamed of by the Greek philosophers…a man so rare that it is difficult to find his equal in the annals of human history.