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Cuba’s triumph is our triumph

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(Saluting 50 years of the Cuban Revolution)

In my two previous weekly columns, I began looking at the critical situation facing our banana industry as we enter 2009. The third and final installment was scheduled for this week. However, I crave the indulgence of readers in postponing that installment by one week in order to pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, which will be celebrated on January 1.{{more}}

For me, there are a number of personal regrets regarding the occasion. Among these is my own inability to be in Cuba for the festivities, due to domestic commitments. Coupled with this is the failure of the St Vincent/Cuba Friendship Society to conclude appropriate travel arrangements so that the planned excursion to Cuba for the occasion could materialize. (The Society is trying to organize the excursion for some time in 2009.) Then there is the illness of the remarkable Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, forcing him to step down from the Presidency. The world would no doubt have been enriched by what would have been one of his masterful addresses. Finally, the tight economic situation in Cuba itself, worsened by three successive hurricanes, which have warranted a scaling down of the celebrations.

In spite of all of this, I join with hundreds of millions the world over in celebrating a half of a century of Cuban Revolution. That is no easy feat, given the hostility of the most powerful empire, just 90 miles from Cuba’s shores, particularly so in Miami, that breeding ground of all kinds of plots to reverse the course of history in Cuba. The Cuban Revolution, led by the incomparable Fidel, has outlasted almost a dozen American Presidents, from the General Eisenhower to the incompetent George Walker Bush and is already offering the olive branch to the incoming Barrack Obama. Will we see a new era of US/Cuba reconciliation?

Cuba’s success is not just one of survival in the face of hostility; it has done more than merely eke out an existence. It has followed a path of development of its own choosing and has actually thrived in the face of a criminal economic blockade, invasion, countless assassination attempts against its leaders, sabotage, the post -1990 treachery of its erstwhile friends in the eastern bloc and the spinelessness of many governments in developed and developing countries in failing to stand up to the blatant violation of its rights as a sovereign nation.

Cuba is not without its faults and errors. Fortunately, given the wisdom and foresight of its leadership, none of its mistakes have been fatal, unlike those of many other Revolutions, including those of Haiti and Grenada in our own region. Such mistakes are typical of the exuberance of young Revolutions. There were the ultra-leftism of the sixties, so common in much of the world of that time – just recall the “long, hot summers” in inner-cities of the USA, France in 1968, and the hot-headedness of some of our own Black Power manifestations. There was the over-reliance on the Soviet bloc, which was to cost the Cuban people dearly after the collapse of that bloc in 1991. The bureaucratism against which Fidel himself has railed has frustrated many Cubans and turned off many once-adoring students from other countries. The never-ending pressures of imperialism have presented Cuba’s leaders with the difficult task of walking the thin line between preserving the Revolution and ensuring individual rights and freedoms that one would take for granted in a society not under siege. Its detractors, internally and externally, have not been able to view the whole picture.

Yet Cuba has progressed and made an invaluable contribution to the development of human civilization these past fifty years. What a contribution! How to quantify or qualify Cuba’s selfless contribution to the ending of apartheid by breaking the back of the racist South African military in Angola leading to freedom for the whole of Southern Africa and Nelson Mandela’s historic walk to freedom. In international affairs, Cuba has played a sterling role in upholding the rights of the oppressed, the world over, and in insisting that human rights extend to the social and economic spheres as well. Its investment in human capital in the fields of health, education and sports is legendary, but Cuba has not kept these benefits for its people alone. Still a poor country, it makes a greater contribution to assisting developing countries, especially in health and education, than practically any other country. Its own people have to bear the sacrifice which, understandably, causes some dissatisfaction.

Cuba has also provided valuable political space to developing nations to exercise their right to self-determination and to break the shackles of foreign domination. Whether through the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77 or in support for nationalist and progressive governments in Latin America, Asia, Africa or the Caribbean, Cuban support has been steadfast and unwavering. It provided succor for Latin American democrats under the dark days of US-backed military repression. The result is there for all to see today-in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador etc.

In the Caribbean, Cuban support ensured progress under Maurice Bishop in Grenada and Michael Manley in Jamaica, as it also encouraged a generation of Caribbean nationalists and socialists from Cheddi Jagan right down to Ralph Gonsalves, inspiring Tim Hector In Antigua, George Odlum in St Lucia, Rosie Douglas in Dominica, and thousands of us still alive and fanning the flames of liberation.

But its support has also been practical-enabling the would-be blind to see, nursing the ailing in the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Venezuela and the French and English speaking islands, providing thousands of scholarships so that “poor people picknee” could become engineers, doctors, economists and qualifying in a range of other professions.

Our ingratitude in the face of this is stupendous. It extends even to professionals spared the burden of having to repay huge loans as they embark on careers, yet who cannot find the time or resources for solidarity with Cuba. There are also those genuinely misled by leaders genuflecting to the might of imperialism. Cuba deserves our every ounce of support for it has never failed us in providing such development assistance. Its 50-year triumph is a triumph for the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden the world over. We must let its enemies know that we stand by its side. We must support our leaders in their call to President elect Obama for a new era of peace and co-existence in our hemisphere. That is the best way to ensure an even greater flowering of democracy, in our region and in Cuba itself. Lift the blockade! Begin the dialogue!

To Raul, Fidel and the Cuban Leadership, to the selfless sacrifice of the Cuban people, to the future of its 50-year Revolution, I offer my heartfelt congratulations and support.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.