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End of an era



This week’s announcement by Cuban President Fidel Castro Ruz that he is finally stepping down from that post marks the end of an historic era, not just in Cuban politics but in world politics. For while Cuba in geographical terms is a small nation, in political terms, under Fidel Castro, it became a political heavy-weight, remaining one of the key defining points of the foreign policy of a global superpower, the United States of America, for half a century.{{more}}

Castro’s relinquishing of the Head of State position is hardly surprising. Since his ailment and major surgery eighteen months ago, there has been continuous speculation that he would not resume the Presidency, even though some of his allies, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, kept predicting his return. Somehow, though, especially in light of Cuba’s continued stability under his brother Raul, as Acting President, one got the impression that Fidel was easing his way out of the hot seat. His weekly writings, appropriately entitled “Reflections” gave more than a hint of a new role for Fidel.

Perhaps no world leader has generated the range of passions as Fidel Castro. Revered by millions around the globe, he is also the central hate figure of those who have never forgiven him for ending Cuba’s domination by the United States. Leading a successful revolution after a disastrous first attempt at insurrection in 1953, Castro has a strong claim to being the most outstanding political figure of the 20th century. It was a century that saw such titans as the liberators Gandhi and Mandela; the western World War 2 heroes Roosevelt and Churchill and Castro’s fellow socialist revolutionaries Lenin and Mao Tse Tung. Yet this committed Cuban patriot, just 90 miles away from the most powerful country on earth, survived assassination attempts, invasion, subversion and a criminal economic embargo against his people for fifty years. Whatever one thinks of his politics, this must be a hugely outstanding achievement.

In the process, not only has he outlasted nine US presidents, all of whom pledged to end the Cuban Revolution, but in spite of the embargo and Russian treachery in the nineties, he was able to transform Cuban society and lead his country to a place of dignity in the world. Above all, his outstanding internationalism has assisted many underdeveloped nations, including ours, offering selfless assistance in health, education, sport and other forms of technical assistance. Grenada’s Pointe Salines airport is a living testimony to this, and we here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines hope to benefit in a similar manner, if not on the same scale. Finally, it must never be forgotten that it was Castro’s Cuba which broke the back of apartheid South Africa’s army in Angola to pave the way for the liberation, not just of Angola, but of South Africa itself.

He leaves the stage with these tremendous accomplishments to his credit, but acutely aware that much more needs to be done in his own country to chart new paths in economic and political democratic involvement. His successors must face that challenge. The world is witnessing the end of an era that has lasted five decades.