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Farewell, Fidel: May you rest in peace

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On Saturday, the world awoke to the news that Fidel Castro, the former President of Cuba, had passed away. And immediately a war broke out between his supporters and detractors over how we should mourn and memorialize the man who stands undoubtedly as the most remarkable leader in the history of Latin America and the Caribbean. Indeed, Fidel Castro was much more than a regional leader. Quite simply, he was a leading global presence and transformed Cuba into a global power broker, the like of which the Caribbean had never seen before.{{more}}

This was certainly not what Castro had in mind when in 1959 he and his revolutionary comrades of his July 29th Movement overthrew the corrupt US backed Baptista regime from power in Cuba. Indeed the Movement was first and foremost a nationalist movement, intent on the restoration of Cuban sovereignty and Cuban assets to the Cuban people. However, the road to Cuban communism was forged through a deepening relationship with the Soviet Union and an intense confrontation with the USA. In fact, until the Cuban Revolution, no Latin American or Caribbean country had ever dared confront the US on the global stage, for fear that the US would simply overthrow the government, as they had done in Guatemala, Iran, Cuba before 1959, and any other Third World government whose policies were deemed unacceptable to the US government.

The US response to the Cuban Revolution was quick and familiar. It imposed a crippling embargo on Cuba, which remains to this day. It launched the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 to overthrow the revolutionary government. The invasion failed. Repeated attempts were made to assassinate Fidel Castro. He died at the ripe old age of 90 in his bed. And in what stands as the most frightening moment in the history of the modern world, the US and the Soviet Union were prepared to fight a nuclear war in what has become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This crisis was triggered by the US preparations to launch a full scale invasion of Cuba to prevent Russian nuclear missiles from being installed in Cuba. Russian archives would later reveal that unbeknownst to the US, these missiles were already installed and ready to be fired in the event of an American invasion. What all these events indicate is that within the four years of Castro’s ascension to power, he had removed Cuba from its role as a place of decadence for the American rich and famous into the centre of the global confrontation between communism and capitalism.

Castro’s global reach, however, went far beyond being a player in the Cold War machinations of the US and the Soviet Union. In a history that is yet to be fully told, Castro’s Cuba played a decisive role in the destruction of white supremacy rule in Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. No country inside or outside of Africa would play a more important role than Cuba in the liberation of the continent. For in 1987 the apartheid South African state was the strongest military power in Africa and used that power with impunity to threaten Angolan independence, keep Namibia a ward of the South African state, and dominate resistance to apartheid in South Africa. At the time, the South African state seemed utterly impregnable to any kind of African military response.

Enter Fidel Castro. With Angolan troops collapsing against the South African assault, Castro poured in 55,000 Cuban troops onto the battlefield, 600 tanks and heavy weaponry, and the prize of prizes, a squadron of MIG 29, the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world. In the process, the Cuban fighters established air supremacy, as they shot South African planes out of the African skies, routed the South Africans troops from the battlefield, secured the independence of Angola, freed Namibia from the grip of South African oppression, and severely weakened the South African state in its battle with the anti-apartheid movement. Never had such a small country secured such significant victories in lands so far away from its own. It is a debt to Fidel that can never be repaid.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and Grenada we understand that. The Cuban gift of an airport to Grenada is without precedent in the history of relations between Caribbean nations. In SVG, we too have been the beneficiaries of Cuban largesse in the domains of education, medicine, and of course, our greatest capital investment as a nation, the Argyle International Airport. These are not debts we can repay. We are aware, of course, that the Cuban political system has come in for heavy criticism both at home and abroad, and Fidel, in particular, has been the target of these attacks. We believe, however, that on the ledger of value to the global community, Castro’s Cuba has given far more than it has taken. So, to Fidel we say: ‘Farewell, and may you rest in peace.’

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