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The world needs more like Fidel Castro

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Unfortunately, for health reasons, this column was absent from the pages of SEARCHLIGHT for the last couple of weeks. Life has a way of reminding us that not only are the three basic ‘Rs’ of literacy (reading, writing and ‘rithmetic) important in this world, but there are also two other ‘Rs’ which claim equal status. These are REST and RECREATION. We ignore them at our peril. The hard knocks over the years are bound to take their toll at some time or the other.{{more}}

Yet before selfish self-pity should take hold, I had time to reflect on the fate of others whose burdens make mine look like a tiny straw in the wind. Take Cuban President Fidel Castro for instance, currently in hospital recuperating from an emergency surgery. If I describe my own experiences as “hard knocks”, where can we find words to express what Fidel must have gone through for most of his 80 years?

The early years of living under the despicable Batista dictatorship, then the first struggles leading up to the 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks, the years of imprisonment and exile……. Then the return to Cuba and the guerrilla struggle, leading to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959.

Those alone are enough to make any claim of us all to “struggle and sacrifice” pale into insignificance. But they represent but the tip of Fidel’s iceberg. For nearly a half-century of incredible fight against adversity lay in store and Fidel Castro, all 80 years of him, has endured it all. Hundreds of assassination attempts, defiance of the Empire in all its oppressive forms including a criminal blockade, in the face of which many of his countrymen and women have buckled and bolted. Yet Fidel has stood tall, his magnificent leadership and indomitable courage by far outshining whatever maybe his personal imperfections and those of the Government he heads to this day.

Fidel passed the 80th anniversary of his birth on a hospital bed, the official celebrations to mark the occasion having been postponed to another landmark occasion, the upcoming 50th anniversary of the launch of the final stage of the struggle to rid Cuba of the corrupt Batista dictatorship in December 1956. I count myself lucky to have been in Cuba over the past week, if only to be able to get even a tiny sense of the mood of the Cuban people. For, like you, dear reader, I have been hearing from the western news agencies how much the people of Cuba are supposed to be anticipating Fidel’s “demise” and their day of “liberation”.

One would therefore have expected an atmosphere of tension, of uncertainty, of eager expectancy. My own very limited experience indicated otherwise. The “message” of US Secretary of State, Ms. Condoleeza Rice, seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, for the outpouring of last Saturday night at a concert on the Malecon in Havana could not be stage-managed. The feelings for Fidel, from all ages, were unmistakable. If Bush and Condy think otherwise, they have a lot of rethinking to do.

As a black man, descendant of both slaves and architects of human civilization, in Emancipation Month, I felt ashamed of Condoleeza. The same spokesperson who condoned Israel’s barbaric destruction of life, limb and property in Lebanon, had the audacity to offer help to the Cuban people; those who do not have US-made “smart” bombs raining down on their shelters, nor seeing their children butchered and buried before their very eyes.

What is it in Cuba that so rankles the US ruling class and their chief spokesperson? Is it the determination of a people to, mistakes and all, chart their own destiny? To put the basic NEEDS of people above the selfish WANTS and rapacious DESIRES of a relative few? Is it the example that there is an ALTERNATIVE to the heartless consumer society which glitters many an eye but provides no vision? Is it the selfless demonstration of assistance to countries and peoples like our own?

It was worthy of note that on Fidel’s birthday, he received a visit from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, another leader who has incurred the wrath of the “Empire”. Cuban television provided some reminders of the concrete basis of Cuban-Venezuelan co-operation, in the form of pictures of poor, black Venezuelan children, formerly condemned to a life of blindness in Venezuela, whom Cuban doctors have been able to treat and restore vision. We too have benefited from such assistance. We have also had Venezuelan offers of help from the Petro-Caribe initiative.

Yet there are those among us whose only response is to parrot what we hear from others with their axes to grind. If the generosity of Cuba in education, health and other forms of concrete solidarity are “suspicious”, and not welcome, if the Petro-Caribe is deemed “not in our best interests,” where are the concrete offers from our traditional friends? The scholarships, the doctors, the treatment, the co-operation?

The world needs more like Fidel. We all should be grateful for his unmatched contribution to human and social development and his example that ANOTHER WAY IS POSSIBLE. Long live Fidel, the Cuban Revolution and Cuban-Venezuelan-Caribbean solidarity!

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