by Alexander Quaresma | @WombatBites
"Mi verso es un ciervo herido, que busca en el monte amparo."
Historians in both the near and far distant future will look back at the twentieth century and remember it for three things: the First World War, the Second World War, and the Cold War. Friday November the twenty-fifth there passed from our sub lunar sphere a man, who perhaps above all others, has to be recognized as the one individual who stood taller than all the rest to bask in the rays of victory in so far as the Cold War was concerned - depending of course how one wishes to judge a victory in such a conflict. As a result, Fidel Castro is easily one of the two or three most important figures of the twentieth century.
Along with Mahatma Gandhi, not only was Fidel Castro one of the world's great revolutionaries, one of the great anti-imperialist heroes, but also one of the most nuanced and complicated humanists. He was a leader in every respect of the word, and one who tasked himself with the seemingly impossible assignment of ensuring Cuba remain in control of its own destiny free from the whims of western imperialist powers. Those powers principally being the United States of America, who after the Spanish-American war in 1898 wielded their hegemonic influence in the western hemisphere like a silent wolf carrying a big stick in an unattended petting zoo.
Fidel Castro was by no means a saint, nor did he ever claim to be. Fidel Castro's Cuba is riddled with pock marks exposed to all to scrutiny and criticism. It is by no means an example of a communist utopia. That said, however, one must keep in mind the larger picture.
Fidel Castro is to be praised not as a holy good-deed doing pacifist. Nobody should ever confuse Fidel Castro's methods of revolution with Gandhi's. My opening comparison was by no means an attempt to draw a parallel between the two in terms of methodology. What Gandhi was able to accomplish almost seems supernatural when you consider how he went about accomplishing what he did. The comparison is only applicable in so much as to their finished product (if such works are ever truly finished).
One of the great criticisms in America that is currently being leveled at Fidel Castro after his death is the so-called "lack of democracy" in Cuba. Oh, if only the lack of democracy in America could ever look half as good.
Has "democracy" been absent in Cuba in the post-revolution days since 1959? Sure it has. But just what kind of "democracy" was present in Cuba, or the entire Central and Southern Americas for that matter, before Castro? In 1954 the American-endorsed politico dictator General Fulgencio Batista also won an election in which he faced no opposition.
As my favorite British politician George Galloway has noted in past interviews regarding Fidel Castro, you'd have been hard-pressed to find thriving democracy in England during the days that the Nazis were threatening to invade the British Isles. In order for the British way of life to preserve itself the liberties that were allegedly afforded the British people had to take a back seat for a couple of years so that the necessary war effort against the Nazis - a legitimate existential threat unlike any other in modern times - could unfold as it needed to.
With that in mind, though it pains me to rehash this line of thought - as it is so much of a cliché at this point - let us not try and fool ourselves by pretending that the United States of America stands only for democracy. That makes for good press and talking points in public gatherings, sure. It sounds really good in the textbooks, too. But of course the reality is that the United States only stands for democracy when it is a democratically elected government that is amenable to their operational procedures in regard to the given area in question. Quite often this simply means that this democratically elected government should be open to what is referred to as "free trade."
Free trade is essentially nothing more than another public relations term. It has talismanic words in it like "free" and "trade." So surely it has to be something that is good. Noam Chomsky is the authoritative voice in eloquently stating the true meaning behind what "free trade" really means. I will always defer to Chomsky, but if I were too simplistically state the Cliff Notes version to what free trade really means I would be inclined to say something along the lines that it is the systematic exploitation of the material resources and slave-wage labor of a region and its people for the gross benefit of the corporate masters seeking to exploit such exploitables.
As history is chock-a-block full of, the US is perfectly happy to support, or even install, totalitarian dictators when it's to the US's liking. I'm sure it's safe to say that we can all remember Saddam Hussein? The past is littered with such instances.
So on the subject of the lack of democracy in Cuba let us consider Cuba's predicament. And at the same time let us consider Cuba's predicament by not forgetting the context of history. Unfortunately, I'm all too aware that most Americans have never had any knowledge of any of what I'm about to say let alone be able to forget it. So with that, it's history lesson time.
The year was 1944. While the world's attention was rightly focused on the goings on in Europe and the Far East a populist revolution in Guatemala overthrew the US-backed dictator Jorge Ubico and in a free and fair election voted Juan José Arévalo into power. Now it is quite possible that you might be asking "Why did the US back a dictator like Ubico?" It was because Ubico allowed the privately owned United Fruit Company to essentially run his country and keep Guatemala a nice benign and benevolent banana republic. All Ubico had to do was facilitate "business as usual." It was quite disgusting. Pablo Neruda would write poetry about it. Naturally the progressive reforms of Arévalo didn't sit very well with the United Fruit Company or its board of directors, which included future head of the CIA under Eisenhower, Allen Dulles. Ther American corporation United Fruit Company's holdings were nationalized. Something had to be done. So after the CIA manipulated the American government into thinking Guatemala had Soviet ties - because after all, surely any populist left-wing movement predicated on greater equality in the division of riches derived from a region's resources had to have the stink of Soviet Russia on it; it just had to! - Guatemala City was bombed. Soon thereafter President Truman would authorize the overthrow of Arévalo's democratically elected successor Jacobo Árbenz Guzman in 1952. This brutal display of the US flexing its influence would ignite a thirty-six year civil war which would be ruled over by more US-backed dictators and death squads that would result in the deaths of 200,000 Guatemalans over that time.
In total there have been three US-led military interventions in Guatemala. In fact, in an effort to determine the destiny of other Central and Southern American nations the US military has intervened over fifty times.
Argentina: one US military intervention
Bolivia: one US military intervention
Chile: two US military interventions
Costa Rica: one US military intervention
El Salvador: two US military interventions
Grenada: one US military intervention
Haiti & Dominican Republic: four US military interventions
Honduras: eight US military interventions
Mexico: two US military interventions
Nicaragua: eight US military interventions
Panama: nine US military interventions
Puerto Rico: two US military interventions
Uruguay: one US military intervention
Venezuela: one US military intervention
And in Cuba there have been six US military interventions; one of which would go on to lead directly to an ugly little nuclear crisis in the Fall of 1962.
I don't wish to compare 1959-2016 United States with Nazi Germany. With the election of Trump, however, I'm not so confident such inevitable comparisons won't be apropos beginning in 2017 and beyond. However, that's neither here nor there. In any event Fidel Castro was not up against Nazis, no. He was only up against the greatest military and economic imperial super power the world has ever known fresh off its greatest victory in World War II.
For much of the first half of the past sixty years since the Cuban Revolution the US has attempted to hatch plans in which they could justify to the world an invasion of the island. If you haven't ever looked into it, after you finish reading this you might consider looking into Operation: Northwoods. When they weren't trying to justify an invasion they simply felt destablizing Cuba and/or assassinating Castro was the best option. Between 1959 and 1997 there had been 5,780 covert actions carried out by the US in Cuba, many of which would involve random bombings, and 638 assassination attempts on Fidel Castro's life. These attempts would include everything from poison pills, toxic cigars, and my personal favorite: exploding mollusks. Meanwhile, during all of this time, an illegal and inhumane embargo is still to this day being levied against Cuba and the Cuban people. And in case anyone may have forgotten, an embargo is an act of war.
Cuba has essentially been involved in a war it didn't want with the United States of America since 1959. Therein lies why "democracy" as we like to pretend democracy exists hasn't ever exactly thrived in Cuba. Much like an England faced with the threat of a Nazi invasion a democratic government was simply not the highest priority for those in Cuba seeking to sustain Cuba's ability to maintain its right of self determination. Unfortunately, unlike the Nazi threat which materialized and evaporated rather quickly for the British the American threat still looms just for them today as it did in 1960. It's still an ongoing process as Cuba's ability to steer its own ship is not guaranteed.
If the US was ever under the same threat of foreign intervention in the same way Cuba, or any other Latin American country in the region that's ever been subject to naked American foreign policy for that matter, one could expect that martial law would slam down on everyone in this country so fast most wouldn't even know what hit them. We should appreciate the fact that there is no existential threat equaling the threat the US poses to Cuba.
Another sore point that Americans have when it comes to Cuba is the claim that Cuba owes $6-7 billion to those American business owners that lost their companies when the country nationalized them. I suppose if we want to delve into the realm of reparations we'd then have to get into the estimated $180-200 billion the US would owe Cuba as a result of the embargo. That's something nobody wants to talk about though.
Under Fidel Castro Cuba's free nationalized preventative healthcare system has put Cuba on par with even the most developed and advanced nations in the world. This in spite of Cuba being a communist run country suffering from that crippling embargo I keep referring to which prevents Cuba access to all forms of medicine available in other parts of the world. According to the CIA's World Fact Book Cuba's infant mortality rate is less than the US's.
Cuba's education system also seems to be superior to its American counterparts in the United States. For Cuba to thrive as it has under constant threat and (again) that embargo its people would have to be incredibly educated to compensate. It's Goes to show how education should be a far bigger priority than waging wars. But what's the use of making a pro-education argument now when America has proven itself to be a place where facts don't even matter, as this past 2016 presidential election season has shown?
UNESCO reports that Cuba's literacy rate is 99.7%. Meanwhile, according to the US Board of Education and the National Institute of Literacy the US's literacy rate is 86%. That's not counting the same findings which detail how 21% of Americans who can read do so below a fifth grade reading level.
Education in Cuba is also a whole lot cheaper than in the US; in fact it is free. Thousands of medical students from around the world go to Cuba every year to learn to become doctors because there they can learn to be a top-flight medical professional without having to owe medical school tuition costs of up to $200-$750 k. So while the US's number one export these days seems to be bombs and weapons systems, Cuba's number one export - as the popular saying now goes - is medical doctors.
With the political revolution of 1959, followed by the American embargo, Cuba then had to undergo an agricultural revolution. And that, too, has been an example to the world. Cuban farms base themselves on local self-reliant small farms in the countryside while urban farms in Havana supply its citizens with 90% of fresh locally grown produce. Imagine that! Produce in the markets fresh in from the local farm! We should try that here in the US. Ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union the Cuban caloric intake was back to what it was during its days of trade with the Russians, proving unmistakably that this method of farming - as opposed to the typical American method of farming which involves crop specialization and creating massive surplus - is not only effective but incredibly sustainable.
Not only did Fidel Castro help to see all of this come to pass on the Cuban island, Castro did a few other things antithetical to the "American" way of doing things. Castro ended exploitation of the Cuban people who had to endure sixty years of dubious personnel from America and all other western imperialist nations who'd come to Cuba to use it as their bordello, their playhouse and their offshore meeting place where politicians, business magnates and underworld figures could shake hands and cut their deals under the table. Ever see The Godfather Pt. II? It's not like they just invented the plot to that movie out of thin air.
We can look at a place like Haiti and how colonial European imperialists since the days soon after Columbus landed have left it a barren wasteland. There's a reason why there's no trees in Haiti anymore. Fidel Castro wasn't going to allow that to happen to Cuba.
We can look at a place like the Dominican Republic, the same island as Haiti, again, where the people democratically elected Juan Bosche after having been ruled by yet another US-trained dictator for thirty-one years and whose reign is considered one of the bloodiest the Americas have ever seen. So it should come as no surprise that in 1963 Bosche was overthrown by a US-supported fascist military coup. Growing resistance to this action would then cause US President Johnson to deploy more than 20,000 troops to the Dominican Republic in 1965 resulting in the death of 3,000 and allowing this military occupation to decades. Fidel Castro never allowed anything like that in Cuba.
We can look at a place like Chile, where the US spent millions upon millions of dollars of the tax payers' money in 1970 to undermine the national election of another country. And since Salvador Allende was against the exploitation of his country and his people of course he was successfully elected into power; even against American wishes. So naturally, as a result of this, a bloody CIA-led coup ensued followed by the seventeen year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet who'd go on to carry out a reign of terror in Childe that included the torturing of 28,000 people and the documented execution of 2,279 people- along with countless others who just disappeared all together. Remember the Jack Lemmon movie Missing? This never happened in Cuba. Fidel didn't allow it.
And for sure we can look back again to what happened to Jacobo Árbenz in Gautemala and know there was no way Fidel was going to allow that to happen in Cuba.
So yeah, democracy in Cuba wasn't always the top priority. But Cuba has never had designs on invading any other countries. Cuba hasn't had any designs on controlling how the economies in other countries operate. Race relations in Cuba have always been beneficent. One reason for that is Fidel and Che's revolution flushed down the toilet all of the wealth and disparity by forging a new nation everyone would build together, essentially breaking the line in the imperialist-colonial legacy which began on the island October 28, 1492. Under Fidel Castro the health, education, and well-being of Cuban people loyal to the idea of Cubans directing Cuba's destiny were the top priority. Without a hard line leftist government in Cuba there was no way Cuba would've been able to direct its own destiny and accomplish what it has accomplished since 1959.
Did Fidel bust some heads? Sure he did. Like I already discussed, Fidel was no pacifist. So I'm not advocating that the world turn Castro's birthday into a national holiday. But what world leader hasn't busted heads? In particular one who forged a new nation by his own blood, sweat and tears? If there is such a thing as a Hell I'm sure Fidel is there right now with all of the other upstart insurgent revolutionary leaders who ever had to bust some heads to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish. That would then have to also include America's revolutionary leaders. Don't think that George Washington didn't burn down anybody's farm in order for the United States of America to ever have a chance to exist- because of course he did. And, of course, there is no such thing as the folk myth of Hell. So Founding Father-marks need not worry, George Washington is most definitely not in Hell. Then again, nor is Fidel.
One reason why Fidel Castro is so hated by Americans is that Fidel accomplished a remarkable feat, and he did it in the shadow of the monolith. In fact, Fidel did what even the Soviet Union - a global entity that Fidel was reliant upon at one point - couldn't do. Fidel Castro has showed the world that communism can work. And the last thing anyone in the US who grew up on twentieth century public education and John Wayne movies ever wants to hear is that communism can work. Not only did Fidel show how communism can work, he did it in spite of the crippling embargo which has been a major contributing force behind a lot of the austerity that many anti-Castro anti-Cuban pundits like to point to in an effort to minimize Castro's significance.
The 1959 Cuban revolution marked the first successful revolt against neo-Colonialism in history. That's another sore point for Americans. More to the point, Fidel Castro defeated the United States. He defeated us in every way imaginable outside of an all-out war being waged. If one wants to keep drinking the pro-USA Kool-Aid on this, by all means, they should feel free to do so. But the historical facts are the historical facts.
What Fidel Castro did and how he did it is one of the most remarkable achievements in geo-political history and should provide the rest of the world with an example on a great many things. Rather than continuing to malign this man in an effort to uphold the false and grossly erroneous foreign diplomacy we've directed at Cuba since 1959. This is something which we still do today for no other reason at this point than to save face. We should simply and graciously admit we've been wrong all these decades, because we were. There are no two ways around this. After all, the US is constituted of humans and all humans everywhere make mistakes. Rather than compound them why not rectify them? One way major way in which this rectification can occur is the US should immediately lift the embargo and then also perhaps jot down a few notes on how Cuba has operated in the Castro years. Learn some of the lessons regarding how Castro made the health and education of his people a top priority and see how this has caused Cuba to thrive in spite of all the oppressive measures exacted upon it by outside entities and then maybe apply them here.
As I've also said, Cuba is no utopia. So it might even be nice if Cuba could learn some lessons from America, such as the idea that all of those doctors they're training should perhaps earn more than they do. Doctors employed in Cuba are not fairly compensated for the work and service they provide. Allowing their people greater access to the Internet would be a progressive change as well. Last I heard only a quarter of Cubans have Internet access - that will have to change.
And, hey, guess what? If a Cuban-American pact were ever struck on the basis that Cuba would still be allowed to determine its own destiny, you may, you just may, even begin to see more democracy flower in Cuba.
With that, writing as an American who also loves the people and the land that make up America, I shall part with these final words out of respect to the departed.