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Salute to El Commandante Fidel
Patrick Martin, MD
November 30, 2016
There was a time when “an iron curtain” divided the world between Socialist East and Capitalist West. Airwaves buzzed with exhortations from Voice of America and Radio Moscow. Proxy superpower conflicts played out in places such as Vietnam, Nicaragua, Angola and Grenada. In the mix, were the applecart-upsetting voices that were Robert Bradshaw, Walter Rodney, Michael Manley, Maurice Bishop, Malcolm X, Tim Hector, Bob Marley, Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, and the Black Panther Movement, to name a few. On the cricket field, every West Indies bouncer and boundary against England were payback for the exploitation of our ancestors.
Those were the revolutionary days of my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s. Fidel Castro loomed large on that geopolitical stage.
Fidel’s long anticipated death, the subject of over 600 assassination attempts, has triggered outpourings of sheer joy, on the one hand, and sober reflection, on the other. On CNN, Fox, and channels from Miami, enmity towards Castro is all there is. Impressionable youth and un-discerning adults may form the impression that Fidel was a suicide bomber.
Castro’s legacy has two sides that are polar opposites. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are indivisible human needs. They were early casualties of the revolution. Later, Cuba’s economy hit rock bottom when Soviet subsidies evaporated because of glasnost and perestroika. The exodus of hundreds of thousands to Miami, Mexico City and Madrid was an inevitable consequence of the pitfalls of a central command economy and the suppression of fundamental freedoms and rights as we know them. Notwithstanding, the revolution did transform the island nation from “the brothel of the Caribbean” to a model of progress despite the odds. The lesson for other small island nations is to root their development agenda in self-reliance, regional solidarity, universal healthcare, universal education, science and technology. Indeed, one man’s reviled dictator is another’s revered freedom fighter.
CNN, Fox and the Miami television channels will never show Fidel’s accomplishments. They will not mention Batista, the brutal dictator, who was first on the plane when Fidel and company rolled triumphantly into Havana aboard captured inventory. Newscasts and documentaries about the background to and the progress of the revolution are freely available on the internet. The irony is that residents of St. Kitts and Nevis have unlimited access to You Tube, France 24, Press TV (Iran), RT (Russia Today), Al Jazeera, Central China TV, and BBC, that the average person living in Cuba are yet to have.
Coming to terms with Fidel’s triumphs and failings can be an intellectual challenge. Resolution lies in Nelson Mandela’s wisdom. Heavily criticized for his open embrace of Castro (as well as Arafat and Gadhafi), an unapologetic Nelson Mandela responded “Many analysts make the mistake in thinking that their enemy is our enemy”. Mandela’s attitude towards a country was based on that country’s attitude towards his. Brilliant.
Fidel had a big picture attitude which translated into unrivalled investment in the development of ordinary people. Cuba’s record of accomplishment in education and healthcare is spectacular considering the asphyxiating trade embargo. Fidel walked the talk of self-determination by sending Cuba’s best, brightest and bravest to fight for the independence of all who were exploited; and all whose education and healthcare were neglected, deliberately or otherwise.
As a beneficiary of its largesse, St. Kitts and Nevis is proud to call Cuba a friend and development partner par excellence particularly in healthcare. Case in point: In 1996, the first medical specialist from Cuba, an Obstetrician-Gynecologist, was deployed in the Community Health Centers to attend to high risk pregnant females. The following year, the rate of stillbirths and infant deaths plummeted. This a fundamental point for our small island nation whose growth and development is entirely dependent on leveraging human capital. In a small population, the loss of a single infant is a potential blow to social security.
Our government’s condolence message is spot on. It is right and proper that a grateful nation and region must pay due respects to El Commandante’s people empowerment legacy now and into perpetuity. Farewell to a “good and faithful servant” of the revolutionary spirit.