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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 1, December 20, 2008

Embrace Fidel Castro: Historic Opportunity for Obama

Sunday 21 December 2008, by L C Jain


[(The fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution falls on January 1, 2009. Against that backdrop the following article acquires added significance. —Editor)]

Imagine Barack Obama inviting Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader, to his inauguration ceremony. That will make history. With that one act, Obama, as the resident of the White House, can bring radical transformation in the relationship between the US and Cuba.

Even a cursory reading of My Life: Fidel Castro [as narrated by him to Ignacio Ramonet] will lead the new US President to not only recapture the history of the long, bitter and tormented relations between the two countries, but also help to figure out a just and friendly future course. The key words to remember are: the USA is a world power; its population is 300 million. Cuba has a tiny population of barely 12 million. Geography has placed it at a stone-throwing distance from the USA, reachable in half-an-hour.

The building bricks for the future can be discerned in Fidel Castro’s attitude towards the people of America. Ramonet records that despite the persistent attacks by the United States and the 600 assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, Cuba has never responded with violence. For five decades, not a single act of violence, encouraged or sponsored by Cuba, has occurred in the United States. In fact, Castro made a statement after the 9/11 attacks against New York, in which he said that the
United States’ ‘attitude’ against us in no way lessens the profound grief we feel for the victims [of those attacks]…. We have said on many occasions that whatever our relations with the Administration in Washington may be, no one will ever set out from Cuba to commit a terrorist attack on the United States.

For greater emphasis, Castro added:

May they cut off my hand if they find a single word aimed at denigrating the American people. We would be little better than ignorant fanatics if we were to blame the American people for the differences between our two governments.

Per contra, since 1960, the United States under its various regimes has been waging economic warfare against Cuba, and has kept the country, unilaterally and despite ever-increasing opposition by the United Nations, under a devastating trade embargo, strengthened in the nineties by the Helms-Burton Act and the Torricelli Amendment and reinforced once again by the Bush Administration in May 2004. This embargo has obstructed Cuba’s normal development and helped aggravate its precarious financial and economic situation, with tragic consequences for its inhabitants.

More recently, in July 2006, a report to the President of the United States by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which is co-chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, demanded that everything possible be done so that ‘the Castro regime’s succession strategy may not succeed’. George W. Bush indeed called for an insurrection, broadcasting this message to the people of the island: ‘We support you in your efforts to establish… a transition government committed to the path of democracy’ and threatening reprisals against supporters of the Revolution who opposed a ‘free Cuba’. But days passed and months later life continued normally throughout Cuba.

IT is remarkable that for the first time in its history, Cuba has no dependence on an empire—neither Spain nor the United States nor the Soviet Union. Fully independent at last, the country has begun a kind of second political life—to the left of the international Left, associated with all the international progressive movements and forces, and part of the vast offensive against neo-liberalism and globalisation.

Equally, and more significantly, Obama may learn what Cuba has been doing for its people despite the unceasing harassment from abroad. This little country, clinging to its sovereignty, has achieved undeniably admirable results in the area of human development: the abolition of racism, the emancipation of women, the eradication of illiteracy, a drastic reduction in infant morality rates, a higher level of general knowledge. In education, health, medical research and sports, Cuba has achieved results that many developed nations would envy. This is the vision Obama has for his own people.

It has to be acknowledged that the Cuban Revolution is still, thanks to its successes and despite its not inconsiderable shortcomings [economic difficulties, colossal bureaucratic incompetence, widespread small-scale corruption, the harshness of daily life, food and other shortages, power cuts, a chronic lack of public—and, of course, private—transport, housing problems, rationing, restrictions on certain freedoms], an important reference for millions of the disinherited of the planet.

Cuba is not insular. Havana has reached both political and economic agreements with its continental counterparts. At the Mercosur Summit in Argentina, in 2001, Fidel Castro signed an important trade agreement with the member-countries of that association, among them Brazil and Argentina.

Of course, speculation cannot be avoided as to what will happen when Fidel Castro dies—of natural causes? It is obvious that changes will take place, since no one in the power structure in Cuba [neither the state nor the Party nor the armed forces] has Castro’s authority—an authority that invests him with his four-fold role as the Revolution’s theorist, military leader, founder and strategist, for over fortyeight years, of its policies. Some analysts predict that the current system will soon fall, or be toppled, as happened in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They could be mistaken. Cuba is different.

Whether his detractors like it or not, Fidel Castro has a place in the pantheon of world figures who have struggled most fiercely for social justice and with greatest solidarity come to the aid of the oppressed.

As a Guest of Honour at the Inauguration, Fidel Castro will add to Obama’s glory.

The author is a former Member of the Planning Commission.

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