Fidel Castro: The David Of The Caribbean Who Dared To Challenge Goliath

Fidel Castro: The David Of The Caribbean Who Dared To Challenge Goliath
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the map of the Communist world changed beyond recognition. The USSR disappeared and the regimes of the communist world fell like leaves in wintry weather. The political structure of Romania, East Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Albania underwent a massive change. Strangely enough, one small island nation off the coast of the USA survived all these political upheavals and still retained its political, economic and social infrastructure modelled on the old Communist pattern – so violently rejected by Eastern Europe and all the republics of the Soviet Union. This small Island country is Cuba, that was ruled by the charismatic, bearded revolutionary, soldier, lawyer and statesman Dr. Fidel Castro from 1959 until his death on the 25th of November 2016.

After the fall of the USSR, many political analysts and scholars predicted the fall of Castro. It was widely believed that Cuba and Castro would not survive without massive Soviet support in the form of economic and military aid, which was supposed to have propped up the Cuban economy and the Castro regime. Fidel Castro managed to defy this fate. All predictions about Cuba proved wrong even though the Cuban economy was in a mess since 1989. Its imports had shrunk from 8.1 billion dollars to only 2.2 billion dollars. Agriculture, the backbone of the economy was under severe strain, industrial output was at its lowest, social services were stretched to the limits. The country was on the verge of bankruptcy and the majority of the population was living below the poverty line. In spite of heavy odds and predictions to the contrary, Cuba managed to survive – perhaps only due to its dynamic leader Fidel Castro. He was once described as “an educated dedicated fanatic, a man of ideals, courage and remarkable leadership qualities who always fights in the frontlines with his men” (New York Times, 24 February 1957).

In a research study conducted in 1980, it was concluded that the Cubans have little regard for the Communist Party, but individual members who are honest, efficient and dedicated are highly respected and admired to the point of hero worship. Castro himself made sure that corruption should never be forgiven for any reason or under any circumstances. The Castro regime may have been inefficient or inept, but it was not accused of much cruelty, repression or human rights violations.

Fidel Castro was born on 13 August 1927 in Mayari in the province of Oriente. His Father Angel Castro y Argiz was a Spanish immigrant who had become a wealthy sugar planter. As a youngster, Castro worked in the sugar fields from where one day his guerillas would operate. He received his early education from a Jesuit institution, the Collegio Doleres in Santiago de Cuba, and received his bachelor’s degree from El Colegio de Belén in Havana in 1945. After that he enrolled in the Havana University, but his education was interrupted in 1947 when he joined the abortive campaign against the dictator of the Dominican Republic. In this adventure, the boat that Castro was sailing in was sunk by the Cuban navy, but Castro managed to escape by jumping overboard and swimming to safety. He returned to Havana university and continued his studies in social science, civil law, diplomacy and public administration. He actively participated in sports, athletics and student politics and was elected the president of the student’s federation.

Even as a student, Castro was harshly critical of many government policies and had to face the wrath of the local police many times. A law degree was conferred on Castro and finally a doctorate in 1950. After completing his studies, Castro took up the practice of law in Havana and within no time became known as the defender of the poor and the downtrodden. In 1957 he became famous when he represented poor tenants against a wealthy landlord who had bribed a building inspector to have his property condemned and his tenants thrown out only to admit them at double the rent later on. Castro managed to expose the landlord and obtained a substantial rent reduction for his clients.

Castro entered national politics when he became a candidate for parliament in the national elections. On 10 March, General Batista launched a successful coup d’état established a military dictatorship and suspended the forthcoming general elections. Batista terminated a case which Castro had brought to court against forced labour on behalf of enlisted soldiers on the estates of army officers and civil officials.

Castro now began to plan a revolution in early 1953. Forced to resort to clandestine activities, he organised a group of young men including his younger brother Raul Castro. On 26 July 1953, Castro’s band of young desperados launched an attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago, thus hoping to provoke a general uprising in the Oriente province. The attack failed: most of the young men were killed and many others taken prisoner. Fidel and Raul Castro were placed on trial. Fidel Castro, as the defense attorney, delivered an emotional and scathing speech against the cruelty, corruption and tyranny of the rulers. He called for political and civil liberties, respect for human rights, land reforms, sharing profits with the workers and a pledge from the government to reduce poor people’s taxes. His concluding remarks “La historia me absolverá” (History will absolve me) became a part of the Cuban folk ore.

Both brothers were sentenced to fifteen years of rigorous imprisonment at the Isla de Pinos penitentiary. Luckily on 15 May 1955 they were released in a general political amnesty. Fidel Castro now became a political exile, first in New York and then in Mexico.

In Mexico, Castro organised the new phase of the Cuban revolution, when he formed an organisation called the 26th of July Movement. He gathered a group of Cuban exiles and trained them in mountain warfare. He was imprisoned for a while in Mexico, but continued his planning and training for his eventual return to his native island. Meanwhile throughout 1955-56 there was continuous opposition, riots and demonstrations against the corrupt Batista regime in Cuba. On the night of 2 December 1956, Fidel and Raul Castro and 80 of their youthful companions returned to Cuba in a leaking boat called Granma.

Immediately after touching shore, they were attacked by the Cuban army. Many died fighting but Fidel and Raul Castro managed to escape with the remaining survivors to the almost impregnable fortress of the Sierra Maestra Mountains. From their mountain hideout the Castro Brothers and Che Guevara along with their band of guerillas started a relentless campaign of hit-and-run attacks against the demoralized, badly trained and ill equipped army of the dictator Batista. In a very short time, Castro managed to liberate an area of 1,500 square miles, attracting more and more volunteers to fight by their side. Hardly a day passed when there was no skirmish with government forces, an explosion or a burning of sugar crops. Castro now hoped to “disturb the economy to the extent that masses of workers will be driven from passivity to open rebellion.” He campaigned tirelessly among the people, declaring “Our fight is for the common people, for political rights and after that, social rights. We want to establish the constitutional rights and freedom of the people.” (Time magazine, 4 April 1958)

He denied all presidential or dictatorial ambitions and promised to form an interim government after the ouster of the dictator Batista. The interim government was to be nominated by a special convention made up of fraternal, professional, religious and labour organisation delegates. Once appointed, the hovernment would then proceed with conducting fair and free elections on the basis of adult franchise.

On 4 March 1958, Batista announced that elections will be held on 1 June 1958. But on 20 March, it was announced that elections will be postponed until 20 November. Castro now proposed that government troops should leave Oriente province as a condition to end the revolt and that elections should be conducted by an international body like the Organisation of American States. On 1 April 1958, Castro declared “total war” and called for a general strike on 9 April, which led to street fighting and a vicious crackdown by government forces. On 14 March, the USA enforced an arms embargo on Cuba and on 26 June, Castro’s men captured 47 American soldiers including three Canadians – they were subsequently released unharmed on 18 July..

General Batista and his coterie of corrupt followers were now fighting a losing battle. Defeat after defeat followed. Political support dwindled and large numbers of government troops defected to the rebels. Batista finally fled the country on 31 December 1958.

Dr. Fidel Castro became the Prime Minister of the country in February 1959. He was also the Secretary General of the Communist Party, Commander in Chief of the armed forces, and a member of the politburo and the central committee. In December 1976, he became the president of the state council of the Cuban National Assembly.

Immediately after taking charge, Castro launched a series of ambitious socio-economic programs which included industrialisation, encouragement of foreign investment, freedom for all political prisoners, mass literacy movement, limits on agricultural holdings, creation of a civil service, elimination of corruption and improvement of housing conditions. Fidel Castro was a man with a tremendous capacity for hard work and with a fine mind. After coming to power, he worked ceaselessly to fulfill the promises he had made to his people during his days before the revolution. His government expanded educational institutions and economic wealth was equitably distributed. All education and health facilities were available to all citizens free of charge and every citizen was guaranteed employment.

The state-controlled economy under Castro, however, suffered due to population growth and became sluggish in many ways. Castro’s rule was strictly authoritarian. The media was state-controlled and the government had wide powers to deal with its opponents. Power was centralised in the hands of an elite group. There was no competition between various parties and the state owned all means of production.

On seizing power, Castro nationalised all companies and properties owned by American companies and individuals. Castro’s anti-American and pro-Soviet policies resulted in the severing of all economic ties between Cuba and the USA, and led to the exile of thousands of Cubans to the USA. The American CIA funded, equipped and masterminded the invasion of Cuba by a mercenary force of Cuban exiles. This invasion force landed on the Bay of Pigs on the Cuban coast in April 1961, only to be completely destroyed by the Cuban army and resulted in a great deal of embarrassment and worldwide condemnation of the Kennedy government of the USA.

In 1962, the USSR installed a battery of ballistic missiles in Cuba, leading to a showdown between the two superpowers. This was the closest the world had ever come to a thermonuclear catastrophe. The crisis was defused only when the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove nuclear weapons from the soil of Cuba in exchange that the American government will not try to overthrow the regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba.

Contrary to their solemn pledge, the US government tried many times to get rid of Castro through revolt, rebellion and even assassination, but Castro miraculously survived all attempts on his life. To give validity to his promise of exporting the Cuban revolution, Castro supported violent revolution in a number of countries. In 1975 Castro entered the civil war in Angola on the side of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and in 1978 with Soviet support he assisted the Communist regime of Ethiopia in defeating Somali forces. During the 1980s, Cuba had almost 50,000 troops posted in various countries.

Most of Castro’s comrades at the highest levels of government remained steadfastly loyal to him since the days of their struggle against the Batista dictatorship. His brother Raul Castro, as minister of the armed forces, was ranked second to him in all government and party posts. In spite of tough opposition, conspiracies, assassination attempts, arms embargo, economic sanctions and military threats, Dr. Fidel Castro managed to stand tall, proud and defiant. He proved to be the legendary David challenging the mighty Goliath. In the words of a political humorist “the mouse who dared to challenge the lion and get away with it.”

Fidel Castro, the icon of bravery, defiance and revolution died at the age of 90 in Havana Cuba on 25 November 2016. One of the most controversial public figures of the era, Castro inspired and sometimes dismayed many people across the world. There is no denying the fact that he was a towering personality in world history who managed to transform a small Caribbean island into a major force in world affairs.

He was definitely a champion of the poor and served his country to his last breath.