Recently in Havana, Cuba
“Revolution means to have a sense of history; it is changing everything that must be changed; it is full equality and freedom; it is being treated and treating others like human beings; it is achieving emancipation by ourselves and through our own efforts; it is challenging powerful dominant forces from within and without the social and national milieu; it is defending the values in which we believe at the cost of any sacrifice.” – Commandante Fidel Castro Ruz.
THE story of former Cuban leader Commandante Fidel Castro Ruz, who died at the age of 90 in Havana, Cuba, on November 25 2016, can be told again and again, but there is more to this icon loathed by the West, but loved by Cubans and other developing nations in equal measure.
The millions of people who mourned this revolutionary are testimony of a fallen giant, whose ideals will live forever.
In Havana, Cuba, last week, one could not help but notice how Cubans, in general, venerated their leader.
Born on August 13 1926 near Birán, here is a guerilla, who, together with other like-minded individuals like Che Guevara and Raul Castro Ruz, put their lives on the line to remove a corrupt, US-sponsored dictator, Fulgencio Batista, in 1959.
The following year (1960), Castro nationalised, taking over all US-owned factories and plantations.
The US was enraged, and like they did to Zimbabwe, imposed sanctions on Cuba.
And in 1961, the CIA reportedly financed the training of about 1 500 Cuban exiles before launching a futile invasion that became known as the Bay of Pigs in a bid to oust Castro from power.
The US was thoroughly humiliated in this monumental misadventure.
Castro won the three-day battle, safeguarded the revolution and with support from the Soviet Union, supported revolutionary movements in Africa and Latin America.
The aftermath saw Castro surviving an estimated 638 assassination attempts by the US.
Describing his brother Fidel, Raul once said: “The most important feature of Fidel’s character is that he will not accept defeat.”
Indeed, despite being under US sanctions for the past 50 years, Cuba’s economy is still afloat.
During Batista’s era, Cuba was a land of casinos, money-laundering, prostitution and a conduit for drugs.
Corruption, injustice and racism were also rife.
For example, in a 24-hour interview with Brazilian liberation theologist, Frei Betto, in May 1985, Fidel recalled the time he was about 11 years old and always questioned the absence of black children at one Jesuit school he attended called Dolores College.
“I don’t remember seeing even one black student while I was at Dolores,” said Fidel.
“They might not even have accepted mulatto children.
“I wondered why there were no black students and the only answer I was given was: ‘Well, it’s really because there are very few of them, and a black child here among so many whites would feel bad’.
“I was taught that one of Noah’s sons was punished by having black descendants.
“Somebody should check to see if this is being taught today and if it’s really proper for a religion to teach that being black is a punishment of God.”
And after assuming office in 1959, Fidel ensured equal opportunities for all Cubans regardless of colour.
This has been the case to date as explained by one 27-year-old lady in Havana last week:“I went to school for free and as is the norm for all students, went for National Service for a year.
Afterwards, I went to university for free.
I didn’t want to be a doctor, so I chose a different career that landed me in foreign affairs.
As it is, I have a good job and feel good about working for my country.
I love working for Cuba because it made me what I am today and my parents never really struggled to raise me up.
Castro gave all Cubans equal opportunities and that is why he is a hero.
That is why millions of people in this country are mourning.
It’s all about Fidel because he was a man of the people.”
And true to her words, all Cubans have free access to a health delivery service second to none in the world.
There is free education from primary school to university level and the country has one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
Basic commodities are subsidised for all Cubans, while housing and transport costs are very low.
Despite the few wild celebrations after Castro’s death by exiled Cubans in Miami and Florida, US, longing for the Batista era, there is no doubt Castro, like his late counterpart Che Guevara, was more than a legend in Cuba as he transformed it to what it is today.
A beautiful island with beautiful people, Cuba has become a haven for tourists.
And in Havana last week, shedding tears were both the young and old, some foreigners included.
“Yo soy Fidel! (I am Fidel!),” was the chorus from Cubans as they lined the streets, while others stood on rooftops watching and waving goodbye to Castro’s remains carried in a small box on a trailer towed by a military jeep.
It is our understanding that the funeral procession around Cuba was the route Castro used after toppling Batista in 1959.
But the major highlight was the hundreds of thousands who thronged Revolution Square in Havana where world leaders, mostly from Latin America and Africa, including President Robert Mugabe, also gathered to pay their last respects to Commandante Castro.
The place practically overflowed with people.
It was a spectacle and perhaps what made Castro outstanding was the revolutionary ideals he entrenched in people around the world.
Currently, people in Cuba are pledging to ‘keep the ideals of the Cuban revolution alive’.
To them and many others, Castro is the epitome of revolution.
He represents and defines patriotism.
In his May 1 2000 landmark speech in Havana, Castro said: “Revolution means to have a sense of history; it is changing everything that must be changed; it is full equality and freedom; it is being treated and treating others like human beings; it is achieving emancipation by ourselves and through our own efforts; it is challenging powerful dominant forces from within and without the social and national milieu; it is defending the values in which we believe at the cost of any sacrifice.
It is modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism; it is fighting with courage, intelligence and realism; it is never lying or violating ethical principles.
It is a profound conviction that there is no power in the world that can crush the power of truth and ideas
Revolution means unity; it is independence, it is fighting for our dreams of justice for Cuba and the world, which is the foundation of our patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism.”
One thing for certain is Castro was a pragmatist and always determined to win.
This is the outlook we had in Cuba; an island with an estimated population of 11 million and about 145 km from a bully called US; an island that has resisted imperialism to date.
Castro’s ashes were interred on December 4 2016 at Santiago de Cuba’s Santa Ifigenia cemetery alongside his role model, Cuban hero Jose Marti, who died on May 19 1895 aged 42.
Commandante Castro remains one of the greatest revolutionaries of our time.
By the time of his death, he had already handed power to his brother Raul in 2006.
It, however, remains to be seen if Raul continues to follow in his brother’s footsteps.
Only time will tell.
Rest in peace Fidel!