History has absolved Fidel Castro - Happy 90th birthday!

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Fidel Castro

On 13 August, Cuba will celebrate Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday; his longevity is a source of comfort and pride. The Revolutionary Communist Group pays tribute to this great revolutionary communist. Fidel’s genius has been his ability to meet the need for tactical steps, responding to the day’s urgencies, without losing sight of the strategic direction – the revolutionary principles – that have driven the revolution. Equally important has been the ‘wonderful quality’ that Che Guevara noted: his capacity to establish direct contact with the masses, always communicating, explaining, motivating and responding to the Cuban people.

As a young anti-corruption lawyer, Fidel understood that the brutal military coup that returned Batista to power in Cuba in 1952 signalled the impossibility of a peaceful constitutional path to reform in Cuba. Together with his brother Raul and others, he launched the 26 July Movement, named after the day of simultaneous attacks on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago and the Bayamo Barracks in Oriente by 160 young militants.

This action was not intended to carry out a putsch, mirroring Batista, but to disarm the enemy and arm the people. Fidel knew that armed revolutionary action was the only way that the people could gain the organisational space to defend themselves and together build a new economic and social system free from foreign oppression and poverty. This is characteristic of Fidel Castro’s politics. ‘The energy and strength of the masses must be converted into efficiency’ to build the revolution. ‘This efficiency cannot be obtained from above: that efficiency can only be obtained from below’. At the trial after Moncada, Castro conducted his own legal defence, later published as the manifesto, History will absolve me.

Since the 1959 Revolution, Cuba has emerged as a nation with outstanding human development indices in health, education, sport and culture, with a globally recognised record of international solidarity. The challenges of building socialism in Cuba remain vital lessons for all who use the word ‘socialism’ lightly. There were failures, as in the 1970 goal of harvesting 10 million tons of sugar, which fell short by a wide margin and disrupted the economy in the process. In the spirit of self-criticism, Castro talked publicly about the mistakes in planning. He set out on the hardest possible path of building the greatest possible involvement of all the population in the Revolution’s tasks. Today, participatory democracy, ‘People’s Power’, is at the heart of Cuban society, ‘from below’ at every level: neighbourhood, community, regional and national. In 2011, nearly nine million Cubans participated in grassroots debates about the draft Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy in preparation for the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party.

Since 1959 Fidel Castro has been the constant target of death plots. US presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy planned the Revolution’s overthrow by any means necessary. Presidents Nixon, Johnson and Reagan provided covert support for Fidel’s assassination. Cuban exiles Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch worked with Mafia and CIA-trained mercenaries. Fidel was targeted in the belief that his removal would behead the Revolution and that acts of terrorism against the entire Cuban population would discredit the leader and destroy socialism. Since the defeat of the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, Cuba has suffered continuous terrorism, biological warfare and sabotage.

The US blockade since 1960 has been the greatest genocidal act against Cuba. Calculated at today’s prices the blockade has cost Cuba over $1.2 trillion and the deaths of thousands denied the medicine they needed. It has been ‘a slow atomic bomb’ Fidel said in 1995. Despite the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US in July 2015, Cuba had to submit, for the 24th time, a resolution to the UN General Assembly condemning the US blockade in October 2015. Cuba was supported by 191 votes to two (the US and Israel voted against).

After his release from 27 years in prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela prioritised a visit to Havana to thank Fidel Castro. ‘What other country can point to a record of greater selflessness than Cuba has displayed in its relations to Africa?’ he said. Cuba sent 25,000 troops to Angola in 1975 at the invitation of the government to fight against the invasions of South African and US-backed forces. Triumph in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola in 1988 was a turning point in the defeat of South Africa’s apartheid regime. Some 450,000 Cubans – military personnel and civilians – went to Angola over 16 years.

In 1986 Castro warned Cubans that market-style changes were leading the Soviet Union down the capitalist road. When the Soviet bloc collapsed, Cuba lost 85% of its trade and investments, including oil supplies. Castro declared a Special Period and implemented plans to safeguard the people. The survival of the Cuban Revolution depended now on the participatory democracy and socialist consciousness that had been built since the 1970s – and it succeeded.

Fidel has been an enthralling orator. His famous address to the United Nations in 1960 condemned the injustices of imperialism and colonialism and he emerged as a world leader at a time when liberation struggles for self-determination and socialism were widespread. As the tide of progress retreated, as economic war against underdeveloped countries devastated possibilities for human-centred development, Fidel’s voice could not be silenced. He called for the cancellation of Third World debt. He stood with the victims of the rapacious multinationals and global corporations supported by the IMF and World Trade Organisation. He exposed the genocidal results of neo-liberal policies. ‘Tomorrow will be too late’ he said about the urgency of the environmental threat as he placed responsibility for unsustainable development on global capitalism.

Fidel has never abandoned humanity. ‘There are objective difficulties’, he said, ‘but mankind can play a key role here’. Cuba’s internationalism and efforts to build regional south-south trade with the countries of ALBA and Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution show the possibilities for challenging the global power structure. Cuba’s medical and educational missions throughout the oppressed world are vehicles for building resistance, training new generations of fighters for justice against global capitalism and for the sustainable development of planet earth.

Susan Davidson

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