Sunday, November 27, 2016
Fidel Castro:The Death of a Revolutionary Giant
I knew something was wrong when Fidel Castro wasn't able to meet with Justin Trudeau, during his recent visit to Cuba.
I knew Fidel had to be very ill not to meet with the young man he helped console while acting as an honorary pallbearer at his father's funeral.
And sadly I was right, for now it is the Cuban people who must bury their legendary leader.
And like millions of people in Cuba and all over the world, I mourn his passing.
For whatever anyone might think about him, and although he lived on a small island, he was a giant on the world stage for almost fifty years.
So Justin Trudeau was right to praise him, and offer his condolences.
“Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.
“While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”.
We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”
And the reaction of Cons like Rona Ambrose and Lisa Raitt never sounded so petty or so pathetic.
Opposition leader Rona Ambrose said in a written statement that under Castro's rule, thousands of people were impoverished, imprisoned and executed.
"My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Cuba who continue to endure his long and oppressive regime, even after his death," she wrote.
Rushing out to recite their Republican talking points, claiming he wasn't a remarkable leader when he clearly was one. Lying like thieves or Trumplings.
And failing to acknowledge the long and great friendship between Cubans and Canadians. A friendship that honours us not shames us.
And the reason I say this is because I know and love that island. I have visited it many times.
And not just because of its beautiful beaches...
I have travelled all over it, I speak fluent Spanish, I understand what Castro meant to his poor but proud people. And this is how I would sum up his legacy.
He was a dictator, but he was not a cruel and bloody one like so many other dictators in Latin America. And unlike them he lived in the heart of his people.
He made many mistakes, but he owned up to most of them. Like his decision to send gay people to to be "re-educated" in labour camps in the early seventies.
Which he soon ended, apologized for, and lived to see Cuba become a place where gays enjoy more rights than they do in many U.S. states.,,
And where unlike on other islands in the Caribbean, they don't have to worry about being assaulted or murdered by violent homophobes.
But the reason I admired Castro the most was because he gave his people free education and free medical care. So Cuba is one of the only places in Latin America where children don't die of disease or starvation, for the "crime" of being poor.
Because even when times were really hard, the Cubans always made sure the children had the best they could give them...
So today they are some of the healthiest, happiest, and best educated children I have ever seen.
And not only did Castro's government provide his own people with enough doctors, Cuba now exports doctors to other poor countries like Haiti and many others...
Which is a shining example of the internationalism Fidel always promoted.
I also admired him for the way he raised up the status of women, fought the scourge of racism. And sent troops to battle the apartheid regime in Africa.
And of course I admired him for the way he stood up to the U.S. bullies, who crippled his country with their savage sanctions, and tried to kill him over and over again. But never defeated him, or broke the spirit of his people.
I know that because I have seen the crushing poverty many Cubans have been forced to live in because of that cruel 60-year embargo...
I've sat in tin shacks in the countryside and listened to Cubans describe the struggles to get this or that from stores with too many empty shelves. I've heard the young complain about the lack of proper internet access.
I've seen university students being driven home from school in the back of a dump truck, holding up a tarpaulin to shield themselves from the driving rain, because as the signs by the side of the road explain, the U.S. embargo costs the country the equivalent of five buses a day.
So there are none for them.
But never have I ever heard anyone blame any of this on Fidel Castro. Who inspired them to believe that they might be poor, but should be proud of what they had managed to accomplish together.
And proud of their history of resistance to the giant American bully next door.
Which inspired many other developing countries in the world to do the same thing.
But what I have heard the Cuban people say many times, is how grateful they are to the Canadians who never deserted them, despite all the pressure brought to bear on their governments by the bullies in Washington.
Which makes me feel proud of my country, and utterly disgusted by the behaviour of the ghastly Cons and their stooges in the media.
Finally, I offer up this small observation that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere in all the coverage of Castro's death, but I think does say something about the man...
In a country dotted with thousands of murals or roadside billboards commemorating revolutionary heroes like Che Guevara, or Camilo Cienfuegos, or student leaders who were murdered by the dictator Fulgencio Batista, there are almost no posters of Fidel Castro.
No cult of celebrity for a living god, who lived in a modest bungalow, and never lorded his power over his subjects. But did drop in on them out of the blue, to cheer them on, and offer suggestions about everything under the sun.
So yes, Fidel Castro was a dictator, and his overactive security service did jail too many dissidents. But he was a different kind of dictator, who was shaped by his times and the long war the CIA waged against him, and one who lived in the hearts of his people.
And from everything I've seen and heard governed with their consent.
They did indeed love their Comandante...
So Justin was right to offer the Cuban people our condolences.
And I am absolutely convinced that history will not only absolve Castro as he once famously declared while on trial for his life, it will celebrate him.
Long live the great friendship between the Canadian and Cuban people.
Viva Cuba. Viva Fidel.
Hasta la victoria siempre...