At the age of Ninety and nearly ten years after he relinquished power in Cuba, Fidel Castro—the most formidable and resilient symbol of anti-imperialism in world history and builder of communist Cuba has finally bowed to death, as all mortals must. But it is needless to state that Fidel Castrol has left indelible prints on the sands of time. He left behind a country he has built with savourable legacies; a country with about the lowest mortality rate in the world, the most literate population of nearly 100 per cent literacy rate, one of the safest and healthiest nations in the world in spite of the decades of imperialist siege from across its border. World leaders including his bitterest and fiercest political and ideological foes went to Havana to join in the mass rallies held to bid him farewell as his ashes travelled round Cuba in mammoth processions. What makes this ascetic, charismatic and unyielding revolutionary such a legendary figure in world history?
Anyone going to Cuba is usually asked to “greet the old war horse”. Everybody who has heard anything about Cuba knows who is being referred to; Fidel Castro, whom the whole world knows as the hero of the Cuban Revolution. Of course, he is the hero of the revolution, but as he himself is usually the first to acknowledge and plant on the minds of all Cubans, he is not the spirit of the Cuban struggle. Until his death, he was the only living legend among the ‘mythic insurgents’ that gave name, purpose, vision and meaning to the protracted struggle of the Cubans. Jose Marti is the hero of the Cuban Independence, who provided the philosophy and ideals for the Cuban struggle and led the war of independence in 1895; a war in which he perished at its very beginning but which marked the turning point in the history of Cuba. No Republic was established. After a period of neo-colonialism during which America took reins of control over Cuba, the revolution proper began. This was led by Fidel Castro, who refused to take all the glory for its accomplishment. He shared this with the practical revolutionist from Argentina, Che Guevara, his own brother, Rauf Castro (who many, without the hindsight of historical facts, thought of as ascending the Presidency on grounds of nepotism, being Fidel’s brother, without recognizing that he had been at the battle-field as war commander, and in the trenches for nearly as long as his brother, Fidel Castro.
During my visit to Cuba, at the instance of the National Institute, Kuru, It was, I must confess, part of my secret side ambitions, to at least, shake the hand of the Commander-in-Chief, Fidel Castro, and at the very best chat with him! By the time we arrived at Chateau Miramar hotel, where we were to reside, it had dawned on me that that ambition would not be realized. Indeed, it was not necessary to pursue the ambition of engaging Fidel Castro in a chat. You could literally embrace him in the streets, on the air, in the wind that graced your chin in Havana. His legendary presence was everywhere. He is in the fire that raged in the belly of almost all Cuban citizens—from the grizzled old Professor, the army General that received us at the airport and his peers, to the young students in the youth wing of the Communist Party who ran you through the history of the revolution, with uncommon knowledge and passionate lyrical rhetoric. Yes, Fidel Castro, simply Commander-in-Chief was omnipresent, even long after his brother, Rauf, had been elected President and Commander of the army. Castro was the living spirit of the on-going revolution. It was pointless trying to book a date with him, as you were with him, in every vicarious sense of the world. I was told that the last and only world leader that had seen him recently, at his writing desk where he pored over the future of the revolution, was Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. We were also told that, from that meeting, Chief Obasanjo squeezed a promise from him, which resulted in the training of one hundred medical
Doctors for Nigeria, free of charge, in the unique, Latin American College of Medical Sciences, Havana.
Another reason you might not see Commander Castro physically was the very nature of the man, described by Ignacio Ramonet, a man who had had the longest interview time with him in life, resulting in an over one hundred hours of discussion and an eight hundred page book titled, In Conversation with Fidel. Ramonet described Fidel as a polite, well-brought but shy personage. He also confirmed that he rarely grants interviews; ‘he ‘has given very few interviews in his lifetime. And there have been only four long conversations with him published in the past fifty years. This is in spite of the fact that dozens of books, articles and reports’ have been written about him. So, there was not the slightest chance of a chat with him, and, there was no absolute need for one. The words, beliefs, ideas, instructions, philosophies and actions of this ‘soldier monk’ are everywhere in Cuba.
So, what makes the story of this hidden ‘treasure island’ tick and intriguing? What accounts for the paradoxes that characterize the Cuban story? How has Cuba survived three historical epochs—colonization, neo-colonization and a well-constructed and enduring revolution? ; a small island that has a formidable enemy in the world’s greatest power, the United States of America, which has spared no weapon—an economic embargo and blockade which nearly completely isolates her from the international money and trade system, especially since 1991 after the collapse of Soviet union and the socialist bloc. How has the revolution not only survived but is making so much original contribution to the human society outside of itself—in the fields of health, science and education? How can a nation which requires so much self-protection, self-insulation, to survive be so outward- looking, pulling through an internationalist philosophy that has impacted so tremendously on many nations of the world? How can a nation who needed all defence mechanics and energy to self-preserve have made so much military input into liberation struggle in Southern Africa and elsewhere? How has the revolution survived and thrived so impressively in the face of so much opposition, so much propaganda, so much natural and man-foist obstacles and obstructions, in five trying decades and more? What makes Fidel Castro who is the architect of all these inimitable paradoxes such an idol in his country, even after he has relinquished power officially and until his very last breath?