Continued from last week
Based on available story and literature on Cuba, a visitor to the island must go with a certain trepidation on what to find; what condition to find the human content of the island—the state of their minds, their well-being and their sense of themselves and the world, out there, from which they have been shut away for nearly five decades. You will expect to find dejected, scandalously sorrowful people wearing long faces and generally malnourished and discontented with life. Why not? If Cuba’s ‘enemy’, the most powerful nation of the world could crush Soviet Union, great distances away and richer and greater in manifold proportions than Cuba, added to the fact that Cuba’s economy was dependent on and integrated to the USSR’s and the socialist community which had, by and large, disintegrated since 1991; if the United States, in its determination to neutralize its revolution or at least moderate it, placed such a severe, drastic enormous blockade which virtually shut off the capitalist economy from Cuba’s reach; what level of well-being, economically and politically speaking, do we expect to find in the country? This is how Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez, one of the Cuban Five, still compelled to live in the larger ‘prison’ in Miami after serving an unearned jail-term put the questions I ask above, in a poem contained in his defence statement:
Why so much hatred for the Cuban people?
Is it because Cuba chose a different road?
Because its people wanted socialism?
Because it did away with the large estates
And wiped out illiteracy?
Because it gave free education
And medical care to its people?
Because it lets
The dawn break freely over its children?
But when you enter the street of Cuba, you are compelled into a sensation of great relief, if you are a sympathizer, or terrible and shocking disappointment, if you are an enemy. You find happy, simple but not simplistic, busy, warm and friendly people, enjoying the best of what serene and clement nature as well as good governance have made available to them.
The answer to these questions must be found in the great revolutionary exploits of the visionary leaders of the Cuban revolution. From Jose Marti, the father, hero and symbol of the Cuban independence, through the war commandants of the various stages of the revolutions (especially Fidel and Raul Castro, Che Guevara) until the victory of 1959 when the despotic rule of Batista, with its heavy American back-up was routed and Batista himself fled Havana, all the leaders of the struggle were ideologues in trenches of warfare. They were no Generals giving commands from safe distances. They led the battle, died or survived in it. And the people, from infant to geriatric, know and cherish their history, like the line on their palms.
True, there is no questioning the fact that Fidel Castro is the builder and constructor of modern Cuba, but as he himself is the first to demonstrate, he came to inherit and build on a legacy of transformation that began since over six decades before he came into leadership from about 1953, when he led series of assaults and attacks on the Batista’s regime garrisons at Moncada in Santiago de Cuba and the Carlos Manuel Cespedes—actions which failed initially, with numerous lives lost and Fidel himself imprisoned. The famous trial speech, History Will Absolve Me, which became the Revolution’s dictum resulted, was his self-defence speech. The point to be made here is that Fidel Castro built on Jose Marti’s philosophy and Marxist revolutionary dialectics in fashioning the programme of social transformation of the new Cuba. As I said earlier, history was a significant instrument in the hands of the builders of Cuba—as exemplified in the life of Fidel Castro himself. He acknowledged his inspiration by past leaders and theories. At the most difficult moments in the history of the struggle, history was his handmaiden—the thesis of Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese General, of Ho Chi Minh the Vietnamese Revolutionary and one of the greatest revolutionary leaders of the 2oth century; of Mao Zedong, Chinese political leader and revolutionary who participated in the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. Even Ernesto Che Guevara, whom he literally trained in guerrilla warfare and co-opted into the Cuban struggle. All of these histories, and the philosophy of freedom struggle, laid down by Jose Marti, became part of the political education of Cubans all of generations as codified, and concretized in Fidel’s moulding and the building of the Communist Party ( Partido Communista de-Cuba.) The history of the struggle and the heroes that oiled and inspired it, is found all over Cuba—in books, monuments and museums. It is found in the songs, voices, and sounds of man and nature all over Cuba. It is the key source of nationalism, national patriotism and national consciousness of most Cubans, Its living legend, of course, is Fidel Castro himself. As you move from city to city, establishment to establishment, the name of Fidel is on the lips of every citizen. His mementos, souvenirs, and images welcome you to every shop, every institution. A young lady of about seventeen, displaying artifacts along a beautiful beach who was inquisitive to know where we came from also replied our invitation to come to Africa in simple words: ‘I love Fidel’. The love of country, which most Cuban citizens guide with passionate jealousy from a formidable enemy across the shores, is expressed in the intimate affection of one man—Fidel.
This is the foundation to the success of the Cuban society and revolution. But there are, of course, supporting ingredients to this passion for nation and its heroes. A strong, united and cohesive nation has been built on socialist democracy which transcends racial, ethnic and class boundaries. The crucial factors that can destabilize any nation are also found in Cuba. Issues of race, ethnicity, and poverty—all potentially exist in the country. It is a multi-racial country of whites, blacks and mulattoes. There are sprinkles of Jews and Europeans also. We are all familiar with, from our lived experiences in Nigeria, the negative potentials inhering multi-ethnic and multi-religious polities.
As a result, however, of conscious and deliberate actions of the one-party government with a strong political will for national integration, and founded of the political philosophy of the revolutionary leaders of the Communist Party, race, colour, tribe and religion were relegated to the background in pursuit of a united and integrated nation. Today, under the firm leadership and visionary guide of Fidel Castro, Cuba has gone past the very worst in its history—its racial, political and security challenges; the challenges of an embargoed society from global economies ensured by the United States. Today, twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialism in the East—economies upon which the nation was almost totally dependent– Cuba has made startling break-through, expected only from among the so-called First worlds. She has broken down the barriers erected on her path of growth, through an incredible capacity for resistance, deployment of incredible mental strength and human resourcefulness. It has emerged as one of the safest, most secure and least criminalized nations in the world. It has thrived as about the most literate, most educated and most healthy country of the world. She has built bridges of development and friendship across the world though strengthening ties with over ninety per cent of the 192 member-nations of the United Nations.
Above all, Cuba is a non-complacent but contented nation, based on its history of externally-imposed insecurity. First, Cuba knows that her economy is over-restrictive and does not make for competitiveness in a globalizing world. Her Congress in the past three years has, through referenda, embarked on massive economic reforms which encourages greater infrastructures, greater liberalization and openness to market economy without doing damage to its fundamental political philosophy and ideology of a society shunned of class antagonism and unstructured development. Cuba is the society of the future from whom great lessons of development can be learnt—lessons on the truism that no force can break a nation whose cause is just, whose determination and will to survive is gritty. It is based on this axiom that Cuba, during the lifetime of the heroic architect of her socialist revolution, has embraced a structured liberal/market economy, and Fidel Castro can now depart, rest assured that the nation he struggled all his life will survive. Adieu, the last of the most formidable generation of world’s revolutionary legendary giants.