published: Sunday | February 24, 2008
Martin Henry, Contributor
Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution is dead - but not buried yet. But long
before the birth of the revolution, astute observers of socialism saw
that the system was inherently unstable and destined to collapse. When
the Russian Revolution was only five years old, Austrian economist
Ludwig von Mises, in 1922, published a master-piece on the weak-nesses
of socialism as an economic and political system.
It is not likely that the young Fidel and his friends, mastering their
Marx, would have read von Mises' Socialism: An Economic and Sociological
Analysis, or Hayek, or the other serious critics of socialism. Or if
they had, they would have dismissed them out of hand as bourgeois
reactionaries worthy of execution by firing squad, the favoured
communist means of dispatching enemies. The Cuban Communist Party has
subsequently dispatched many that way, including heroes of the revolution.
The Cuban Revolution has survived the predicted collapse of Soviet
communism and the Soviet state and its Eastern European satellites and
of communism in much of the rest of the word. It will not survive - for
long - the departure of the 'Old Man'. That's what they call Fidel in Cuba.
Ironically, on the very day that Castro announced that he would not
aspire to nor accept the posts of president of the Council of State and
commander-in-chief of the armed forces, only hours before on this
historic Tuesday, this newspaper carried the story, "IAPA renews call
for release of jailed Cuban journalists". The story listed 25
journalists "who remain behind bars for working as independent reporters."
Jamaica, which has one of the freest media in the hemisphere, has had an
ups-and-downs relationship with Castro's Cuba during our nearly 46 years
of Independence, three years short of Castro's rule. On the whole, we
have had more principled relations than the belligerent United States,
which has singled out Cuba for the most unrelenting opposition. The USA
established cordial relations with communist Vietnam in which 50,000 US
servicemen died in a lost anti-communism war, but not with Cuba.
Communist China enjoys Most Favoured Nation status, while nine US
presidents have maintained a trade embargo against Cuba.
Cuba has been generous to Jamaica, although the prosperity which the
revolution promised never materialised, a socialist situation which can
be and has been conveniently explained away by the US embargo. We have
had gifts of schools, micro dams, medical personnel, teachers, and, most
recently, free eye care, which went far better for visually impaired
Jamaicans whose own free government did not help them than a reflexively
critical media would have us believe. At a certain point in time, many
Jamaicans felt that Fidel Castro was an influential threat to our own
cherished democratic freedoms and took appropriate action.
Cuba was a critical and sacrificial player in the liberation struggles
of Southern Africa, terminating in the fall of apartheid in South Africa
and the rise of Nelson Mandela, who with Fidel Castro, is a monumental
figure of the 20th century and of world history. Cuban armed forces,
with disproportionately black combatants, pushed back the South African
Defence Force, the best in sub-Saharan Africa, in a series of historic
engagements in Angola in the 1980s. In my column of April 15, 2004,
"Cuba and the end of apartheid", I noted: "For 137 days in 1987/88 the
internationalist forces of Cuba, fighting alongside the MPLA, engaged
the South African Defence Force in Southern Angola and finally drove its
troops back into Namibia which was under South African occupation."
At his inauguration, Nelson Mandela reserved a bear hug for Fidel Castro
and reportedly told him, "We owe this day to you."
In a 1991 visit to Cuba, Mandela told the Cuban people on the
anniversary of their revolution, July 26: "That impressive defeat of the
racist army ... gave Angola the possibility of enjoying peace and
consolidating its sovereignty. It gave the people of Namibia their
independence, demoralised the white racist regime of Pretoria and
inspired the anti-apartheid forces inside South Africa. Without the
defeat inflicted at Cuito Cuanavale, our organisations never would have
When he concluded, Fidel Castro observed that Mandela's remarks
constituted "the greatest and most profound tribute ever paid to our
In 1998, on his second visit to South Africa, Castro received a
"tumultuous welcome". One reporter said: "As Castro entered the
parliamentary chamber, African National Congress leaders jumped to their
feet, clapping and chanting, 'Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!' His speech was
interrupted with applause on 33 occasions. Black South Africans remember
him as a firm ally of the African National Congress who backed the fight
against apartheid and helped win their freedom.
Cuba eradicated illiteracy just a few years after Castro came to power
and has one of the best health-care systems in the developing world. But
I couldn't help noticing that the deep class and race divides of Cuban
society had remained impervious to communist intervention and were very
visible in a 2003 visit. And so was roaring street commerce in US
dollars. Cuba manufactures its own US coins but gets dollar bills
through remittances and third-party trade. Soon after that visit, the
Castro regime sought to shut down the incursions of capitalism by
restricting entrepreneurial activity.
But hundreds of Cubans died seeking to flee their socialist paradise,
some killed by the state, others perishing at sea. Hundreds have
languished in jail. Dozens have been imprisoned and executed as enemies
of the state just for wanting and agitating for freedom. The Soviet
Union lasted just over 80 years, Eastern European communist states a
little over 50. The Cuban Revolution approaches 50 years. The Old Man, a
giant of history, is gone. The revolution he built on the sands of
socialism is bound to follow him sooner than later, swept away by winds
Martin Henry is a communications consultant.