Sunday, February 24, 2008

End of an era in Cuba

Friday, February 22, 2008
Wenceslao: End of an era in Cuba
By Bong O. Wenceslao
Candid Thoughts

BECAUSE I idolized China's Mao Zedong and Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh in my
younger years, Cuba's Fidel Castro (and his pal Ernesto "Che" Guevarra)
was therefore not far behind. It was with great interest then that I
followed report on Castro's retirement from politics in Cuba after five
decades of heading the country. Another era has closed.

One could not mention the Cuban revolution without talking about Che.
When I was a grade school pupil at City Central School, the words
"Bloody Che" were scrawled in red letters on the fence. Schoolbags in
the form of backpacks had Che's face painted on them, the same image
printed on t-shirts in the recent resurgence of the Che craze.

"Bloody Che" was some gang, "bloody" referring to its members professed
intent. I realized later that was not the way to honor a revolutionary
hero's name. Che was a man who was dogmatic in most instances but who
was nevertheless daring enough to put his theories into practice. He was
summarily executed in Bolivia in pursuit of his goals.

The Argentina-born Marxist joined Castro's 26th of July Movement that
waged guerilla warfare against United States-supported Fulgencio Batista
using the Sierra Maestra mountains as base. Six years after Batista was
toppled in 1959, Che left Cuba to continue waging war against
imperialism. He was captured in Bolivia and killed in 1967.

Castro, meanwhile, presided over the transformation of Cuba into a
socialist country, a move that the US frowned upon in the context of its
Cold War with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Cuba is a
neighbor of the US). But despite attempts by the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) to oust him or kill him, he ruled Cuba for 50 years.

Cuba and Castro figured most prominently in history during the
US-initiated Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 and the subsequent Cuban
Missile Crisis it spawned. It brought the world on the brink of a
nuclear war. Bay of Pigs is an inlet on the south coast of Cuba where
more than a thousand CIA-backed Cuban exiles in the US landed during the
failed offensive.

Castro's fear of direct US intervention prompted Soviet premier Nikita
Kruschev to supply Cuba with surface-to-air and surface-to-surface
missiles a year after the Bay of Pigs Invasion. That sparked a crisis
that only ended when US president John F. Kennedy agreed not to touch
Cuba and Kruschev pulled their nuclear weapons out of the country.

Assessing Castro's rule is difficult considering the times. During the
Cold War, it was difficult to separate truth from propaganda. Even his
fellow Marxists are divided on his contribution to socialism. But
Castro's longevity despite attacks from within and without Cuba means he
was not alienated from his people, unlike many other dictators.


Charles Rojas, who described himself as an unpaid patriotic citizen,
reacted to my Wednesday column by noting that he loves the Philippines
"because it is the only country I have." Here's a portion of his letter
about "patriotic money" and Rodolfo Lozada Jr.:

"How much patriotic money did Lozada get from rich patriots? If Romulo
Neri was offered P20 million to leave the administration and testify in
the Senate, how much was offered to Lozada? Neri refused but Lozada

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