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Fidel Castro and Lee Kuan Yew: the special ones

Published:Saturday | November 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Fidel Castro
Lee Kuan
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Wayne Kublalsingh, Contributor

Knowledge is key. Propaganda, ideology and unbelief kill us. Few of us know that the two intellectual giants of the second half of the 20th century are not to be found in the think tanks of the Western or Soviet worlds, the inner chamber of war cabinets, the universities or armies or corporate rooms; they are the leaders of two small islands, one in the West, the Caribbean, and the other in the East, South East Asia.

They are the sons of archipelagos, small-island states, which they hewed and fashioned, economically, socially and militarily, almost single-handedly.

Ideology, propaganda and unbelief cloud our vision of who they are. We can say one is communist, the other is capitalist. One has been fêted by the Soviet Union in its heyday, the other by the United States. In fact, they themselves have professed their ideological faiths: communism and capitalism. The reality, however, is that they are two peas in the same pod, two seeds in the same fruit kissing each other.

Fidel Castro of Cuba and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore rose to power on opposite sides of the planet to champion the fate of their small island nations in the 1950s. Castro and Cuba were surrounded by large mainland antagonists, the United States, which tried to kill him, invade and commit genocide against his people. Lee Kuan Yew was surrounded by mainland communists in China and Vietnam; and an antagonistic nationalistic Malaysia just one mile from its island shores.

They both had to keep large militaries and ideological forces at bay. Through a combination of wit, wisdom, guts and sheer intellectual genius, they steered their own paths and maintained the dignity, sovereignty and independence of their nation states against all odds. They could spot the behemoth, the enemy, before he turned the corner.

Both emerged as international statesmen of the highest intellectual calibre. At the United Nations, whenever they have visited and spoken, their intellectual stature enthralled the assemblies. Castro lives today, away from the cut and thrust of government, and still writes with great lucidity about the challenges and future of the planet.

Inspiration to others

Lee Kuan Yew is in his 80s and still gives lectures, interviews away from the heady world of Singaporean politics. Both are local and global mentors. Each had a profound effect on the mainland states around them. Castro inspired generations of Latin American and Caribbean peoples and leaders. Many of the latter have now built stable and independent economies out of the morass and genocide of the 1970s and 1980s. Mainland Communist China has adopted many of Lee Kuan's political and economic strategies. They helped to colonise the mainland next to them.

Whatever mistakes each leader and his party made, in rescuing both their island worlds from abject poverty, corruption, imperialist oppression and internal schism, they corrected. They each took an all-abiding interest in their peoples' deep welfare. They built systems of health, education, housing, security, international defence and production which kept their people well above the standard of living of nations closest to them; in the first, Haiti, the Dominican Republic; and in the other, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Whatever their antagonisms with the imperialists and their ideologies, they kept focused on the welfare of their people. Ultimately, they are pragmatists. They kept their peoples out of war and built stable systems and institutions. Also, they kept their dignity, independence and identity and believed in themselves and their peoples.

Our penchant for adopting and imbibing the pains, fears, anxieties, doubts, ideologies, ignorance of the imperialist masters of the planets often prevent us from doing independent analysis. We love to love the enemies of the imperialists. Those whom they demonise, we demonise the more.

The systems of media of these imperialist masters, hiding the facts, also prevent us from acquiring knowledge. As Caribbean states, we can ill afford to let ideology, propaganda and unbelief get in our way. There is much to learn from the political practices and philosophies of these two artful builders of small states.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and wbkubla@yahoo.com.