Wed | Jul 18, 2018

Annie Paul | The hapless hoi polloi

Published:Wednesday | December 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Annie Paul

Did you know that despite his towering stature, no buildings, streets or monuments in Cuba will be dedicated to, or named after, Fidel Castro? Apparently, the Cuban leader made his brother Raul Castro promise that his name and likeness would never be used to memorialise him in this way, because he was wary of fostering a personality cult. I find this remarkable. Why am I not surprised that the planet's most revolutionary firebrand was fundamentally opposed to the idea of branding?

There is something profoundly refreshing about such self-erasure in a world obsessed with brand names and self-promotion. You only have to look at the walls facing the stadium complex in Kingston to see the opposite tendency in action. Alongside the images of Jamaica's fabled athletes, some sports administrators have seen fit to paint their own visages and names. I've always thought this faintly absurd.

The Observer's much-touted Page 2 and the individuals shown there, proudly profiling at party after party, is another example of the hagiographical tendency taken to its worst extreme. People who have done little to distinguish themselves, lolling in the limelight in expensive designer clothes while the hoi polloi struggle to send their children to school, pay their rent and get decent medical treatment when their unhealthy, inadequate diets and the toxic environments they live in make them ill.

And just for your information, the Latin term hoi polloi doesn't signify, as some people mistakenly think it does, the well-heeled elite; it refers to the common man, the population at large.

The Cuban Revolution was about catering to the hoi polloi after decades of a callous state system dedicated exclusively to pampering the rich and the decadent. It was about providing free and excellent health care, education and welfare to ordinary men and women. Sharing the resources among so many meant that, in lean times, the people had less to eat. It meant fostering relationships with distant countries and cultures you had little in common with, and living in an atmosphere of fear and insecurity because you were constantly at risk of being invaded by the world's hegemon, from whose rapacious grasp you had been audaciously released by a small band of determined men and women.




In the aftermath of Fidel's death, it was interesting to hear the ideologues come out brandishing their tired arguments. In Cuba, you could be arrested and imprisoned merely for expressing the wrong political view, they said disapprovingly, quite overlooking the fact that in Jamaica, you can be shot and killed without even the due process of being arrested or imprisoned - for nothing at all - much less the wrong political view.

And, incidentally, if you haven't read it yet, get hold of Garfield Ellis's novel, For Nothing At All, to read about Jamaica as travesty, as betrayal, as the perversion and subversion of every and any democratic ideal its people might once have held.

Let's remember that it is Jamaica's police force that has been red-flagged for an extraordinarily high number of extrajudicial killings, not Cuba's. Ours is the allegedly free and democratic society, yet we are the ones plagued by crime, violence, interminable poverty, and illiteracy 50-plus years after Independence. What use have we made of all the freedom we supposedly enjoy?

It is Jamaica that ought to be a beacon of literacy, education and good health, not Cuba, according to the ideologues of freedom, yet all around the world, democratic countries are floundering, their wretched and their poor fleeing from one nation to the next looking for food, shelter and clothing.

Alexander Bustamante famously said, "Education can't eat" when he was opposing the political platform of the People's National Party back in the day. What is quite clear today is that it is freedom and democracy that 'can't eat', and, worse, can't deliver the goods to the hoi polloi of the world, who had hoped for so much after being freed of their colonial yokes.

For most of us, Independence has been but a ritual of swapping black dog for monkey, replacing one tyrannical master with a different one who looks, talks and walks like us, but whose regime remains extractive and exploitative.

It's only a matter of time before history wheels and comes again. As Sarah Manley said in a Facebook post: "Neo-colonialism may have won this latest battle with its old tired tools of ignorance, propaganda, the spread of misinformation, and bedazzlement with gaudy wealth, but it has not won the war. Other Fidels will lead again. Wherever there is oppression, there will be fighters for justice."

• Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice ( Email feedback to or tweet @anniepaul.