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Martin Henry | Fidel’s revolution will soon follow him to the grave

Published:Sunday | December 4, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Martin Henry
A man holds an image of Fidel Castro outside Cuba's embassy, one day after his death, in Panama City, Saturday, November 26.

Everything that can be said about Fidel Castro - bad and good - has already been said since he joined everybody else who has passed. Including the at least several thousands that he and the Cuban Revolution have dispatched over close to six decades in power.

El Commandante, at 90, has wandered off back to the Sierra Maestro mountains of Eastern Cuba, from which, on one of his acclaimed visits here, he said he could see the mountains of Jamaica. Approaching 90, and reappearing from retirement before a Congress of the Cuban Communist Party one last time, he told them: "Soon I will be like everybody else. Our turn comes to us all, but the ideas of Cuban communism will endure."

Mr Castro was right about the soon-for-himself and about everyone's turn coming. He's not right about the endurance of communism, even when qualified as 'Cuban'. At his famous trial in 1953 after the failed rebel attack upon the army barracks at Moncada, he closed his four-hour-long defence speech as a prisoner of the Batista regime saying, "History will absolve me."

He may be right about that, too, in terms of any long-term assessment that his intentions were good, and that, overall, he did more good than harm in seeking to implement noble intentions for, and upon, the captive Cuban people. Already, history has correctly judged Fidel Castro as one of the great leaders of the 20th century.

But history will shortly be consigning the Cuban Revolution to its dustbin.

Mr Castro should have remained a believer in Divine Providence as his Catholic upbringing would have taught him. He miraculously survived the wiping out of the forces that mounted the Moncada attack. He was pardoned, not executed, by the Batista regime. He escaped the slaughter by Batista's army of most of the handful of revolutionaries who accompanied him on the Granma from Mexico back to Cuba. He survived the dangers and death of the campaign to oust Batista, and, ensconced in power, he outlived possibly hundreds of assassination attempts failed to contract lung cancer from his trademark cigar smoking and lived, to his surprise, to die peacefully at age 90.

Not only is the trajectory of history changing, but socialism, particularly in its extreme communist manifestation, is inherently unstable as an economic and political system and is doomed to completely collapse.




The collapse as a serious world system is already well advanced. Only Cuba and North Korea now remain as committed communist regimes, staggering to their inevitable demise. China and Vietnam are roaring free-market, capitalist economies clinging to the veneer of a communist political system. The market will shortly strip away that political faÁade. These clever states are seeking to ride two horses going in opposite directions. And the market, in which are embedded some of the strongest and most ineradicable human instincts, will win. Nobody now even can recall readily which are the other few communist states surviving the collapse of the Soviet Union, its Eastern European satellites, and Yugoslavia.

Four years before Fidel was born, the son of a well-off Spanish migrant landowner, and the parent Russian Revolution was only five years old, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises published Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, a monumental exposÈ of the weaknesses of the socialist system in both principles and practice.

It is not likely that young Fidel and his friends mastering their Marx would have bothered to read von Mises, F.A. Hayek, or any of the other serious critics of socialism. Or, if they had, they would have dismissed them forthwith as bourgeois reactionaries only fit for the firing squad, the favoured communist means of dispatching enemies of the revolution and of the state. The Cuban Communist Party has subsequently dispatched many that way, including hero of the revolution General Arnaldo T. Ochoa Sanchez.

Ochoa's execution on dubious charges, including treason, is particularly painful because he had led with distinction Cuban forces in both Angola and Ethiopia and trained rebels in the Congo in African liberation struggles. One of the great distinctions of the Cuban Revolution is the role of the Cuban armed forces in African liberation struggles and the ending of apartheid in South Africa. In the famous Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Southern Angola, for 137 days in 1987-1988, Cuban forces, made up of disproportionately black combatants, fighting alongside Angola's rebel group, the MPLA, contained and finally drove back the invading South African Defence Force, the best in sub-Saharan Africa.




At his inauguration as president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela squeezed Fidel in a bear hug and thanked him, saying, "We owe this day to you."

In his earlier 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 been legalised."

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. And the country generously shares its medics with the world, including Jamaica. But in my only visit, I couldn't help noticing that the deep class and race divides of Cuban society have remained impervious to communist intervention and were very visible. 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 and has been doing that recurringly.

Hundreds of Cubans have died seeking to flee their socialist paradise. Some were killed by the State, others perishing at sea. Hundreds have languished in jail.

The Human Rights Watch 2013 Report tells us that "Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. The government of Raul Castro continued to enforce political conformity using short -term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile.

Even without the Obama detente, which may not hold with Trump as President, this state of affairs cannot endure, surrounded by open societies where life is lived very differently. The Cuban people will want more. And placing more within their reach can only intensify this natural human desire. Capitalism is far from perfect and has had its own travails, with more due, but it is far more attuned to human nature as acquisitive and freedom-loving than is communism and its various socialist sisters, which are committed to achieving utopia by repression.

The Soviet Union lasted just over 80 years; Eastern European communist states, just over 50. The Cuban Revolution is now 57. The Castro brothers' revolution, built on the sands of socialism, is bound to follow them sooner rather than later.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to and