Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Gordon Robinson | Wicked, brutal Cuban dictator dead!

Published:Sunday | December 11, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Yes, it's true. Cuba's brutal dictator is dead. No matter what some ideologues might say to excuse his atrocities, Cuba spent many years under the thumb of an anti-democratic, evil despot who revoked all constitutional process, most political liberties, and freedom of the press (to cover up growing discontent among his own people). His secret police carried out wide-scale violence, torture and public executions. His government killed tens of thousands of Cubans and imprisoned dissidents.

Good news: This tyrant is no longer among the living. His name was Fulgencio Batista Zaldivar. His totalitarian rule was overthrown by a popular revolution on New Year's Day 1959, after which he fled to Portugal never to return.

The man who led that popular revolution was Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz. By the time Castro began guerrilla warfare against Batista, the Cuban dictator, for personal gain, had already ruined the country's economic prospects by creating a stagnant economy that widened the gap between rich and poor Cubans. Batista's cruel regime was backed by the USA. By the late 1950s, most of Cuba's sugar industry was in US hands, and foreigners owned 70 per cent of Cuba's arable land. Corruption was rife under Batista, who systematically profited from the exploitation of Cuba's commercial interests by negotiating lucrative deals with the American mafia (controlled Havana's gambling, drug, and prostitution rackets) and with large US-based multinationals (awarded lucrative contracts).

Batista created his own Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities (shades of Joe McCarthy). He used the bogeyman 'communism' to eliminate all opposition with the support of wealthy Cubans prepared to support him against the communists. Historical similarities with late 1930s Germany and 20th-Century South Africa are irresistible.

 

Electoral defeat

 

Batista's reign began when he overthrew the previously authoritarian rule of Gerardo Machado; appointed himself chief of the Armed Forces; effectively controlled government; then manipulated his election on a populist platform. He served four years, then migrated to Florida for eight years before returning to run for president again. Facing certain electoral defeat, he dropped all democratic pretence, led a successful military coup, and with American financial, logistical and military support, entrenched his despotic rule.

It's impossible to accurately assess the life of Fidel Castro - as many lazy Jamaican pundits have tried to do - without first painting a stark picture of pre-Castro Cuba. Cuba was never an egalitarian or democratic society suddenly ransacked by a bearded guerrilla with a gun. Democracy was foreign to Cuba in 1959; and is as foreign today.

And now, the end is near

and so I face the final curtain.

My friend, I'll say it clear.

I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full.

I travelled each and every highway

and more, much more than this, I did it my way

Political scientists should study Castro's commitment to an egalitarian society (albeit using anti-democratic, often repressive methods); whether he succeeded in doing so; and whether the Cuban people are better off now than they were under Batista and, before Batista, Machado.

Contrary to popular opinion, Castro wasn't born into privilege, although his father, Angel, was a wealthy sugar plantation owner. His mother was Angel's wife's maid. Fidel wasn't recognised as a son until after the marriage was dissolved and Angel married Castro's mother. At age 17, Fidel's name was changed from Ruz to Castro.

Fidel was a product of his complicated upbringing, which was a study in contrast. After his parents' marriage, he was educated in private Jesuit boarding schools, where he developed a sense of Spanish pride. Castro was an intellectually gifted student but, like most 'special' ones, gave endless trouble. His love of baseball started from high school, where he pitched for the school's baseball team, as well as played basketball and ran track.

 

Anti-imperialism and socialism

 

After graduating in late 1945, Castro was moulded at the University of Havana's Law School, where he became obsessed with Cuban nationalism, anti-imperialism and socialism, focusing his energies more exclusively on politics.

Regrets, I've had a few

but then again, too few to mention.

I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway and more, much more than this, I did it my way!

His early influences, experiences, superior intellect, sincere patriotism, commitment to the improvement of every Cuban, together with his country's political history, all combined to produce the Fidel Castro who ruled Cuba with an iron fist for 50 years. During that time, despite a cruel US embargo and loss of Soviet support, the incontrovertible facts are:

• Every Cuban benefited from free education or free health care. By 2008, Cuba was spending 12 per cent of GDP on health care. In 2013, Jamaica spent 5.82% of GDP on health care (source: World Bank).

• Cuba's doctor-patient ratio (seven per thousand) puts most developing nations to shame (USA, 1.5 doctors per thousand; Jamaica, 0.6) and its mortality rates for men [down from 200 per 1,000 (1965) to 140 (2010)], women (from 160 to 80) and children under five (from 50-5) is better than USA's (infant mortality now 6.1 nationwide). Jamaica's infant mortality rate/1000 live births was 62 (1960), now down to 14;

• Cuba's growth (2015) was 4.3% and averaged 2.18% from 1990-2015. USA's growth rate averaged 3% during that time (under 2% the last 10 years); Jamaica's average growth is 1.4%. Cuba's 2015 GDP per capita (population 11 million+) was US$6,156.62; Jamaica (population three million)? US$4.997.78

• Cuba's literacy rate of 99.8% is among the world's highest. Jamaica's is 88.7%;

• According to the World Bank, 2014, Cuba's education system is the best in Caribbean and Latin America. In addition to achieving universal literacy, Cuba eradicated certain diseases and provided universal access to safe drinking water/basic public sanitation.

• Cuba spends 13% of GDP on education. Despite improvements over the past two years, Jamaica's education expenditure still stands at less than 7% of GDP without achieving universal free education or universal literacy;

• Cuba strongly supported African freedom from imperialism and apartheid to the extent of sending Cuban soldiers to fight in Angola;

• Violent crime is almost zero; justice swift and efficient.

• Almost 50% of the seats in Cuba's Parliament are occupied by women.

There are 'downsides'. In continuing Cuba's authoritarian history, Fidel probably, as our own Wills O. Isaacs once mused, "broke a few skulls". He certainly didn't allow any church to dictate government policy based on a book of fairy tales written more than 2,000 years ago by men in a male-dominated, make-believe society with no mass communication, Internet or other technology and who believed fervently that the world was flat. Castro realised Cuba couldn't afford the luxury of Western democracy so introduced his own democracy - one-party elections for contested parliamentary seats.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew,

when I bit off more than I could chew.

But, through it all, when there was doubt,

I ate it up and spit it out.

I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way.

Fidel never lost touch with his people, never lived ostentatiously, and always led by example. I'm convinced this helped him survive hundreds of assassination attempts and 11 US presidents.

I've loved; I've laughed and cried.

I've had my fill, my share of losing.

And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing

to think I did all that

and, may I say, not in a shy way,

Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way.

Hypocritical USA, as usual, who backed US puppet dictator Batista 100% (as it did Noriega. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden when it suited) discovered Fidel was nobody's lackey. So it demonised him, ostracised him, tried to kill him, and spread the most vicious propaganda worldwide against him. Still, he served his full presidency, voluntarily handed over power, and died peacefully in his sleep probably with his right middle finger pointing northward.

For what is a man, what has he got?

If not himself, then he has naught to say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels.

The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!

My Way's lyrics, set to the music of French song Comme d'habitude ('As Usual'; co-composed, co-written and performed in 1967 by Claude Francois), were written in 1968 by rock 'n' roll singer/songwriter, Paul Anka, with the Chairman of the board in mind. But, after Anka flew to France, acquired the music rights from Francois, and presented the song to Sinatra, Frank didn't like it. He felt it was too 'nuff'. Well, My Way, recorded by Frank Sinatra, only spent a record 75 weeks in the UK Top 40.

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, born August 13, 1926, died November 25, 2016, world leader extraordinaire, Cuban patriot, and hero. Rest in peace.

Peace and love.

• Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.