Farewell to a friend
Cuba's revolutionary leader and former President Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz has been hailed as a friend to Jamaica.
The bond of friendship between Jamaica and Cuba was developed in the 1970s while the late Michael Manley and Castro were at the helm of their respective countries, and it has survived to this date.
Castro has now left it up to his brother, Raul Castro Ruz, who he ceded power to in 2006, to carry on that comradeship after the fiery, no-nonsense radical passed away at 10:29 p.m. on Friday following a long period of illness.
Castro, who was 90, overthrew Fulgencio Batista on January 8, 1959 and went on to hold power for 49 years - longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II.
Then People's National Party (PNP) president and prime minister, Manley, had dared to show solidarity with Castro when he publicly declared that he would "walk with Fidel to the mountain top" at a time when the communist leader was facing strong opposition from the United States and the rest of the west.
FRIEND TO JAMAICA
But former PNP Cabinet minister and historian Arnold Bertram believes Castro and the people of Cuba have done more than enough to justify the camaraderie that the PNP has shown them.
"Fidel Castro and the people of Cuba record show, no doubt, that they were friends to Jamaica," Bertram told The Sunday Gleaner. "He (Castro) did not miss an opportunity to establish his solidarity; whether he was assisting with our health services or educational services and, more importantly, he never tried to impose his politics on Jamaica.
"As a man of African descent, I can never forget his contribution to the liberation of the people of South Africa from that racist apartheid regime."
A statement from the PNP outlined some of the ways Jamaica directly benefited from its relationship with the communist country.
'Regarding Jamaica, today, our health care system is the better for the hundreds of doctors and health professionals trained in Cuba; our infrastructure is much improved due to the engineers trained in Cuba, our sporting prowess better because of contributions like the G.C. Foster College of Sports Education, our education much improved because of selfless contribution of the Cuban people for the Jose Marti High School and the Garvey Maceo High School," the PNP said.
Castro reigned in Cuba for nearly five decades with an iron hand, defying a US economic embargo intended to dislodge him to write his name in world history.
"He will go down in the annals of history as one of the leaders who, though coming from a Caribbean island developing state, has had the greatest impact on world history," Prime Minister Andrew Holness said. "Many Jamaicans still vividly remember his visits to Jamaica and his passionate speeches in defence of the right to self-determination."
Leader of the Opposition Portia Simpson Miller hailed Castro as a great leader and consummate friend of Jamaica, whose legacy will live on well beyond the 90 years of his life.
"Fidel's passing represents the end of an era and the triumph of hope over despair, service to the people over self and the victory of the human spirit of kindness and love over selfishness and hate," said Simpson Miller. "I am deeply saddened by his death, but remain eternally inspired by his example of greatness and selfless service to the Cuban people and to humanity."
Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson characterised his old friend as "indisputably, one of the greatest political and world leaders of our time. Fidel was, and will always be, spoken of passionately, in different ways by persons across the political, social, economic, religious and cultural divide because he was never ever comfortable with the norm, the status quo; at all times, in life and during his illness, thinking what else can he do on behalf of people, wherever they may be."
He added, "I am honoured to have personally known him and will always recall with fond memories the numerous conversations we had. He always saw Jamaica as a friend."
FEAR AND ANGUISH
The exaltation of Castro was, however, not uniformed, as former Prime Minister and JLP leader Edward Seaga disagreed with many of his actions, which included controlling every aspect of the island's existence and sending countless men to prison.
"Castro may have been a hero for some while others will never forget the fear and anguish his policies brought on their families and friends and themselves," Seaga said.
"I can't use the word friend with Castro because you don't know what it means. His practices and his policies created a lot of fear and anguish and you didn't know whether that was going to turn on a friend as well as the enemy. I admire that he was trying to support the poor, but his policies only made them poorer."
Seaga noted that attempts by the PNP government of the 70s to follow Castro ended as a great failure, with lack of imports, food, medicine, oil, machinery, spare parts and other essentials, causing the economy to go from bad to worse.
But veteran politician and former Foreign Affairs Minister A.J. Nicholson said the PNP administration has been forthright in its support for the aims and aspirations of the Cuban government under the leadership of Fidel and Raul Castro, despite the differences in the systems of government of the two countries.
"Any support that a PNP administration sought to give to the Cuban government cannot be seen as a failure in as much as the Cuban government has been very kind to Jamaica," Nicholson said. "There are several countries that can be criticised for their [lack of] adherence to human rights doctrine and the likes. We are not into that kind of criticism."
Political scientist Dr Trevor Munroe, who was one of the principals of The Workers' Party of Jamaica, which was a communist party, deemed Castro's legacy a mix between the positive and the negative.
"Only the Cuban people themselves, as well as time and history, can make the ultimate judgment as to whether the good outweighs the downside of the outstanding achievements of this exceptional transformational leader," Munroe reasoned.
Castro's funeral will be held on December 4 in Cuba's second largest city, Santiago de Cuba, following nine days of national mourning which officially commenced at 6 a.m. yesterday.