Wed | Mar 21, 2018

Castro bridges the divide - Senators praise late Cuban leader

Published:Saturday | December 3, 2016 | 12:00 AM
In this Sunday, October 18, 1998 file photo, Cuban leader Fidel Castro is at his triumphant best.

Lambert Brown and Tom Tavares-Finson, who stood on either side of the divide during Jamaica's angry ideological debates of the 1970s and '80s, were at one in praise of Fidel Castro yesterday, as members of the Senate gave warm tributes to the former Cuban communist leader who died a week ago. Castro was 90.

Brown, who, during those struggles, was a member of the politburo of the now defunct Marxist-Leninist Workers Party of Jamaica (WPJ), called on Jamaicans who were "reactionary to Castro" to revise their view.

"I don't believe we need to wait for any further history. Fidel has been absolved," said Brown, now a member of the opposition People's National Party. "... In death, the world recognised one [of] the greatest revolutionary fighters."

Three-and-a-half decades ago, Tavares-Finson would have been among the politicians branded as a "reactionary" by the WPJ party, which had close ties to Havana and the Soviet Union and was led by Trevor Munroe, then a young radical University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer in politics.

Now the president of the Senate, Tavares-Finson was, at the time, just coming into politics on the side of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which was under the leadership of Edward Seaga, who was on the political right and considered the proxy for the West, against the PNP's democratic socialism and the WPJ's Marxism.

But at yesterday's Senate sitting, though in less fulsome terms than Brown, Tavares-Finson acknowledged Castro's leadership.

Said Tavares-Finson: "May I just indicate that I had the honour to be a part of the delegation (to Castro's memorial mass), along with the prime minister, the speaker of the House, and leader of the opposition ... . It was a remarkable experience for me."

Another government member, Education Minister Ruel Reid, said Cuba's contribution to education and liberation struggles were areas of "common cause" with Jamaica.


"Jamaica and Jamaicans have been beneficiaries of his (Castro's) and his government's generosity," said Reid, whose portfolio responsibilities include several educational institutions built by Cuba.

Castro was polarising, with critics including United States president-elect Donald Trump labelling him a "brutal dictator". Others, however, hailed him for being a voice for developing nations in global affairs and for supporting other countries through the military, in health and in education.

Opposition Senator K.D. Knight, a former national security minister, said Castro was a "great man".

"I regard him as, perhaps, the greatest political figure in modern times," Knight said. "Whether you liked him or you didn't, it has to be recognised that he made a tremendous global impact."

Added Knight: "Strangely enough, he was friend of Jamaica and an enemy of Jamaica. A friend to those who looked at what his intent was in the international arena, and enemy to those who thought that what he wanted to do was to export from Cuba the communist doctrine into Jamaica."

Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller led separate delegations to a special mass for Castro on Tuesday.