Thu | Mar 22, 2018

Trevor Munroe | 'One of the greatest historic figures of the 20th century'

Published:Monday | November 28, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Below is a personal reflection on Fidel Castro's passing by Professor Trevor Munroe.

I reflect on Fidel's passing, not as executive director of National Integrity Action, but in my professional and personal capacity as a political scientist and as a Jamaican.

In that capacity, I have to say that Fidel Castro was one of the great historic figures of the 20th century, a truly transformational leader of the Cuban people and a genuine friend of Jamaica, as well as of the wider Caribbean. Beyond the Caribbean, history shall forever record that Cuba, under Fidel, played a critical role in the advancement of the African Liberation struggle and, particularly, in the decisive defeat of apartheid in South Africa.

Yet, there can be little question that his extraordinary achievements and exceptional legacy are a mix between the positive and the negative.

On the positive side, Fidel led Cuba from a tyrannical dictatorship and abject underdevelopment to a situation in which the health and education of the Cuban people today is among the best in the developing world, ranking in some respects with advanced economies despite over fifty years of an embargo on economic relations with Cuba imposed by the United States. In fact, the latest United Nations Development Programme 2015 Human Development Report ranks Cuba at 67 of 188 countries, ahead of states like Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Dominican Republic, on criteria relating to health, education, income and overall human development.




Similarly, Cuba is rated among the least corrupt countries in Transparency International's 2015 Corruption Perception Index, regarded as less corrupt than developed countries such as Italy and Greece, as well as developing states such as India and South Africa.

On the negative side, there can be little doubt that political rights and civil liberties of the Cuban people have been severely limited, particularly the right to freedom of association, to form trade unions and political parties, as well as freedom of speech.

Only the Cuban people themselves, as well as time and history, can make the ultimate judgement as to whether the good outweighs the downside of the outstanding achievements of this exceptional transformational leader. For us as Jamaicans, the fruits of Cuba's friendship shall always endure in the selfless assistance to our health and educational systems, as well as to our sports achievements through the G.C. Foster College of Sport Education. And, for me, Fidel's courage and fearlessness in standing up for the vulnerable and disadvantaged shall always be an inspiration.