Farewell Companero Fidel

The last of the revolutionaries of that era have left us

Kamal Siddiqi November 27, 2016
The writer is the former editor of The Express Tribune. He tweets as @tribunian

With the death of Fidel Castro at the ripe old age of 90, the last of the revolutionaries of that era have left us.

The fact that he stood up to a country much larger in size than his little island for more than half a century endeared him to many - particularly the people of the third world whose own leaders in most instances could not set the same example.

It is said that the best revenge that Fidel Castro took on the Americans was to die of natural causes. But why must we compare Castro to the US to understand his greatness.

Everyone remembers Castro in their own way. In her essay for Granta Magazine, author Germaine Greer, an Australian-born writer regarded as one of the major voices of the second-wave feminist movement in the latter half of the 20th century, recalled her visit to Cuba to attend the fourth congress of the Federation of Cuban Women in Havana.

What she found amazing in the congress was not only the manner in which the women spoke and demanded their rights but that in the front on the stage for all the sessions and for all the days sat Companero Fidel who actually participated in the discussions and not simply dictated.

Greer recalls that in some of the debates the women disagreed with Fidel and even attacked him for the points he made and he took this in his stride.

She also recalled how she was to check the validity of the Cuban claims about education and health. What she saw was a multi-racial society where both education and health were readily available. A number of problems persisted. Transport was a problem, largely because of sanctions. Food was scarce and basic but most of the people she met were happy and content.

Women were in the frontline of the Cuban revolution, she recalled. And they did not let the country down.

In her engaging book “Cuba Diaires”, author Isadora Tattlin, an American expatriate who lived in Havana, writes of the trying times she lived through. She recalled how Cuba remained frozen in the 50s with its classic American cars and colonial Spanish architecture. This was a country where taxi drivers earned more than doctors but in every respect it was a remarkable country.

Tattlin and her husband once played host to Castro. When the leader arrived, he immediately warmed up to the house staff and complimented them instead of the hosts.

At the same time, when Castro talked to his hosts it was on issues of international concern and with the knowledge that comes from a person who is very well informed. By the time he left Tattlin’s house after six hours of discussion, Castro remarked how time flies “especially for one who is doing the talking.” There was no arrogance in the man.

A book that chronicles Castro’s struggle in the most critical way possible is “Bacardi and the long fight for Cuba” by Tom Gjelten. The Bacardi family, one of the richest on the island, was deeply affected when Castro nationalised their plantations, factories and other businesses. They never forgave Castro for this.

But the book also chronicles the struggles that Castro had to go through and the failures he and his followers faced before they were actually able to bring the revolution to the island.

The Bacardis were initially supportive of the revolution. But when they realised that the revolution had no place for capitalists, it was a rude awakening the finally led to the exodus of the family and many other such businesses.

The genius of the Castro government was, however that over time it was able to consolidate the Bacardi operations in Cuba under a different brand name and become a serious business rival to the original company.

There are many lessons to learn. As a Pakistani, Castro showed us that despite the odds it was possible to exist and also to do good for the people. The cost of healthcare is cheap but there is no compromise on quality. Education is free and universal. Cuba may not have the latest cars on its roads or the most modern gadgets in its stores, but its people are by and large well cared for. This is the legacy of the great leader.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2016.

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cuban | 7 years ago | Reply @Rex Minor: Rubbish. You have never been to the USA - never met a Cuban, and don't know that an American taxi driver makes more money than a Cuban doctor.
Rex Minor | 7 years ago | Reply @Cuban: But I have seen the miserable lives of cuban taxi drivers in the land of Gringos who could not withstand the sanctions in their Island. The names of Fidel and Che are imbedded in the folklore songs of latinos whereas the glitter of the consumer world in Florida is slowly but decisively fading away. Rex Minor.
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