An icon for global revolutionaries


Madhusudhana Rao S

The strongman of Cuba, Fidel Castro, who died early Friday in Havana at the age of 90 would be remembered for his socialist reforms as much as for his defiance of the Superpower the US for nearly half a century. Nevertheless, he remains an icon for revolutionaries throughout the world even after reluctantly accepting the American hand of friendship a few years ago.

Fidel was a strong Communist, believed in his ideology and had never bowed down to US military threats and economic sanctions. In fact, the history of US-Cuba relations was a reflection of Cold War between the US and the former Soviet Union and their respective allies. Fidel had been steadfast in his approach to transforming his country with its Big Neighbour the US watching Cuba’s every move and making every effort to throw Fidel out.

From 1953 onwards, almost every American President had tried every overt and covert trick in the statecraft to engineer a people’s revolt against the helmsman. But all the American Presidents – from Dwight Eisenhower, John F Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Regan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton to George W Bush – couldn’t displace him. Only the outgoing President Barack Obama could strike a harmonious note not with Fidel Castro but his brother Raul who succeeded him because of Fidel’s failing health. Thus Obama and Raul finally put an end to decades of enmity between the two countries that symbolized the two diagonally opposite political ideologies. The normalization of relations between the US and Cuba in March this year with Obama’s historic visit had also ended West’s blinkered view of Cuba through an ideological prism. It also indicated Fidel Castro’s realization of realities of modern world.

But Fidel’s acceptance of the US can’t be construed as a compromise on his ideals. For example, even after the Soviet Union disintegrated and Communist China embraced capitalism, Cuba had remained the bastion of socialism under Fidel’s stewardship. After formally handing over power to his brother Raul in 2008, Fidel had remained a helmsman. 

Arguably, Fidel Castro’s revolutionary zeal was fired by another revolutionary of the time Che Guevara. It is said the two complemented each other in inspiring the oppressed, downtrodden and exploited peasants of South America to revolt against tyrants, dictators and landlords. Che joined Fidel Castro’s 26th July Movement in 1955. Che’s pivotal role in the movement had seen the overthrow of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista four years later. From 1959 to 1961, Che was president of the National Bank of Cuba and later industry minister, the two positions that gave him ample opportunities to implement his leftist ideas and plans such as land distribution and nationalization of industry. Besides introducing Socialist reforms in Cuba, Che’s most significant contribution to the country’s foreign policy was to align it to the Soviet Union and putting it on a socialist- communist path irrevocably.

From 2006 onwards, the failing health of Fidel Castro forced him to hand over most of the powers to his brother Raul who is a moderate despite being groomed in the crucible of communism and socialism. In 2008, Raul took over Cuba’s reins and two years later, principles of collectivism have started giving way to individual initiative and entrepreneurship in a sign that economic wellbeing is more important than state controls. From 2014 onwards, the US too has started encouraging the winds of change in its backyard, culminating in normalization of Cuba-US relations.

As every movement has a price to pay, Fidel Castro’s ruthless rule has seen thousands of Cubans flee to the US which has encouraged the dissidents to leave their homeland to discredit Fidel. Now, that’s history, of course.

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