He was once someone’s bouncing little baby boy. But who knew he would make such a difference in this world? This was his marquee moment – returning to Cuba to drain the swamp of oppression and corruption. But you know whatMurphy’s Law says?
Well, go wrong it did, at first. ‘Granma,’ that old mama boat they bought;it sprung a leak. Emptying it out by the bucket scarcely kept them afloat. Built for a maximum 12 they packed it 82 rebels fresh from guerrilla training in Mexico. A man fell overboard. They did crash landed in a swamp actually, at Playa Las Coloradas. It was like a Don Quixote comedy of errors. Then things got deadly in a heartbeat. Dictator Batista’s military immediately almost wiped them out. Only Fidel and 19 others survived – with 2 guns. In those days Fidel slept with a loaded rifle under his chin so that he would never be captured alive. When his little brother Raul (now President) hooked up with the rag-tag band of liberators, he brought 5 guns. Fidel is reputed to have exclaimed, “Now we have won the revolution!”
That’s what I love about Fidel – his irrepressible optimism! Funny and folksy, he simply embodied the confidence that human beings have the capacity to change themselves, and to change the world. And how right was he! You see, Fidel knew battles are fought first in the mind. The mind then transforms reality on the ground. He never had any doubt that he would make a difference one day. Though born of wealth and privilege, he chose to be a restless and daring activist. He lived a charmed life of guts and danger. Your job is to live long enough to tell me if any other world leader this century commands the deluge of salutes you are about to witness.
Earlier on, Fidel had failed in his campaign to become president of the Federation of University Students. However he did receive national attention for riveting public speech in 1946. As a result, he was targeted with death threats by violent, powerful pro-government gangs, which dominated Cuba rampant crime scene in those days. So even as a student he was ‘packing heat’ and surrounded with bodyguards. In 1947, Fidel heard of plans by revolutionaries to invade and overthrow American ally Rafael Trujillo,the brutal dictator of the Dominican Republic. He joined the adventure. That failed. Castro somehow evaded arrest. In 1948 he turned his attention to student protests in Columbia. That failed. He was somehow cleared of stealing guns from a police station. Back in Cuba,his protection failed. He was badly beaten and had to flee to the United States for refuge.
In coming days, you will hear endless stories of the revolution and how Cuba grew to what it is today. But do not be distracted by the people in Little Havana Miami, gleefully dancing on Fidel’s grave. They are the direct heirs of the corrupt Batista regime. These bitter people live in everlasting torment that they could not destroy Fidel.
Cuban air power proved decisive in expelling the Apartheid South African invasion of neighbouring Angola in 1975. As a geography and math teacher at the Wesley High School at the time, my students became well versed in all revolutionary struggles in Africa. How Cuba got men and materiel across the ocean for such a major operation still boggles the imagination of military historians. The storied Battle of CuitoCuanavale,the largest on African soil since World War II, was a triumph of black and coloured forces against nuclear-armed South Africans. Thanks in part to Fidel; the world subsequently was blessed with arguably the most extraordinary statesman of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela.
Nevertheless, imperialism struck back in a most cowardly fashion. Terrorists from that samedancing ex-pat Cuban community, the discriminators of blacks in Florida, bombed Cubana Flight 455 out of Barbados, October 5, 1976. They killed all 73 on board. This included the young Cuban fencing team, which had just won all the gold medals in a recent international completion, not to mention the 11 promising CARICOM citizens who never again saw the light of day.Despite suffering this and other atrocities too numerous to mention, Cuba under Fidel remained unwavering in its commitment to humanity. He gave voice to the voiceless and strengthened the arm of courageous women and men everywhere fighting to better their conditions.
Even conservatives like our own Dame Eugenia Charles faced down Bush’s Vice President Quayle by insisting she was going to visit Fidel. Ever the pragmatist, she maintained the good relations started by Rosie Douglas, something continued by all subsequent Dominican administrations.Fidel respected her for this as it encouraged other middle ground countries to do business with Cuba. Those were the days when the United States severely sanctioned smaller countries for having anything to do with the socialist state. At the end of the day, from Maurice to Mamo, CARICOM generally stood firm as a bloc when it came to Cuba.
Cuba is a relatively small country of 11 million. 77 countries have bigger populations. China and India for example, are over 125 times bigger. Many of those other countries never make the news unless there is some major disaster or conflict. Castro’s Cuba in contrast, has rocked the world, not only in liberation struggles, but also in medicine, education, sports and genuine assistance. At a time when the entire world was scared shirtless about Ebola breaking out of Africa to their shores, Cuba sent way more doctors than any other nation to stop the plague dead in its tracks. Not only that; these amazing medics pledged that if they contracted the dread disease, they would not be repatriated and risk bringing it back home. One of them, DrFeliz Baez Sarria, did in fact contract Ebola during his service in Sierra Leone. By the grace of God he recovered, and guess what? He went right back to the danger zone to battle the epidemic! Sorry. This just sent a shiver down my spine…
These doctors tend to channel the commitment and zeal of Dr. CheGuevera, Argentine physician. He was Fidel’s brother-in-arms, who fell in battle. In the world of medicine, the Cuban Medical Brigade stands out as giants. They are verymuch deserving of their mythical image internationally. Despite a crushing embargo, Cuban science has produced vaccinesand numerous innovations that there is not enough time here to tell. Thank God President Obama stopped the madness by coaxing the United States to make nice with Cuba. That’s why I love Fidel!
Now it’s time for Raul to sparkle. Remember, he was the one who brought the tools for Fidel to finish the job?Raul is already graduallymoving in the direction of releasing politicalprisoners, encouraging religious freedom and free enterprise. At the same time, he draws the line when it comes to maintaining law and order and indigenous control of the economy. It is unclear how they handle the stage when there enough doctors in a country. To understand delicate balance, my brother Gabriel’s recent insightful book,“Aboard the CommandantePineres,” is a must read. https://www.amazon.com/Aboard-Commandante-Pineres-Caribbean-Liberation-ebook/dp/B01GS4OIUYIt is based on his 1978 trip to Cuba and his analysis of how Fidel impacted the independence movement in the Caribbean. The ship of the revolution will sail on to continued good works. Soon I may be saying to baby brother, “That’s why I love Raul!”
Dr. Sam Christian was President of the United Student Council, Secretary General of the National Youth Council and President of the Dominica Mental Health Association. He now serves as Public Relations Officer of the Dominica’s New Freedom Party.’ Dr. Christian can be reached at 767 440-9133 / 265-0886 / 613-8345 or by logging on to www.urgentcareda.weebly.com