|Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, 13 August 1926 - 25 November 2016.
On 25 November 2016, at 10.29pm Cuban time, Comrade Fidel Castro, the inspirer of the Cuban revolution, died aged 90. His death was announced on television by his brother, President Raúl Castro. The Cuban people are marking nine days of mourning, and the whole country – young and old, black and white – is gripped by sadness and deep emotion at the passing away of their iconic leader.
In 1951, Fulgencio Batista staged a coup d’état in the small island nation of Cuba, suspending the constitution and blocking the way to all peaceful means for bringing about change on the island, which continued to be run by criminal gangs and US corporations. Most of the nation’s resources had been sold to foreigners – principally to American capitalists – and the Cuban people found themselves with no rights in their own country, being left to eke out a miserable existence as best they could.
Foundations of revolution
In these circumstances, Fidel Castro and his close comrades realised that the stooge Batista regime and its powerful backer, US imperialism, could only be overcome through armed resistance. Consequently, on 26 July 1953, 140 revolutionaries, headed by a 26-year-old Fidel, attacked the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba, in the southeast of the island. The attack failed, and half the attackers were either killed or captured, including Fidel himself, who was tried and sentenced to a long prison term.
During the trial, Fidel gave a defiant speech, the text of which was smuggled out of court by the stenographer to be published and circulated amongst the Cuban people. The speech became the manifesto of the 26 July movement and elevated Fidel to the status of a hero in the eyes of the masses. In it, Fidel stated that, whatever the verdict of the court, “history will absolve me”. As a result of popular pressure, he was released after serving just two years of his 15-year sentence, and went into exile in Mexico. From there, he carried on the work of organising the struggle for Cuba’s liberation.
Although the attack on the Moncada barracks was a failure, it became a source of great inspiration to the revolutionary movement. So it was that, in November 1956, Fidel and Raúl Castro, Che Guevara and several dozen other revolutionaries arrived on the shores of Cuba on board a boat named Granma – a name that was subsequently adopted by the Communist Party of Cuba as the title of its daily newspaper.
As the Granma arrived on the Cuban shore, Batista’s soldiers were lying in wait and, in the subsequent encounter, many of the revolutionaries were killed. Fidel, Raúl and Che were among the survivors who headed for the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, from where they continued to organise and fight for Cuba’s liberation.
Making and defending Cuba’s revolution
After many battles by the guerrilla forces in the mountains, combined with the ongoing struggles of the peasantry in the countryside and of the working class in the cities, the revolutionary movement began to achieve victory after victory. On new year’s eve 1958, seeing the writing on the wall, the dictator Batista fled the country. The following day, 1 January 1959, Fidel and his comrades triumphantly rode into the capital, Havana. They went on immediately to arrest, try and execute the leading criminals of the Batista regime.
The revolutionaries were determined to bring relief to the masses, who had suffered horrendously for centuries – first at the hands of Spanish colonialists and then, from 1898 onwards, at the hands of US imperialism and its stooges. To this end, their government expropriated large landed estates and nationalised all foreign enterprises. They also set up schools and clinics as quickly as they could across the country.
The new Cuban government entertained warm feelings towards the USSR and had an unyielding hatred of Yankee imperialism. Its actions and its orientation, whilst being a source of great inspiration to the masses of Latin America and oppressed peoples everywhere, earned it the undying hostility of the United States. Indeed, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on acceding to office in January 1961, lost no time in implementing the plan drawn up by his predecessor for a CIA-organised invasion of the island to overthrow Castro’s government. For this purpose, the imperialists recruited 1,400 counter-revolutionaries from amongst those bourgeois and their hangers-on who had fled Cuba to settle in Miami in the wake of the revolution.
This counter-revolutionary assault, known as the Bay of Pigs invasion, took place on 17 April 1961. This time, the tables were turned; it was the revolutionary forces of Cuba, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, who were ready and waiting for the invaders, some of whom were killed and most of whom were captured. The whole enterprise was a total fiasco and lasted just 3 days, humiliating mighty US imperialism in the process.
The victory of the Cuban people at Playa Girón was greeted with joy by progressive people throughout the world, but it earned the Cuban revolutionary government the visceral hatred of US imperialism. After this episode, any chance of reasonable relations between Cuba and the US vanished. The Cuban government, not surprisingly, grew closer to the USSR and, in December 1961, it declared that it was for socialism.
As there was the continuing threat of further US aggression against Cuba, the Soviet Union, with the agreement of the Cuban government, decided to install intermediate-range missiles on Cuban territory. Having detected through its spy planes the process of this installation, President Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba and demanded the removal of the weapons already in Cuba and that no further missiles be delivered.
The Cuban missile crisis, as it came to be known in the west, in which the Soviet Union and the US faced each other eyeball to eyeball, lasted nearly two weeks. It was the closest that the world has yet come to a nuclear exchange between the two most powerful, nuclear-armed countries. The crisis was resolved when the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw its weapons in exchange for American commitments not to invade Cuba and also to remove American missiles from Turkey – close to the southern borders of the Soviet Union. (For more information, see The October Crisis remembered, Lalkar, January 2013)
Although Cuba was not invaded again, the US’s sabotage activities against the country continued unabated. According to reliable sources, the US made over 600 attempts to kill President Castro as a means of bringing about the downfall of the Cuban revolution. These attempts were unsuccessful, and Comrade Fidel outlasted nine successive US presidents, each of whom had been committed to removing him and his government from the face of Cuba.
The counter-revolutionary attempts aimed at destabilising and sabotaging the Cuban government were supplemented by a draconian trade blockade against the socialist island, which continues to this day, and which has been the cause of tremendous unnecessary suffering, limiting Cuban’s access to essential goods such as oil, fertiliser and medicines.
The strength of socialism
Like true socialists, the Cubans have turned their difficulties to their advantage. In the absence of nitrate fertilisers, Cuba has become a world leader in sustainable organic food production, and the lack of access to western medicines has forced the country to develop its own pharmaceutical industry, one of whose gifts to the world has been the meningitis vaccine.
Notwithstanding the difficult circumstances of its existence, Cuba managed to lift its people out of dire poverty, stave off starvation and institute public health and education systems that are the envy of the world.
To the shame of US imperialism – the richest country in the world, where tens of millions of people have no health cover, and where millions of people go short of food – tiny and poor Cuba provides healthcare to every member of its society and education to all its children. No one in Cuba is illiterate or dies of starvation. Moreover, Cuba has sent tens of thousands of teachers and doctors abroad to help other poor countries overcome illiteracy and disease.
For the first time in Cuban history, the black people of Cuba received dignified treatment and gained equal rights with Cubans of European descent. The Cuban government has always stated that Cuba’s heritage is not only Latin American but also African. Following this principle, the Cuban government airlifted thousands of troops to Africa in 1975 and turned the tide of the South African invasion against the newly-independent Republic of Angola, thus paving the way for the ultimate defeat of the cruel and inhuman system of apartheid in South Africa.
The Cuban government also gave fraternal military support to the Mengistu government in Ethiopia and to the Mozambican government’s struggle against South African aided mercenaries.
The collapse of the east and central European people’s democracies in the late 1980s and of the once glorious Soviet Union in 1991 were terrible blows to the cause of socialism in general and to the Cuban economy in particular. The country’s trade relations, based on close ties with the European socialist bloc, collapsed overnight, but the Cuban government faced the challenge with steadfastness and wisdom, emerging from this severe trial with its socialist system intact.
The election in 1998 of Hugo Chávez as the president of Venezuela provided Cuba with an opportunity to establish close relations with the Venezuelan government. These relations proved extremely beneficial for both countries, as Cuba sent thousands of doctors and teachers to Venezuela to help with the Venezuelan government’s health and education programmes, while Cuba received considerable supplies of oil from Venezuela at concessionary prices.
Having served for nearly five decades at the helm of Cuban affairs, Fidel resigned the presidency in 2008, handing over the reins of government to his brother and comrade-in-arms, Raúl. Although holding no official position, Fidel continued to provide insight and guidance to the government and to write a regular newspaper column that was read by progressive people all over the world. (See Reflections of Fidel, Granma)
Fidel Castro gave his life to the service of his people; his was indeed a life well lived. Nobody expected tiny Cuba to survive after the collapse of the USSR, and it is to the undying credit of Comrade Fidel, the Communist Party of Cuba and the Cuban masses that they held firm through all the difficulties of those days.
Despite the setbacks our movement has suffered in recent decades, Cuba and its socialist example continue to light a beacon for Latin America and the oppressed world, assuring us of the correctness of our cause and the bright future that awaits humanity when imperialism has been finally defeated.
At the passing of such a beloved leader, we say, with the rest of progressive humanity: Farewell Comrade Fidel; eternal glory to you!
The CPGB-ML sends heartfelt condolences to President Raúl Castro, to the Communist Party of Cuba and to the Cuban people at the loss of their beloved and inspirational leader. We pledge to honour him by following in his revolutionary anti-imperialist footsteps until final victory.
In the forward march of the revolution, Comrade Fidel will live forever.
Hasta la victoria siempre!