Farewell, El Comandante
FIDEL Castro, who was one of the great leaders of the last half-century, has passed away. He led a famous liberation struggle to free his country from a viciously corrupt and US-supported dictatorship, contributed vitally to liberating Latin America from the stranglehold of fascist dependents of US corporations, and similarly contributed to the historic liberation struggles of southern Africa
The iconic Che Guevara regarded Castro as his leader. These were considered unforgiveable crimes by the US establishment. According to one report, the CIA allegedly backed a total of 638 assassination attempts against Castro. If that is even close to being accurate it would indeed measure the insane corporate fury Castro aroused in the Great Hegemon. It would also measure his global and historical significance.
Castro contributed enormously to the human rights of his people even if it must be conceded his human rights record was not without blemish. He was, after all, the leader of a revolutionary movement who had to survive the unremitting and obsessive hostility of a neighbouring superpower that was committed to a “murderous terrorist campaign” aimed at bringing “the terrors of the earth” to Cuba according to president Kennedy’s adviser Arthur Schlesinger.
Kennedy himself privately admitted that “our allies think we are slightly demented” on the subject of Cuba. Under these circumstances, Castro did take tough, even cruel and draconian, decisions even though he was not cruel by nature. He was bitterly opposed by many of the better-off classes of Cuba who fled their country and openly participated in the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow the revolutionary regime. These Cuban exiles were a relatively comfortable and tiny minority resisting the liberation of their impoverished and oppressed compatriots.
Fidel Castro has left an indelible impression on the imagination of the youth all over the world.
Their offspring in Florida today have unsurprisingly celebrated the death of Fidel Castro. So has the boorish president-elect of the US who has promised to reverse Obama’s belated policy initiatives towards Cuba, possibly including his restoration of diplomatic ties.
Trump the campaigner is now confronted with having to distance himself from many of his patently irresponsible and opportunistic pledges in order to have a chance of surviving in the White House for more than one term — if he is not impeached for several conflicts of interest much before that. He runs the risk of alienating his angry and resentful electoral base, which includes the descendants of the Cuban exiles, who stood with him throughout the electoral campaign against all norms of commonsense and common decency. Like any snake-oil salesman he makes claims that resonate, but is unlikely to have any workable solutions.
Accordingly, dealing with Castro’s legacy may turn out to be one of Trump’s thorniest challenges — especially keeping open the infamous torture cell in the illegally occupied Guantanamo military base in Cuba. President Obama has tarnished his legacy by many failures including an inability to close down the infamous ‘interrogation’ facility in Cuba which he had promised to be one of his first acts as president.
Fidel Castro has left an indelible impression on the imagination of the youth all over the world — and especially in the developing ex-colonial world. His towering personality, his political oratory, his revolutionary daring and accomplishments, his vision of freedom and dignity, and above all his ability to retain the profound affection of his own people despite the rigours they have undergone due to the illegal US blockade which is no less than an extended act of war, carved a niche of admiration and solidarity in the hearts of millions around the world.
Castro prevailed against all that was thrown at him by the mightiest power. Even in the very different world of the 21st century in which the youth seem to have different values from their parents’ and grandparents’ generations there is a recognition that leaders like Castro (and Mandela) answered to aspirations that will always retain their validity.
The era of ‘great leaders’ is said to be over. The romanticism which attaches to their image is said to obscure their severe drawbacks and the dubious nature of their achievements. An era of colourless bureaucratic leaders given to ‘collegiate’ decision-making and skilled professional reporting rather than declamatory statements of visionary intent that mobilise and energise is said to have eclipsed the old order of leadership.
But, in fact, we note that the world seems to be reverting to varieties of charismatic leadership. Charlatans and mountebanks are, accordingly, beginning to have a field day. But the charisma of Castro and Mandela never represented any self-serving manipulation of the resentments and dreams of the abandoned and betrayed. They never sought to beguile their following “whereby they weave a paradise” for their victims. The political charisma of true leaders comes from their embodiment of struggle by the excluded for a better world in which their rights, duties and possibilities define public policies, priorities and choices.
Fidel Castro may not have always lived up to such criteria. But the legacy he leaves behind should enable his valiant island nation and billions of the denied and deprived around the world to continue the noble struggle he served so admirably.
In Pakistan we have had no such legacy of leadership after the Quaid. Corruption, impunity and survival have come to be the criteria of smart, ‘post-truth’ and ‘Hobbesian’ politics in which ‘successful’ leaders never participate in the disasters they regularly bring down upon their people.
We are now in a time of transition in critical segments of governance pertaining to security and justice. Inspiration is the last thing designated chiefs are expected to look for. Not too long ago,
however, there was a hopeful glimmer. But sadly it progressively grew dimmer. And the chances of unshackling ourselves have become slimmer.
How can we prevent our national prospect from getting even grimmer? We approach 200 million as we approach 2050 when we shall approach 400
million — and all that shall entail! And in place of talk about sealing wax and cabbages and kings we now talk of Panama and the changing of the guard and other such things.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.