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Old Tuesday, November 29, 2016
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Default The passing of a great man leaves Pakistan cold

The passing of a great man leaves Pakistan cold

By Ayaz Amir

What an amazing life and what a titanic personality – one of the greats of the 20thcentury, on a par with the likes of Mao and Ho Chi Minh, the vital distinction being that he strode a smaller stage – and it is not surprising at all that his death has scarcely drawn any mention in our great republic.

There’s been no official condolence on the death of Fidel Castro and it is entirely fitting that from the shining capitalist-roaders who lead our country there should have been no message of sympathy for the Cuban people. The loss is not Cuba’s, it is ours, because this lack of sympathy and knowledge, this vast ignorance of what the Cuban revolution has meant to countless millions across the globe is a commentary like no other on the poverty of our imagination and the absence among our ruling elites of even a halting sense of history.

Cuba has gone into mourning for nine days. If ours had been a slightly more enlightened country, slightly more aware of the currents of world history, our flag too should have flown at half-mast, as a mark of tribute to a truly singular and monumental figure who coming from a small island off the coast of the imperial United States left his mark and the imprint of his personality on his times.

Revolution and communism have both gone out of fashion but for those of us, those of my generation, whose hearts used to beat a little faster when the slogan was sounded ‘The East is Red’, or for whom Che Guevara, the tragic revolutionary, was an inspiring figure, the allure of the Cuban revolution has not entirely disappeared.

The saga of the Cuban revolution reads like something out of the strangest, the most unbelievable fiction. First the attack on the Moncada barracks led by Fidel in person, bullets whizzing past his head, and its utter failure and Fidel’s imprisonment and at his trial the famous speech “History will absolve me”. Then after 22 months in prison his release under an amnesty passed by the Cuban Congress and signed by the Cuban strongman, Fulgencio Batista, great friend of the United States.

Fidel tried his hand at constitutional politics but the experience didn’t work out because the system was rigged, as it usually is in Third World countries, with Batista controlling and subverting the political process. And repression was on the increase. Six weeks after his release Castro boarded a flight for Mexico, his sister Lidia selling her refrigerator so that he should have some money with him. In a proclamation to the Cuban people Castro declared, “From journeys such as this, a man either does not return or else returns with the tyranny dismembered at his feet.”

In Mexico he tracked down a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, Alberto Bayo, and asked him to train his men in guerrilla warfare. Bayo was amused. Here was this young man gesticulating wildly and vowing to carry out a landing in Cuba with men “when I have them” and with vessels “when I have the money to buy them”. At that moment, as Bayo was to recall later, “he had not a single man nor a single dollar”.

“Fidel’s first home in Mexico City,” writes Tad Szulc in his 1986 biography of Fidel, “was a tiny room overlooking the courtyard of a cheap downtown hotel. He did all his reading and writing there.” For lunch and dinner he walked to the house of a Cuban friend. And it was in Mexico City that Fidel came across Che Guevara. Writing to his father Che had this to say, “Some time ago…a young Cuban leader invited me to join his movement of armed liberation of his people and I, naturally, accepted.” Thus was born a legendary friendship.

They made preparations and they trained hard. Life was Spartan and rigorous. The Mexican police got wind of what they were doing and Fidel and Che were arrested by the Mexican police but released later on the intercession of ex-president Lazaro Cardenas because, as Szulc writes, “nobody in Mexico, president or not, could ever refuse any request from the legendary Cardenas.”

Then after many privations and more training they were ready to embark for Cuba. Fidel wrote out his will and with 81 companions boarded the yacht, Granma, which was built to carry 25 passengers. It was a stormy crossing, taking longer than what they had planned for. Here is Che’s account of the journey: “The entire boat had a ridiculously tragic aspect: men with anguished faces grabbing their stomachs; some with their heads inside buckets, others collapsed in the strangest positions, motionless, their clothes filthy with vomit…”

Close to shore they got stuck on a mud bank, the landing looking more like a shipwreck. And regime troops got wind of the rebels. The straggling column was ambushed, the marchers taking heavy losses. Of the 82 men who landed from the Granma, only 16 survived to carry on the war. The peasants of the Sierra Maestra mountains where they set up their base gave them crucial help. Within three years Castro had marched on Havana and proclaimed the success of the Cuban revolution.

You read about these events and it is as if your blood is charged. Castro went on to consolidate the revolution by mobilising the common people and smashing the power of the old elites. There was a mass exodus of the privileged from the island. The big farms were broken up and industry nationalised. The US was naturally upset. American business interests were hurt. For all practical purposes Cuba was an American colony and the bars and brothels of Havana were a favoured destination for well-heeled American visitors. Not only was the Cuban revolution changing all that. It was setting a bad example for the rest of Latin America.

The US used everything in its power to strangle the revolution, subjecting Cuba to international isolation and economic sanctions, devising various schemes for Castro’s assassination, and even carrying out an actual invasion, the Bay of Pigs adventure. The Cuban revolution lived through it all and survived. Not just that…Castro supported revolutionary causes throughout the world, supporting the PLO and Nelson Mandela’s movement in South Africa, sending a Cuban expeditionary force to defend the leftist MPLA against American-backed interventions by South Africa and Zaire.

The kind of traffic jams we have in Pakistan you won’t find in Cuba. In the streets of Havana they still make do with ancient American cars. The shops are not full of the kind of consumer goods we take for granted here. But Cuba has one of the best healthcare and education systems in the world. And it is a proud country, confident in its own strength and afraid of none.

Look at us and our pretensions. We are a nuclear power and we have a powerful military but we feel threatened all the time and can’t live without American goodwill and support. And we certainly don’t have Cuba’s revolutionary fervour and commitment.

Our historic misfortune is that we have produced no leader in the mould of Castro and Che Guevara, selfless individuals sacrificing everything for their beliefs. Look at the way our leaders live. Look at their talk, look at their hypocrisy and then wonder at our destiny which has given us nothing better.
To succeed,look at things not as they are,but as they can be.:)
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