“Condemn me. It is of no importance. History will absolve me.”
These words were quoted by one of the most radical and daring politicians in contemporary world history, an eminent figure in the cold war politics, a determined revolutionary who survived the intense opposition of the US. This man is Fidel Castro. Marking an end to his “iron-fisted rule”, he announced his resignation as the president of Cuba and commander-in-chief of Cuba’s military on Tuesday. Having been reported to be ill for over 19 months now, this charismatic leader announced his resignation in a message published in the online version of the official daily, Granma. He stated that he would neither accept nor aspire the position of president of the council of state and commander-in-chief. He is probably one of the few to have served his country as the president for a tenure of almost about 50 years. His rule in Cuba has been hailed by communists across the world and he was probably the leader of the only strong socialist regime in the post cold war international system. However, he has, at the same time, also been condemned for the totalitarian model of government he reigned over. His brother Raul, who is considered a more pragmatic person, is expected to succeed him and the question that looms now is whether the system he established would continue to survive or not.
Castro‘s announcement has been received with mixed reactions. Human rights activists have seen his despotic regime as a reason for the severe economic hardships faced by the Cubans. His defenders extol his policies for what they feel is a reason for social progress, including racial integration, universal education and health care. They claim that he has achieved things that many poor states have not, despite being under enormous pressures. Another aspect which is unique to the Cuban state under Fidel Castro is the strong continuous defiance of American economic and political influence; this has been the cause of the antagonistic relationship between them for decades. He is also despised by the Cuban exiles in different parts of the world that fled the country to escape his dictatorial rule. It cannot be denied that he has remained an immensely forceful element in international politics.
His political career could be traced back to the 1930’s where he, a young law student in his twenties, was involved in violent battles and disputes which surrounded university elections. Later, he became increasingly passionate about social justice, joined the Partido Ortodoxo which had been newly formed by Eduardo Chibás. He considered Chibás as his mentor and worked dedicatedly for his cause. By then, he had become well known for his passionately nationalistic views and his intense opposition to the influence of the United States on Cuban internal affairs. Castro had become a candidate for a seat in the Cuban parliament when General Fulgencio Batista led a coup d’état in 1952 and successfully overthrew the Government of President Carlos Prío Socarrás, thus cancelling the elections.
Batista’s government, though recognized by the US, spelled discontent amongst Cubans. This triggered Castro to spring into direct action and though unsuccessful in his first attempts, he eventually with the help of his brother Raul, and the famous revolutionary Che Guevara, brought down the Government of Batista. His new government nationalized factories and plantations owned by American companies attracting the distrust of the US, leading the transformation of Cuba into a one-party republic. The US cut off its diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and events took a turn for the worse when a group of CIA-trained Cuban exiles, armed with US weapons, landed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in an attempt to overthrow Castro. The operation turned into a disaster for the US and the exiles, with many of the exile fighters killed or captured. It was in context of the cold war politics that Cuba became a bone of contention between the Soviet and USA. The suspicion of Soviet Union installing missile sites in Cuba and the strategic location of Cuba with regards to US brought the conflicting powers on the brink of a war. Fidel Castro has miraculously survived scores of attempts of assassination by the CIA.
What future beholds for Cuba is uncertain, but Fidel Castro would continue to be an example of an influential and courageous leader for many years to come.
Rohini Ram Mohan
[image courtesy: http://flickr.com/photos/onlinecarolonline/203660824/sizes/m/]