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Fri. December 14, 2018
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Thank you Fidel
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The death of Fidel Castro, the flamboyant Cuban revolutionary leader, has been met with mixed reactions around the world. On the one hand, many observers have lauded the social progress made after the defeat of the Batista government in 1960. Illiteracy has been largely eradicated on the island. Education and health services have reached a surprisingly high level of sophistication. Women have equal rights with men.

On the other hand, there is a negative side to the Castro legacy as he is blamed for human rights abuses in Cuba, limits on free speech and a host of democratic freedoms and the ignominious exodus of Cuban refugees to Florida at various moments during the life of his regime. Respect for rule of law does not appear to be part of his revolutionary legacy. The Canadian Prime Minister was even forced to utter the word 'dictator' when pushed by media and criticism at home and abroad insisting on a recalibrated message of condolence for his passing. Something less praiseworthy, to be sure.

Many of these critical voices are made by political analysts and commentators who belong to the millennial generation, or at the very least, the post-2000 crowd. Those of us who watched the first 40 years in the new Cuba's life might paint a very different picture of the Castro legacy, one which is embedded in a historical legacy which is absent from the voices of doubt and derision. Historical perspective can easily be lost in the instantaneous world of immediacy created by the internet revolution. Yet, despite all of its benefits, the immediacy of truth, while easier to apprehend and act on, actually suppresses other key aspects relating to the origin of this or that truth. I maintain that this is the missing link, which prevents us from fully appreciating the true legacy of the Castro regime in Cuba.

Let us think back to the beginnings of the new Cuba, to a time when the corrupt, pro-American dictatorship of Batista was ousted from power by a popular revolt led by Cuban communists. Just one year later, the beloved Kennedys sent a contingent of armed reactionaries to retake the island during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. This was a time when the American backed United Fruit company sought total hegemony over Central America overturning popular revolts to solidify American regional economic and political power by installing regional puppet regimes. Only Cuba stood against the American Empire. We should not forget that both the Soviet and American empires were quite prepared to bring us to the brink of nuclear war over Cuba. As for the Cuban alliance with the former Soviet Union, Castro played the opportunist card as a deterrent to US power. During those years, one could easily be duped into believing that Communism was a monolithic system. This would be an incorrect conclusion since we know that Chinese communism is different from Soviet communism and Cuban style communism. Their origins are starkly different.

American influence in Central America during the first 40 years of the new Cuba was pervasive - Panama invaded; Grenada invaded; Guatemalan revolution overturned; two coups in the Dominican Republic; constant US meddling in Haiti; multiple assassination attempts on Castro foiled but Che Guevara killed by the CIA; support for the Somoza regime in Nicaragua. The list goes on. Meanwhile Cubans fought alongside African allies against the white apartheid regime in South Africa.

Some Cubans did leave the island. Many were seeking better economic opportunities, family reunion with former pro-Batista operatives and some left for political reasons. With the American empire staring them down 90 miles away in Florida and with part of their army in Guantanamo, it is somewhat understandable why the regime in Havana sought to defend itself and its territorial integrity. There is a domestic political price to pay for this and stroking their erstwhile Soviet bedfellows. Was it worth it?

Given the proper historical context to evaluate the legacy, Castro can be seen as the Ataturk of Central America. The means taken were not always principled but the freedoms now enjoyed by Central Americans are those made in Central America, not in Washington. Fidel knew that that cultural legacy was worth fighting for. It also inspired his northern neighbors to timidly challenge the hemispheric logic of American manifest destiny. This Cuban legacy may even have had something to do with the Canadian decision not to join the US led coalition to attack Iraq in 2004.

Dr. Bruce Mabley is the director of the Mackenzie-Papineau Group think tank based in Montreal devoted to analysis of international politics. Dr Mabley is a former Canadian diplomat and academic who has written a number of analytical and academic texts. In 2016, Macleans magazine featured a story about Dr. Mabley related to the war in Syria and referred to him as 'Canada's Rogue Diplomat'. In 2002, he was decorated by the French Republic as Chevalier des Palmes académiques.

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