Fidel Castro’s legacy
According to Harvard professor of sociology, Mahzarin R. Banaji, each of us carries implicit bias. One may try to be progressive on the surface but he/she can be prejudiced on an unconscious level. With our affiliation towards our clan, society, and the country, we start stereotyping other social groups by the age of five, according to Margo Monteith, professor of psychology at University of Kentucky. Peer pressure, mass media, and the actual balance of power in the society promote these stereotypes. So, socialist Fidel Castro, who stood against the capitalist countries that benefited from colonialism, imperialism, and hegemony in the name of democracy, is portrayed mostly as a dictator by the West while political participation in Cuba has been widely debated among the intelligentsia.
Without understanding the reality of developing countries where corruption is rampant, majority of people are illiterate and struggling for survival, imposing democracy there can do more harm than good as apparent from instability in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and many other countries. Looking through the lens of unprejudiced beliefs, Fidel Castro did preach democracy and reform to prepare Cubans after accomplishing social progress - racial integration, universal education and health care. His 1959 speech quoted Lincoln's line on democracy, “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people” criticizing the burgeoning oligarchy in capitalist countries. In his speech, he compared Cuba’s democracy with the one that first existed in ancient Greece where the people discussed and decided their fate in the public square; the only difference with Greece being that the Cubans are not slave owners, farmers.
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), influenced by Peru’s shining path’s ideology of proletarian democracy as in Cuba, was seen to follow Fidel Castro’s egalitarian agrarian reforms to direct effort towards the exploited peasant families. However, after coming to power as the ruling party in 2008 CA election, they got entangled in the web of elite rule, and the promise of securing breakthrough in literacy and healthcare like Cuba’s merely remained in speech.
Fidel Castro got exposed to social and economic inequalities when his father admitted him in a prestigious Jesuit school in Havana. The first hand experience of inequality there motivated him to eliminate the extremes of opulence and poverty to produce wealth enough for everyone to get by. Schools and hospitals were built in rural areas during his leadership to achieve 100% literacy rate and a complete health care. For Castro, it was the extreme greed of capitalist society that is bounding the poor to be at the mercy of the rich. "We do not want to make a living from the wealth of other countries, but from the wealth of our country", he said in a speech.
The philanthropist Fidel Castro, who used to provide free legal services to the poor before toppling the dictatorship of Batista in 1959, was unfortunately forced to resort to totalitarian model so as to disrupt foreign attempts to thwart socialism. There are evidences of heinous acts of US such as CIA-organized invasion at the Bay of Pigs to set off revolt and various assassination plots against Castro. US should also be held responsible for nuclear confrontation in 1962, human right abuses, economic woes, and political oppression in Cuba. In the United Nations convened for its 50th anniversary in 1995, Fidel Castro called for “a world without ruthless blockades that cause the death of men, women and children, youths and elders, like noiseless atom bombs” hinting at US blockage on his country for decades.
Irrespective of difference in ideology, the prosperous neighboring country US could have been supportive of Cuba’s endeavor to be self-sufficient through industrialization programs such as producing their own steel and other products. But, when Fidel Castro had to nationalize U.S. and British oil refineries and U.S.-owned banks,the US imposed the trade embargo. It started in 1962 and crippled the Cuban economy as state-led development and investment became costly. Many educated young Cubans struggling to find work left the country for better opportunity in the United States. Unfortunately, the same defectors, for whom US opened its door, were used against Fidel Castro. However, he unwaveringly continued to minimize the capitalist influence by erecting billboards carrying patriotic slogans of the revolution even when capitalism was sweeping the world including the communist regimes.
Several waves of Cuban migration - the exiled Batista supporters, the discontent wealthy, the portion of whose properties was used for socialist purpose and political dissidents against Carlos government – have formed a strong community in Florida. They have blamed Castro brothers for misery, suffering, and rampant killings under their decades of dictatorial style politics, and are demanding for restoration of democracy in Cuba.
Too much focus accorded to prosperity and grandeur by any capitalist country is diverting people’s minds away from the values of common humanity socialist ideas promote. The short term materialist happiness is having precedence over long term spirituality and well-being. The success story of capitalism in terms of wealth accumulation and materialist lifestyle is so much hyped that the slum like condition, racism, and inhumanity, are rendered invisible behind the high rises of capitalist countries. The 2016 democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, who declared himself as democratic socialist, and garnered unprecedented support especially from younger generations, did praise Fidel Castro for totally transforming Cuba. He was vocal about the inequality in wealth distribution in US, and during his campaign, he repeated the claim "the top one-tenth of 1 percent now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent."
Perhaps, instead of democratic form of rule, most of the developing countries like Nepal need strong benevolent leaders like Fidel Castro who held true to his belief “Socialism or death” and tried his level best to improve the living standard of the poorest despite colossal internal and external pressure to foil his humanitarian mission. Castro proved that socialism itself is not an inept and bankrupt idea, and kept on knocking at the doors of the capitalist countries to ruminate on their missteps during their colonial rule and to redress them by extending true helping hands – not those contaminated by greed, profit motives, and undue interferences– to the needy countries.
Challenges for reconstruction
One of the major challenges faced in the reconstruction process of Nepal is the absence of elected local government. Lack of government in local level was reflected in the major pre-disaster and post-disaster events, where it took months to reach the affected region and still no widely-accepted data is available. In the absence of an elected local government, top-down approach of governance has its own accountability deficit.
Apil KC/Keshab Sharma
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