Millennium Post

Enigmatic Castro

At the Lonely Planet website, the page on Cuba features Tropicana Nightclub Cabaret as one of the tourist attractions of Havana’s Las-Vegas-style nightlife that has survived the Revolution. The open-air cabaret with scantily dressed senoritas who climb down palm trees and dance the famous Latin American Salsa under bright light is perhaps one of the most enduring images of Cuba. Opened in 1939, the cabaret has not changed much. 

As Cuba receives close to 2 million tourists annually and the social life is expected to change for the better after the death of Fidel Castro, in all likelihood more of similar entertainment establishments like the Tropicana will come up and flourish, bringing a new dawn to the island nation that has been virtually closed to the outside world for all these years when Castro ruled the nation of 11 million people with an iron hand.  

The other enduring image of Cuba that is of its longtime ruler Fidel Castro will take a longer while to fade away from public consciousness even though he has been out of active politics for nearly a decade before he passed away on November 25. 

The Cuban economy has been in tatters ever since subsidies and aids from the erstwhile Soviet Union stopped in the 1990s. The economic embargo imposed on Cuba by US president John F Kennedy in 1962 continues unabated till date, giving no respite to the communist regime or its people. 

From now on, where the Cuban life is headed depends a lot on how the US looks at it, its trade embargo being the most lethal blow to Cuba’s well being. Giving a glimpse of how US policies could be in the coming years, the flamboyant President-elect Donald Trump reacted to Castro’s death in following words: “Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. 

Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights. While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.” 

Castro is remembered as a hero in much of Africa. According to Daniel K Kalinaki, managing editor for Africa at Nation Media Group, few outsiders played a more important role fighting apartheid in Africa than Castro. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Castro was one of the first leaders he met. Mandela dismissed criticism of his friendship with Castro. 

“We are now being advised about Cuba by people who have supported the apartheid regime these last 40 years,” Mandela said on a visit to Havana in 1991. “No honorable man or woman could ever accept advice from people who never cared for us at the most difficult times.”  

For fifty long years since 1959 when he took over power in Cuba through an armed rebellion, Castro was a pain in the neck of most US presidents. Ninety miles from its coast in Florida, Cuba rebuked and provoked the US while simultaneously sending its army to fight colonialism in many parts of the world, notably in Africa. Such missions took place in Ghana (1961), Bolivia, (1960s), Algeria (1963), the Congo (1964-1965), Syria (1973), Ethiopia (1978), Angola (1975-1989), Mozambique (before and after 1975), Grenada (1983), Nicaragua and El Salvador (during the 1980s). 

By the end of 1975, there were at least 36,000 Cuban troops in Angola supported by the Soviet military. At least 4,300 Cuban soldiers died in the African wars, half of them in Angola. It was for his battles in Africa that Castro was so popular all over the world. He came across as a leader who went beyond the rhetoric and the boundaries of his nation. 

Wages in Cuba averaged just 494.4 pesos ($18.66) monthly from 2008 to 2015. Miami-based Havana Consulting Group estimated that remittances sent to the island reached a record $3.35 billion in 2015.

Between 2008 and 2015, the firm said remittances to Cuba grew by $1.9 billion and were the principal source of Cuban family income. A joint investigation by The Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald has found that foreign tourists are travelling to Cuba in surprising numbers for sex — and not just with adult prostitutes. 

They are finding underage girls and boys. Castro had cracked down on prostitution after he seized power in 1959, and boasted his country was no longer a US brothel. But the sex market blossomed. A decade after an economic collapse forced thousands of young women and men into prostitution, Cuba has become something of an anomaly in Latin America: a destination for sex tourists where AIDS has yet to become an uncontrollable pandemic. 

In 2006, Forbes magazine listed Castro as one of the world’s richest leaders. Castro had denied the report and termed it an attempt to damage his reputation. In a 338-page memoir titled The Hidden Life Of Fidel Castro, Juan Reinaldo Sánchez, a former bodyguard of Castro, exposed the luxurious life enjoyed by the autocrat. Castro had numerous mistresses and was a foodie. He roamed around in Mercedes stashed with his favourite food and a cache of weapons.

He married twice and had ten children. But this kind of information was never reported as the media in his country was not free. The book goes on to reveal that at his private island paradise Caya Piedra, he was attended by an army of personal servants, who were kept on call round the clock to serve chilled white wine and exotic shellfish while he and his friends spent time by reading, scuba diving, and attempting to catch fish. Celebrity guests who have enjoyed the lavish hospitality there include Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian novelist, and the late French underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau. 

India was favourably disposed to the Cuban revolution and its leaders. It was also the first few countries to recognise the new government in Cuba. As per some articles published in India as late as 2007 and based on government’s declassified files, seven months after Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista’s authoritarian regime, Cuba’s new leaders decided that the country needed to build ties with like-minded independent nations, including India. 

On the night of June 30, 1959, Che Guevara’s plane landed at Delhi’s Palam airport. Warmly welcomed by a protocol officer, Guevara and his companions were taken to the newly built Hotel Ashok in Delhi’s Chanakyapuri locality. Next morning, Guevara met Jawaharlal Nehru at Teen Murti Bhavan, the Prime Minister’s residence. In the formal talks that took place before lunch, the two delegations decided to establish diplomatic missions and increase trade as soon as possible. 

Fidel Castro ruled Cuba for 47 years as prime minister (1959-1976) and president (1976-2008). On July 31, 2006, due to medical reasons, he transferred his presidential powers to his brother, Raul. Although Raul Modesto Castro was the country’s defense minister for almost 50 years (1959-2008), his military abilities as a “revolution” leader were unclear. He was not the second in command like Ernesto Che Guevara. What is really interesting about Raul, though, is his special connection (since 1953) with the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long-time friend, former boss and mentor, senior KGB officer and Latin America expert, Nikolai Leonov. 

Castro’s communist military dictatorship imposed on Cuba since January 1959 will survive Fidel’s death at least till 2018, when Raul, current Cuban president, will demit office as announced by him in February 2013. 

With Castro’s death, the churning has begun, if not in Cuba certainly in the US, as to what course the country will take when Raul gives up power in 2018. US Vice President-elect Mike Pence has to offer: “The tyrant Castro is dead. New hope dawns. We will stand with the oppressed Cuban people for a free and democratic Cuba. Viva Cuba Libre!”
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