CUBAN revolutionary leader Fidel Castro died peacefully in bed surrounded by family members on Friday night, having thwarted the efforts of 10 US presidents to overthrow him.
El Comandante, as Cubans knew him, survived at least 670 fanciful assassination plots dreamed up by the CIA or the mafia bosses to whom it offered the contracts on his life.
“If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal,” he once commented.
US hostility to the Cuban revolution, personified by Fidel Castro, has its roots in Washington’s conception of Latin America as its “backyard.”
It dates back to the Monroe doctrine enunciated in 1823 by US president James Monroe as an assertion of US hegemony in the western hemisphere.
The Castro brothers and their July 26 Movement comrades who drove into Havana on January 2 1959 to the immense joy of the locals were determined that their revolution would differ from previous bids for power in the Americas.
It was as much a declaration of independence from US tutelage as it was an overthrow of the Batista dictatorship that ran Cuba in the interests of US tourists savouring the delights of the hotels, casinos, golf clubs and brothels controlled by the mafia.
Cuba stood up to its northern neighbour, nationalising US-owned oil refineries when they refused to process oil imports from the Soviet Union.
The Castro family farm, established by his father Angel Castro when working for the US United Front Company, was the first to be taken into public ownership by special decree.
A spate of executions and imprisonment of political opponents after liberation drew criticism, but at the same time Cuba was subject to constant military threats, including air raids, guerilla attacks, assassinations and a full-blown invasion at Playa Giron (the Bay of Pigs).
On the eve of the invasion by Cuban exiles recruited by the CIA, Fidel declared Cuba a socialist state.
He was critical of Soviet leader Nikita Khruschov’s decision to withdraw Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba in the wake of a crisis that could have led to nuclear war, but Moscow had extracted a pledge from Washington not to invade the socialist island.
President Castro, as he became in 1976, always stressed the revolution’s internationalism, supporting Che Guevara’s efforts in Bolivia and the Congo and sending volunteers — from medical staff to teachers, literacy campaigners, sports coaches and military advisers — to developing countries.
Southern Africa benefited hugely from the military volunteers sent to Angola where a mainly Cuban and Angolan army thrashed apartheid South African forces at Cuito Cuanavale, transforming the region.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many commentators suggested that Cuba would not last long, but the Cuban president was adamant that the revolution would survive provided the people wanted it.
A “special period” of economic hardship from 1989 to the late ’90s when oxen returned to the fields and people lived largely on rice and beans gave way to an improved economic situation because of advances in tourism, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
Revolutionary advances in such countries as Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, where leaders and movements had been inspired by “elder brother Fidel” also provided greater oppLen McCluskey
Unite general secretaryortunities for mutually beneficial trade.
When the president became ill in 2006, he was replaced in a temporary capacity by brother Raul before making the change permanent in 2008.
Fidel Castro made his final speech to the Cuban Communist Party congress in April of this year when he referred to his impending death.
“Soon, I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain.”
From playing a crucial role in defeating Apartheid, to sharing doctors and nurses with people in the poorest and remotest parts of the world to training up – free of charge – doctors from outside Cuba to return home and practice public health, Fidel Castro was a real internationalist - Richard Burgon Leeds East MP
Fidel Castro stood for the liberation of humanity. He remains an inspiration. Hasta la victoria siempre! - Kate Hudson CND general secretary
With the passing of another towering figure from the history of the 20th century, this is the moment to remember what Fidel Castro achieved for the people of Cuba and Latin America.
He saw off the corruption and brutality of the Batista regime and, despite the imposed poverty of the US illegal embargo, went on to create a country with the best health and education systems in the region.
His Cuba inspired those seeking freedom around the world. This is the legacy for which he will be remembered. - Len McCluskey Unite general secretary
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