Fidel Castro turns 90 today

The former Cuban leader, who successfully led the Cuban revolution in 1959, has survived numerous assassination plots by the US against him, repulsed an armed US-planned and supported invasion of his country, and refused to give up his socialist ideals and give in to massive US pressure and embargoes aimed at crippling the country’s economy. Fidel has overcome the machinations of 12 US presidents who could not tolerate the idea of a small neighboring nation not bending to its will. It is only in the last few years that the US has realized the failure of these efforts and is now trying a different approach.

The BBC published a brief biography of his life, including his childhood, and the formative experiences of seeing exploited Haitian workers that he tried to overcome.

He issued a lengthy letter (he has never been known for his brevity, in his prime often delivering extempore speeches that lasted several hours) on the occasion.

“I want to express my deepest gratitude for the shows of respect, greetings and praise that I’ve received in recent days, which give me strength to reciprocate with ideas that I will send to party militants and relevant organizations,” he wrote.

“Modern medical techniques have allowed me to scrutinize the universe,” wrote Castro, who stepped down as Cuba’s president 10 years ago after suffering a severe gastrointestinal illness.

Castro accompanied his thanks with reminiscences about his childhood and youth in eastern Cuba, describing the geology and plant life of the region where he grew up. He touched on his father’s death shortly before his own victory in overthrowing U.S-backed strongman Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Castro returns at the end to criticize Obama, who appeared to anger the revolutionary leader with a March trip to Cuba in which he called for Cubans to look toward the future. A week after the trip, Castro wrote a sternly worded letter admonishing Obama to read up on Cuban history, and declaring that “we don’t need the empire to give us anything.”

In Saturday’s letter, he criticizes Obama for not apologizing to the Japanese people during a May trip to Hiroshima, describing Obama’s speech there as “lacking stature.”

While Cuba has restricted some freedoms that the US government and media publicize highly whenever they can, less attention is given to the fact that under Fidel’s leadership, when it comes to quality of life indices such as literacy, infant mortality, life expectancy, healthcare quality and coverage, and educational access, it is comparable to much richer first-world nations.

Cuba under Fidel has also been the leader in fight against imperialism around the world and helping other struggling nations. Daniel Kovalik reviews Fidel’s achievements in those areas.

The contribution he has made to the world socialist movement, to the Third World liberation struggle and to social justice has been monumental – especially when one considers that he has been the leader of a tiny country with roughly the same population as New York City.

At the current time, the Colombian government and leftist FARC guerillas are engaged in a peace process in Havana, and are very near to reaching a final peace accord, in large part due to Fidel’s efforts.

As Nelson Mandela himself has acknowledged, South Africa is free from apartheid in no small measure due to Fidel’s leadership in militarily aiding the liberation struggles in Southern Africa, especially in Angola and Namibia, against the South African military which was then being supported by the United States.

In addition, The Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Cuba, which trains doctors from all around the world, but particularly from poor countries, was Fidel’s brainchild. Today, 70 countries from around the world benefit from Cuba’s medical internationalism, including Haiti where Cuban doctors have been, according to The New York Times, at the forefront of the fight against cholera.

As we speak, Cuba has hundreds of doctors working in the slums of Caracas, Venezuela where Venezuelan doctors fear to tread. There are Cuban-trained doctors in remote parts of Honduras which are otherwise not served by the Honduran government. Patients from 26 Latin American & Caribbean countries have traveled to Cuba to have their eyesight restored by Cuban doctors. Among this list is Mario Teran, the Bolivian soldier who shot and killed Che Guevara. The Cubans not only forgave Mario, but also returned his eyesight to him. Cuba even offered to send 1,500 doctors to minister to the victims of the Hurricane Katrina, though this kind offer was rejected by the United States.

Just recently, I was reminded of the fact that, for the past 25 years, Cuba has been treating 26,000 Ukrainian citizens affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident at its Tarara international medical center in Havana.

No doubt marveling at Fidel’s longevity and ability to defy US attempts to kill him, President George W. Bush wistfully said, “One day the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away”. On hearing this, the impish Fidel, who is an atheist, replied, “Now I understand why I survived Bush’s plans and the plans of other presidents who ordered my assassination: the good Lord protected me.”


  1. jrkrideau says

    Truly a remarkable man and statesman. He did wonders for the well-being of the Cuban people ( while dodging exploding cigars from the CIA 🙂

    His ideas of human rights were that people had the right to live in dignity, with decent health care, food, and access to education. And despite some mistakes that any statesman might make, he generally succeeded.

    Happy birthday Fidel!

  2. frank17 says

    “While Cuba has restricted some freedoms that the US government and media publicize highly whenever they can…”

    Such as free speech, public assembly, freedom of the press, the right to vote in multiparty elections. Not issues to be lightly brushed aside.

    US policy on Cuba has been deplorable (although Mr Obama has made improvements), but opposing the US and providing some quality of life benefits while running an authoritarian, one-part government is not enough to celebrate Fidel Castro.

  3. jrkrideau says

    @ frank17 Such as free speech, public assembly, freedom of the press, the right to vote in multiparty elections.

    Well nobody said he was perfect.

    On the other hand, most governments restrict a number of freedoms while at war. You may not have noticed but Cuba has been, for all intents and purposes, on a war footing with the USA for 60 years.The Bay of Pigs fiasco was not a tourist excursion that went wrong.


    It makes very interesting reading and suggests that the Baltimore City Police Department functions more like an army of occupation than a police department in Black neigbourhoods in Baltimore.

    I suspect Fidel would be horrified at the injustice and institutional incompetence shown there. So feel free to get back to me when the army of occupation is no longer there and tell me how bad it is in Cuba.

    This, by the way, should not be taken as a criticism of individual Baltimore Police Dept officers who seem, in most cases, to be doing their very best (often at what seems an insane level of bravery) in horrible circumstances that are not their fault.

    I don’t have the faintest clue if Fidel was an advocate of “Free Speech” but he did seem to be an advocate of “decent medical care” for all and even food and housing for all. I suspect his ideas of human rights might be different from US propagandists ideas.

    One suspects he may have had sympathy with this: In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.” ~Anatole France

    Of course, when you have the richest and most powerful country in the World breathing down your neck because you just confiscated some properties from some crooks from said ” richest and most powerful country in the World” you might be less than happy about “free speech” paid for courtesy of the CIA.aper!

  4. mnb0 says

    I must admit I thought this blog post quite funny after just having read “The danger of giving too much power to people whom one likes”.

  5. frank17 says

    “On the other hand, most governments restrict a number of freedoms while at war.”

    Not rightly, though.

  6. frank17 says

    @ jrkrideau

    “I don’t have the faintest clue if Fidel was an advocate of “Free Speech””

    It’s easy. He wasn’t.

    I agree with you that Fidel Castro would probably be horrified at injustices in the US (as am I). That does not excuse him of injustices in Cuba.

  7. jrkrideau says

    that does not excuse him of injustices in Cuba.

    No but it sometimes makes it a bit more understandable.

    I remember the USA’s support of “free speech, public assembly, freedom of the press” in Chile — Salvador Allende had that support. Oops, maybe I mean Pinochet. A model democratic leader.

    The problem is that it really is difficult to separate what Castro might have been as a socialist leader in a ‘free’ country and what he was as the leader of a beleaguered nation defending itself from attacks by the most powerful nation in the world. He might easily have turned into another Mugabe or another Mandela. It could have been a toss of a coin.

    My own, not very sophisticated, reading is that American intransigence drove him more to the Left than he originally intended but that he was quite comfortable there.

    This does not excuse injustices in Cuba but it does make a mockery of the US calls for “free speech, public assembly, freedom of the press” and so on , not to pick on your list, it just is a handy one for me to grab.

    When you have something like 10 or 12 US presidents calling for your demise, it tends to concentrate the mind. Especially since they are not just out for you personally but out to destroy your nation and reduce it to an American colony again.

    For some reason that I, as a non-USAian, have never quite grasped, the USA seems to consider Cuba as an independent nation a personal affront. My best guess is that the USA has always thought that Cuba is an American colony and any independent actions by Cuba are treason. I cannot think of anything else that explains the animosity.

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