It is unusual for a ruling communist leader to voluntarily step down from an official post before his death.
Comrade Fidel Castro, the name by which he will now be writing his weekly newspaper column, and who stepped down on Tuesday as President of Cuba, is a certainly an exception.
But then Fidel was not really a communist to start with. It was only when he was hounded by the United States that he turned towards the Soviet Union, declaring his country socialist two years after the revolution. He ruled his country with a heavy hand and hounded out many detractors, which mar his record. From his point of view, as he has remarked in his resignation letter, he had to hold the reins of power to stand up to the United States. Given that the United States practically ruled South America by proxie via a set of military dictators and made numerous attempts at dislodging and assasinating Fidel, he probably has some reason to claim so.
The Bay of Pigs invasion sponsored by the United States during the nascent years of the revolution was not only courageously repelled by the revolutionary government, but also brought the world closest to a nuclear catastrophe. The United States has still not lifted the trade embargo for the last half a century and in fact continues to occupy a part of Cuba- the infamous Guantanamo.
He has given a justification of sorts for holding on to power even when seriously ill in his resignation letter:
It was an uncomfortable situation for me vis–vis an adversary which had done everything possible to get rid of me, and I felt reluctant to comply.
It is tough for any socialist to agree completely with the dictatorship of the Cuban Communist Party under Fidel.
It is still more difficult not to salute the last of the Cold Warriors.
To his credit, Fidel not only survived the years of isolation in South America between the 1960s and 1980s, but also continued to stand up to the United States, the center of world capitalism, after the Soviet Union collapsed and the later regimes in Russia refused the former status to Cuba. Its other potential allies, China and North Korea have little in common with Fidel’s socialist commitments. China is little more than a totalitarian neo- liberal state and North Korea a strange mix of feudalism and totalitarianism.
Another reason is that the Cuban Revolution was a home grown one, not an exported commodity as it was in much of East Europe where the Red Army ‘brought’ socialism in the course of the World War II. Its own attempts in exporting revolution via Che’s exploits were courageous but dilletante- ish and ended in failure, indeed in Che’s own brutal death. The Cuban state brought commendable literacy levels and a health system that compares with some of the best in the world, even better than in some developed countries. Under his leadership, the Non- Aligned Movement maintained a loud, even if sometimes boisterous, voice against neo- colonialism.
Fidel’s success, for that is what needs to be remembered today even while criticizing some of his actions, remains in the fact that he not only lived through the fall of the former Soviet Union but also to see the rise of left- wing governments in South America when most of his key Non Aligned Movement allies had ditched NAM to join as junior partners of the core capitalist countries under neo- liberal regimes, like in India. Fidel may be seen as a devil incarnate in the United States and especially among Cuban immigrants there, but he retains the image of a David standing up to the Goliath for many in rest of the world.
For many in India who watched the NAM summit in New Delhi in 1983, the bear hug he gave Mrs Indira Gandhi remains a powerful memory.
For anyone who has ever worn a patch of red in his heart, it is indeed a day to salute Comrade Fidel.