The two legendary figures of Fidel Castro’s rebel army – Ernesto Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos was in charge of the two guerrilla columns that attacked the city of Santa Clara, Cuba's third largest city and the capital of Las Villas province. It was the last important bastion of Batista’s defensive strategy where his army had consolidated a huge force to resist the rebels. The rebel army’s plan looked suicidal as it had just 300 men and were comparatively ill equipped in arms and supplies. In contrast, the Batista army had the strength of 3500 soldiers and ten tanks. Also an armored train was on its way from Havana carrying another 400 well-armed soldiers, weapons, ammunition and supplies. Che had chalked out a three tire battle strategy: to keep the Batista troops confined, to stop the armored train and to involve the generally supportive locals to assist the rebel force. All his plans worked perfectly. The locals restricted the movements of Batista army's tanks and armored vehicles by creating barricades all over the city; the supply train was attacked and seized after a part of the railroad track were removed with tractors by the rebels. With considerable firepower at their disposal the rebel army was able to triumph over the already dispirited defenders to surrender. The battle of Santa Clara was the conclusive battle in the Cuban revolution. Less than 12 hours after the fall of Santa Clara, Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba. The day was 31 December 1958, exactly 50 years ago from today when Fidel and his comrades created history.
50 years after the revolution, under half a century of scrupulous blockade and economic warfare, Cuba has attained many considerable achievements to be proud about. It has completely eradicated illiteracy, an unparalleled achievement amongst the countries of Latin America, or even the US. The Cuban government provides free education to all its children up to University level. The country has the highest school retention rate, highest number of teachers per capita and the lowest number of students per classroom among the whole world.
Cuba has also successfully created an incredible ‘cradle to the grave’ national healthcare system that is completely free for its citizens. The infant mortality rate of Cuba is also the lowest in Latin America. Compared with the conditions of 1959, when average life expectancy was just 58 years, figures according to World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that life expectancy in today’s Cuba is 78 years – a remarkable increase of 20 years. Its healthcare system has completely eradicated many infectious and contagious diseases like polio, malaria and dengue from the country. Today, Cuba has the highest number of doctors per capita than any other country in the world. It is also training 76,000 foreign medical students free of charge and is exporting health care facilities to other poor countries. To provide first-rate health care facilities to the underprivileged people all over the third world, in 2008 Cuba has sent 36,500 doctors to eighty one third world nations. It has a flourishing biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry, has developed a vaccine for meningitis B and world-wide exports the world’s best hepatitis B vaccine.
Today, the Cuban people enjoy cent-percent social security covers and the advantages of institutional equality provided by their government. Cuban society is absolutely free from racism and exploitation and has accomplished remarkable success on women empowerment. Cuban women constitute 40 percent of Cubans labor force, 66 percent of the country’s technical and scientific workforce and 36 percent National Assembly Members. It has also attained considerable success in the sporting arena. Today, Cuba has the world’s best environmental record, having increased its forest coverage by over 50 percent, drastically reducing electricity used for lighting, and implementing a revolution in organic agriculture. The World Wildlife Fund has described Cuba as the only environmentally sustainable country in the world.
It is significant to note that all of Cuba’s major social achievements are principally acquired through social solidarity – by the active involvement of the organized Cuban mass under a brilliant and inspiring leadership of Fidel Castro. When a tiny Latin American country provides free health care and education to its people, endows them with full social security and liberates them from the bondage of social injustices – the country and its ideals are certainly dangerous! And when the same country inspires other deprived nations to revolt against imperialists and neo-liberal crooks, stimulates them to contravene the US superpower – it must be considered as a grave threat!
Cuba was the first Latin America country to achieve liberty from incessant imperialist domination through an armed revolt. It was a brilliantly original revolution; passionately inspiring to ignite waves of revolutionary struggles across the globe. It is also an extraordinary revolution in connotation with the fact that none of its leaders were steadfast communists but young radicals with a broad, democratic and anti-imperialist vision. The origin of these radical youths was a popular movement called the 26 July movement which primarily aimed to bring social justice for the Cuban people through its struggle against the despotic and corrupt rule of Fulgencio Batista, an avaricious scrooge and loyal US agent. After the revolution, the ultimate decision-making power of the revolutionary government remained with the guerrilla fighters of Sierra Maestra under the leadership of the young and unorthodox revolutionary leaders like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, Raul Castro, Celia Sánchez and Juan Almeida. These young leaders represented the true spirit of the revolt, believed in collective struggle and ideological novelty. They did not follow any dogmatic revolutionary recipe to achieve their objective. In their early discourses, words like ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’ was never even uttered by the rebel leadership. But gradually things changed when the ‘naked truths of imperialism’ started to reveal its hideous face. This revelation ultimately enforced the leadership to consciously explore the path of socialism. In April 1961, two years and four months after the victory of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro declared the rebellion as a socialist revolution. The US establishment transpired into a state of colossal dismay when Fidel confirmed that he is a Marxist-Leninist.
A commendable aspect of the Cuban revolution is Internationalism, the convenient assistance it provided to countries engaged on processes of radical transformation. Cuba had played a radical role by extending its hand of international solidarity towards the exploited and oppressed regions world over, to abolish the ‘exploitation of man by man’. The Cuban attitude of internationalism is best expressed by Che. In the speech delivered on February 1965 at the Second Economic Seminar of Afro-Asian Conference in Algeria, Che had stated:
There are no boundaries in this struggle to the death. We cannot be indifferent to what happens anywhere in the world, for a victory by any country over imperialism is our victory; just as any country's defeat is a defeat for all of us. The practice of proletarian internationalism is not only a duty for the peoples struggling for a better future, it is an inescapable necessity. If the imperialist enemy, American or any other, develops its attack against the underdeveloped peoples and the socialist countries, simple logic determines the necessity of an alliance between the underdeveloped peoples and the socialist countries. If there were no other uniting factor, the common enemy should be it. (Emphasis added)
Cuba had extended its support to the Algerian patriots in their struggle against French colonialism. In 1963, when Algeria was attacked by the Moroccan armed forces Cuba shipped a battalion of 22 tanks and several hundred troops to assist the endangered Algerian revolution. In Republic of Congo, Cuba supported the popular leader Patrice Lumumba. After CIA assassinated Lumumba, in 1965, Che Guevara led a group of more than 100 Cuban guerrillas in Congo to help the Simba movement and the Congolese rebels to fight against the US and Belgian colonialists. Cuban internationalism helped to pave way for the independence of Namibia when in 1966 Cuba extended its all-out support to SWAPO and Cuban troops, united with Angolan and Namibian forces defeated South Africa. Between 1973 and 1975, Cuban force aided Syria to guard the Golan Heights from Israeli aggression. In 1975, Cuba assisted Agostinho Neto’s MPLA in the struggle against the US backed racist South Africa in Angola. Thousands of Cuban volunteers participated in defending Angola from the attacks of South African troops. Cuba’s role in Africa is acknowledged by none other but Nelson Mandela when he had remarked that, ‘Cuban internationalists have done so much for African independence, freedom, and justice’. Cubans had extended solidarity with the heroic fighters of Vietnam and fought in Bolivia. Cuba also actively helped the revolutionary organizations in Nicaragua from 1967 and trained the courageous Sandinista guerrilla force to fight the US backed reactionary Contras. When the US troops invaded Grenada in 1983, Cubans fought along with Grenadian soldiers to resist the invasion. Even today, thousands of Cubans are assisting to implement the Barrio Adentro health mission and the Robinson literacy mission in Venezuela. Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Bolivia's Evo Morales or Ecuador's Rafael Correa would have faced greater difficulty implementing the popular political empowerment projects in their respected countries without the towering inspiration of the Cuban revolution and the vital support of the Cuban leadership. Without Cuba, it is difficult to imagine the rise of the self-respecting Latin American voices, those who are challenging the hegemony of the US imperialism in their unique way today.
The right wing mainstream media was always pejorative about Fidel and his men from the days they took power. In fact it was this propaganda apparatus which the reactionary forces used as their main bludgeon against Cuba for the last 50 years. Instead of looking at the miraculous survival of Cuba under violent economic, military and counter-revolutionary attacks for almost half a century, instead of looking at the triumphs it has achieved with very limited resources, the mainstream media meticulously continues to supply trite observations, spurious news and analysis. Millions of dollars are spend in the name of academic research to prove why the Cuban revolution is a failure. Today when they proclaim that the island is near to bankruptcy, they do not mention about the illegal economic embargo imposed upon Cuba in context. When they mention about the embargo, it is only to mock Fidel and his team for artfully using the embargo pretext to cover-up their 50 years of misdeeds. The ‘most influential’ English-language weekly The Economist embraces high hope that once Barack Obama is in office, he will lift the embargo. Well, this tremendous hope is not because The Economist is a friend of the Cuban people. It is also not because lifting the unlawful economic blockade will provide a mouthful of air to the suffocating Cuban economy. It is because, ‘Cubans would know they had nobody except their rulers to blame for their plight.’ The mainstream media is showing signs of restlessness since Fidel has stepped down and handed over the charge to Raul.
The luminous Cuban revolution has brought sovereignty and dignity to the people of Cuba by ending decades of imperialist exploitation and oppression. From an informal US colony the revolution transformed Cuba into a confident and dignified nation. The Cuban revolution has also in many ways transformed Latin America from the subjugated backyard of the US into a distinguished voice of its own. The US authorities greatly wanted and still want to destroy Cuba because it has become a symbol for others to follow. For 50 long years, Cubans have deeply respected and heroically defended their revolution with admirable courage and dignity from the illegal embargo, forced isolation, aggressive counter-revolutionary military attacks, sabotages, assassination attempts and repeated threats of the US establishment and its lethal foreign policy. Noam Chomsky in a recent interview has accredited Cuba as ‘a symbol of courageous resistance’.
Despite of unbelievable odds, Cuba’s splendid achievements helped to keep a bright beacon of hope alive in the hearts of millions of people all around the globe. Cuba has shown us how to subsist in a better and humane way which is founded on the principals of peace, social justice and human rights. Today, Cuba is the inspiration to millions who keep on believing that an alternative society, a better world is certainly possible.
Hasta la victoria siempre!
Fidel Castro & Che Guevara image courtesy: Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos
Camilo Cienfuegos image courtesy: wikipedia.org