IT IS CUSTOMARY at the beginning of each year for persons in the media and public figures to make either a review of the past year or to look forward to possible developments and trends in the new year.
With the global situation as uncertain as it is now, and especially the negative effects of climate change as well as the trade challenges emanating from Brexit and coming changes to relations between the European Union and ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) states, that exercise is quite a relevant one. Yet today I would like to focus attention on a very special event, an anniversary, and what that event has meant in real terms to people in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Caribbean, and the rest of the world. The anniversary to which I refer is none other than the Diamond Jubilee, the 60th anniversary, of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.
When Fidel Castro led his victorious band of largely bearded guerrilla fighters into the Cuban capital of Havana on January 1, 1959, few could have foreseen that the overthrow of the cruel Batista dictatorship would turn out to have such profound repercussions not just in Cuba but in the world at large. There have been all sorts of Revolutions in human history, the French and American ones being prominent, but the Cuban Revolution, alongside the historic Haitian one which freed slaves, must certainly rank as one of the most memorable.
Its influence in the region was almost immediate, the youthfulness of the Castro “brigade”, the beards and berets becoming a hit with the youth of the times. Even here, without regular contact with Cuba, one of the early ventures of what became known as “the Bridge Boys” into the field of mas, was in portraying the Fidelistas.
The thirst for knowledge of the young people of the time, rapidly becoming radicalized, led to a search for literature and by the late sixties, in spite of the colonial ban on “prohibited literature”, newspapers and books, about and from Cuba, began to be circulated. In turn, Cuba’s move towards a socialist revolution influenced the nationalist and black power movements springing up in the Caribbean.
More and more of these began espousing some form of socialism as their goal and posters of Cuban leaders, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in particular, along with T-shirts, berets and such paraphernalia, became much sought-after items.
In turn, frightened Caribbean leaders, with the instigation of the USA and Britain in particular, gave practical support to the isolation of Cuba, refusing to engage in diplomatic relations and prohibiting citizens
from travelling to Havana with travel bans being a noted form of punishment. Worse, there was a campaign of misinformation, disinformation and vilification of Cuba and all those who dared to advocate relations with its government. Some of the most ridiculous lies were churned out, and unfortunately believed by many, especially at election time as happened here in 1979.
But in spite of all this, the influence of the Cuban Revolution did not wane and even before diplomatic relations with Cuba were established by the trailblazing quartet of Eric Williams, Errol Barrow, Michael Manley and Forbes Burnham, people-to-people and party-to-party relations between the people and movements of the Caribbean and Cuba began to flourish. Out of this came the benefits of Cuba freely training thousands of Caribbean doctors, engineers and other professionals, the greatest contribution towards the development of our human resource base by any external country or entity.
The influence of the Cuban Revolution extended even further afield. Cuba it is which rapidly became the cornerstone of support for national liberation movements worldwide.
It is fair to conclude that without the decisive Cuban military intervention in Southern Africa which broke the back of apartheid militarism, freedom for Southern Africa would have been a much more protracted and costly affair.
One could go on and on, but suffice it to mention that Cuba’s resistance to the bullying dictates of a mighty power just 90 miles away has inspired confidence in millions of oppressed people to throw off the yoke of oppression, to pursue dreams that another path is possible, that small nations do not have to grovel on their knees.
The Revolution and its leadership have not been perfect and many challenges still remain but Cuba has demonstrated that it is possible to resist successfully, to refuse to bow to outside dictates.
As we congratulate the Government and People of that country on this historic achievement, the Diamond Jubilee demonstrates what can be achieved by a determined people.
● Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.