Fidel and Jamaica – A more than friendly relationshipSaturday, November 26, 2016
BY KARL ANGELL Executive Editor – Operations email@example.com
The death Friday of former Cuban president and commander-in-chief of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, at age 90, is resonating loudly across the world.
Even those who despise just hearing the name Castro cannot deny his profound and lasting effect on 20th-century history and politics.
From the time a young Fidel captivated the poor and suffering masses — especially in Latin and South America with his ‘History will absolve me’ speech at his trial, which eventually became his abiding manifesto — to when he led the overthrow of the Batista regime in 1959, through to his unabashed espousing of socialism, the encounter of several assassination plots, a nuclear missile crisis and the military, health and technical assistance he offered other nations, Castro, to his death, remained one of the iconic political figures of the last 50 years.
Much will be written about the life and times of Fidel Castro; some will hail him for his stance against the United States and his fight to establish the principle of non-alignment, while others will decry him for what they might deem his anti-democratic method of government and for holding the reins of power in Cuba too long.
Castro had a deep influence on Cuba’s nearest neighbour, Jamaica, especially during the years 1972-1980 when Michael Manley was in power.
This comradely relationship was almost predictable as Manley, shortly after his election win in 1972, declared his Government democratic socialist, which, although not as deep and strident as the communist ideology adopted by Castro, was along the same path, with its insistence on community-based projects and the shared desire of creating a new world economic and political order.
It was therefore little wonder that in 1975, Manley made the short trip to Cuba, a move which incensed the ruling class in Jamaica, the then Opposition Jamaica Labour Party and for sure, the Government of the United States as the icy breeze of the cold war swirled and howled at its peak.
Shortly after the Manley trip and Castro’s visit to Jamaica in 1977, signs began to show of the mutual collaboration of the two leaders and countries.
Cuban doctors and nurses entered the Jamaican health system, while builders and engineers from the Spanish-speaking island led the way in the construction of Jose Marti and Gravey Maceo high schools and G C Foster College, along with the construction of several micro-dams. There was also noticeable Cuba/Jamaica co-operation in the areas of sports and culture.
Castro and Manley found solidarity on the world stage with their strong, strident and sustained condemnation of the brutal apartheid system perpetuated at the time in South Africa. Both leaders gave strong support to the African National Congress and its jailed leader, Nelson Mandela, which eventually led to the demise of the apartheid system.
Castro went further by sending his soldiers to support the struggles of Angola’s Agostinho Neto and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, as well as the Mozambican war of independence army led by Samora Machel. It is now widely accepted that the assistance of Cuban troops was the decisive factor in both Mozambique and Angola eventually gaining their independence.
As was usual during his lifetime, Castro was the centre of much controversy worldwide, and Jamaica was no exception. The Jamaican dislike for Castro, especially his adherence to communism, culminated in 1980 when the new JLP Government declared the then Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica Ulises Estrada persona non-grata, leading to the severing of diplomatic ties between Cuba and Jamaica, which were only reinstated when Manley returned to the seat of Government in 1989.
When Manley died in 1997, Castro made his second visit to Jamaica to pay his respects to his friend.
A man of profound intellect and one fiercely devoted to the upliftment of the people of Cuba, Fidel Castro was not restricted to the land of his birth, and while many will see him as a tyrant of no mean order, there is little doubt that he has made a global impact.