The world woke up to the news yesterday that Fidel Castro had died. Although his increasingly frail health and advancing years suggested that Fidel’s continued sojourn amongst us would be of limited duration, the news of his passing nevertheless delivered a shock, then sadness, that a revolutionary giant of the 20th century would no longer be a presence. It was the sheer audacity and bravery of his Moncada attack, his inspiring speech (“history will absolve me”) at his trial and the death-defying persistence of the Granma invasion, buttressed the rousing speeches but vague notions in Guyana of independence and socialism, that inspired me as a teenager.
The success of the Cuban Revolution lies not only in the social developments which it brought to Cuba by way of its world class health and education systems, exemplified by one of the highest literacy rates and one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world, but by bringing an end to the second class status for Afro Cubans who were historically discriminated against and lived in dire poverty. These social benefits are available to every single Cuban.
Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution have been heavily criticized by the West for its purported undemocratic political system and its curbs on democratic freedoms. These are not recent accusations, nor are they made against allies of the West such as Saudi Arabia. The US remained silent at the Fulgencio Batista coup in 1952 and mass torture and executions during his reign up to 1959. The US suddenly found its voice in 1959 when lawful punishment was meted out to the Batista torturers and murders. This commenced the fifty plus years of efforts by the US to assassinate Fidel Castro and strangle the Cuban Revolution.
The great success of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution lies not merely in its social achievements but in its inspiration to peoples all over the world oppressed by foreign domination, to the peoples of Latin America against the vestiges of the Monroe Doctrine, to the peoples of Southern Africa, particularly Angola, in which Cuban soldiers died, to the numerous countries like Guyana to which major assistance is being offered. Cuba’s mere survival is an inspiration to humanity by its modern replay of the victory of David over Goliath. And Fidel Castro is the symbol of that inspiration.
Cuba’s influence on Guyana’s recent political history has been significant but with no lasting impact. After years of hostility to Cuba and the Cuban Revolution, the Burnham Government opened diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1972. Close political relations quickly developed as the Guyana Government moved to the left. It appears as if the Cuban analysis of Guyana went something like this: The PNC is a friend of Cuba and is on the left. It is entrenched in power, which it will not share. Cuba’s fraternal party, the PPP, should therefore support the PNC and strengthen its capacity to resist imperialism.
The PPP’s fundamental objection to this analysis was that the PNC held power undemocratically and socialism cannot be built without democracy. Also, unconditional support to the PNC Government would have undermined its own support. The Cuban’s disapproval of the PPP’s posture was evidenced by Castro’s visit to Guyana in 1973, just after the egregious rigging of the 1973 elections in which the PNC gave itself a two-third majority and the brutal killing of three PPP supporters and not meeting with Cheddi Jagan.
The Cubans then sought to subvert the PPP. Ranji Chandisingh, seen as second in line to Cheddi Jagan and the PPP’s chief ideologue, and Feroze Mohamed, a rising star, visited Cuba in about 1975. It was believed, and later confirmed by Chandisingh to Billy Strachan, in a conversation in 1994/5 (unfortunately both has since passed and I have no way of proving this other than my word) that during that trip the Cuban Communist Party had persuaded him to leave the PPP and join the PNC, which Chandisingh did in 1976, creating a major division.
It is impossible not to believe that Feroze Mohamed did not know of the Cuban involvement in Chandisingh’s resignation. But he has remained silent; or that he was not also encouraged by the Cubans to leave the PPP and join the PNC. Burnham began at this time in Parliament to shower praises on him, maybe as encouragement to take the step across the floor. But if he was encouraged, he did not cross over. I know the whole story as told to me by senior PNC sources, but regrettably can say no more. Billy Strachan was a Jamaican-British labour activist and lawyer since the late 1940s. He and Chandisingh were extremely close friends and comrades from the 1950s.
Cheddi Jagan had long realised that it was necessary to show solidarity with the PNC’s progressive policies. He had offered ‘critical support’ in 1975 but finally concluded that something more was necessary, while remaining convinced that a solution not based on democracy would not endure. He may well have been further influenced by the Cuban view and feared a loss of their solidarity. Thus in 1977 the PPP offered the National Patriotic Front based on free and fair election in which the majority party would not field a candidate for president but for the second position of prime minister. Neither the Cubans nor the PNC was impressed but Cuban relations with the PPP, as well as the PNC, continued.