By Leni Reeves
Avoiding cult of personality has been a concern for the revolutionary government of Cuba. There are no statues of Fidel, no schools or hospitals named for him. This may possibly change now by sheer force of the Cuban people’s love for Fidel. The revolution that he led changed the world, in addition to changing Cuba. The complete story of the achievements and challenges of the Cuban Revolution would require encyclopedia-length treatment. The over-riding concepts of the revolution were and are national sovereignty and the social commitment. No foreign power would be permitted to control Cuba. Cuban people would have education, health care, safety, and reasonable living conditions, within the power of the government to create those conditions.
Another major consideration is internationalism. Cuba will extend its help to other countries when it can. In the words of Nelson Mandela, paying tribute to the Cuban struggle against South African mercenaries in Angola:
“The crushing defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale was a victory for the whole of Africa!… Cuito Cuanavale has been a turning point in the struggle to free the continent and our country from the scourge of apartheid!” And “Cubans came to our continent as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonizers. We shared the same trenches in the struggle against colonialism, underdevelopment, and apartheid. I will never forget this incomparable example of unselfish internationalism.” Cuban medical aid to other countries is legendary. Whether it is ordinary Cuban doctors in poor regions which would otherwise have no medical care, the Henry Reeve Brigade responding to epidemics and disasters, or the thousands of eyesight-restoring surgeries of Operación Milagro, the Cuban health worker serves poor people throughout the world…
Cuba has life expectancy comparable to that of the US; an infant mortality rate which is lower, a literacy rate which is higher, a percentage of citizens imprisoned which is far lower (the US a world leader in prisons). Since US propaganda has focused on human rights, it might be useful to point out that Cuba has had a death penalty moratorium since 2003 and all death penalty sentences have been commuted. Cuba has no child labor – none. Cuba legalized abortion in 1965, the first country in Latin America to do so by 30 years, and 8 years before the US Roe v Wade decision. Cuba was the first country in the world to sign the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Cuba does not permit the US to dictate its policies or its economy. This has resulted in implacable US hostility and an economic and financial blockade imposed by the US that has done its best to cripple the Cuban economy; certainly, it has cost Cuba an estimated 125,800 billion dollars, which is a lot of damage. Nevertheless, in Latin America particularly, other countries have seen Cuba as a leader and a beacon of independence, and have attempted also to use their resources primarily for their own citizens rather than allowing US and international corporate exploitation.
It wasn’t all Fidel. At every point, he has been supported by the Cuban people and their incredible capacity for resistance and struggle. But he was a political and military genius. Much of the revolutionary narrative has concentrated on the years 1953 to 1959. Fair enough. The victory of the Cuban revolution still seems to me to be some sort of miracle of history. Battles are dramatic reading. The construction of a new society seems to me to be even more difficult than victory in battle. Living a life dedicated to the details of education systems, health systems, economy, agriculture, public safety, childcare centers, programs for the elderly, and all the changes of a true revolution – women’s rights, elimination of racism, interpersonal cooperativeness, internationalism – all this seems to me to be most truly heroic. It could not have happened without him. Fidel lives, in the hearts of the Cuban people, in the smiles of those well-cared-for Cuban children, in the minds of revolutionaries everywhere in the world. The world was changed profoundly and for the better by Fidel’s having lived, a whole nation celebrated his 90th birthday, and sadly mourned his death. Lives don’t come much better than this.
Leni Villagomez Reeves is a local physician, Cuba Solidarity activist and volunteer firefighter. Contact her at lenivreeves@gmail. com.