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Archive for December, 2016

Thread of the unstitched cloth-JAWED NAQVI

Posted by admin On December - 20 - 2016 Comments Off on Thread of the unstitched cloth-JAWED NAQVI

FIRAQ Gorakhpuri was the senior poet on the stage at a Lucknow mushaira. A rookie versifier was on the mike. Firaq appeared to have dozed off, as his turn, the last usually, was still a few more senior poets away. He wasn’t really asleep though.

“That sounds like my verse you are reciting, sir,” he suddenly interrupted the young poet who was in full cry. The unhesitant accusation was padded with a grudging half smile. “Thank you indeed Firaq sahib, but this is obviously an accident,” the frazzled poet pleaded, waiting for the nod to continue. The reply, however, provoked a sharper reaction than was bargained for. “Young friend, we have seen bullock carts crashing into pedestrians. Accidents are known to occur between cars and trains,” Firaq wouldn’t stop. “But an accident between an aeroplane and a bicycle?” The auditorium was in splits and it was a while before the soirée could resume.

Imagine Gautam Buddha as the senior poet and the world of intellect that followed as his protégés. I must confess, I too felt like the rookie man the other day when I thought I had figured out how Buddhism may have impacted global religions and some great literature too in no small way. Existentialism, theatre of the absurd, pacifism, T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, they all flitted by. ‘Damyata’ (control), ‘datta’ (give), ‘dayadhvam’ (compassion) from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad are Eliot’s last words in the long poem. The words are thought to have come from the Buddhist reflection of the Upanishads.

It was humbling to realise soon enough that scholars had arrived at similar conclusions with far more diligence than I could hope to muster as a journalist. Sitting in 10 days of Vipassana silence recently, the mind leapt hither and thither.

Any number of lines by Ghalib are infused with Buddhist meditation that may pass for Sufi influence.
The religious injunction came to mind in the reverie: travel to far away China to seek knowledge. Why be partial to China, why not Greece, for example, which produced great philosophers? Some more cogitation and a faint answer appeared. Could it have to do with Buddhism, which had travelled circuitously to China while it was being exiled out of India? Was that the wisdom Muslims were being counselled to partake of? Surely there was more than an outside chance that Buddha’s teachings had imbued Confucianism with greater moral and temporal sinews. The idea of the unstitched cloth worn by Haj pilgrims and Buddhist monks crossed the mind, and their shaven heads.

I noted that the focus on the inward gaze suggested by Buddhist contemplation was coursing through Allama Iqbal, possibly the greatest Muslim philosopher from Asia. “Apne mann mein doob kar pa ja suragh-i-zindagi/ Tu agar mera nahi banta na ban, apna to ban.” (Delve into your soul to seek life’s buried tracks; Will you not be mine? then be not mine, be your own at least!) Iqbal regurgitates Buddha again: “Mann ki duniya mein na paya mein ne Afrangi ka raaj/ Man ki duniya mein na dekhe, meiney Sheikh-o-Barhaman.” (In the depth of my soul I have not allowed the white man’s rule/ In that world I have not seen Hindu and Muslim fight.)

Kabir was a popular pre-Mughal poet. Bulleh Shah came along from Bukhara with the Mughal arrival in India. Both learned poets divided by 1,000 miles between them and a couple of centuries apart spoke Buddha’s language. “Bulleya ki jaana main kaun’(Bulleya to me, I am not known). ‘Verhe aa varh mere” (Do come to me). “Main jaana jogi de naal” (I’m going together with Jogi). The last is so akin to the essential invocation: “Buddham sharanam gachhami.” (I’m off to surrender to Buddha’s care).

Kabir says: “Man na rangaae, rangaae jogi kapda.” It was a direct indictment of the priestly class. The mystics colour their clothes when they were required to fix their thought. Buddha’s use of the human body as an implement to train the mind to deal with worldly traps is reflected in Kabir faithfully in his poem Jheeni jeeni beeni chadariya. In this, Kabir likens the body to a woven shawl. “Jo chaadar sur nar muni orhey, orh ke maeli kini chadariya/ Das Kabir jatan se orhi, jyon ki tyon dhar dini chadariya.” (The noble and the learned soiled the sheet. Kabir used it with care and left it spotless clean.)

Kabir’s simile for creation as a delicate work of threading shows up in Mir Taqi Mir a couple of centuries later with another Buddhist quest for treading gently. “Le saans bhi aahista ke nazuk hai bahot kaam/ Aafaq ki is kargah-i-sheeshagari ka.” (Breathe but gently. Do not disturb the arrangement of resplendent particles that make up the delicate thread of life). “Hasti apni habaab ki si hai/ Ye numaish saraab ki si hai.” Mir may be using the Buddhist concept of anichchya or impermanence here. (My life is like a bubble now/ Mirage-like it appears and how).

Any number of lines by Ghalib are infused with Buddhist meditation that may pass for Sufi influence. But was Sufism devoid of Buddha’s core beliefs? Khwaja Mir Dard the Sufi poet of the 18th-century Delhi offered an insight into his grasp of classical music and mysticism that came close to the voice of the Great Teacher of 600 BC. “Khalq mein hain par juda sab khalq say rahtay hain hum/ Taal ki gintee say baahar jis tarah roopak mein sum.” (We belong to the world we live in, but we always stand apart/ Like the climax of the roopak taal uniquely aloof from the cyclical beat of the drum.)

From Turkey to Iran, the Buddhist thought had been woven into poetry. Take Rumi or Adam Sanai in the 12th century, Buddha’s presence is inescapable. “Someone who keeps aloof from suffering is not a lover,” says Sanai in a translation by Coleman Barks. Buddha would be smiling with joy, not the half smile of Firaq.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.


Published in Dawn December 20th, 2016
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Defying imperialism from its backyard-VIJAY PRASHAD

Posted by admin On December - 13 - 2016 Comments Off on Defying imperialism from its backyard-VIJAY PRASHAD


Despite the sanctions the U.S. imposed on Cuba and the many attempts it made to get rid of Fidel Castro, the Cuban Revolution has not collapsed and Castro outlasted 11 U.S. Presidents.
FIDEL CASTRO died at age 90. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States and Cuban exiles had tried for decades to kill him. In the U.S. Congress’ Church Committee Report (1975), U.S. politicians wrote: “The proposed assassination devices ran the gamut from high-powered rifles to poison pills, poison pens, deadly bacterial powders and other devices which strain the imagination.” One of these devices was an exploding cigar, which was to be given to Castro at the United Nations. None of these succeeded. In April 1959, when Castro visited New York, he marvelled at the headline of an American paper: “All Police on Alert—Plot to Kill Castro!” The Cuban leader ducked all these attempts, 634 by one count. He gave up smoking in 1985 and suffered poor health over his last decade. It was old age that took him, not the wiles of the CIA.

Cuba’s new revolutionary government in 1959 made noises that sounded awfully familiar to the elites in Washington, D.C. They did not hear echoes from the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR) since Castro had not made his intentions towards communism clear. What they found objectionable was Castro’s agenda: to conduct land reforms, to expropriate the entrenched elite and to expel the American mafia. The template for the U.S.’ displeasure at the Castro government was set in Guatemala, where the CIA conducted a coup in 1954 against the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. His crime was land reform and protection of workers’ rights, both anathema to the old rural elites and the U.S.-based United Fruit Company. When Arbenz’s nationalist government went to work, the CIA planned to assassinate leading figures in his government and to allow its proxies to start an armed struggle. In 1952, the CIA created a “disposal list” containing the names of 58 leaders in the country. The text on assassination is chillingly precise: “The simplest tools are often the most efficient means of assassination,” the CIA wrote, pointing towards hammers, axes, wrenches, lamp stands “or anything hard, heavy and handy”. The CIA also primed its agent on the ground, Carlos Castillo Armas, who had no qualms about brutality. “If it is necessary to turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it,” Armas said, “I will not hesitate to do it.” Arbenz was dispatched in a coup in 1954. Castro’s fate, by 1960, was to be the same.
Castro saw what the U.S. would try to do as he moved on his socialist programme. He had seen what happened to Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 and to Arbenz in 1954, and he watched as the U.S. helped overthrow Brazil’s Joao Goulart in 1964 and intervened in the Dominican Republic in 1965 to prevent the restoration of the democratically elected government of Juan Bosch. In Africa, most spectacularly, the West and a section of the Congolese military assassinated the democratically elected President Patrice Lumumba. These men were not communists but liberal, anti-colonial nationalists. Their liberal nationalism pitted them against local elites and U.S. multinational corporations, at whose behest the U.S. government acted to prevent them from being in power. A decade later, when other nationalists attempted to come to power in Central America—from El Salvador to Nicaragua—they faced the same fate. Castro was their beacon. Cuba had escaped the dragnet of imperialism.

Castro knew that the CIA would not be able to do in Cuba what it had done in Guatemala. In October 1959, Castro met with the Soviet intelligence agent Aleksandr Alekseyev. Alekseyev, a veteran KGB agent, reported to Moscow that Castro had presciently told him: “All U.S. attempts to intervene are condemned to failure.” Why was Castro so certain of his position? The Cubans knew that over 90 per cent of the population had supported the revolution against the dictator Fulgencio Batista. The encrusted elite fled rapidly to the U.S., 144 kilometres away, where they set up shop in Miami’s new Little Havana. The CIA went to work amongst these exiles to find a Castillo Armas to lead the revolt against Castro and to find an assassin to kill him. When the CIA-backed exiles tried to invade Cuba in April 1961, they were routed by the Cuban forces and the armed Cuban population at the Bay of Pigs. The attention now went towards the assassination of Castro, which would sow chaos and allow a U.S.-backed force to seize power. That was the hope.

In April 1960, the U.S. State Department created a memorandum on Cuba. It found that “the majority of Cubans support Castro” and that “there is no effective political opposition” on the island. Communist influence, the memorandum noted, was “pervading the government and the body politic at an amazingly fast rate”. What could the U.S. do to undermine the Castro government on behalf of the old Cuban elites and the U.S.-based corporations? “The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support,” wrote the State Department’s Lester D. Mallory, “is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.” The U.S. government must, therefore, use “every possible means” to “weaken the economic life of Cuba”. Castro knew this. During his meeting with Alekseyev, Castro said that he did worry about Cuba’s economy.
As with many colonies, Cuba had been forced into a one-crop economy, in its case sugar. The Batista government had relied upon sale of sugar to the U.S. and on tourism from the U.S. Both would have to end if Cuba was to succeed. “The only danger for the Cuban Revolution,” Castro told Alekseyev, “is Cuba’s economic weakness and its economic dependence on the U.S., which could use sanctions against Cuba. In one or two years, the U.S. could destroy the Cuban economy.” In October 1960, almost two years after Castro came to power, the U.S. Congress decided to embargo exports to Cuba. This blockade (el bloqueo) was extended in 1962 to basically throttle the island.

What saved Cuba was that Castro’s government had the support of the island’s people and the Soviet Union, which provided Cuba with material assistance. Castro told Alekseyev in 1959: “Never, even under mortal danger, will we make a deal with American imperialism.” Instead, Cuba turned to the USSR for assistance. This assistance, which included military protection, would last until the USSR collapsed in 1991. In a stroke, Cuba lost its market for sugar and its supplier of foodstuffs and fuel. The U.S. saw an opening. The U.S. Congress tightened the noose. The Torricelli Act (Cuban Democracy Act of 1992) and the Helms-Burton Act (Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996) extended the embargo to include foreign companies. Cuba was isolated. It was during this Special Period that Cuba had to be innovative: reusing, repairing and recycling its products. It was a difficult time, and yet the Cuban Revolution did not collapse. It did not follow the USSR into oblivion. “Why did we resist?” Castro asked a decade later. “Because the Revolution always had, has, and increasingly will have the support of a nation, an intelligent populace, which is increasingly united, educated and combative.”

Every chink in the armour is an opening for the U.S. to insinuate itself against the Revolution. Castro had aggravated the U.S. by providing material assistance to national liberation forces across Africa and Latin America and medical and educational aid to his neighbours in the Caribbean. Castro took a leadership role in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which Cuba hosted in 1979 and 2006, and in the more radical Organisation of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAL), which is based in Havana. Cuba did not retreat into a shell. It went outwards, building solidarity networks across the world to help it break the embargo. In fact, during the Special Period, the Indian communist movement raised 10,000 tonnes of wheat and 10,000 tonnes of rice, which were shipped to Cuba. Each Cuban received a loaf of bread from that shipment. Castro would call the Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet the “Bread Man”. Such solidarity, in material and moral terms, kept Cuba going and allowed it to stand firm against U.S. pressure. When NAM became pliant and OSPAAL became dormant, Cuba turned towards the “pink tide” in Latin America—with the rise of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales providing a new fillip to Cuban ambitions. The weakness of the “pink tide” threatens to push Cuba once more into isolation.
Castro outlasted 11 U.S. Presidents, including Barack Obama. The Americans reached out to Cuba, via the Vatican, to begin diplomatic relations. Castro’s brother Raul accepted the invitation to a dialogue partly to break out of the isolation. There was no clear sign, however, that the U.S. wanted to invalidate its 60-year history of supporting Cuban exiles and big corporations who are eager to exploit the Cuban landscape and its population. The talks between the countries produced no real breakthrough. Some gestures were allowed, such as the start of some direct flights between the U.S. and Cuba. Also, Obama restored diplomatic relations between the countries in 2015: The Cuban embassy opened in Washington, D.C., on July 20 and the the U.S. embassy opened in Havana in August with Secretary of State John Kerry there for the raising of the flag. Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Havana after the 1959 Revolution when he made a trip in March 2016.

Nothing more was on the table. But even these small moves are now to be rolled back by the administration of Donald Trump. Trump believes that the death of Castro will hasten the end of the Cuban Revolution. The U.S., which had wanted to assassinate Castro all these decades, has come to believe that the Revolution is merely his fancy and not a commitment of the Cuban people. Trump will squeeze the Cubans for more concessions until the negotiations will break down. There is no appetite in Washington for peace. In one of his last pieces in Granma, Castro wrote of the “uncertain destiny of the human species”. He worried about the ascension of Trump and other like-minded politicians, but he also worried about the policies of Obama. None portend well for the planet. Trump and Obama might appear different, Castro suggested, but they are united in their fealty to the U.S., the “most powerful imperialist country that has ever existed”. Both Trump and Obama, wrote the old revolutionary on his deathbed, “will have to be given a medal of clay”. The earth cannot afford to give them anything else. They have already laid claim to everything.

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Soldier of socialism-JOHN CHERIAN

Posted by admin On December - 13 - 2016 Comments Off on Soldier of socialism-JOHN CHERIAN


Fidel Castro, who defended the values of the revolution that he led in his country and extended his moral and material support to the forces of progress wherever they found themselves up against dictatorship and imperialism, walks into history.
Fidel Castro made no secret of the fact that he led the revolution on behalf of the dispossessed not only in Cuba but all over the world. Fidel Castro’s heroism and revolutionary deeds before coming to power are now historic lore. The attack on the Moncada Barracks, his trial following his capture in which he declared “history will absolve me”; and the leadership he provided to the band of revolutionaries who accompanied him on the “Granma” and went on to achieve the revolution have continued to inspire revolutionaries and other progressive people.

Among his first moves after coming to power was the nationalisation of foreign-owned companies and comprehensive land reforms. The revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro wanted to once and for all end the domination of foreign powers and interests in Cuba. Under the cruel Fulgencio Batista dictatorship backed by the United States, workers had few rights and there was widespread unemployment. After the 1959 revolution, the real wages of workers saw an immediate rise and unemployment vanished. Within three years, the literacy rate in Cuba went up to 96 per cent, a figure which rivalled that of its next-door neighbour, the U.S. Education was made free, along with health care. The informal apartheid that had existed before the revolution ended. Cubans of colour were admitted to private clubs and beaches. Afro-Cubans were among the biggest beneficiaries of the revolution.

It was the expropriation of U.S.-owned companies and estates that led to U.S. hostility towards the Cuban Revolution from the very outset. The acute antagonism between Havana and Washington drove the world to the verge of a possible nuclear holocaust in 1962—in the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis. The year before, the Americans had failed in their attempts to overthrow Cuba’s socialist government. Fidel Castro had announced soon after the revolution that the government would adhere to the communist ideology. The Eisenhower administration had by then imposed economic sanctions on Cuba. After the defeat of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-led forces in the Bay of Pigs invasion, the John F. Kennedy administration imposed a full-blown economic blockade. In a 1960 speech, Kennedy said that Castro had “confiscated over a billion dollars” worth of U.S. property, underlining that the U.S.’ main concern was the protection of its financial assets in the island.
Standing up to the U.S.

Fidel Castro literally played a hands-on role in the thwarting of the U.S. attempt at regime change through the means of an invasion in 1962. He was on the front lines directing the Cuban forces. “I took part in the capture of nobody knows how many prisoners,” he has recounted in his autobiography My Life. The prisoners were humanely treated and released after the Kennedy administration paid a token amount as war reparation to Cuba. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Kennedy administration made more plans to destabilise socialist Cuba economically and politically. Cuba thereafter was continuously in the U.S.’ cross hairs until the diplomatic breakthrough in 2015.

The U.S. persuaded most of the Latin American and Caribbean countries that were under American influence and tutelage at the time to economically and politically boycott Cuba. After the “Bay of Pigs” humiliation, the Kennedy administration announced “An Alliance for Progress”, earmarking $10 billion in development aid for the region and urging the governments there to institute agrarian reforms. According to Fidel Castro, it was the communist revolution in Cuba that made Washington reassess the concept of agrarian reforms. “The administration that had never wanted to hear the word agrarian reform, that had considered it a communist idea, was now suggesting that there was a need for agrarian reform in Latin America,” he observed in his memoir. He believed that Kennedy had realised that a radical revolution, much bigger than the Cuban Revolution, could occur across Latin America if the necessary reforms were not carried out. It is another matter that most of the money the U.S. disbursed was stolen by right-wing military dictators and oligarchs who ruled the roost in Latin America in those days.

Alliance with socialist bloc

The Organisation of American States (OAS), which was under Washington’s thumb, was used as an instrument to destabilise the Cuban Revolution. The Cuban government had little option but to strengthen economic and political ties with the socialist bloc led by the Soviet Union, though Cuba’s natural trading and cultural partners were in its immediate periphery.
Cuba emerged strengthened from its alliance with the Soviet Union, despite the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis. The “October Crisis”, as it is known in Cuba, was one of the most dangerous events witnessed after the Second World War. “The world was on the verge of a thermonuclear war as a consequence of the United States’ aggressive brutal policy against Cuba,” Fidel Castro observed. The Soviet Union had placed SS-4 ballistic missiles in Cuba to protect the country from an imminent full-scale U.S. invasion. The crisis was ultimately resolved with the Soviet Union “blinking” and withdrawing its nuclear weapons. Fidel Castro himself was not too happy with Moscow’s action, as it was done without his consent. All the same, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev did get an undertaking from Washington not to launch an invasion of Cuba and also to stop the constant overflights of U.S. Air Force planes over the island. Moscow also got an assurance that the
Jupiter missile aimed at the Soviet Union would be removed from U.S. military bases in Turkey.

Beyond Cuba

But Cuba under Fidel Castro was not in any way cowed down by the U.S. As Fidel Castro told his biographer Ignacio Ramonet: “They internationalised the blockade; we internationalised guerilla warfare.”

Che Guevara, his trusted comrade-in-arms, decided to go to Bolivia to fight against the corrupt, U.S.-backed regime there. Che already had secretly been to Congo in 1965 with a group of fellow Cubans to help guerilla fighters there to defeat the Western-backed government that was installed after the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the charismatic left-wing Prime Minister. Though that initial Cuban foray into the African continent was not very successful, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution were determined to play a proactive role to thwart the West’s imperialist and neocolonial designs in Africa and Latin America.

Soon after the revolution, Raul Castro and Che visited Cairo to establish contact with African revolutionary movements. They also visited Gaza to express solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Close relations were established between Cuba and the National Liberation Front (FLN) in Algeria, which was fighting a bloody war of independence. Cuba trained FLN fighters and sent arms to Algerian guerilla fighters through Morocco. Cuba also provided medical aid and shelter for wounded Algerian fighters. Fidel Castro says in his memoir that the first group of Cuban medical doctors to be sent overseas was sent to Algeria. Today there are more than 190,000 Cuban doctors working selflessly in underdeveloped areas all over the world. When there was a devastating earthquake in Pakistan, Cuba was among the first countries that dispatched doctors and medical aid. Cuban doctors also work in war zones, saving lives.
After Algeria won independence from France in 1962, close military and security ties were established between Havana and Algiers. Cuba even sent in some troops to Algeria in 1963 when the country came under attack from Morocco, a close ally of the West. Cuba also actively helped progressive republican and left-wing governments in the Arab world, in Syria, Iraq and South Yemen. South Yemen in the 1970s had a socialist government. Cuban forces helped the Syrian army in the 1973 war with Israel. Cuba’s military ties with Iraq were cut after Saddam Hussein went to war with Iran in 1980.

Decolonisation in Africa

From the very outset, solidarity with forces that were in the forefront of the decolonisation struggle in Africa was a hallmark of the revolution. Cuban forces intervened on the side of the Ethiopian government under Mengistu Haile Merriam, a self-proclaimed socialist. Somalia, under Siad Barre, launched an invasion of Ethiopia in the late 1970s with Western encouragement. Cuban intervention was crucial in the defeat of the Somali army in the “Ogaden war”, as the conflict was called. The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise and consolidation of many left-wing movements on the African continent, many of them inspired by Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution. Political movements such as the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) in Namibia, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in Angola and the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) in Mozambique had close links with Havana.

The Cuban contribution to the decolonisation struggle in southern Africa was especially crucial. Many historians concede that but for Cuban military intervention at a critical juncture, the decolonisation struggle could have taken a different and unwelcome turn. In Angola, Mozambique and other countries, renegade counter-revolutionary movements could have emerged triumphant, as they were backed by the West and apartheid South Africa. South Africa had the most powerful army in Africa. Its forces had entered Angola to support surrogates like Jonas Savimbi in a bid to oust the ruling MPLA soon after the country gained independence. The MPLA at the time was a left-wing party inspired by the Marxist ideology. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a close friend of Fidel Castro, has described Cuba’s contribution to the decolonisation struggle beautifully and graphically in an article titled “Operation Carlotta”, the code name for the Cuban military expedition to Angola. The MPLA leadership, just after taking power, faced a concerted military attack backed by South African forces and supported by the U.S. The Angolan government appealed for urgent help from the only country it knew would be willing to help at short notice.
“The MPLA leaders, who had been prepared for guerilla struggle rather than full-scale war, then understood that only an urgent appeal for international solidarity would enable them to rout this concerted attack by neighbouring states, supported by the most rapacious and destructive resources of imperialism,” wrote Marquez. The Cuban Communist Party, fully aware of the risks involved, acceded within 48 hours to Angolan President Agostinho Neto’s appeal for Cuban troops to help the beleaguered Angolan forces. By the time the decisive battle of Cueto Cuenavale was fought in 1988, there were 40,000 Cuban troops in Angola. Fidel Castro was personally involved in overseeing minute aspects of the battle, which saw the defeat of the mighty South African army.

“There was not a single dot on the map of Angola that he [Castro] was unable to identify, nor any feature of the land that he did not know by heart. His absorption in the war was so intense and meticulous that he could quote any statistic relating to Angola as if it were Cuba itself,” wrote Marquez. The Cuban leader would often spend 14 hours at a stretch in his command room, sometimes without sleeping or eating, overseeing the military moves, according to Marquez. “Six thousand miles from home, the Cuban army entered into combat with the armies of South Africa, the largest power in the continent, and Zaire, the richest and best armed of Europe’s and America’s puppet regimes,” Fidel Castro reminisced.

The Soviet Union was not consulted when Cuba decided to send troops to Angola. The Soviet leadership, in fact, had let it be known that it was not too happy with many initiatives the Cuban leadership took to shore up national liberation movements in Africa and Latin America. At the same time, it should be acknowledged that Soviet help in the supply of arms, along with the Soviet Union’s diplomatic and financial support, played a key role in the decolonisation struggle in Africa. In Fidel Castro’s words, Cuba’s contribution was “decisive in finally bringing independence to Angola and in doing the same thing in Namibia in March 1990. It also made a significant contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe, and to the toppling of the apartheid regime in South Africa”.
Mandela’s tribute

It was no surprise that Fidel Castro got the loudest ovation on the historic occasion of Nelson Mandela’s swearing in as the first President of a democratic and multiracial South Africa. When Mandela visited Cuba in 1991, he delivered a moving speech thanking the Cuban people: “We are humbled and full of emotion here. We have come here today recognising our great debt to the Cuban people. What other country has a history of selfless behaviour as Cuba has shown for the people of Africa?” Mandela said. “The decisive defeat of the racist army in Cuito Cuinavale was a victory for all Africa. This victory in Cuito Cuinavale is what made it possible for Angola to enjoy peace and to establish its sovereignty. The defeat of the racist army made it possible for the people of Namibia to achieve their peace and independence.” Mandela went on to emphasise that the defeat of the racist forces in Cuito Cuinavale “made it possible” for him to be a free man and visit Cuba.

An inspiration to Latin America

Fidel Castro, along with Che, will of course forever be in the hearts of the people of the Americas. Che did not die in vain in the jungles of Bolivia. Neither was the sacrifice of Salvadore Allende, who died fighting with the AK-47 that Fidel Castro had presented him, in vain. Today, the political map of the region has undergone a dramatic change. Many of Fidel Castro’s disciples and admirers are in power. The first thing that Hugo Chavez did after being released from prison in 1993 was to visit Fidel Castro. Venezuela and Cuba today have a close relationship. Fidel Castro and Chavez together played a key role in building alternative regional groupings free from the meddling of the U.S. The Bolivarian Alliance for the People of our Americas (ALBA) is one such grouping, which includes countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Even before Fidel Castro demitted office, the U.S. efforts to keep Cuba diplomatically isolated had failed. In fact, it was the U.S. that became friendless in Latin America as many countries looked up to the Cuban model for inspiration.

Fidel Castro saw to it that the Cuban people had the freedom to live without worrying about access to food, shelter, health care and education. Cuba’s “prevention-focussed holistic model” has helped it achieve one of the best health-care systems in the world, with the highest ratio of doctors per capita. Cuba under Fidel Castro emerged as a “sporting superpower”. Until a decade ago, Cuba figured consistently among the top 10 medal winners in the Olympic Games. Even today, Cuban boxers, wrestlers and athletes are counted among the world’s best. Cuba has shared its expertise in sports with many countries, including India. India’s success in boxing can to a large extent be attributed to boxing coaches from Cuba.
Fidel Castro had a special place in his heart for India. Almost immediately after the revolution, he sent Che to New Delhi to establish contact with the Indian leadership. Cuba became an active member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). His electrifying presence at the Delhi NAM summit was one of its highlights. He struck up a close friendship with Indira Gandhi, who was the Prime Minister at the time. In Cuba, many girls born in the 1980s were named Indira. He would have been disappointed in his last days when India started distancing itself from NAM and moved closer to Washington. Cuba, however, still attaches particular importance to its relationship with India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was one of the few leaders who were allowed to visit Fidel Castro after he fell seriously ill in 2006.

Until the very end Fidel Castro remained suspicious of the U.S., though he accepted the Cuban government’s decision to restore diplomatic ties. His distrust now seems justified. Donald Trump, the President-elect, has threatened to reverse the Obama administration’s diplomatic opening to Cuba. He has said that he wants a “better deal” to be negotiated with Cuba. On the campaign trail, Trump promised the rabidly anti-Castro Cuban American community concentrated in Miami that he would scuttle the deal signed by Washington and Havana. Anyway, Fidel Castro has had the last laugh: he always maintained that U.S. democracy was a sham. What better illustration could there be than the election of Trump as the President, and that too with a two-million-vote deficit?

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How Europe’s left lost the working class-John Lloyd

Posted by admin On December - 12 - 2016 Comments Off on How Europe’s left lost the working class-John Lloyd


If parties of the left cannot appeal to the working class, what’s their use? The 21st century may be the one in which the umbilical link between the main left parties and organized labor is broken in favor of a politics of identity, and a grasping after some form of direct democracy that translates desires and frustrations into instant policies. Lurking over this movement is the fear of such an unsustainable politics producing authoritarian leaders, especially if the economies of the Western states worsen.

This past week saw two leaders of the European left – Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy and President Francois Hollande of France – forced to admit defeat and to leave the political scene, their reputations and policies shredded, their parties embarrassed by their very presence. In Italy, Renzi announced his resignation after losing a referendum on constitutional reform. In France, Hollande bowed to his nation’s unchanging contempt and announced that he would not seek the presidency for a second time – an unprecedented move in post-World War Two France. He did have some success – job creation recently picked up – but he had fallen into too deep a chasm for rescue by the time a 50,000-plus increase was announced in October.

Hollande, who came in on a rhetorically leftist platform of “hating the rich” was forced to discreetly drop plans to raise their taxes to a marginal rate of 75 percent on annual incomes of more than 1 million euro ($1,075 million). It was French actor Gerard Depardieu who called Hollande’s bluff most dramatically – by moving across the border into Belgium. Depardieu remains a working class hero. The president who tried to take money from the few rich to give to the many poor has been mocked from office.

The French president’s flip-flop from angry socialist to emollient centrist while the economy stagnated and unemployment rose was a terrible posture to take. He put icing on this sad cake with the revelation that he had insulted a series of friends and allies during discussions with two journalists during the period of his presidency, an act of self indulgent narcissism only possible in one who had lost his bearings. Now, Prime Minister Manuel Valls will be the main leftist contender for the Élysée Palace, seeking to convince voters that his brand of pragmatic, growth- and business-oriented policies will woo the French away from the two present front-runners, National Front leader Marine Le Pen on the far-right and the Republican Francois Fillon on the center-right. Polls presently show Valls with little chance of surviving the first round. That may change, but he will have to claw away from his former boss’s legacy.

It won’t be easy. Both Valls and Emmanuel Macron, the 38-year-old former economy minister who resigned from the Hollande cabinet in August to run as an independent presidential candidate, are strongly and openly pro-business: so, too, was Hollande, once he had dropped his leftist posture, and his attempts at labor reforms lost him much support among union members who might be tempted by the National Front’s wooing of the working class vote. Valls and Macron prefer to speak of freedom rather than job security, seeing their mission as “unblocking France,” as Valls has put it, releasing what they believe are the pent-up, over-regulated entrepreneurial classes.

They follow a line laid down by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, the two most successful center-left leaders of recent times. Blair was convinced of the need to accept globalization, and of its inevitability.”The forces shaping the world,” the former UK prime minister said in a 2008 speech, “are so strong and all tend in one direction. They are opening the world up.” Both Blair and Clinton believed globalization was good for the workers; as for a while it was. Ironically, the center-left strategy known as a “third way” between old style socialism and free market capitalism had most success in Germany, where it was adopted by the Social Democratic chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Schroeder strengthened German’s already formidable industrial base, though at the cost of fewer secure jobs and for some workers, lower pay.

The major European economy which was slowest to adapt to the new world of intense foreign competition has been Italy – the main reason for its present turbulence. Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister who dominated his country’s politics for 20 years, did far too little to reform an economy with islands of high tech excellence, but an ocean of small and middle sized companies unable to compete with foreign rivals.

Thus Matteo Renzi roared into office in 2014, brusquely displacing Prime Minister Enrico Letta, his comrade in the Democratic Party, saying that Italy urgently needed a radical set of policies, that there was not time for elections and parliamentary niceties and that he, Renzi, was the man, at a mere 39 and with no national governing experience, to do it. Calling himself the “rottamotore,” or demolition man, he and the small group around him sought to liberalize Italy’s labor laws, cut back the bureaucracy, fight corruption, reduce the power of monopolistic corporations and reduce the large privileges of ministers, members of parliament and senior officials.

It wasn’t enough to get growth, but far too much for his compatriots. His autocratic, hustling style created enemies – on the right, of course, but also on the left of his own party, and in the amorphous but powerful populist Five Star Movement, co-founded by comedian Beppe Grillo and now bidding to be the next government. Renzi’s critics excoriate him for arrogance, ignorance and – in the words of one professor – “brutality.” Renzi’s proposal to reduce the powers of the Senate – which under the present constitution has equal power with the lower house – was turned down in the Dec. 4 referendum on a high turnout of 70 percent. Sixty percent voted “no” – a result which reduced him to tears.

For all the many mistakes both Renzi and Hollande have made, the larger point is the choice they had. Put briefly, it was between adapting to globalization, or fighting it through canceling trade partnerships, building tariff walls, reducing immigration and bullying domestic producers to bring back production from low-labor-cost countries to their home base. It is the Trump- Le Pen-far-right program.

Going global allowed the third-way leftists to enjoy real success -in the short term. But they were not magicians. Somebody had to lose in the competition against low wage, high tech economies not burdened with much democracy and with a rough way of handling strikes. The victims in this contest turned out to be Europe’s indigenous, unskilled and semi-skilled workers and their families. These were the people the left was supposed to protect; in fact, the left was perceived to have done the reverse. The anti-immigrant, anti-trade, anti-free market right now finds itself the repository of the hopes of men and women who see relief in their policies. That they are unlikely to get that relief will lead our societies into ever more stormy waters.


John Lloyd co-founded the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where he is senior research fellow. Lloyd has written several books, including What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics. He is also a contributing editor at the Financial Times and the founder of FT Magazine.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

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