Saturday November 25th, marked the first anniversary of the death of the Caribbean’s most globally commanding statesman and national leader Fidel Castro. Quite fittingly, the Cave Hill Campus of the UWI, in association with the Cuban embassy of Barbados, held a two-day colloquium to examine aspects of Castro’s life and work with a specific emphasis on what lessons could be learned for the English-speaking Caribbean.
Over the two days, academics from UWI and Havana, government officials, artistes, activists and students, discussed a number of aspects of Castro’s legacy ranging from Cuba’s record of socio-economic development, to its international relations. The discussions were imbued with an air of symbolic spiritual connection to Fidel, owing to the presence of Dr. José Ramón Balaguer, a compatriot of Fidel Castro, and early founder of the revolution in his own right.
Amidst the general recognition of Fidel’s internal transformations in Cuba, there was the general consensus that the most enduring implication of his legacy for the English-speaking Caribbean has been the example of Cuba itself.
Those who wish to foster the idea that Cuba holds no lessons for the Caribbean have a deeply vested interest in asserting that Cuba is qualitatively different from the Anglophone Caribbean. In that way, Cuba would, despite its close physical proximity to the English-speaking Caribbean, represent a “blind spot” in terms of its social and economic policies, its class relations, its institutions, and its international relations.
It is for this reason that there is often silence in the Caribbean on Cuba’s health system, its advances in sports and culture, and its ability to act pro-actively, rather than re-actively or invisibly on the global stage. Conversely, when there is grudging acknowledgment of Cuba’s achievements, her actions are reduced to the reality of her socialist revolution, or the fact that her independence was won and defended in conditions very different from that of the English-speaking Caribbean.
Perhaps the most important step in securing Fidel’s legacy therefore, is to erase the imaginary lines separating Cuba from the Caribbean. It is this artificial line which allows the Caribbean to persist with failures in areas in which Cuba has long achieved success. Education and literacy, public health, culture, science and technology are all areas of remarkable achievement in Cuba but which the Caribbean continues to treat as impassable mountains.
It is significant that whilst Cuba has been able to use its sovereign authority to engage in robust international relations, and to avoid the domination of multi-lateral institutions like the IMF, the English-speaking Caribbean have adhered to a notion of sovereignty which has emphasized incapacity rather than possibility.
The most enduring lesson of the legacy of Fidel Castro for the Caribbean is Cuba’s example that it is possible for a small Caribbean state to use its sovereignty to become a giant on the world stage.
By Dr. Tennyson S. D. Joseph