50 Years of the Cuban Revolution
50 years ago, on this day, an army of a scruffy young men in olive green uniform marched into Santiago, toppling a US-backed military regime and heralding a new age. Cuba has never been the same after that day. As the world enters 2009, the Cuban Revolution celebrates 50 successful years.
Five years, five months and five days before the January 1st of 1959, a band of 165 rebels led by Fidel Castro, the architect of the Cuban Revolution, launched the famous attack on the Moncada barracks. Though the attack was a failure in itself, it marked a turning point in the history of modern Cuba. Castro, who went into hiding after the assault, was eventually arrested on August 1953. During his trial on the 16th of October the same year, Castro made the historical 4 hour long “History will absolve me” speech, condemning the US-supported Batista regime and declaring the legitimacy of the Cuban Revolution. Though condemned to 15 years in prison, Castro was released on May 1955 owing to popular pressure against Batista, and was exiled to Mexico. And it was in Mexico that he met another of his kind – Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. On November 1956, Fidel, his brother Raul, Che and 79 other revolutionaries sailed for Cuba on the Granma to launch yet another armed struggle against the regime. Though receiving initial setbacks, the revolution triumphed, and the Revolutionary Government was officially installed on January 8th 1959.
The going, however, has not been smooth for Cuba thereafter. Economic reforms introduced by Castro brought Cuba in direct conflict with the imperialist designs of the US. Though the Revolution was pronounced to be a Socialist one only in April 1961, the US broke diplomatic relations with Cuba by January 1961 and curbed trade, besides carrying out various acts of sabotage against her ever since Castro took over. In fact, by September 1960 itself, eight conspiracies to assassinate Castro were uncovered. The documentary 638 ways to kill Castro provides a more detailed account of the various attempts at Castro’s life by American agents. The US was also not averse to promoting various acts of terrorism, ironically, something which it is against today, against Cuba’s sovereignty. In February 1962, John F Kennedy ordered a complete trade and economic embargo on Cuba which continues till today. The US sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban missile crisis were all testing times for the puny island roughly the size of Tamil Nadu. That Cuba resisted all these arm-twisting tactics by the American imperialists and their global allies has to be largely credited to the grit and vision of the individual called Fidel Castro.
Assuming powers as the head of the Cuban state on February 16th, 1959 at the age of 32, Castro was the longest serving head of state when he officially resigned on February 11th 2008. Castro has seen no less than 10 US Presidents, the fall of the Berlin wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the opening up of global markets, liberalization of China, new anti-imperialist movements across the globe – in short, every event that shaped the political and economic scenario of the world today. Numerous leaders of Latin American states, including Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez, not to mention leaders of revolutionary movements across the globe, consider Castro to be an icon and the Cuban Revolution as an example that the oppressed have a shot at a better life in this world.
50 years after the Revolution, the Cuban economy continues to remain a state-planned economy, with great focus on human development. Ranked 51 in the Human Development Index of 2007, Cuba has 1% of the population below the poverty line and 1.9% of the population unemployed. With education being a state subject and with compulsory schooling from the age of 6 to 15, Cuba has achieved 100% literacy for both men and women. As regards health, with the abolition of private medical practice, and with the allotment of over 16% of the GDP to public health care, the advances made by Cuba have been phenomenal. Medical services are provided to over 98% of the population. The Infant Mortality Rate of Cuba is at 5.1 deaths per 1000 live births and the Life expectancy at Birth is at 78.3 years. All this despite the various sanctions imposed upon the little island by imperialist powers. A comparison of this data with that of India’s, which boasts of a 9.6% economic growth, would expose the inadequacies of the liberalization package that has been pushed by successive governments of the “world’s largest democracy” since 1990.
The Cuban Revolution is most relevant today. At a time when imperialism has taken new forms and imperialist forces work through a network of international agencies like the World Bank and the IMF, where economic failures have degenerated into ethnic conflicts, the need for a counter-imperialist revolutionary force cannot be overstated. Viva la Revolucion.