Once, back in the 60s, when JFK was the US president and was facing a rather recalcitrant rebel merely 90 miles from the US mainland, he is said to have denounced Castro as “just another Latin American dictator.”
Well, it seems that particular “just another despot” has got the world talking as he ends his rebellion down here to take his revolutionary fervour somewhere up there.
And, as for JFK, well, not too many people, at least the modern-day youth, are talking about him these days, and those who do will emphasise more on Kennedy’s clandestine hedonistic pursuits with some still propagating yet another bizarre theory relating to his death on November 22, 1963.
It’s interesting to note how Fidel Castro, JFK’s main source of headache for some time during his tenure as commander-in-chief, also died in November.
The nuclear war was avoided, Soviet missiles in Cuba were removed, and, for many decades, the crisis was described as a victory for the West, making “the other side blinked first” a mainstay in the list of top geo-political lines.
In truth, it was not JFK who won but the other side: Castro, Cuba, Nikita Krushchev, and the Soviets, because, as part of the deal to remove the missiles from Cuba, the US also had to dismantle their missiles in Turkey, a fact that was kept secret at that time, lest it make JFK appear the weaker one in front of the world.
Form the Cuban episode, Castro emerged stronger, sending a warning to the West that if they meddled in Cuba, the eventual result may be disastrous.
Perhaps that’s the reason the US refrained from getting involved directly in this communist bastion not too far away from their capitalist haven.
For Castro, with unwavering Soviet support, the successful revolution with a handful of men, and a regime that still remains -- with countless thwarted or bungled assassination attempts thrown in for good measure -- meant fortune was on the side of the brave and the romantic.
By no rational account can one justify or define the enduring presence of the regime brought on by a revolution, fueled by romance and ideals. But it survived, as did Castro, to live it up and die at a ripe old age.
The moral of the story: Romantics are not always the losers.
The young all over the world were transfixed by Castro. Here in Bangladesh, the fervour of revolution ignited millions of freedom-loving people to stand up against an oppressive military regime of their own
Cuba did not become a haven of equality, but the country did not turn into a failure either. Soviets provided support till the fall of communism in 1990 and, afterwards, there were other romantics who threw in a helping hand, most notably from Venezuela during the post-Soviet disintegration.
For the world, this was a sign of triumph against the imperialist policy of intervening in other states and positioning puppet rulers. At a time when the world was reveling in counter-culture -- with the young imbued by ideals of equality, questioning the moral justification of neo-colonialism -- Castro, his revolution, and his flamboyant sidekick Che Guevara created a fascinating canvas of romantic social change.
The young all over the world were transfixed by Castro. Here in Bangladesh, the fervour of revolution ignited millions of freedom-loving people to stand up against an oppressive military regime of their own.
Even after our independence, Castro’s ideals of social revolution inspired countless educated intellectuals to develop a potent left-leaning political movement. For a long period in the late 70s and 80s, a large section of enlightened, academically-bright young men decided to reject the conventional path of government service to choose a life of heady thrill on the streets to advocate a social change based on Marxist values.
The much-aspired communist change did not happen in Bangladesh. Hours spent under moonlight, smoking filter-less cigarettes, living on sub-standard food took their toll on many.
Some of these rebels died young, others made some tactical compromises, and, for a livelihood, moved into the English print media, where, still today, they can be heard voicing their beliefs emphatically.
One thing these people will never talk about is if their time spent pursuing a dream was futile. In fact, if we come out of a blinkered outlook, imposed on us by excessive materialism, the magnetism of romantic mavericks begins to unravel. What Castro managed to do was spread a new brand of fiery ideology, aimed at helping millions of youth come out of centuries of colonialism-imposed inferiority complex. The West called it “subversive” because this new thought challenged the master-servant culture -- the inevitable legacy of imperialism.
In the 80s, the walls of our university campus were used for assertive anti-colonial slogans. While, politically, the soldiers of communism, considering Castro and Che as emblems of leadership, gained little, internally, they became free thinkers, writers/speakers of worth, also inspiring many others, including this particular writer.
Today, almost all top op-ed writers were once undaunted foot soldiers of equality. The same applies for leading editors.
Yes, many have made a blend between their own ideals and the rules of the current world, but I don’t call that treachery, only astute survival tactics. Castro’s greatest gift to us was the lesson that, with a little luck, romantics, even the most ardent ones, can also carry on, triggering change.
Now that heaven’s got a revolutionary, the world needs to find another romantic -- a barmy person who would dare to upend all orthodox systems to infuse in our horribly prosaic and practical life, the allure of a new risk.
As Castro the renegade passes on, the words of John Stewart Mill comes to mind: “That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.”
Towheed Feroze is a former journalist working in the development sector.