Fidel Castro has resigned as political leader of Cuba. Following this, there has been much discussion in the media about his political legacy.
More than 20 years ago, I took part in an international student’s congress in Havana. One day Fidel Castro showed up, and made one of his famous hour-long speeches. It was fascinating. After all, he was a revolutionary icon. But more importantly: Castro spoke not only with passion, but also with an impressive knowledge about issues such as international politics and economic development.
However, it is probably not just his personal charisma who has kept Fidel in power for so long. Cuba is a poor country in the third world. The Cuban economic development has been severely damaged by the economic war waged against it by the USA. But when measured by parameters such as education, health care and equality, Cuba is in fact on a par with some of the most economically well developed countries of the world. As Michael Moore has made a point of recently in “Sicko”, many US-Americans with a health-problem would be better off in Cuba. It’s no wonder, that the vast majority of Cubans take great pride in these results of their revolution.
The Cuban regime, on the other hand, is known for its lack of tolerance against political opponents. Inside the established, political structures, there might be some room for discussion. But alternative, political organisations are not accepted. According to Amnesty International there are at least 69 political prisoners in Cuba right now.
This is a cause for great concern. Not only because human rights violations always must be criticized. But also because a lively, political discussion is a prerequisite for any state, that wants to progress. This is even truer for a state that calls itself socialist. If there is anything to be learnt from the experience of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, it is that in the long run socialism becomes dysfunctional without democracy. For the sake of Cuban socialism and the example it has set for the region, we can only hope for political reform.
Now then, what is the bottom line when the final account is made of Fidel and the Cuban revolution? One way to answer would be with a question: where would you personally prefer to spend the rest of your life – in Cuba or in one of its neighboring Caribbean states where the US has made its influence, such as Haiti? Personally, I wouldn’t be in doubt for a second.