Fidel Castro: A revolutionary, an icon for the Third World and a ‘genuine friend’ to India


November 29, 2016

Fidel Castro: A revolutionary, an icon for the Third World and a ‘genuine friend’ to India

By Muchkund Dubey

http://www.firstpost.com/world/tribute-to-fidel-castro-a-revolutionary-an-icon-for-the-third-world-and-a-genuine-friend-to-india-3126252.html

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Fidel Castro’s Legacy: “In spite of his continuing struggle for his country’s survival against the crippling measures imposed by the neighbouring imperialist power, what he achieved for Cuba during his lifetime has remained unachieved in the rest of the Third World. He established an educational system in his country of which there is no parallel in any developing country and in a number of developed countries. The quality health system under his leadership, accessible to every Cuban virtually without charges, has no match even in developed countries. He failed in his plan to industrialise Cuba, but that was in large part due to the trade embargo maintained by the United States. For, a small country like Cuba cannot set up viable industries without being a part of the regional and global economic system, which was persistently denied to Cuba”Dubey

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Fidel Castro, the great Cuban revolutionary and the icon of all those who have over the last half a century struggled for national liberation, freedom from colonial and capitalistic exploitation, and the establishment of a just and equitable world order passed away on Friday in Havana at the age of 90.

At the time of his death, he had become outdated just as the instrumentalities that he had chosen for his epic struggle, that is, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Group of 77 (G-77) and Third World, had become anachronistic. He had remained merely a symbol of his strivings and achievements during his life time. He rode like a colossus in the global arena during the best part of the second half of the 20th century.

He was the only leader in the post-Second World War period who was vilified and adored both in a fairly large measure. He was constrained and crippled by a group of countries led by the United States. At the same time, he endeared himself to a much larger group of countries and among vastly wider sections of the world population. Coming from a tiny country, he was better known among the common people the world over and particularly in the Third World, than most of the great leaders of his era.https://dinmerican.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/ba368-moscow2bcuban2bembassy2bpeople2bmourn2bfidel2bcastro.jpg?w=545

Fond Farewell –“Hasta Siempre!”

In spite of his continuing struggle for his country’s survival against the crippling measures imposed by the neighbouring imperialist power, what he achieved for Cuba during his lifetime has remained unachieved in the rest of the Third World. He established an educational system in his country of which there is no parallel in any developing country and in a number of developed countries. The quality health system under his leadership, accessible to every Cuban virtually without charges, has no match even in developed countries. He failed in his plan to industrialise Cuba, but that was in large part due to the trade embargo maintained by the United States. For, a small country like Cuba cannot set up viable industries without being a part of the regional and global economic system, which was persistently denied to Cuba.

Under Fidel’s leadership, Cuba emerged as a great exponent of all that Third World stood for, that is, anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism, disarmament and development. There is hardly an example in recent history of a nation punching so unimaginably above its weight.

One of the greatest legacies of Fidel was the leadership both at the political and administrative level left behind by him. I have found Cuban politicians and diplomats among the most skilled, astute and far sighted negotiators in the world. They admirably combine their quest of national interest with concern for the world order and rule of international law.

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Given its overwhelming reliance on the Soviet Union for its survival, Cuba’s foreign policy remained tilted during the Fidel era towards the Soviet Union and socialist outlook of the world. However, I found the Cubans under Fidel’s leadership never missing the opportunity of using the narrowest of space available to them for manoeuvre for promoting the wider cause of humanity.

I cannot claim to have personally known Fidel or of having come close to him, but I indeed feel blessed to have been born, lived and pursued my vocation of diplomacy in the world, during the era coinciding with Fidel’s life. I met him twice in the second half of the 1970s at delegation level in closed doors meetings to review and give impetus to our bilateral relations. I found him to be a genuine friend of India, entertaining legitimate expectations of cooperation with our country mainly in the economic field but somewhat disillusioned because of our not being forthcoming in our response and because of our propensity to hold a balance in pursuit of what we perceived to be a policy of genuine non-alignment. Those days, preventing Cuba from tilting the Non-Aligned Movement towards the Soviet direction was regarded as an important part of our diplomacy. At times, we went too far in this direction at the cost of our own enlightened self-interest.

I saw Fidel at the prime of his authority nationally and prestige internationally as the Chairman of the Non-Aligned Summit in Havana in 1979. One of our major concerns at that time was to get the oil producing exporting countries (OPEC) committed to a dual pricing system for oil.

In this endeavour, Cuba extended its full support without, however, rocking the boat. Obviously as a host country, their primary objective was to get a Havana Declaration and Plan of Action unanimously agreed and they eminently succeeded in this even though it involved their walking at the razor’s edge in the negotiations on several fronts.

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At the time when the nuclear arms race had acquired ominous proportions and the threat of a nuclear winter seemed to be at our doorstep, Cuba took the initiative of getting convened in Havana a special Non-Aligned Conference on Disarmament. I had the privilege of steering the negotiations on the document that emerged out of this Conference, which was inaugurated by Fidel. Thanks to the highly positive, balanced and constructive attitude of the Cubans, we came out with one of the best documents on nuclear disarmament ever adopted in a large international forum like NAM.

And finally, I had the privilege of seeing from a distance this giant among the world statesmen when he came to New Delhi to hand over the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement to Indira Gandhi in the NAM Summit in 1982.

I bow my head in gratefulness to all that Fidel has done for Cuba, developing countries and the world.

(The author is a former Ambassador and former Indian Foreign Secretary. Views expressed are personal.)

First Published On : Nov 27, 2016 08:14 IST

 

More on Freedom Fighter Fidel Castro


November 27, 2016

More on Freedom Fighter Fidel Castro

Why black Americans love Fidel Castro

When it came to matching words with deeds on the topic of racial equality, the most stalwart leader of the Western hemisphere, over the course of the 20th century, was Fidel Castro.

I say this as a black American who came to bond closely with Latin America as an adult, living in Mexico for almost two years, traveling and staying with families in the Dominican Republic, and making more than half a dozen visits to Cuba, where I strolled through its enchanting cities and drove into the far reaches of the countryside, forging relationships with its people, especially those of darker hue. The author with Fidel Castro (Photo courtesy of Ronald Howard)

Now we are again feeling the heat of the burning topic, the man, who bonded black Americans to his Caribbean island. Yes, it was Fidel Castro who—even though out of power now for years—is angering so many Americans, especially police officers, over his signature action three decades ago.

It was Fidel who gave amnesty to Joanne Chesimard, known now as Assata Shakur, still wanted in the 1973 killing of a New Jersey state trooper, Werner Foerster, in a highway shootout. Shakur was convicted but was busted out of prison in 1979 by comrades. As a leading figure in the Black Liberation Army, which took bolder actions than even the Black Panther Party did, not only getting into gun fights with cops but holding up banks, Shakur became a legend in her time, a Robin Hood of the black masses.

On December 17, in an historical moment, President Barack Obama announced he would seek to normalize relations with Cuba. On the same day, federal and New Jersey police officials repeated their offer of $2 million for information leading to the capture of Shakur. Last year the feds made Shakur the only woman on the FBI Most Wanted Persons list.

You can be sure on black websites and newspapers there will be attention given to the increasing calls for Shakur’s capture or negotiated return. That attention will come with a history.

Castro did not just provide a haven for fugitive revolutionaries, who made the argument, accepted by perhaps a majority of Cubans under Fidel Castro, that blacks were an oppressed people fighting for fair treatment and an end to police abuses in their communities.

No, he was a kind of Martin Luther King with power. For example, before the Cuban revolutionaries led by Castro took over Cuba in 1959, there was fairly rigid racial segregation through the country, including, for example, Santa Clara in the interior of Cuba.

When I was in Santa Clara in early 2001, a woman there told me how black and white Cubans in the 1950s and earlier had walked along different paths around the beautiful downtown Vidal Park. (All it took in Cuba to be white was to have straight hair, be fair-complexioned and not want to be called “negro.”)

This racial division largely ended under the government of Fidel Castro. Moreover, Castro made an effort to reach out to blacks in the US.

When he came to New York in 1960 for a United Nations meeting, Castro got upset at the management of the hotel where he was staying, the Shelburne, and he packed his bags and took his entourage up to the Theresa Hotel in Harlem, where he famously leaned out of the window and waved to the black residents of the community. Thousands of Harlemites called out his name in a bonding-with-power they were totally unaccustomed to.

In the 1980s, before the end of the Cold War, Fidel sent some 25,000 troops to fight in Angola, on the side of those opposing the then-apartheid government of South Africa. This aspect of Castro’s time in power was little reported in the US media. Fidel militantly opposed racist South Africa at a time when the US was diplomatically supporting it.

It was I who in 1987 first reported that Shakur had actually escaped to Cuba and was residing there, protected by Castro. I spent several days with Shakur at her apartment and walking along the Malecón; my Newsday colleague, photographer Ozier Muhammad, photographed her as she posed provocatively outside the US Interests Section, hands up in victory.

As you know, things have changed since then.The Soviets stopped supporting Cuba; and then the Soviet Union collapsed to the ground. For two decades there has been speculation that one day a liberal American president might move to end the now-half-century embargo against trade with Cuba and allow Americans to travel there freely.

Republicans and many Democrats were outraged at what they called a concession by Obama to the communism they said Cuba—through the retired Fidel’s brother Raul—still represents.

Muffled in the discussion on cable channels are the feelings of kinship and appreciation that black Americans hold for Fidel Castro.

Many of those who harbor such tenderness toward the bearded one do not shout it into microphones because they don’t wish to be accused of being anti-American. But sympathy with Fidel can be seen in decades of blacks voting in Congress. Harlem’s Congressman Charles Rangel, for instance, has been among the most progressive of all representatives when it has come to policies toward Cuba, over the year having proposed an easing of the embargo. And few on the national scene have been more militant in opposing the embargo than black California Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

In the coming days, Assata Shakur will be mentioned more frequently in news stories about Cuba, especially in the northeast. There are growing demands that the United States find a way to bring her back and to put her in jail. And in their stories, New Jersey newspapers are noting how Assata Shakur is being treated as a heroine by many in the black communities of America.

Federal officials and others are aware of how Shakur has become a kind of folk hero among black Americans and even blacks in the Caribbean, with a number of parents over the past 25 years naming their daughters Assata.

Adding to the appeal for blacks is Assata Shakur’s connection to the late rapper Tupac Shakur, who is related to Assata through his male ancestors (though not by blood) and is considered a nephew.

When I wrote about Tupac Shakur for a now defunct black weekly newspaper (the City Sun) I spoke with a top New York federal official, Ken Walton, who said Assata Shakur damn well better be careful of her every move—then, in 1996, and for the rest of her beating-heart life.

“He told me in measured, angry words that he ‘or somebody like me’ will one day capture Assata and bring her back to the States.”

This I know to be true: Every time a fist was raised for Assata Shakur, sympathy was expressed also for the now old Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

By the way, Assata is not the only revolutionary received by Fidel with open arms. He also gave asylum to Nehanda Obiodun (formerly Cheri Laverne Dalton), the only person still wanted in the early 1981 $1.5 million Brinks armored vehicle holdup in Nanuet, New York, in which two police officers were killed.

These days it is not easy to find out where Assata Shakur and Nehanda Obiodun are or even what they are thinking. I hung out with Obiodun and wrote about her in Cuba in the 1990s, but I was blocked at every turn when I tried to get her and Shakur to meet with me and a group of Stony Brook University students I took to Cuba in January of 2012.

Obiodun has been almost completely off the radar in recent years, out of mind. But Assata Shakur has not been. “New Jersey hopes Cuba-US relations thaw will help extradite former Black Panther,” screamed a headline of Atlantic City News on December 18.

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And so, given all this as background, black Americans are not only reflecting nostalgically on Fidel Castro. Some, perhaps many, black police officials publicly declare their desire that Shakur be captured and returned to jail in the US. But other blacks have respect for the courage she showed as she lived in exile for some 30 years, bearing in her torso the remnants of a bullet she took during that shootout in 1973.

Most of all, you can bet, there is a broad agreement with Barack Obama—that the time for hostility with the Cuban government—no longer headed by Fidel Castro but largely by his brother Raul—should be over.

 We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

Farewell to Freedom Fighter Fidel Castro


November 26, 2016

Farewell to Freedom Fighter Fidel Castro

http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21710922-cubas-communist-leader-who-outlasted-ten-american-presidents-has-died-age-90

TO MEET Fidel Castro was to notice, first of all, his sheer physical presence. He was tall, erect and had a high, domed forehead that made him look naturally imperious. He was strong: as a youth he was awarded a prize as the best all-round sportsman in Cuba. He was brave to the point of recklessness; as a boy, he once rode a bicycle straight into a wall to prove his mettle. And he was determined, absolutely convinced of his own rightness, intolerant of contradiction and immune to compromise. These characteristics he had inherited from his father, a Spanish migrant who brought with him to Cuba the innate stubbornness of the gallego and who became a prosperous landowner.

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The son, who was born illegitimate in Birán, in rural eastern Cuba, in 1926, added a prodigious ambition for power. Even the Jesuits who taught him saw danger coming in the big, headstrong boy, whose country slang from the cane fields of Oriente marked him out among his urban classmates. The Cuban revolution as it turned out—though not as many of its supporters had originally hoped—was above all an expression of Mr Castro’s will and the unbridled exercise of his massive ego. In his cold-war heyday, he turned his small island into a pocket superpower, fomenting revolution across Latin America, dispatching armies to Africa and brazenly sheltering fugitives, political and criminal, from the United States.

Fidel—he was one of the few world leaders widely referred to by his Christian name—was lucky, too. He might have been killed many times: as an aspiring leader in the gangsterish ambience of Havana student politics; in his quixotic assault on the Moncada barracks in 1953, where some of his followers died; or in the desperate early weeks after the botched landing of the Granma, the overloaded pleasure boat that transported his tiny force of 82 rebels from Mexico three years later. Then there were the hundreds of attempts by the CIA to assassinate him, ranging from the farcical—an exploding cigar—to the near-misses: a dose of botulism that burst before it could be added to a milkshake by a barman at the Habana Libre (ex-Hilton) hotel.

Had it not been for a fortuitous amnesty for political prisoners decreed by Fulgencio Batista, the dictator he went on to overthrow, he might have rotted for decades in prison. Then there was Cuba’s island condition, protected from continental armies of liberation (except, as it turned out, Mr Castro’s own). This had allowed Spain to hang on to its “iever-faithful isle” for seven decades after it lost its mainland American empire. It would allow Mr Castro’s regime to survive the fall of the Berlin Wall despite the bankruptcy of his revolution. As it was, the most serious attempt to unseat him, the ill-fated Bay of Pigs expedition organised by the CIA in 1961, became his crowning triumph: submachine-gun in hand, he directed the operation that saw his revolutionary armed forces kill or imprison the invaders, deprived of air support by the hesitation of President John F. Kennedy, before they could leave the beach.

A Marxist of convenience

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That was not the Americans’ only mistake. In 1952 Batista, a former army sergeant, staged a coup which ended Cuba’s sole experiment with democracy after just a dozen years. The Eisenhower administration, obsessed with an all but non-existent communist threat in the Caribbean, backed what would be a deeply corrupt and brutal regime. Batista’s coup thwarted Mr Castro’s certain election to Congress and a promising career in democratic politics. Instead, by skilled propaganda and force of will, he turned himself into the undisputed leader not just of a ragtag band of armed guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra but of a broad and politically variegated movement for the restoration of democracy and the 1940 constitution.

The guerrillas in the mountains, together with sabotage and strikes across the island, broke the spirit of Batista’s army and government. Batista himself fled, on New Year’s Eve 1958, taking most of the Central Bank’s reserves of dollars and gold. On arriving in Havana with his band of bearded revolutionaries in January 1959, Mr Castro installed a provisional government headed by a liberal judge. Its initial programme was populist: big wage increases, rent reductions and a radical land reform. But this was merely to buy time, while he built up the armed forces and security services—including the powerful political police, the G2—and cemented an alliance, begun in secret in the sierra, with the Communist Party. Before the revolution was even a year old, the “bourgeois elements” in the government were ousted, or resigned; over the next few months, critical media outlets were silenced one by one. Within six years, all private property, down to corner shops, was expropriated. By then, most of the middle class had been definitively alienated and many of its members had fled to Miami.

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Mr Castro did not always hate the United States. He had gone on honeymoon there, buying a white Lincoln Continental and feasting on T-bone steaks. A few weeks after coming to power he visited America again, this time in combat fatigues, but eating hot-dogs like a native and offering to be friends. Eisenhower preferred to play golf, leaving his vice-president, Richard Nixon, to meet Mr Castro and to identify in him “those indefinable qualities that make him a leader of men”.

By then, however, neither side had illusions about the other. In 1958 in the sierra, having watched Batista’s air force drop American-supplied rockets and bombs, he wrote to Celia Sánchez, his closest companion, “I swore that the Americans are going to pay dearly for what they are doing. When this war is over, I’ll start a much longer and bigger war of my own: the war I’m going to fight against them.” For its part, the Eisenhower government was quick to set in train measures aimed at overthrowing him. Nixon thought Mr Castro “either incredibly naive” or “under communist discipline”.

Fidel was a Marxist of convenience, a Cuban nationalist by conviction and a Latin American caudillo by vocation. His hero was José Martí, the Cuban patriot who fought against Spain but was correctly wary of American covetousness towards Cuba. In the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States hijacked the independence rebellion Martí had started and turned Cuba into a neo-colony. Under the notorious Platt Amendment, it reserved the right to intervene in the island at any time. That was revoked in the 1930s, but American domination of the economy and the vital sugar industry continued until the revolution. It brought development—a large middle class lived well—but also deep inequality.

Fidel embraced Martí’s nationalism and anti-imperialism, but not his belief in social democracy. He turned to communism because it was useful as a tool of absolute power of a kind enjoyed by no run-of-the-mill strongman, coming, as it did, with the shield of Soviet protection (plus Soviet weapons and Soviet oil) for the duration of the cold war. The American trade embargo was even more useful: it allowed him to blame the imperialist enemy for the woeful economic failures of his own central planning.

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It was his brother, Raúl (younger by five years), who was the orthodox communist, as well as the quiet organiser who turned the tiny rebel army into a disciplined armed force of 300,000 in the two years after the revolution. It was Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Mr Castro’s Argentine companion in arms, who was the Marxist theoretician.

In the early days, at least 550 (and perhaps 2,000 or more) opponents of the revolution were executed. Many of them were Batista henchmen whose demise was popular. Once the revolution was secure, Mr Castro’s rule was repressive though not especially bloody. Nothing and nobody was allowed to diminish his power. “There are no neutrals,” he declared. “There are only partisans of the revolution or enemies of it.” And the revolution, of course, was Fidel.

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Many believe that he allowed Guevara to perish in Bolivia, or could have done more to try to save him, turning an awkward and unbiddable subordinate into a useful myth. Mr Castro was a troublesome ally for the Soviets. He took their money but not always their advice. He first embraced crash industrialisation, then dropped it in favour of the drive for a 10m-tonne sugar harvest. Both involved serious economic reverses. Though sometimes persuaded to decentralise economic decision-making (which usually boosted output) he always ended up concentrating all power in his own hands again.

He gave Cubans first-world education and health services, and did not care about the cost of these to the economy. But he offered neither opportunity nor prosperity, least of all freedom. Dissenters faced a grim choice: the risky crossing to Florida, or the grim jails of Cuba’s gulag. Most chose silence. Eventually Mr Castro would open a safety valve, letting those who might stir up trouble go abroad.

Fidel was the inspirational leader, the man of action, the master strategist, the obsessive control-freak who micromanaged everything from hurricane preparedness to the potato crop. He was, above all, tireless. In marathon sessions, often beginning after midnight and lasting until after dawn, he would interrogate visitors about every facet of the political situation in their country. He loved details—the statistics of food production in every Cuban province or the properties of Chinese electric rice-cookers. He kept them in his head, and would recite them in those interminable speeches.

He was careful to discourage an overt personality cult. He kept his private life, most of his nine children and Dalia del Soto Valle, whom he married in 1980, largely hidden from public view. He promoted younger men only to discard them if they aspired openly to succeed him. His was the overwhelming presence, brooding like a weather system over Cuba’s dilapidated streets; and his was the voice, droning on in televised speeches for hour after hour, alternately rising to a peak of righteous indignation and falling to a whisper of injured innocence. He never listened, said his sister, Juanita, who left for Miami.

The revolution abroad

Mr Castro operated on the world stage as no other Latin American leader ever had since the days of Francisco Miranda and Simón Bolívar, the South American independence heroes of two centuries ago. He turned himself into an important player in the global conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, between capitalist democracy and communist dictatorship. In seeking the protection of Soviet missiles he came closer than anyone else to turning that ideological confrontation into nuclear war.

Under his leadership, Cuba, an island of just 10m people, became a “Latin American Sparta” (in the words of Jorge Castañeda, a Mexican critic of the revolution). In the 1960s he aided a generation of idealistic young Latin Americans who perished in doomed guerrilla ventures whose main achievement was to help trigger takeovers by bloodstained anti-communist military dictatorships. A decade later Mr Castro dispatched his armies to Africa, to combat apartheid but also to prop up corrupt or repressive (but anti-American) regimes in places like Ethiopia and Angola. In the 1980s he armed and aided leftist revolutionaries in Central America. With the end of the cold war, in the past two decades, it has been Cuban doctors rather than soldiers that have been sent abroad, first as missionaries for Fidel’s revolution and then as earners of scarce foreign currency.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union brought great privation to Cuba. The economy contracted by a third. Many forecast the imminent demise of Mr Castro and his revolution. He responded by declaring a “Special Period in Peacetime”, cover for some limited and pragmatic reforms. He reluctantly allowed Cubans to set up small businesses, such as restaurants, home repairs and farmers’ markets. He also legalised the use of the dollar and sought foreign investment, especially in developing a mass tourism industry. Once again, as it had under Batista, Havana’s hotels became a venue for sex tourism, as young black women sold their bodies to escape the revolution’s privations. Remittances from Cuban-Americans, tourism and nickel mines, run by a Canadian firm, replaced sugar as the mainstay of the economy. The health-care and education systems were tapped for hard-currency earnings, too, with the development of biotechnology and of medical tourism. State companies were given more autonomy to manage their budgets and to trade. All these measures helped Cubans to get by, but they introduced new inequalities and resentments, and loosened the regime’s control over daily life.

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Then, unexpectedly, new benefactors appeared, in the form of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and, to a lesser extent, a booming China. Venezuelan subsidies grew to match the old Soviet largesse. With the economy growing again, Mr Castro reversed or reined in many of the economic reforms and became far more selective about foreign investment. As he had several times since 1959, he veered back towards Jacobinism, recruiting lumpen youth as “social workers” to wage war against corruption. In 2003, with the world distracted by the American invasion of Iraq, he launched a new political crackdown, arresting and imposing long jail sentences on 78 democracy activists, and executing three would-be migrants who hijacked a ferry in a desperate attempt to get to Florida. Two years later he declared the Special Period over.

Half-life in Havana

One evening in July 2006 Cuban state television broadcast a terse statement from Mr Castro saying that he had to undergo emergency abdominal surgery and was temporarily handing over his powers to a collective leadership headed by Raúl, his deputy. In 2008 Raúl formally replaced Fidel as Cuba’s president, and three years later as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party. He pushed out Fidel’s protégés and would-be successors, including Carlos Lage, the de facto prime minister. And he proceeded, quietly but methodically, to prepare Cuba for the time when a Castro would no longer be in charge.

Raúl is temperamentally Fidel’s opposite, a tidy, practical man, lacking his brother’s messianic streak. He is Sancho Panza to Fidel’s Don Quixote. They even looked the parts (Raúl is said to keep statues of Cervantes’s heroes at his house). There were no more late-night meetings. Raúl announced economic reforms (officially called “updating”) that abolished many of the petty restrictions suffered by Cubans, who could once again buy and sell houses and cars, stay in tourist hotels and have access to mobile phones and the internet. He cautiously began to dismantle Fidel’s centrally planned economy: more than 500,000 Cubans are now self-employed, working in small businesses or as private farmers. The island began to move inexorably towards a mixed economy. Some of Raúl’s advisers talked enthusiastically of the Chinese and Vietnamese models.

Fidel didn’t think much of that. China was a decadent consumerist society that had lost its values and its commitment to preserving equality, he thought. But he admitted to a foreign visitor, in an unguarded moment, “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us any more”. Fidel kept his criticisms largely private. He wrote a newspaper column in Granma, the official organ, for a while, but its main subject matter was his increasingly incoherent ramblings about what he saw as the apocalyptic problems facing the world. He became a spectral presence in his compound in Siboney, a leafy enclave in the west of Havana of mansions built by the sugar barons he had expropriated. He was occasionally photographed with visiting leaders looking increasing frail and doddery. But he had outlasted ten American presidents and all his enemies.

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True, he lived long enough to watch his revolution start to be dismantled. He even saw Cuba restore diplomatic relations with the United States in 2015 and an American president, Barack Obama, visit Havana and broadcast a call for the Cuban people “to choose their government in free elections”. Of course he did not approve. “Cuba’s president has taken steps in accordance with his prerogatives and powers,” he wrote stiffly in a letter published in 2015. But, he added, “I don’t trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged any words with them,” he growled.

No other man in the 20th century had ruled as long or, through a mixture of charisma and tyranny, dominated his country so completely. On one hot summer night during the days of penury that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, a crowd of disgruntled youngsters on Havana’s malecón, the seafront drive, threatened to overwhelm the police and start a riot. Fidel appeared out of the night, and talked them out of it. Even many of those Cubans who abhorred him were in awe of him. That will not apply to any of his successors, not even Raúl.

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Legacy


October 15, 2016

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Legacy

by Nicholas Farrelly

http://www.newmandala.org

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The 70-year reign of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej started and ended inauspiciously. It was a family tragedy that unexpectedly brought Bhumibol to the throne. He went on to become the world’s longest serving monarch but, in death, his formidable legacy is deeply tarnished by the ambitions of those who fought hardest to defend him.

In 1946, the untimely and mysterious death of his older brother, King Ananda Mahidol, catapulted the young Prince Bhumibol into a role for which he was unprepared. King Ananda died violently in Bangkok’s Grand Palace. He was found in bed with a pistol shot to the head. To this day, nobody knows who pulled the trigger. Forensic reports suggest that neither suicide nor an accident were likely. Whispered speculation about regicide has continued ever since.

Many like to believe that shadowy figures outside the palace were responsible. There is also the deeply disturbing possibility—unthinkable for most Thais—that Ananda’s death was an inside job. Some commentators have wondered if Bhumibol, who was the last person to see King Ananda alive, would ever cast any light on the mystery. He never did, and any knowledge he had of the tragic event is now probably gone forever.

Bhumibol was born in the United States and spent much of his early life attending school and university in Switzerland. Even after becoming king, he returned to Switzerland for another five years of education, jazz music, fast cars and European high-society. He returned full-time to Thailand in 1951, aged 23 and speaking imperfect Thai.

Few would have expected this highly westernised young man to become Thailand’s longest reigning king and a potent symbol of the Thai nation. In fact, early in his reign, there was diplomatic chatter that Bhumibol was easily controlled by scheming politicians within the government. In 1932 a revolution had bought about an end to the absolute monarchy and by the time Bhumibol became king Thai royalty had lost much of its former prestige and power. Some of the old palace hardliners would have preferred a more formidable figure on the throne.

It was an unremarkable beginning, but King Bhumibol gradually grew in stature as a role in modern Thai politics was constructed for him. The palace became a useful symbol around which Thailand’s ruling military strongmen could build the ideological infrastructure of national unity. In those years, royal endorsement and conservative credentials were far more important for Thai governments than electoral legitimacy.

Surrounded by loyal establishment figures, Bhumibol was manoeuvred into the public consciousness as a diligent and compassionate king and as the embodiment of Thai values. In those crucial years, the monarchy grew to become Thailand’s premier institution. It was not long before Thailand’s once tentative king was making globetrotting trips, meeting with international leaders and showing off his glamorous queen.

At home, national unity was a pressing concern. In the 1960s and 1970s, Thailand was besieged by the communist advances in Indochina. Within Thailand’s borders, communist insurgents mounted a persistent campaign against the government. Nullifying these opponents, and winning over the hearts and minds of the Thai people, became a top priority for both the government and the palace.

As Cold War anxieties climaxed, Bhumibol supported a strong American presence in Thailand. From its bases in the kingdom, US forces bombed Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In Thailand, Bhumibol sponsored the establishment of paramilitary organisations, and became the patron of the Border Patrol Police and other guardians of the realm. He also set up a series of rural development centres in the poorest and most remote areas of the country.

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He argued, quite rightly, that social and economic development would make Thailand’s rural poor less vulnerable to leftist indoctrination. Some of the most iconic images of Bhumibol’s reign come from his visits to rural villages, where he dispensed development resources and agronomic wisdom to his grateful peasant subjects.

Thailand’s status as a linchpin in the anti-communist fight, paved the way for an economic boom and the enmeshment of Bhumibol in global power politics. The defeat of local communist forces in the early 1980s was directly linked, in many Thai minds, with the king’s devotion to his kingdom. Following the spectacular economic growth and semi-democracy of the 1980s, the last three decades of Bhumibol’s life were accompanied by constant reference to his newly democratic public persona.

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His adoration by the Thai public was stoked by a constant diet of positive press coverage about him and his family. Bhumibol’s status grew as international organisations flocked to honour Asia’s modern monarch with a welter of awards and honorary degrees.

His greatest public relations triumph came in 1992, following a massacre of unarmed protesters by army units on the streets of Bangkok. In a nationally televised display of royal authority, Bhumibol called the protest leader and the Prime Minister to his palace. As they knelt before him, he commanded that they settle their differences peacefully. This is the king that many people in Thailand will want to remember: powerful, wise and rescuing the nation in a moment of crisis.

This image served the king well in the years that followed. In an emerging but still fractious democracy, Bhumibol was seen as the ideal national arbiter if things got out of control. His homespun “sufficiency economy” philosophy provided Thais with moral reassurance during the Asian economic crisis of 1997. The king was capitalising on the charisma that he had accumulated during the earlier decades of his reign.

But Bhumibol’s health began to falter and fade at the same time as new political challenges were emerging in his kingdom. Modernisation, consumerism, mass education and the Internet were starting to unravel the established political order. In these turbulent times, Bhumibol was very poorly served by his energetic backers.

In September 2006 the Thai military overthrew the elected government of billionaire businessman Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was an immensely popular political leader and his populist economic policies dwarfed the benevolence of the king. Thaksin had cashed in on Thailand’s lust for modernity and many felt that his unprecedented electoral power was a threat to Bhumibol’s traditional royal authority.

The king’s closest supporters were instrumental in engineering the move against Thaksin. The coup-makers were obliged to infuse their actions with royal mystique. When the tanks took to the streets of Bangkok, yellow ribbons were tied around their gun barrels. Yellow is King Bhumibol’s colour. After the putsch, one of the king’s Privy Councillors, and a military veteran of the fight against communism, was appointed as Prime Minister. The unelected government actively promoted Bhumibol’s “sufficiency economy” philosophy as an antidote to the brash commercialism of Thaksin.

What Bhumibol thought about the enthusiastic use of his royal brand by a military government that had destroyed Thailand’s constitution is not known. What is known is that he made no attempt to distance himself from it. For the first time, the Thai public had a clear view that the palace was a player in partisan politics and, what’s more, had contributed to the overthrow of a government that had been elected three times.

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There was worse to come for Thailand’s monarchy. In the post-coup election of December 2007, a new Thaksin-aligned government was elected, effectively undoing the work of the coup-makers. Powerful sections of the Bangkok elite could not accept this result. They mounted a series of increasingly belligerent street protests, swathed in royal yellow, to bring down another elected government.

Carrying portraits of the royal family everywhere they went, the “yellow-shirt” protestors occupied government house, blockaded the parliament and, in their ultimate act of national vandalism, closed down Bangkok’s international airport. Despite the damage to Thailand’s economy and international reputation the security forces refused to move against them. There was speculation that the protesters had friends in very high places.

Eventually the pro-Thaksin government fell, and a much more royal-friendly administration lead by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva took its place. Throughout the months of yellow-shirt chaos, neither the king nor his advisors did anything to call off those who were campaigning under the royal banner for the forcible overthrow of his majesty’s elected government.

That government eventually fell at an election, replaced by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawtra. Her opponents in royalist and militarist circles insisted on undermining her grasp on a democratic mandate. It was no great surprise when her prime ministership ended in May 2014 with yet another army coup.

The current government in Bangkok, headed by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, took charge specifically so that top military and palace figures could control the kingdom in the sensitive hours, days, weeks and months after Bhumibol’s passing. Under these conditions it is clear to analysts, both within Thailand and internationally, just how little Bhumibol’s reign contributed to democratic consolidation.

Despite these troubled times, King Bhumibol’s record of virtuous good works, combined with the formidable royal publicity machine, means that he is still held in great regard by a large proportion of the Thai population. His image hangs in houses throughout the kingdom – from elaborate mansions in Bangkok to bamboo huts in the far-flung hills of Thailand’s north. His death will generate deep sadness and a long period of mourning.

Those who publically depart from the acceptable script of royal virtue risk being charged under Thailand’s punitive criminal code. There is a real fear in Thailand about discussing royal matters. In his later years, Bhumibol expressed discomfort about the abuse of laws that protected him, but he never openly called for their reform or repeal.

The reverence for the late king is very real. But the active repression of free speech means that there is no room in Thai public life for any other sentiment.

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Perhaps there may be stirrings of new sentiments when the new king takes the throne. Bhumibol’s son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, is expected to be the new king, although his elevation is a delicate and contentious matter. Vajiralongkorn has a chequered private life and a reputation for hot headedness. He is a magnet for salacious rumour and colourful internet imagery. He is much less popular than his younger sister, the unmarried Princess Sirindhorn, who is popularly referred to as Princess Angel.

Much planning has gone into what happens next, but Bhumibol’s death may still loose forces that will energise a new round of political turmoil. No wonder the Thai stock market is jittery and investors are calling in their risk assessors.

King Bhumibol was the dominant political and cultural figure in Thailand for as long as most people can remember. He reigned over a newly-prosperous and internationally respected kingdom, and found a place in the hearts and minds of his subjects. But in late moments of reflection he may have regretted that his country became so ill prepared for mature leadership transitions and that his own charisma had been so regularly mobilised against the political wishes of the Thai people.

Dr Nicholas Farrelly is the co-founder of New Mandala.

The Musical Compositions of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand–A Tribute


Your Weekend Musical Guest–The Musical Compositions of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand


บทเพลงพระราชนิพนธ์ในพระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัวภูมิพลอดุลยเดชฯ

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Dr. Kamisiah Haider and Din Merican have chosen to play the musical compositions of the dearly departed, much respected and admired, and loved His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand.

For this weekend, we pay tribute to a multi-talented long serving  His Majesty King of Thailand for his many contributions to socio-economic development of the country he loved very much. By listening to His Majesty’s compositions, we  should not be surprised that His Majesty  The King is regarded as the Soul of Thailand. His Majesty’s musical compositions reflect his love and passion for the Thai People.

His Majesty is not just a wise and compassionate King but also a pioneer agriculturalist, humanist-environmentalist, scientist and talented musician. Let us and all mourners in Thailand listen to His Majesty’s wonderful compositions that will be remembered and appreciated through the ages by us in ASEAN and around the world.

Once again we wish to convey our heartfelt condolences to the people and the government of Thailand, in particular to our Thai friends, associates and readers of Din Merican’s blog. We join you in your moments of grief of His Majesty’s passing. At the same time, let us celebrate His Majesty’s life and legacy through his music.–Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican