SPIDER’S WEB with CHEELA CHILALA
WHEN Cuban President Raul Castro announced the death of his brother and former president of Cuba, Fidel Castro a few days ago, the news received mixed responses: mourning on the streets of Havana, celebration on the streets of Florida.
In the former case â€“ a nation in deep mourning, having lost a leader, a revolutionary, a visionary.
In the latter case â€“ Cuban exiles in the United States feeling a sense, perhaps, of poetic justice and a sense of closure; they celebrated the death of a man they deemed to be a dictator. That is the legacy of Fidel Castro â€“ divisive in death as in life.
Call him what you may, however, he is one of the most inspirational political leaders of the last century and certainly the most influential Cuban of all time.
Love him or loathe him â€“ he was the centre-piece of the Cuban revolution that changed the country forever. You could almost talk about Cuban history in terms of pre- Castro and post-Castro dispensations.
You cannot write Cuban history without mentioning the name of Fidel Castro.
Neither can you talk about examples of revolution without weaving his name into the narrative.
Yes, they celebrated his demise on the streets of Florida â€“ but many millions mourned his passing in Havana and other Cuban cities.
I understand this outpouring of grief. I understand why millions of Cubans love him in death as they did in life.
I understand because, in July 1997, I was part of the Zambian delegation that travelled to Havana to participate in the 14th World Festival of Youth and Students; an event attended by more than 10, 000 young people from various parts of the world.
I still remember the flashes of cameras that filled the stadium when Fidel stood to address the participants, with some sections of the stadium breaking into shouts of, â€œLa Fidel! La Fidel!â€
I understood the euphoria back then, and I understand the mourning now.
I learnt, during the short period I was in Havana, not just about Fidel Castroâ€™s role in the revolution, his partnership with the world-famous revolutionary Che Guevara, but also about the positive things Fidel had done for the Cuban people: confronting the accommodation challenge head on, building a high quality health system, and eliminating illiteracy.
Fidel the leader was not just a revolutionary; he was also a hard worker and a visionary.
Born on 13th August 1926, Fidel Castro ruled Cuba for 47 years. During his nearly five decades of ruling, he survived more than 600 assassination attempts.
He indeed was a legendary survivor because all manner of methods were used in the attempts to eliminate him, including poisoned cigars.
Castro liked saying to interviewers: â€œIf surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal.â€
One of Castroâ€™s greatest achievements was that he passed on the will and determination to survive to his nation.
Cuba has faced an economic embargo from the United States for decades, and it has had an impact on the economy of the island nation.
Yet they have somehow survived the hard times by making amazing adjustments. I was surprised, when I was in Havana, to see very old models of vehicles still running on the streets.
The economic embargo meant they could not get enough modern cars â€“ but they learnt to keep what they already had. There are still vehicles running on the streets of Havana that you can no longer see on the streets of Zambia.
Fidel Castro inspired a whole nation â€“ but he also inspired a lot of other revolutionaries around the world.
He is an example of what a visionary leader can do for his people; an example of the power of determination and resilience. An inspiration to millions.
SPIDER’S WEB with CHEELA CHILALA