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At the time of his death, he had become outdated just as the instrumentalities that he had chosen for his epic struggle, that is, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Group of 77 (G-77) and Third World, had become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.
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.
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.
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.)
Published Date: Nov 27, 2016 08:14 am | Updated Date: Nov 27, 2016 03:23 pm