On November 25, 2016 just one year ago, the leader of the Cuban revolution, Comandante Fidel Castro, passed away. He was 90 years old. While Fidel had stepped down as Cuba’s president a decade ago, he continued as an important leader for the Cuban revolution through his speeches and reflections until his passing. Today, Fidel’s legacy, of over 70 years of steadfast commitment and accomplishments in the fight for a better world, is best illustrated by the way the Cuban people have continued to guard and advance the revolution.
Within days of his passing the mainstream media around the world was speculating about what this would mean for the future of the Cubanrevolution. Headlines wondered:"After Fidel Castro's death, can Cuba finally move on?" (CNN Nov 26, 2016); “What's next for Cuba after the death of Fidel Castro?" (AFP Nov. 26, 2017); "The Next Cuban Revolution? What Castro's Death Means for the Country's Opening" (Foreign Affairs Nov 28, 2016); and finally from Miami, "Post-Fidel Castro, what is the future of US investment in Cuba?" (The Real Deal Nov. 30, 2016).
Marking one year since Fidel's passing, the obsession with these questions about a so-called “Post-Castro Cuba”continue. Especially as Cuban President Raúl Castro will be stepping down after the next round of elections in Cuba, which began on November 26, 2017 and will conclude in February 2018.
Imperialist Media and the Fidel Fixation
However, none of this is new. The mainstream media has always had a fascination and fixation on the role of Fidel Castro as the eternal leader of the Cuban revolution. Even when he was fighting in the hills of the Sierra Maestra mountains from 1956 to January 1, 1959, the imperialist media loved to report that he had been killed or that he was on his deathbed. Yet Fidel Castro outlasted 10 U.S. presidents (it would have been 11 when Obama left office January 2017).
In 2003, as a first-year university student, I became involved in the growing movement against the war on Iraq. One country, and one world leader, stood out because of their willingness to demand the United States not attack Iraq and to call the United States an imperialist power to its face, which forever leftan impression on me. That revolutionary leader was Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Throughout the end of 2002 and beginning of 2003, Fidel Castro stood on the world stage condemning the impending war on Iraq, and exposing the U.S. campaign of lies to justify their drum beat towards war. This was what drew me to learn more about Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution, and eventually to get involved in the Cuba solidarity movement.
Often while petitioning against the U.S. blockade on Cuba or picketing to demand the freedom of the Cuban 5 held in U.S. jails, we have been asked about our support for Fidel Castro. Especially before 2006, we were consistently asked questions about what would happen in Cuba once Fidel had passed. Questions such as: ‘Won’t people rise up and demand “democracy” (often used as a tricky euphemism for capitalism)?’‘Won’t people flee Cuba?’Or ‘Won’t the militaryregime collapse?’At the same time, those who supported us, and supported Fidel would also ask questions. Theirs were a bit different, raising issues such as:‘Don’t you think lots of McDonald’s will open in Cuba after Fidel dies?’ or‘He has been doing so much of the work, won’t the revolution collapse without him?’While these questions came from a positive place, if we believe Fidel Castro is the only thing holding the Cuban revolution together, it makes it seem as if the Cuban people arebrainless sheep, when in factthey are active participants and leaders in their own revolution.
Of course the role of Fidel Castro as the eternal leader of the Cuban revolution will never be questioned by Cubans and those who are fighting and working to push the gains of the revolution forward. However, the Cuban people have fought valiantly alongside Fidel and under his leadership – they are concerned, but ready, to take on the challenges of a revolutionary Cuba after Fidel.
The Cuban Revolution ContinuesForward Despite Challenges
Despite the predictions of the collapse of the Cuban revolution without Fidel Castro, it has continued forward. Only two months after Fidel’s passing Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States. Trump had widely appealed to right-wing voters in Florida, promising to roll back many of the gains made in U.S.-Cuba relations since the reestablishment of formal diplomatic ties, and the opening of the US and Cuba Embassiesunder President Obama and President Raúl Castro in 2015. The year promised a rocky start, and yet tourism in Cuba has been growing, by November 2017, 4.2 million tourists have visited the island. Keeping in mind that Cuba is an Island of only 11.48 millionpeople; the number of tourists is expected to reach 4.7 million by the end of 2017.
Some might askwhy tourism is so important for Cuba, as in many ways it creates further inequality –with both wealthy tourists flaunting their affluence and by creating disparity within Cuban society itself. However, one must remember that Cuba is not a resource rich nation. This means that tourism is a much needed source of income for the government’s world class initiatives, from which all Cubans benefit, including education and healthcare.
Prensa Latina explains the 2017 UNESCO report (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), whichdemonstrates that, "Cuba is the Latin American country with the highest rate of educational development and the only one that has met the global objectives of Education for All. Cuba also devotes about 13 percent of its Gross Domestic Product to education. This year, the funds planned for Education amounted to 8.2 billion Cuban pesos (more than 331 million dollars), equivalent to 23 percent of budgetary expenditures."
This investment is happening despite the over 50 years of United States blockade on Cuba, which limits many sectors of potential economic and social development. Also, in June 2017,President Trump announced further restrictions to be added to the blockade. These were not as severe as Trump had promised (as he did not eliminate formal diplomatic ties with Cuba) but his announcement was an attempt to slow tourism to Cuba.
This was coupled with the warning given onSeptember 29,by U.S. Secretary of StateRex Tillerson, that the U.S. government was cutting its diplomatic staff in Havana and could not guarantee the safety of Americans travelling to Cuba after some apparent“sonic attacks” against their diplomats. The U.S. has released very little evidence to justify theiraccusations and many experts across the field from Cuba, Canada and the U.S. have written off the so-called “sonic attacks” as unsubstantiated and unscientific claims. However, once again the target is Cuba’s tourism industry and preventing Americans from visiting and developing a better understanding of Cuba.
Added to the provocations by the Trump administration,Cuba’s tourism industry also suffered from the natural disaster of Hurricane Irma at the beginning of September. The Category 5 hurricane battered Cuba for overthree days with winds up to 250 kilometers per hour. Despite Cuba's renowned hurricane planning and preparedness, 10 people lost their lives. This was partially due to the fact that Irma went off its projected course and hit Cuba's capital, Havana, much harder than expected. In the end, 3/4 of Cubans were without power, much of the islands agricultural crops were wiped out, thousands lost their homes or rooves, and many of Cuba’s best tourist resorts were devastated. Cuba has worked hard to rebuild both for Cubans and the tourism industry. They are now appealing for tourists to come back to visit the island and enjoy the sun, beaches, and warmth of the Cuban people.
In Cuba and around the world there is a continuous demand to end the U.S. blockade on Cuba, which slows recovery efforts after devastating hurricanes, such as Irma. Cuba has been demanding an end to the U.S. blockade since it was imposed following the triumph of the Cuban revolution in the 1960s. This campaign to end the blockade has been bolstered in the last 26 years, as Cuba has brought this fight to the United Nations with an annual vote in the General Assembly. Each year countries of the world stand together with Cuba to oppose this unjust and inhuman United States’ policy. On November 1, 2017 once again 191 countries voted in favor of ending the blockade on Cuba, while only 2 voted against the resolution, the United States and Israel. This demonstrates the isolation of the United States on the world stage, and the need for the government of the U.S. to end its cruel and unjust policy against Cuba.
The Continuity of the Cuban Revolution
In the year since the passing of Fidel Castro therehas been no uprising in Cuba, no military revolt, no exodus, no mass protest movement, nor attempted coup d’état – in short, no political instability or crisis.The imperialist media, rather than recant its decades of lies and deceptions, continues to double down on its forecasts about Cuba’s impending doom. For them it seems this story can never die.
However, their conspiracies will soon hold less weight as Raúl Castrowill step aside in February 2018, when a new round of elections are complete, to make space for a new president of Cuba. This is based on a change made in the law in 2011, which states that senior elected officials are now only able to serve for two consecutive terms. This will help maintain Cuba’s stability in this time of transition between the historic leadership of the Cuban revolution, represented by Fidel and Raúl Castro, to a new revolutionary leadership. The term limit is also because there is a sense amongst Cubans that the future leaders of the revolution will not have the privilege which was given to Fidel, a sort of blank cheque, based on their faith in the incorruptibility of his leadership.
Indeed, national unity has been a huge priority for many Cubans. Often the National Assembly of Cuba has voted unanimously on issues as a show of confidence in the historic leadership of Fidel and Raúl. However, as an untested younger leadership is brought forward chances are good more divisions on the future of Cuban socialism will emerge. Although debate and disagreements have always been a feature of Cuba's ongoing revolutionary process, Cubans have often protected these debates to avoid being misinterpreted by the imperialist bloodhound media, which is always looking to sow and deepen divisions.
The Cuban Revolution Today
On November 26, 2017, almost exactly a year to the day since Fidel Castro’s passing,Cubans went to the polls to elect members of their municipal assemblies. Without going into too much detail about the Cuban electoral system, which is interesting, but complex, the November 26 elections begin a process that will lead to the election of provincial assemblies and the National Assembly. The National Assembly will then elect the Council of State, which then elects its ministers, as well as the Vice Presidents and President of Cuba.
Participation in this round of municipal elections was high. The elections featured 27,221 candidates, of whom 35.4% were women and 19.5% were young people. In total, 66.44% of the candidates are current delegates who were running for another term. Voter turnout was 89%, with over 7.6 million Cubans casting secret ballots. Of the votes cast across the island, 92% were valid. The ballots that were not calculated were: 4% blank ballots, and 4% spoilt ballots. It seems worthwhile to mention these items in such detailbecause often imperialist media callsCuba a dictatorshipand ignores Cuba’s electoral process. When the mainstream media concedes that Cubans do vote, they try to claim that they are forced to vote, or that they are socially intimidated into voting. However, these numbers demonstrate that not all Cubans vote. The right-wing in Miami has also called for those opposed to the political system in Cuba to cast blank ballots, although as numbers above indicate, Cubans who do cast blank ballots are a huge minority. In fact, the Cuban municipal elections enjoy greater popularity than the national elections in either the United States (Presidential election 2016 - 56% turnout) or Canada (Federal vote 2015 - 68% turnout).
The Cuban revolution continues because the Cuban revolution is not, and never was, just Fidel, just Raúl, or just the Communist Party of Cuba. The Cuban revolution is standing firm because the people of Cuba have fought for the gains made within the revolutionary process, and they will continue to work and build upon those gains into the future. Of course, without the leadership of Fidel and Raúl Castro, there comes some fear of the unknown, fear of whether Cuba will find the right leadership to build a path forward in challenging new times. However, the Cuban people have proven time and time again that they are hardworking, opinionated, humble, loyal, and revolutionary –allqualities that will be important for the challenges on the road ahead.
Follow Tamara Hansen on Twitter: @THans01
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