Fidel Castro

Rebelde Fidel
El Morro – Santiago da Cuba (photo from 2010 Cuba Trip)

I have long admired Fidel Castro, who did much to bring world-class literacy and health care to all Cubans and to countries in need. Fidel, who died on November 25, was no saint, but I believe a pure idealist would never have had the strength to withstand the pressures, the attempts on his life and the crippling, decades-long embargo applied by the USA.

I have been to Cuba twice. The second time, in 2010, my wife and I traveled widely on the island by public bus and stayed with local people in their homes.

I have posted on Cuba and on Fidel Castro previously here:

Cuba – A Reflection in 2010 (Re-posted in 2012 from a blog since closed)

On Fidel Castro

Rambling Thoughts On Latin America

José Martí's tomb in Santiago da Cuba.
José Martí’s tomb in Santiago da Cuba.

I have recently read a little about the state of New Mexico and the Zapatista Movement, active since 1994 in Chiapas, Mexico, because of a blogger I deeply respect, Eléctrica in the Desert (see my blogroll) who lives in New Mexico and cares deeply for social justice worldwide and for the people in Mexico and NM close-up. Familiar for many years that the U.S. has trained people from Mexico, Central and South America as well as co-operating, arming and financing these trained killers, I was newly moved when I learned more personally about these particularly close areas. Huffington Post in January ranked New Mexico as the poorest of America’s 50 states. The stats are antiseptic. Eléctrica tells the individual stories of real people.

I’ll be honest: a year ago New Mexico was off my radar – so many things are these days – so much misery to choose from. And Mexico was still, for me, that blasted “newcomer” to the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement that was already a bad thing when Canadian workers with good, secure jobs only had to compete, unfairly, with  American workers. In fairness, all workers in the three NAFTA countries believe that they are losing out to the other two countries. In a way we are all right. We just haven’t really twigged on to who the real winners are. Hint: ask the Occupy Movement, but first check out what Occupy New Mexico is up to.

Now the TPP looms, but I will not ramble that far…

The GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is geographically far removed from widespread suffering like that, if we don’t count (and we rarely do) the shameful plight of Canada’s indigenous.

Even working in rural Trinidad, W.I., where I taught between 1965 and 1967, I never locked my door. It was one of the more “prosperous” Caribbean islands because of its oil resources. It is crime- and drug-ridden now, a legacy of the desire to acquire some of the goodies that U.S. television, which was just becoming commonly viewed then, displayed in its popular shows. I saw considerable evidence of similar cravings among the “repressed” people of Cuba we met in our self-guided tour of that inspiring country in 2010.

But, mercifully (no… deliberately) in Cuba, there was almost no crime and no drugs due to the influence that Fidel Castro’s communist regime had over maintaining decorum there. AND…

Because Cuba could not afford to buy pesticides and fertilizer, due to the American embargo, they have led the world in moving to sustainable agriculture.

They grow their own food. What a novel, “backward” concept for today.  God help them as they allow the U.S. more and more influence over their society. They do not realize the price they will pay in disparity for these longed for goodies and “freedoms.”

And it is ironic that there is a recent surge in Cuban migration to America while literate, healthy Cubans still have an archaic, cold-war motivated, “C’mon in!” preference over Latin Americans from other places who are literally fleeing for their lives.

Oh, I’ve added a new activist magazine to my blogroll: Jacobin Magazine. Check it out!

Retro-Activism Closer to Home:

SOA Watch: Oh, yeah… In thinking about the above and my friend’s revelations about Mexico, old and NEW, I remembered this local Canadian connection to the other Americas.  A Catholic high school I taught at when I returned to teaching here in Ontario beginning in 1992 was really dedicated to social justice issues. Some staff were involved in a peaceful, American-based group, called SOA Watch.  They would go by bus to the annual November protests against the School of the Americas (the OLD euphemism for it) in Fort Benning, Georgia. I never went, but it was on my to-do-list for a while. The protestors mostly stood in protest against that despicable training school for paramilitary groups that, by terrorizing indigenous peasants, make America’s back yard safer to exploit.

Youth Corps: Toronto Diocese was a happening place from 1966-1984 due to the activism and dedication of the amazing Youth Corps, founded and shepherded by Father Tom McKillop. My family was introduced to Youth Corp’s Sharon Peace Weekends in the ’70s. Catholic GTA families would arrive at the Sharon, Ontario farm of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd on a Friday afternoon and set up tents on their grounds. The barn was the main gathering place. Led by energetic, charismatic youth ministry, we would be handed song sheets and sing secular and religious songs with a social activism connection. The most memorable song for me was a young leader named Paula leading us in Forever Young,  Joan Baez’ great hit. The song sheets changed every year. On Saturday there was always a speaker on a topic that challenged us to see the world as being in need of change. A dance on Saturday evening, a few dancing in wheelchairs, followed by a fire and candlelight ceremony after sundown. On Sunday a wonderful Mass outdoors on a gentle hillside when weather permitted. Meals cooked for everyone by involved participants. Sharon Corp weekends were inclusive from every possible aspect. Our ultra-conservative Cardinal Carter removed Tom McKillop in 1984. Pages 7 t0 26 of this article describe the heady, Youth Corps, Vatican II years.

Church: We had a pretty activist parish church in the 70’s and 80’s due to my pastor/mentor, until the local Diocesans took over from the Franciscans and started keenly recruiting the very devout, conservative types of newcomer who would ask:

Father, please come and bless my new BMW…

Peaceful civil disobedience waxes and, mostly these days, wanes… but the domination dial is set to relentless.

Nostalgia: Wistful about the hopeful signs that were much more abundant in the past, I fear for our future and hope that The Bern gathers serious momentum in the U.S. primaries

Fantasia: The front-running alternatives,  Standard Crazy or Extra-Strength Crazy, will not make the world a safer place.


Love of Home and Books With Stained Pages

This is daydreaming and not really a book review, but I’m now reading Helen Oyeyemi and scanning Naomi Klein’s latest tome now and I just listened to a podcast interview of the Peruvian-born novelist, Daniel Alarcon, in which there was considerable discussion of the violence and corruption in Peru between the early 1980’s and early 1990’s (Shining Path and repressive regimes being the major killers). His parents are physicians who sought opportunity in the US early on before the “troubles.” Alarcon writes (in English) figuratively about Peru – and the US also comes under the umbrella of his allegory.

Back to the books:

First: The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi. With interruptions. It has been slow to get into. It is a library borrowing that has evidence of more than one spill of brownish liquid. Notes are helpful because I do not retain character names and details easily. Never have, but it gets worse as I approach my 70th birthday. It is about two related characters:

1. A young woman living in London named Maja whose father, a university prof,  left Cuba under Fidel Castro, having apparently (it’s complex, and I’m not finished) become tired of the thought police looking over his shoulder. Her mother, a Santero born also in Cuba with a long ancestral lineage from Nigeria’s  Yoruba-centred Santeria religion, frustrates her husband with her altar and devotions that he considers superstitious. Maja likes to sing and her observations are becoming quite wonderful.

2. The second character is a Yoruban goddess, Yemaya (Aya) who lives in a magical “Opposite House” that has one door in Lagos and one in London. I’m currently two thirds through this book and loving it. I can understand the stained pages – evidence of a book that cannot be put down even while eating…  or a cookbook… in both cases loved. Maybe I will seek out similarly abused books deliberately in the future. I’m reminded of a fabulous song that made #1 in 1944 called You Always Hurt The One You Love by the Mills Brothers.

Second: This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. This 2014 book I’ve just begun. I’m familiar with many issues in it, so I’m just scanning quickly and highlighting names and key words here and there. Klein’s conscientious footnotes cover almost 60 pages. A great reference for any activist. Continue reading “Love of Home and Books With Stained Pages”

On Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro likes a good joke.
A friend sent me a 2010 Guardian article by Rory Carroll quoting Jeffrey Goldberg, a columnist for The Atlantic, in which Fidel reportedly said:
The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.
Here is Goldberg’s original article. The interpretation of what Castro meant by the crack was done by a third party present with Goldberg and Fidel. Others quoted in this and the Guardian article have added their own sauce to the mix.

Clearly Fidel’s necessarily autocratic, imperfect model has been seriously altered to deal with the decades-long US embargo. Castro’s creative genius in keeping Cuba afloat, with world-leading stats on literacy and infant survival, in the face of this assault, and others of a patently criminal nature, is close to miraculous.

All it proves is that no country in Uncle Sam’s back yard is permitted to chart its own course without crippling interference. You, kind reader, and I could both come up with a litany of less successful Pan-American attempts from Allende to Zapatista.

As I have said before, for me the telling comparison is to look at Haiti from the 1950’s to now vs Cuba during the same period. Haiti the US puppet vs Cuba the reckless maverick.

Corporation-dominated model vs state-dominated model?

In a perfect world I would prefer a cooperative, consensus-seeking road, but our current corporation-dominated, enforcement/bullying-dependent world is bound for catastrophe.  Monsanto… Nestlés… Bayer… Coca Cola… Halliburton… Shell… Lockheed……..

Waaaayyyy too much power, with no morality but the bottom line.

P.S. I love Cuba. On our second visit, in 2010, we visited several places outside the typical Havana/Varadero. We visited Havana, Trinidad, Bayamo, Santiago de Cuba, and Baracoa by public bus. We stayed in peoples’ homes – people who helped us in many ways. We went dancing six times. Here is my reflection after that visit.

P.P.S. A quick appraisal of anything Fidel has said recently must be taken with many grains of NaCl. Proof exists in this reflection in 2013 in the party newspaper, Granma, where he states that humans have been around for 230 million years. A tall tale if ever there was one. We’re closer to 2 million years, so the venerable Fidel is off by a factor of about 100 times. Nobody’s perfect.

Cuba – A Reflection in 2010

February 26th, 2010

We returned on February 12, 2010 from a 17 day holiday in Cuba staying with Cuban families in Habana, Trinidad, Bayamo, Santiago and Baracoa. It was self-planned and wonderful. It has taken me two weeks to mull over the experience before writing about it, other than to put the photos up on Facebook. Cuba makes you think.

Villa Santo Domingo, near Fidel Castro’s hideout in the Sierra Maestra

Travelling in Cuba you are bombarded with slogans, exhortations and heroes. In countries like ours we are accustomed to billboards telling us to “Just Do It,” or making us feel guilty that we have so little regard for our friends or our time that we don’t have the latest cell phone. Continue reading “Cuba – A Reflection in 2010”