Saturday, November 26, 2016

Beyond Dogma Castronomics communism and contexts of crumbling democracies RIP Fidel Castro

Viva Cuba! Long Live the Revolution! The Revolution is Dead! Viva La Revolution! La Revolution Esta Muerta!
Cuban Leader Fidel Castro closes his eyes to not just a chapter but an encyclopaedic volume of global politics; just as the world's greatest, and lesser, democracies are forced to confront their own successes and failures, in an environment where people are not just signaling but demanding the need for a new kind of revolution - one that will see more equitable distribution and more sustainable use of the world's resources.
Castro leaves many to mourn, and to celebrate him; many who have felt the burden of oppressive political and economic policies; others who have admired his individualism and acumen.
With centres already crumbling and the walls of capitalism threatening to collapse from its own unsustainable excesses, just as communism experienced less than two decades earlier, the world seems poised for reconfiguration of its dogma and ideologies.
In what sounded like his epitaph - in the week he was celebrating his entry into the Biblical three scores and ten - Castro in this encounter twenty years ago in Trinidad and Tobago, painted a picture of a world in chaos because of the domination of a unipolar world order that is unbalanced, and that has thrown the world into disarray.
"Some things I have done in life have been done rationally...and some things have been driven by my dreams…and for all of mankind," he said, a giant who stood by his beliefs commandeering awe even from those who disagreed with him, among political leaders whose political will to stand up against global forces that threaten to immobilise small states seem virtually non-existent.
"It is said in the Bible that everything new started in chaos," Castro had quipped when he was delivering a ribtickling address to a luncheon of businessfolks during his visit to Trinidad and Tobago for the inauguration of the Association Caribbean of States in 1995. That from the man who is listed among eight historic figures excommunicated from the Catholic Church, among them Joan of Arc and Martin Luther, would you believe, as well as Queen Elizabeth I for her role in establishing the Church of England viewed as rival to the Catholic Church; Napoleon who invaded Rome; Kings Henry VIII and Henry IV; and closer home President of Argentina, Juan Peron. Castro has on occasions condemned the Bible for what he saw as its perpetration of oppression and oppression of human dignities and rights of which he has himself been accused, yet leads the only Communist country not distanced from the Holy See and has amicably met three Pope's, receiving two of them in his country: Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 and the more recent visit of Pope Francis in 2015. He met Pope John Paul II when he called on the Vatican in 1996, and on several other occasions. It only serves to underscore the complexity of the character of this figure that is yet to be thoroughly distilled.
Garnished with humour, wrinkled cheeks and twinkling eye, Castro had dished out generous helpings of jives and jabs to the ACS attendant businessmen, politicians, the media, and in his quote from the Bible, the church - all of which have been among his strongest opponents.
Yet here they were all at a capitalist function lapping up his joviality as his companion dog Nix was, having been given prideful entry into the closed event.
Turning the tables, Fidel delivered what Trinis call picong like a master artist, the subjects seemingly largely unaware that they are the butt of the jokes.
Widely accused of human rights violations and restrictions of basic human rights and freedoms, he signalled his mood from his dramatic late entrance, jokingly threatening to report to the UN Human Rights Commission the assault on his eyes by the sudden spurt of flashing media camera lights
The man who would chastise US President Barrack Obama on his 2015 visit to Cuba, even as the world looked on in wonder at the US relaxing its 60-year old sanctions to Cuba, had fair share of pokes for his host, the business community, contrasting business and politics: 'the State does good and bad business, while real businessmen always do good business... politicians and dreamers and businessmen are rationalists; we want impossible things to happen while businessmen want to do possible things."
There might be a foresight there too, for the President-elect of the USA, Donald Trump and the US and international community looking on with trepidation at what may be yet to come.
With more than a hint of satire at the so-called rationality of business practices that have plunged the world into chaos, the self deprecating Castro said: "That is why when politicians become businessmen they fail; while when businessmen become politicians, very often they are successful ... Perhaps I am making a caricature of politicians and of myself."


That was 20 years ago. Over the last five years I was in Cuba twice - as part of the team preparing the UNESCO Caribbean subregional five year action plan for World Heritage  in 2014 that following preparation of the ten-year Regional Action Plan for Latin America and the Caribbean in Brasilia, and earlier joining experts in Havana for certification in Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Heritage was one of the vehicles to shirk of the economic sanctions Cuba have been successfully driven, and not only in its vintage array of archaic motorcars. It allowed for exploration of many paths to development: heritage tourism, agriculture, research, medicine, cuisine, culture among them, overlooked by those trying to overreach and imitate the economics of the developed world.
Researching the connections between its ancient, colonial and contemporary cultures, I had cause to reflect on the pivotal point Cuba is at now, in not just the regional development imperative but also global politics, economics and society. It is evident across the span of the island as I traced the heritage from Havana, through Vinales to Trinidad, Cienfuegos, the eastern coast of European discovery and the cultural south; its celebrated heritage cities/sites and little known nooks and crannies with its carefully conserved cultural milieu in cuisine, art, agriculture, dance, music, prehistory, architecture for which Cuba boasts nine inscriptions on the World Heritage list.
My post meeting personal note to self, read:
"I said hasta la vista to Cuba last week - new friends, new mother, a new sister and brothers. What would I trade for zero crime, guaranteed minimal standard of health care, education, housing? What freedoms would I be prepared to forego to feel safe to walk the streets; to not look at fellow human beings suspiciously, to breathe in and an enjoy heritage that is hardly yet contaminated...?" I had been welcomed into homes like a sister, treated like a long lost friend by strangers and felt the enormous burden lift off in being able to walk its cities streets without needing to continuously glance over my shoulder. One cannot help but admire what Cuba had achieved in terms of heritage conservation, with structures, laws, institutions and research; but it was struggling to hold in delicate balance the consumerism with the conservation ethic that positions its model of heritage tourism as exemplary in the way it has responded to bolster its domestic economy in the face of global sanctions and embargoes.
Within Cuba there is also considerable unease and impatience for opening of the floodgates of capitalism and loosening up of the limitations of internet access and yet underdeveloped cyber systems - from taxi drivers to homestay hostesses, one senses gnawing and growing dissatisfaction that the grass is greener on the other side which Castro's successor, his brother Raul has had to respond to no doubt with the reluctant nod of Fidel himself. 
And that receives resonance in the cheering sounds of celebrations on the streets of Miami and elsewhere at announcement of Castro’s death. That too is not unfounded. I have friends whose living memory are of the terrors of having to flee Cuba in the disenchantment at the post-revolution directions and have been involved in civil society processes over the last decade and close associates with many as we witnessed, struggled against and condemned violations of human rights and oppressive practices, laws, and regulations.  
I had advised the Caribbean Telecommunications Union at its 25th anniversary symposium to look beyond the general euphoria at consumer potential to other implications of the promised opening up of telecommunications in Cuba, since augmented by the lifting of embargoes and US President Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba.
Through that exploration my note to self asked:
“How could Cuba balance what it has managed to preserve; and maintain the resilience it has demonstrated, while acceding to the wishes of its people to embrace the ideals and represented in the systems to which we subscribe?"
With capitalism, communism, socialism and the like fraying at the seams, the death of Fidel Castro counterposed with the election by the US of Donald Trump – seemingly the embodiment of the spirit of the capitalism Castro has resisted all his life – provide that dramatic point of denouement at a fin de siecle that offers the opportunity for failures and successes of political systems to be reassessed, and ultimately guide their revision.
The tally must include an objective look at the bridges that have built across the democratic deficit: benchmarks towards equity and the priorities of governments’ actions in meeting the needs of the people across political, ideological, social, economic or other divides. It is as complex as it is simple and in many ways embodied in Castronomics itself.
Castro's ideology as well as his theology have often been criticised, having even been ex-communicated by the Catholic Church for what is said to be his suppression of Catholicism - interpreted as his atheism, but which he has described as his adherence to secularism.
Tracing the evolutions of religions among other elements of the Caribbean/ Cuba intangible heritage, the wing-clipping of institutions seem to have given flight to the syncretic Santeria practices that evolved from amalgamating beliefs and practices from its diverse peoples, not just dominant institutions.
In life, as in death, perhaps Fidel Castro also made a caricature of the world.
The words of his countryman Ernest Hemmingway in A Farewell to Arms comes to mind:
The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.
RIP Fidel Castro, August 13, 1926 to November 25, 2016.

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Related Links:
unesco caribbean experts meet to plan world heritage