Bangladesh mourns death of ‘foreign friend’ Fidel Castro
Staff Correspondent bdnews24.com
Published: 2016-11-26 13:35:40.0 BdST Updated: 2016-11-27 03:48:32.0 BdST
Photo: Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Fidel Castro on the sidelines of the 1974 NAM Summit in Algiers.
Bangladesh has mourned the death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.
The former president and leader of the Communist revolution, died aged 90 on Saturday, his brother Raul has announced.
In 2013, Bangladesh awarded Castro the ‘Liberation War Honour’ as one of the ’foreign friends’ for his contributions to the country’s struggle for freedom in 1971.
Bangladesh President Md Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have expressed deep sorrow over the death.
In a message the president said, "Fidel Castro’s death is an immense loss for the world. He will always be remembered for his revolutionary fight to champion the oppressed."
In her condolence message, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recalled the Cuban leader’s contribution to Bangladesh’s independence.
Leftist parties, including the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), have also expressed condolences.
Castro, one of the first leaders to recognise Bangladesh, had a cordial relationship with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The two leaders met in Algiers during the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in 1973.
"Mr Castro made an emotional remark while hugging my father, which I still recall, ’I have not seen the Himalayas. But I have seen Sheikh Mujib. In personality and courage, this man is the Himalayas. I have thus had the experience of witnessing the Himalayas.’," Hasina said in her message.
26th Nov 2016
Fidel Castro showed us a Shining City on the Hill
Syed Badrul Ahsan
Fidel Castro never had any illusions about communism being a force for good in the world. It was a core belief in him, one he maintained despite the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union and the concomitant collapse of socialism in Moscow and Eastern Europe. As the Soviet Union came apart and the old Warsaw Pact nations found an outlet to chaotic democracy, Castro remained steadfast in his belief that Cuba would stay firm in upholding the communist ideology. That Castro was to be proved prescient has nowhere been truer than in the survival and progress of the country he led to liberation, in so many ways, since he walked off into voluntary retirement from power a decade ago.
In all the years that passed since Castro and his small band of guerrillas marched into Havana on New Year’s Day in 1959, the great revolutionary consistently commanded the heights of politics on a global scale. When he swept to power and sent the corrupt Fulgencio Batista dictatorship packing in 1959, the American administration of President Dwight Eisenhower did not quite know what to make of the change. Batista had enjoyed US support and so his fall left the White House in a quandary. Castro was ready to extend an olive branch to the Americans — communism was yet to be official Cuban policy — but it was an offer spurned by Eisenhower. Vice President Richard Nixon met Fidel Castro at the United Nations, but nothing came of it.
And then began the sordid process of successive American administrations attempting a variety of means to cause the death of Fidel Castro. All the way from Eisenhower through Kennedy and Johnson and up to Nixon, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) devised one measure after another to assassinate Castro. His cigars were injected with deadly poison; conspiracies were undertaken to shoot him; even his iconic beard was considered a target for poisoning that would lead to his gory end. In the end, nothing worked. By the time of his death, Fidel Castro had outlasted eleven US presidents. The eleventh, Barack Obama, a proper man of history, turned the old bad history upside down when he travelled to Havana and restored diplomatic relations with Cuba. That was a vindication, if vindication was ever needed, of Castro’s politics.
There were, of course, all the difficult moments which threatened to put an end to the Cuban revolution. The Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 is one. Through thirteen critical days, the Americans and the Soviets were eyeball to eyeball over the issue of Moscow’s missiles that had already been installed in Cuba and which the Americans had discovered, to their surprise and anxiety. In the end, both President Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev blinked. The missiles were withdrawn by Moscow, in return for a withdrawal of US missiles from Turkey. The world breathed a sigh of relief.
But that was not the only crisis Fidel Castro passed through. In one of those moments defined by folly and inordinate arrogance, the Americans decided in April 1961 that Castro needed to be removed by force. A bunch of Cuban exiles based in Florida, eager to reclaim the privileges they had lost when Castro stormed Havana, and supported by the new Kennedy administration, set out on boats for the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. Castro’s forces proved to be more adept in gathering intelligence. They waited for the American-backed mercenaries on the beach. Deprived of American air power, earlier promised by Washington, the exiles found to their surprise that Cuban gunfire awaited them. They were swiftly mown down. The revolution survived. President Kennedy was left red in the face.
Not all of Castro’s dreams of socialist revolution across the globe were to be realized. The saddest moment for Cuba and its friends came when Ernesto Che Guevara, driven by thoughts of communism taking over Latin America, was caught and murdered by the CIA and the Bolivian army in October 1967. But that disaster, for disaster it was, did not withhold the support Castro would subsequently give the various liberation movements in Africa — Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa. The support, moral and material, would after the Soviet collapse, be a drain on the Cuban economy. But for Castro, the liberation of subjugated nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America was a crusade he could not turn his back on. It is a mark of the influence the Cuban revolution has had on nations beyond Cuba that in time men like Salvador Allende in Chile, Joao Goulart in Brazil and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela would rise to prominence, would be cut down (Chavez’s case would be different) and yet would prove the strength of an idea.
Fidel Castro graduated from a revolutionary to a statesman, though without truly shedding his revolutionary identity, in the 1970s and 1980s. He was enthusiastic about the Non-Aligned Movement and was convinced it was a potent means toward an assertion of self-esteem by nations long the victims of exploitation by global forces beyond their control. With Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, India’s Indira Gandhi and Bangladesh’s Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, he forged a bond that was at once unassailable and principled. The sheer enthusiasm with which he met Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the NAM summit in Algiers in 1973 was revealing of the spontaneity in him. He was eager, as he told a rather surprised Bangabandhu, to meet a statesman who had been in prison and yet in whose name a nation had triumphed in a War of Liberation. In 1983, carried away by the eloquence of Indira Gandhi at the NAM summit in Delhi, he moved to give her a hug. The shy Indian leader moved away.
And do not forget the sure sense of identity and pride Castro gave Cubans. Ask them about their health system, a model for the rest of the world. Talk to them about the edifice of education Castro put in place, to the wonder of the world. Castro was Cuba. And then he was more.
Fidel Castro and his comrades lit a torch nearly fifty eight years ago along the coastline and villages and towns and cities of a distant island nation. The brilliance emanating from the torch was emblematic of hope, of the assurance that the huddled masses could gather the force in themselves to come together and send the elements of darkness — within and without — to flight.
In losing Fidel Castro, we lose a man. The great symbol of human intrepidity and achievement that he was does not die. The message ingrained in his revolution remains. He showed nations around the world the power of a pledge. And the pledge was simple: beyond historical suffering, beyond government by philistinism, beyond dark corruption and darker thoughts, there is always a Shining City on the Hill.
Syed Badrul AhsanSyed Badrul Ahsan is a bdnews24.com columnist.