Former Cuban President Fidel Castro made a rare public appearance to launch his memoirs at the Havana Convention Centre last Saturday (BBC News, February 4, 2012).
The book, Guerrilla of Time, is almost 1,000 pages long and relates his childhood and rise to power in the Cuban Revolution. The two-volume memoir is based on conversations between Fidel Castro and journalist Katiuska Blanco. It starts with former President Castro’s earliest childhood memories and takes the reader up to December 1958, the eve of the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by Castro and his followers.
With this memoir, Castro (now 85) seems to have sealed his accomplishments. He doesn’t have the physical strength to do what his spirit might wish. But his memoir will do that work for him.
Indeed, Castro stands tall in any historical account of world events in the last fifty years of the 20th century. Generally, each historical epoch produces its own heroes/heroines and villains. All over the world, we’ve had such leaders at the helm of affairs, praised, worshipped, and adored by some but hated to the marrow by others for peculiar reasons. In every sense, such leaders leave lasting footprints on the sand of time. And they are remembered for weal or for woe.
If there is any leader produced by historical circumstances who continues to astound the world, it is no other person than Fidel Castro. He has walked the tight rope on the world stage and defied all odds to stamp his authority on the politics of Cuba since 1959 when his revolution succeeded in overturning the status quo ante in Cuba. No single system has withstood so much pressure from the United States (the world’s only super-power) to remain on its feet as Cuba did under Castro’s 40 years’ rule.
Even now that he is out of the limelight, his image still looms large over Cuban and international politics. For whatever he means to the world, Castro still commands attention whenever he features in any event—whether convalescing from the illness that forced him out of office or when interacting with leaders of other countries visiting him.
Indeed, it is difficult to acknowledge Cuba without Castro’s looming image. Knowing very well his impact on this small Caribbean country, Castro has chosen to leave behind a record of his role in shaping the history of his motherland. He has written a two-volume memoir that should provide invaluable insights into the circumstances surrounding his rise to power, how he used that power, and where it has brought his country so far.
His decision to produce this memoir is laudable. It speaks volumes and adds to the huge public image that he has carved for himself. Those who admire him will continue to cherish his singular contributions to the making of world history. Those who consider him an anathema can choose to reinforce their hatred for him and see his memoir as nothing but a nuisance—a painful reminder of the trouble that he means to them. Like him or not, he has made his mark and thrown a big challenge to others elsewhere in the world who have similar experiences that they can record to immortalize their experiences but choose to blow it all away in the form of the irritating hot air that fouls our air every time they open their mouths.
I have in mind Ghana’s former President Jerry John Rawlings whose experiences will, no doubt, serve useful purposes if redirected into what his mentor (Castro) has done. But he doesn’t seem to know the value of memoirs and hasn’t been able to take that route in entrenching himself in people’s memories. I regard Castro’s effort as a challenge to him and urge him to do likewise.
For me particularly, I should love to hear that he has begun such a project. No one can re-write the history of Ghana to eliminate his role in the country’s life. And he must be the first to begin the process of perpetuating his name in the annals of the country’s contemporary history.
Ghanaians should love to have an account of what motivated him to do all that he did to become their longest-serving head of state despite the immense difficulties that he faced. I wish that he would do something on this issue before it becomes too late. Nature is waiting to collect its dues from all of us mortal beings. This is the time for him to contribute something about his exploits in Ghana politics before Nature knocks on his door for its dues. Will he listen?
There is every justification for Rawlings to emulate Castro’s example. Both have similar aspirations and were motivated by one common objective, influenced by the idea of a revolution, even though the peculiar historical imperatives and specific conditions in their countries determined how they did things while in power.
Castro went straight for communism and didn’t falter in pursuing its ideals, the evidence of which is still available. His close ties with the USSR (now Russia) and the attendant tension that it aroused, leading to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, is still regarded as a significant landmark in the erstwhile Cold War skirmishes between the USSR and the United States. Not even the physical military attacks by the US or the encroachment on the Guantanamo Bay by the US, or the decades-long economic embargo imposed on Cuba by the US, has deterred Cuba’s leadership from pursuing the communist line of governance.
Under Raul Castro, some significant reforms have been initiated to tone down on the hardline communist system but Cuba isn’t ready yet to do as its opponents wish.
Regardless of the economic sanctions and the loss of direct financial support from Russia or the falling international market price of its main export commodity (sugar), Cuba can’t be brought down to its knees. Its resolve is unshakeable.
But the reality of global politics is sinking in fast. Cuba has begun implementing reforms that have capitalist inclinations—allowing its citizens to engage in private business, sell their houses, cars, and other property to earn a living other than the state-provided support, and freeing hardline critics detained for their stiff opposition to communism on the island.
Cuba under Castro experienced the extent to which the revolutionary fervor could be carried in determining and controlling the fate of the country and its citizens’ lives. But Castro has reached a stage in his life to come to terms with reality—that he can’t cheat Nature. Fragile now, he seems to know how to leave a lasting impression on the minds of people by writing his memoirs.
In Ghana, Rawlings shot his way to power with a strong aversion for the capitalist system but bowed to pressure to do away with the pseudo-socialist ideals that prompted his putsch twice in Ghana’s history (1979 and 1981). His rule of benevolent dictatorship has its implications for Ghana. He is still a force to reckon with even if he has lost control over the political party that propped him up in his post-military political life. He has a lot up his sleeves, though, and will do us a world of good if he provides his memoir.
Such memoirs will not only reveal hidden facts about these leaders but they will also provide opportunities to learn from their experiences to guide us and posterity.
Rawlings’ case is particularly intriguing because of his peculiar experiences, leading two successful coups d’état and outmanouevring his opponents to rule for almost 20 years (December 31, 1981, to January 7, 2001).
We may be quick to find fault with his administration or style of governance; but that’s not the burning issue as far as the call for him to write his memoirs is concerned. We are know what he did, couldn’t do, or failed to do while in power and shouldn’t be looking to flog a dead horse; we need to know him beyond those inadequacies, which his memoirs can help us do.
The wave of democratization sweeping across the globe has no room for revolutions and revolutionaries of the kind that gave the world a rude awakening many decades ago. Contemporary world politics shuns such impetuous approaches to governance. There is no more room for self-assertive characters to take the destiny of any country into his hands in the name of a revolution.
The best those lucky to survive the whirligig of such revolutionary tremors can do is to recognize that their political sun has set and will never rise again. And the best they can do to perpetuate their names in the annals of world history is to write memoirs to throw light on their activities. No other venture will serve them better than such a cause. Nor can they ever return to the citadel of power. It’s now time for memoirs as they wait for Nature’s call.
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor