Today Fidel Castro can enjoy his 84th birthday, having recovered totally from the poor health which forced him to step down as President of the Council of State in 2006. More than wishing him a Happy Birthday, it is the right occasion to say Thank You, Comandante as the free world celebrates alongside its hero, hopefully for many more years to come.
Place “Fidel” in any search engine - one word – and see the result. For some reason it must be. And for some reason, today August 13, not only Fidel Castro, but millions of people around the world celebrate the birth of this intercontinental hero.
Fidel Castro Ruz inherited a poor country with a largely illiterate population, 600,000 people were endemically unemployed, 500,000 farmers lived in makeshift huts, most of the rural population had work on the plantations for four months of the year.
Two per cent of the population had access to running water, 43% were illiterate and 14% suffered from tuberculosis.
After Fidel Castro took power in January 1959, a road-building program was started, medicine prices were cut and the casinos were turned into schools as a massive education program was undertaken, taking Cuba to the status of leader among American and Caribbean countries in educational standards.
The Agrarian Reform laws redistributed land, women were liberated by the Federation of Cuban Women, which launched programs to bring women into the workplace, and in 1975, for the first time in the country’s history, the Family Code stipulated that men and women were equal before the law.
An excellent healthcare system was built; Cuba has the second-best doctor to patient ratio in the world (1:170), Cuban hospitals provide world class service in a number of areas of medicine to growing numbers of foreign nationals. In sports, with limited resources and despite the USA’s inhuman and inhumane blockade, Cuba ranked ninth in the world at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
However, Fidel Castro did not restrict his ideas and ideals to Cuba, but internationalised his Revolution, bringing freedom and affordable public services to millions of people around the globe.
Tens of thousands of Cuban medical aid workers provide services in over 70 countries in America, Africa, Oceania and Asia; Fidel and Cuba have championed the causes of HIV/AIDS awareness, gay rights, anti-imperialism, the end to world hunger, reforestation and sustainable green development, among others and Fidel was one of the first world leaders to call for a cancellation of Third World Debt.
Cuba’s Escuela Latino Americana de Medicina in Havana is attended by 9.000 students from around the world who train – for free- to be the doctors and nurses of tomorrow. Education, development and healthcare programmes have been exported to scores of developing countries, with costs supported by Cuba, despite the blockade, for decades, since the internationalisation program in 1963.
Cuban troops fought alongside their African brothers in the independence movements in numerous African states, such as Namibia (where Fidel is considered a national hero), Angola, Tanzania and Sierra Leone, bringing freedom to millions of oppressed people.
Among the many awards Fidel Castro has earned are numerous Honoris Causa doctorates proffered by European and Latin American Universities, the World Health Organization’s Health for All Award in 1998, the Lenin Peace Prize in 1961 and the Russian Writers’ Union Mikhail Sholokhov Prize in 1995.
Fidel Castro Ruz resigned formally and definitively in 2008, stating he did not have the health or physical mobility which his position required, stepping upstairs into the position of senior statesman, writing his weekly column, advising not only his Government as General Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party but by keeping abreast of international events, also informing the international community of what is going on behind the scenes at this dangerous moment in world history. A founder and champion of Intervention Journalism, Fidel is as lethal with the pen as he was with the AK-47. Today he calls for peace, bridge-building, debate and dialogue, the fundamental precepts of democracy.
For all of this, we say not only Happy Birthday, Comandante, but also Thank You, as we celebrate with you, with the good news that your health has improved. It is not surprising that the international press does not mention one single Cuban development program or one single success in social and economic development. Those who control the information stand outside the party and remain outside the embrace of the collective goodwill of humanity, today centred very much around the figure of Fidel Castro Ruz on his 84th birthday.