by Atilio Borón
The passing of Fidel causes the heart and the brain fight to control the chaos of feelings and ideas this catalyzes. Memories emerge in a whirlwind and overlap in a mix of images, words, gestures (Fidel’s gestuality was amazing), intonations, irony, and, above all, ideas—many ideas.
He was a true follower of José Martí’s ideas. He firmly believed in the precept of the Cuban revolutionary: “trenches of ideas are worth more than trenches of stones”. Undoubtedly, Fidel was a great military strategist—something that he proved not only in the Sierra Maestra battles but also in his careful planification of the great battle of Cuito Cuanavale, which was fought in Angola between December 1987 and March 1988, which precipitated the fall of the racist South African regime and ruined the plans of the US in the southern part of the continent.
But he was also an accomplished politician, with a phenomenal ability to interpret national and international scenarios, a talent which allowed him to lead Cuba to play a key role in some of the biggest international conflicts that shook the twentieth century. No other country in the region achieved something remotely similar to what Fidel did.Cuba gave decisive support to the consolidation of the Algerian revolution and defeated French colonialism in its last bastion. Cuba was with Vietnam since the very beginning, and the help it provided was enormously valuable to its people, that was being slaughtered. Cuba was with the Palestinians and never doubted about which side was right in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Cuba was decisive, Nelson Mandela said, to redefine the socio-political map of the south of Africa and to end Apartheid.
Countries like Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, which have bigger economies, territories and population, have never had a comparable impact on world affairs. But Cuba had Fidel…
He was not only follower of the ideals of José Martí but also of Simón Bolívar. To Fidel, the unity of Latin America and of all the peoples and nations of the then-called “Third World” was essential. That’s why he held the 1966 TriContinental Conference in Cuba, to support and coordinate the struggles for national liberation in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. He knew that unity was indispensable to contain and defeat US imperialism. That the lack of unity was the greatest vulnerability of the tyranny of the United States, and that it was urgent and indispensable to enact the proposals made by Simón Bolívar in the 1826 Amphictyonic Congress, which he had already outlined in his famous 1815 Jamaica Letter.
Honoring his ideas, Fidel was the main strategist of the process of supranational integration that began to grow in Latin America in the late twentieth century, when Hugo Chávez Frías appeared—the field marshall he needed to bring his ideas to life. The alliance of these two giants of Latin America opened the doors to an unprecedented process of changes that brought to its knees the most important and geopolitical plan of the empire for this subcontinent: the FTAA.
And in addition to his military and political accomplishments, we mustn’t forget that Fidel was also an intellectual. It’s uncommon to see a Head of State so willing to listen and debate, and never being overcome by the arrogance that clouds the mind of some leaders.
I was fortunate enough to assist to an intense but respectful debate between Fidel and Noam Chomsky on topics such as the 1962 missile crisis and Operation Mongoose, and not for a moment did the host stop carefully listening to what the North American visitor had to say.
There’s also the unforgettable image of Fidel participating in the numerous events that Cuba hosted: the summits on Globalization held by the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba (ANEC), the ones by the Office of Studies on José Martí or of the Latin American Social Sciences Council (CLACSO). There, sitting in the front row, armed with a little notepad and a pencil, he listened to speakers for hours and dutifully took notes. From time to time, he asked for the floor and amazed the audience by masterfully summing up what had been said in the previous four hours or so, or drawing surprising conclusions that nobody had imagined. That’s why he used to tell the Cuban people: “don’t believe, read”—a clear example of the respect he felt for intellectual work.
Like Chávez, Fidel was a very cultured man and a voracious reader. His passion for precise and detailed information was inexhaustible. I remember that, in one of the preparatory meetings for the 2003 CLACSO Assembly, he said: “remember that God doesn’t exist, but He is in the details”, and that nothing, no matter how insignificant, shouldn’t be left to chance. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, he warned, before the skeptic looks and ironic smiles of his mediocre colleagues (Bush Sr., Fujimori, Felipe González, Carlos Menem), that humanity was “an endangered species” and that the phenomenon we now know as “climatic change” was a death threat. Like an eagle that flies high and sees far away, he saw, twenty years sooner than everybody else, the seriousness of this problem that is now omniscient in the global agenda.
Fidel has passed, but his legacy (like the legacies of the Che and Chávez) will live on forever. His call for unity, solidarity, anti-imperialist internationalism—his revindication of socialism, of Martí’s principles—his creative appropriation of Marxism and Leninism—his warning that those peoples who dare to create a new world must be prepared to be crudely punished by the right and that they must therefore be quick to carry out the fundamental tasks of the revolution—his teachings, in sum, are an essential treasure for the future of the world’s struggles for liberation.