Fidel Castro: Lessons in Nationalism for India


A true nationalism never remains restricted to national boundaries but goes beyond it. It is contagious and spreads like a harmless virus which is helpful. It only lays the foundations of internationalism and builds solidarity of people rather than place restrictions on human differences. This breaking of national barriers is not defined by geography but bonded by humanitarian commonness and camaraderie.

The demise of Fidel Castro reminds us of this spirit of Nationalism particularly in the present times. In the contemporary time which are dominated by discourse on nationalism by the likes of Narendra Modi, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, where ‘people’ are reduced to a cog in the machine called the ‘nation’ and are further sub-reduced into much smaller parts like nuts and bolts in the name of ‘religion’, ‘race’, ‘caste’, ‘ethnicity’, where dominance of one over the other is justifiable. In this dominant discourse the rule of the ‘few rich’ over the ‘larger poor’, ‘rich nations’ over the ‘poor nations’ is but natural. Fidel Castro only broke those rules to define nationalism.

Caught between the pressures to succumb to US imperialism and operate as its satellite and rejecting the status of being a slave to US economic elite, Fidel along with the Cuban spirit of humanitarian nationalism and internationalism went on to define the real meaning of nationalism. He went on to build a Cuba, where Health care, Primary education, Local governance, Land reforms, Industrialisation was basic priorities. Despite economic and commercial sanctions including on supply of necessary medicines for infant children by US, Cuba resisted attempts at being pulled down. It went on to build one of the most advanced public health care systems in the world. Cuba is recognised as the global medical training capital and has a high doctor to patient ratio with about 8 doctors for a thousand populations. It has a literacy rate of about 99.8%. Mortality rates including that of children were lower than many of the economically advanced countries. The life expectancy is about 78. Its overall human development index continues to be high.

Despite being caught up in regular economic struggles and yet building a better society, its contribution to internationalism was immense. Cuba is well known for its medical internationalism. During the outbreak of Ebola crisis in Africa, Cuba despite being a small nation was the largest contributor of foreign medical personnel to serve during the medical emergency. It provided about 31,000 medical doctors and health workers to extend support to health care system in Venezuela.

Cuban support to Racism and anti-colonial struggles went beyond vocal support. It sent its troops to African countries to fight colonialism, particularly in Algeria, Congo and Guinnea-Bissau. In his 1998 speech to South African Parliament, he stated that 4 lakh Cuban forces fought with African soldiers for national independence of African countries and against foreign aggression. Nelson Mandela too recognised the internationalism of Cuban people for its anti-apartheid and anti-colonial stand. In his 1991 visit to Cuba, he spoke of his gratitude for the Cuban role in Southern Africa. Mandela stated that “We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us.”

At a time when the world is caught in the debate on reducing the effects of climate change and the need to protect the environment, Castro’s role in this area too is significant. His 1992 speech in Earth Summit called the need for end of consumption based lifestyles based on destruction of environment. He called for use of science for creating pollution free and sustained development. Cuba adopted an ‘Agro-ecology’ approach to farming which was more sensitive to environment. This provides an alternative for the world to adopt.

The foundations laid by Fidel Castro towards Cuban nationalism and Internationalism only aims at identifying social and environmental solutions affecting the People and the Planet. This is unlike the dominant discourse on ‘Nationalism’ where Profits through corporate loot and plunder are the ultimate aim. His 1992 Earth summit speech called for an end of the world where there is “Enough of selfishness – Enough of schemes of domination – Enough of insensitivity, irresponsibility and deceit.

It is time for Indian Nationalists to learn the real meaning of nationalism.

Jayashubha is a Post Graduate in Organic Chemistry. She works as a Teacher.


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