Castro did what he had to do
This file photo taken on December 7, 2005 shows Cuban President Fidel Castro gesturing as he delivers his speech during a political meeting in Cardenas city, province of Matanzas, 80 miles east of Havana.Photo: AFP
This past week was filled with news. There was the death of Fidel Castro last Friday, and this past Monday was Jamaica’s local government elections. Less known or remembered is that today is 42 years since the death of the late Roman Catholic priest, Monsignor Gladstone Wilson, a Jamaican who was considered the seventh most learned man in the world in his time.
“History will absolve me,” is a famous statement that was made by Fidel Castro. I do not agree with everything Fidel ever did, but if one knew what was happening in Cuba before the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista, one can understand why Fidel Castro did what he did. Cuba’s record in education and health, when compared to what was available before Castro, is very impressive.
In many respects, Castro simply did what he had to. He removed the US multinational corporations from Cuba, which he thought were milking the country of its economic lifeblood. In a swift reaction, the USA refused to trade and also cut off diplomatic ties with Cuba. Castro then turned to the Soviet Union for trade and economic help and was also obliged to declare himself a communist in line with the Soviets. But was Fidel Castro ever communist, or was he basically a Castro-type socialist?
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Very few recall that one of the first things that Fidel Castro did was to open a ‘palace of matrimonies’. He forced everyone in Cuba living in concubinage to be married in at least a civil wedding. The situation on Half-Way-Tree Road and New Kingston, where abandoned children have grown into adults and live in gullies, would not happen in Cuba under Castro.
But most of all, many Jamaicans were impressed with Fidel Castro because he stood up to the mighty United States of America. There was the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 in which Castro resisted the USA’s attempt to overthrow him. There were also several attempts on Fidel Castro’s life, but he resisted all of them.
THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS
So the local government elections took place and the Jamaica Labour Party won at least eight of the councils with the People’s National Party taking four, with one council tied. Both parties have been guilty at some time of giving out work such as bushing, cleaning drains or repairing roads when in Government at election time. This practice is wrong, but unfortunately, as we say in Jamaica, “Is so di ting set.”
But in any case, the party that wins the general election usually takes the local government elections unless the voters’ list is substantially different — as was the case between the 2002 General Election and the 2003 Local Government Elections.
The only way to lessen the voter apathy in local government elections, as manifested in the very low voter turnout, is to have both the general and the local government elections on the same day. It will also lessen the cost of the elections by rolling everything into one.
And if ever there is a referendum on any issue it should be done at that time also. Indeed, many years ago, P J Patterson, while prime minister, suggested that this is the way we should go. If the wealthy United States of America does it in that way, why should a poor country like us do it differently when elections cost so much?
It has always been my view that party politics should not be in local government, and that only independents should be elected. Indeed, it was the subject of a letter from me in 1974 to the editor of the long-defunct
Jamaica Daily News. Either we need good local government services or we do not, and of course we do.
So the best people should be chosen, regardless of party affiliation or none. In Cuba, the communities elect delegates to local authorities which in turn elect delegates to the legislature. As far as I am concerned, Cuba has a far more democratic system of governance, although they do not directly elect their maximum leader. But neither does Jamaica, as the governor general appoints the prime minister from Parliament.
True, one has to live with the fact that, in Jamaica, the parties are heavily involved in local government elections since October 23, 1947 — the date of the first local government elections under universal adult suffrage. Still, in 1947, there were as many independent winners as there were People’s National Party and Jamaica Labour Party winners. But as the political parties became more entrenched in the political landscape, eventually Jamaica saw less and less independents winning seats in local government elections.
MONSIGNOR GLADSTONE WILSON
Monsignor Wilson (who died 42 years ago today) contributed to the growth of nationalism in Jamaica in a very real way. He created pride in Jamaica that a black Jamaican was a lecturer at a Vatican university and spoke more than 14 languages fluently. On his return to Jamaica, in 1941, Wilson was a contributor to the St Anne’s Progressive Youth Club in Western Kingston. In his own way he was teaching about black dignity and educating ordinary Jamaicans to appreciate our history.
Monsignor Wilson was also a participant in the celebrated Drumblair Circle. This was a group of intellectual friends of National Hero Norman Manley who discussed ideas of a new Jamaica which included self-government and political independence.
At least once when Michael Manley got into trouble at Jamaica College while a student there, Norman Manley called on Monsignor Wilson to intercede for him. This was ironic because Wilson had been refused entry into Jamaica College and Munro College because of racist and class reasons so prevalent a hundred years ago.
Rudolph Burke, who was ‘shoe-shine’ black, went to Jamaica College, but his father was a landowner, which made a big difference to then headmaster, William Cowper. Judging from the liberal writings of Archdeacon Simms, the previous headmaster when Rudolph Burke attended the school, he may not have been as prejudiced. Wilson who was not yet Roman Catholic was accepted at St George’s College. He converted to Roman Catholicism and later went to Rome to study for the priesthood.