Saturday 3 December 2016

Blame it on Fidel

As millions of Cubans gather today on the streets of every corner of their small nation, the war on Castro continues in the West. According to the media of North America and Europe, Fidel was the world's longest lived dictator - a scourge on human rights, an authoritarian leader who allowed no dissent from his path of communism.

Yet for 100's of millions of people across the globe, especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia, he will be viewed very differently. He will be seen as a great leader, who liberated his people from a US backed dictator, who then stood up to half a century of US aggression whilst at the same time developing one of the most egalitarian regimes the world has ever seen.

What cannot be denied is that Cuba has punched well beyond its weight. In comparison to similar nations, its health care and education systems are indeed remarkable, and have benefited the lives of more than just the Cuban people. A Caribbean student who stayed with us recently got their first degree in Cuba. It was free. Completely. Including accommodation and food. And compared to the levels of teaching in the Yorkshire University she was then studying at - the Cuban model outshone by far, despite the thousands of pounds it was costing her to study in the UK.

In terms of Health, Cuba still sends out more doctors abroad than MSF, Red Cross and the World Health Organisation combined. When the Ebola virus took hold, the Cubans responded first, in greater numbers than any other country, and stayed as long as was needed to curb the threat. Watch the Michael Moore film 'Sicko' if you want to see the Cuban health care system in operation.

I met Cuban doctors in Montevideo who were working with the poorest people in the city, people living with HIV and AIDs, The doctors were remarkably dedicated, and though critical of many of the problems Cuba faced, they remained genuinely loyal to the system that had educated them and encouraged them to go out and 'heal the nations'

I constantly meet churches in the UK who are praying for the persecuted Christians in Cuba. US backed 'Human Rights Organisations' claimed that Christianity was viciously oppressed in Cuba. When I tell them that I had been ordained by the Bishop of Cuba they are shocked to hear a different story. Christianity has thrived alongside socialist Cuba. In the early days of the revolution, the Church was still embedded to those who had benefited from Batista's regime, and there was open hostility for several decades. But things improved. The only Christians who are in danger in Cuba were those that happily accepted millions of dollars from the US to help destabilise the Cuban government.

But surely, Cuba should tolerate such dissent? Surely it should allow Western style democracy to exist? I think that while that hope of democratic socialism should be striven for, we cannot ignore the context of US aggression towards Cuba. Nearly 1000 attempts on Castro's life over 5 decades. 4000 Cubans killed in terrorist attacks launched from US soil (In the US there are countless folk who roam free despite having bombed innocent people in Cuba) The economic blockade of Cuba is well known, but what is not so well known is the US backed attempts to introduce diseases such a Swine fever onto the Island to completely destabilise the economy and cause mass poverty and illness. With all this going on (and a US backed attempt to invade Cuba in 1961) it is easy to understand why it has been hard to build a Western style democracy in Cuba.

Of course there are things that have needed to be corrected. Attitudes to the LGBT community have had to change since the 80's and 90's when it was mistakenly believed that HIV and AIDs was being introduced to Cuba by the US in an attempt to destroy the economy. But attitudes to LGBT issues have had to improve worldwide, it would be hard to convince anyone that Cuba had been especially homophobic as has been suggested by some of the western media.

The film 'Blame it on Fidel' is a great movie set in the world of European socialism, see it if you can. but far from blame, we owe Fidel a debt of gratitude. The Cuban model is a counterweight to the disastrous policies that Western style Capitalism has brought the world. Castro's work to encourage socialism around the globe, the Cuban people's struggle against Apartheid in the 80's and against Western Imperialism throughout the world  - these are achievements to be amazed at and celebrated.

So, at the risk of complaints from good friends, (My book 'A Just Church' received some criticism for its segments on Cuba and Venezuela)  I say a fond farewell to Fidel. Thank you for your example and commitment to a better world. Your flaws are out weighed by your enormous achievements. May you rest in peace, and rise to witness an egalitarian regime that you could only dream of.

Thursday 24 March 2016

Remembering Romero

It is 36 years since Archbishop Oscar Romero was brutally gunned down in the small chapel at the hospital beside where he lived in the San Salvador.

Today is Maundy Thursday, and as I took part in the Eucharistic service in the Minster, I could not help but recall the pictures of his bloodied body, pictures used to make up a 'stations of the cross' event a few years ago at a previous Romero memorial event.

Why do we choose to remember this horrific event, the assassination of a religious leader in a country very few people have ever visited?

Romero was the epitome of someone who was so moved by the plight of the poor and the oppressed that he gave every aspect of his life to the pursuit of challenging those oppressions. He, like most of the church, like most of those who can afford to, could have easily avoided clashing with the brutality of living with militarism. He could of accepted protection from the very state that was killing his country folk. He could of lived in a nice house, been comfortable and not upset the status quo. In fact, that was what everyone expected of him.

Instead, he spoke out about every injustice he encountered. He refused to stay silent or accept the bribe of a safe and comfortable life. He risked his life endlessly in the 3 years of his Archbishopric, and became a true champion of the poor.

In an era increasingly polarised between rich and poor, in a society constantly brutalised, we need to remember the Romero's of this world. Those who are prepared to stand in solidarity with the persecuted, holding on to our common humanity and dignity.

Maundy Thursday holds up the image of the 'servant king' washing the feet of his followers, serving them right up to the end, to his own murder at the hands of a repressive government.  This is the ideal day to remember Romero.