Colombo, International, Politics and Governance

Echoes of Cuba


Photo by Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg, via Bloomberg

I walk the hills rising from an azure blue Caribbean sea, and try to envision the history that I have been told, a history of an island, green, tropical, rich in resources that fell into a despotic military aided rule. The consequence of a power drunk ruler who made it easy for his cronies to move money across its borders and legalized gambling to facilitate the Mafia to launder its ill-gotten money from the US. The underworld became the lords and the land went out of reach for ordinary citizens. This history spoke of a small group of dedicated people, who struggled through incredible odds and fuelled by a shining love for their country, won the nation back from the underworld.  Their actions confirming the observation of the Qu’ran that,  ‘ the love of country is the love of faith’.

It was an impossibly small boat that arrived on the shores of Cuba with its cargo of committed revolutionaries in 1956 ‘more dead than alive’ as Che recounted, loosing over half of their comrades, in battles, yet they went on to win their nation back from the underworld. By this action the amazing ability of the human spirit to rise to the ‘love of country’ is clearly demonstrated.  Cuba was embroiled in corruption, its dictator Batista was supported by gangsters, thugs and killers.  The huge inflow of money through their money laundering operations created a massive disparity of income and Cuban society descended into a situation of economic colonization.  The corruption was so bad that the US president John F. Kennedy once stated:

I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation, which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.”

The history of Cuba haunted me on my return to Sri Lanka; one of the first actions of Batista on gaining power was to facilitate the flow of external money through its economy and to legalize gambling, which facilitated the entry of the mafia into the country to launder its ill-gotten wealth from the US.  One of the first actions of the new government of Sri Lanka was to liberalize the flow of money through our nation and legalize gambling. Was this to be the creation of our own Batistas and the surrendering of our nation to the underworld elements, local and of Asia, Russia etc? As pointed out in the parliamentary speech by Mangala Samaraweera MP It is the activity of the underworld and their laundering of money though our economy that now contributes to our ‘economic growth’, but is this something to crow about?

Such ‘misdirected growth’ is often promoted to enrich the people with power to amass capital but it creates a class of ‘super rich’ which rapidly widens the inequality gap between rich and poor.  The reason as to why we should all be vigilant about the phenomenon of a widening inequality gap between the rich and the poor is very lucidly explained in the informative and eye opening book ‘The Spirit Level’ by two Epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Their data shows that the consequence of a widening ‘inequality gap’ degrades the health and well being of the people, this phenomenon applies to all countries from the so-called ‘rich’ to the  so-called ‘poor’.

So, by all measures it seems that we are descending into a mafia controlled sate, rife with corruption, nepotism and cronyism. This process, like a cancer will eat into our society, destroy our culture and enslave our children. Time will come when decent people will yearn for justice and especially to rid the nation of corruption. But where will we find our champions?

For us, this struggle will be hard. It has been commented that this nation twice removed from its genepool, the genes for activism and bravery. In 1971 the government ‘removed ‘up to 20,000 or more of the educated, poor. Those who attended university or demonstrated interest in radical politics were young or unemployed were singled out for liquidation.  The next pogrom was in the late 1980’s when over 60,000 were ‘removed’ without a word being uttered in protest on any international stage. These people never passed their genes on. Genetically speaking, we removed from our race a large percentage of the traits for high intellectual potential and activism. Metaphorically, It has become the time of the bottom feeders in our gene pool to manifest themselves as the intellectuals and leaders.

Bottom feeders or ‘lowlife’ have a peculiar trait of myopia or short sightedness, that does not allow them to consider anything other than objects of their greed. Consider the recent reports from World Bank, Price Waterhouse Coopers etc that warns of the global temperature rise by 4-6 degrees due to the burning of fossil fuel and the use of cement.  Such a jump in global temperatures will exacerbate global poverty, trigger severe heat waves, sudden floods and droughts, and cause sea levels to rise by three feet, it will ravage food supplies. These reports warn us of the immediate need to reduce emitting fossil carbon and to prepare for the oncoming crises.  Given such a global scenario a responsible action would be to try and reduce our carbon footprint, but Sri Lanka’s  ‘economic development’ model does the exact opposite. We are made to accept the burning of fossil fuel, the construction of mega projects with a huge carbon debt in cement and increased fossil fuel use, as ‘peoples development’. Which people? We may well ask.  The promotion of irresponsible carbon emitting sports such as motorcar racing, as development processes in the face of a population struggling with the rise of fuel prices is grotesque to say the least, almost as if we were living on a different planet. The wonder of Asia may soon become the blunder of Asia.

We have won the war with a horrendous loss of lives of both combatants and innocents. But neither this loss nor the loss of our youth is ever addressed publicly to date. To a nation that values giving merit to the departed, no action to remember or give merit to the dead is encouraged, in fact such activities are violently discouraged. We have become the ghouls that we accuse everyone else of being.  All of the killers, torturers and those who reveled in that horror past, still stalk the corridors of power.  No amount of propaganda can ever wash this blood from our hands. Only an honest and truthful reconciliation process with full accountability can!

Until then, it will be ‘Back to Batista’ for us.


    Political pragmatism and institutional decay: Obstacles to stability – By Prof Hettige.

    “The number of ministries and their composition have changed so often, depending on the whims and fancies of the leaders in power, that one can hardly keep track of the constant and arbitrary changes that have been effected. This has not only created utter confusion in the minds of everybody, but has led to duplication, wastage, conflicts, inefficiencies and deterioration of the quality of public service.”

    “When public institutions are in the wrong hands, it is the institutions that degenerate. The employees in these institutions do not have much regard for the institutional heads, and therefore, do not give of their best. Many become survivors or may even sabotage the work of the institution. With no proper grounding in the subject, wrong appointees may look for what he can gain from the institution rather than what he can do for the institution. On the other hand, when vital functions of a public institution are neglected or undermined the long-term costs to the country may be incalculable.”


    We ought to be careful that our portrayal of Sri Lankan state of affairs, shouldn’t be viewed as liberal snobbery. But the sad truth is brain drain is really killing the society, if there is such thing (society) exists in SL.

  • Jayalath

    Thank you Ranil .
    You are on the right track and real world which is invisible to many journalists and writers in this world . I think that I have read few articals you have written before . it is well noticeable over your artical that you are trying to build a very good debate about the life tomorrow . Unfortunately of this country that I cannot see that many journalists or writers are aware about what they should really write in this moment . Apart from very few handful of people like you .
    Therefore, I would greatful to you about bringing a well said artical which is appreciated , well done mate .

    First of all , I Would wish to appeal to the rational readers to get more information about what could happen tomorrow in this world, by reading a book called ‘ the revenge of Gaia ” written by James lovelock .
    And I wonder how you don’t know much about Sri lankan system of ruling . I’m not wasting my time of speaking about the political system or how they politise the country , because it is not going to change with what ever we said.

    But, I would like to Exchange the views with you regarding the matter of the wonder of Asia or Blunder of Asia . It is a great thought , very intelligent approach. What you have pointed out is profoundly true and real . The world is today seriously working it way to save the planet from the Disastrous Global Warming very near future , and the western world is taken its lead to do so . But it seems that our people are doing right opposite to what world is doing .

    However, I will agree that we have to address fundamental infrastructure which is paramountly important to the country
    ,but the world is following a method of doing the developments in regards to the environment as a principal today which consider as environmental friendly . But I do not know what level that we consider about these matters .I do not believe even our president has any clue about the Global Warming or rising temperature due to the emission of co2 . Because our part of the world is in a deep hibernation with best of superstition .

    Nevertheless , what you have emerged is Wonderful ,according to the scientists that we are living in the last century unless some thing happened extraordinary or the humans should immediately change their behaviour . Honestly ,the truth is that we should encourage people to use cycles than cars , and public transport than private vehicles . It has to transform into that manner . Unless the thought of saving of planet for future is just a day dream .
    To do so we need an intelligent group of politicians , not bunch of thieves , or despots .

  • Pedro

    Thanks, Tamil, for a wonderful article about my country’s past!

  • Feizal Mansoor

    While echoing Dr Senanayake’s perspective and conclusion I must nevertheless point out that gambling and the so-called Open Economy was begun not by this ‘new’ government but by the regime of JR Jayawardene and with the alleged intellectual might of Ronnie De Mel, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake et al.
    The particularly horrendous terrors of the Premadasa / Wijeratne / Wickramasinghe era mass murders and the relentless pursuit of of a totalitarian nationalism has left this country reeling from the excesses of its ruling class. Yes Dr Senanayake is right, too many of our youth have been sacrificed on the hubris of our leaders of every race and creed.
    These are not the leaders who pursued independence from foreign rule but merely Country Managers for global elites: which in itself probably explains the obscenity of Mangala Samaraweera standing on the same platform as Ranil Wickramasinghe. Wickramasinghe himself immolates the Opposition by hanging on to power and cozying up to the rulers.
    When a man can be chopped to death in broad daylight at a busy intersection in the full of view of the Police in the deep South and the perpetrators getaway scot-free, it seems Richard De Zoysa’s personally prescient statement to Richard Simon and me in 1989 remains particularly chilling: “Not enough blood has been spilt.”
    We assert a faux nationalism in the pages of our press while violating its essential components: non-violence, restraint and sharing.
    Omnipotent government -the world over- will be the death of us and this beautiful green blue marble we call home.

  • Feizal Mansoor

    Oops and I forgot, Ranil: the quote is not from the Qur’an but from a suspect hadith or saying of the Prophet (sal), see
    I am still to find any evidence at all that the Prophet Muhammed (sal) ever created an empire, state or polity. He certainly appointed no successor (caliph) and any claim to the contrary must beg the question: Successor to what?

    • Ranil Senanayake

      Thanks for the input. It is very valuable to get the information right. The origin of the saying was very welcome. You are correct that the roots of the current institutionalizing of gambling began with the so called ‘open development’ promulgated by J.R.Jayawardene , who demonstrated sensitivity to the problem in his early writings, stating:
      “The environment which the State provides today, for building up the character of its citizens, tends not to the establishment of the ideal but to its destruction. The majority of States, including Sri Lanka, stand for “the purely industrial and utilitarian view of life, the cult of power and machinery and national comfort.”
      However, in rising to power, in a complete betrayal of his stated philosophy, he invited consumerist consumption and the robber barons into this nation as the agents of development. It is only a very strong and dedicated leader who will not be corrupted by power. Traditionally the Buddhist Sinhala society had a measure of leadership that helped control such corruption, it was termed the ‘Dasa Raja Dharma’ and only people who measured up to it were accepted as leaders

      Recognition of talent,

      These values are depicted in our flag This forms the basis of the ten royal codes of conduct or dasa raja dharma , the instrument by which society is ruled and is the code for the rulers to live by. ( )

      Thus a nation must remain ever vigilant to the loss of these attributes amongst our ‘rulers’ as that will indicate a corruption of political values and the greed for the accretion of power . It must be used by us to evaluate the capacity of ‘leaders’ to demonstrate their measure by the ‘Dasa Raja Dharma’ or we will wind up with some very unsavory elements as leaders and loose a nation

  • Great analogy Ranil. Looks like the “bottom feeders’ ” gluttony is slowly but surely eroding not only the natural environment, but also the social environment of this country. However, “…an honest and truthful reconciliation process with full accountability… ” doesn’t look like happening in the near future, so what can we do (other than openly rebel) – hope for a ‘Che/Castro’ combo’?

    • Jayalath

      Yes, you can say so ,but you will blame them in last ignoring the facts , some time I think this is our fault , as we are the people who votes them to murder us . Therefore , we are still wandering ,,,,,,,,,,,

  • P.L.J.B.Palipana

    The political history of CUBA was completely different to the opinion of Mr.Ranil Senanayake. Anyway thanks lot Ranil.

    • Alfred Omstead

      As one who lived through the era of Cuban history that Dr. Senanayake comments on, I can tell you with absolute certainty that his description of the events that took place is factual and accurate.

  • Leela

    Would you please let me know which verse in the Koran made you observe that ‘ the love of country is the love of faith’. Thank you, Leela

    • P.L.J.B.Palipana

      Hi! Leela, I also couldn’t understand the relationship with the faith???

    • Ranil Senanayake

      Hello Leela,
      As Feizal has stated above
      the quote is not from the Qur’an but from a suspect hadith or saying of the Prophet (sal), see

      On faith. I was told that they hard a love and faith of the country that transcended any fear.
      Hope this helps,

  • Milo Bekins-Faries

    It is also interesting when we look back on the comparative history between Sri Lanka and Cuba that in 1959, Sri Lanka was the first Asiatic government to recognize Cuba’s new government. In that recognition the Hon. R.G. Senanayake, Minister of Commerce signed an agreement of commercialcooperation with Dr. “Che” Guevara. That same day “Che” Guevara and Govt. representatives of Sri Lanka planted a Mahagony tree (Swettenia m.) that still stands today in Sri Lanka.