The dying of the light
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the people who shape countries, laws and whole generations of people are still human themselves, and subject to the ravages of time. Lately there have been a number of internationally renowned individuals in the news, but for their health rather than their politics. Some of my younger acquaintances has confessed that while they recognise the names they don’t know much about the people, so here is a very brief run down.
Please note: Individuals are included in this article because they (a)have had (and continue to have) a great influence on politics and (b) they are currently battling serious ill health (as far as we are aware). Including them in this article is not intended as a declaration of my support for their policies or regimes, nor is it a prediction of their imminent death. Hopefully all of them will remain in good enough health to enjoy life for years to come.
George Bush Sr
The 41st President of the United States and WWII veteran, Bush is currently 88 years old. After a bout of bronchitis in November he developed a ‘stubborn’ fever which resulted in him remaining in intensive care over Christmas. Bush has had a massively impressive political career serving in the House of Representatives, as Ambassador to the UN, Director of Central Intelligence and Vice President, among other things, before being elected president.
I come before you and assume the Presidency at a moment rich with promise. We live in a peaceful, prosperous time, but we can make it better. For a new breeze is blowing, and a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn; for in man’s heart, if not in fact, the day of the dictator is over. The totalitarian era is passing, its old ideas blown away like leaves from an ancient, lifeless tree. A new breeze is blowing, and a nation refreshed by freedom stands ready to push on. There is new ground to be broken, and new action to be taken.
George H. W. Bush
During his presidency he signed both The Americans with Disabilities Act and Immigration Act into law in 1990, as well as reauthorizing the Clean Air Act. Bush served one term, during which his popularity declined sharply due to economic recession and unpopular foreign policy. His reversal on the promise not to increase taxes also alientated him from much of the republican base.
His administration invaded Panama to force Noriega from power and deployed large US forces, as part of a UN Coalistion force, in the Gulf War (also known as the First Iraq War) to remove Hussein from Kuwait. Washington had an on-again off- again relationship with Hussein for decades, at times he was portrayed as both friend and arch-enemy. Though committed to driving him from Kuwait, Bush Sr indirectly supported Hussein and a number of months earlier that year had sent a high-level delegation to Iraq bearing his persona greetings. When his son invaded Iraq 13 years later Bush Sr described it as ‘undoing a lifetime of work’.
Fidel Castro is the 86 year old former leader of Cuba whose health has been the subject of speculation for at least a decade, and on more than one occasion he has been reported dead. Rumours of ill health are almost always strongly rebuffed – most recently in October 2012 when he declared he did not even suffer from headaches.
The ever more sophisticated weapons piling up in the arsenals of the wealthiest and the mightiest can kill the illiterate, the ill, the poor and the hungry, but they cannot kill ignorance, illness, poverty or hunger.
Castro was born on a sugar plantation in South East Cuba, the son of a wealthy farmer, he was educated in University of Havana. During and after his student days he was involved in political activities in Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia and Cuba. He had a short law and political career before Batista seized power in a military coup in 1952.
Castro opposed Batista’s rule, trying both legal and then military routes to oust him from power. After years of political subversion, guerilla warfare and a prison sentence Castro’s forces defeated Batista and entered Havana on the 8 January 1959. He would lead Cuba for almost 50 years.
Support from the Soviet Union and a cold relationship with the US, who invaded Cuba in 1961, resulted in Castro adopting increasingly communist politics in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Under Castro, Cuba has developed a world-class education and health system, routinely lending doctors to other developing countries. Castro has been nominated for a Nobel Prize, and is perceived by a visionary politician and leader at home and abroad. Castro has also been criticised as a dictator and is much loathed by the Cuban diaspora in the USA. Human rights groups have criticised Cuba’s restrictions on freedom of movement and freedom of speech. Guantanamo Bay, the infamous US base, is located in south east of Cuba.
In 2006 Fidel retreated from public view following surgery and his brother Raul, became acting president. Fidel formally ceded power to his brother in 2008, so Raul Castro currently leads Cuba not by popular mandate but hereditary succession. Raul’s hold on power in Cuba is dependent on his brother’s popularity and it is likely that when his brother passes away a new government will take control of Cuba.
Hugo Chavez is the most elected politician on the earth… He has won more free elections and fair elections than any politician.
Chavez should be too young to be included in this list but, sadly, at just 58 he is battling serious cancer. He has undergone multiple operations to remove the cancerous tissue, most recently when he was rushed to Cuba just last month for emergency surgery (Fidel and Chavez have an understanding: the political systems in the two countries are not light-years apart, and that sympathy is cemented by Venezuela’s need for doctors and Cuba’s need for oil). He remains in Cuba at the present time, despite that fact that he should have been sworn back into office on January 10th after winning his fourth term last Autumn.
Chavez was a military officer who founded the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 and led them in an unsuccessful coup against the Venuzeulan government in 1992. After serving a prison sentence he returned to political activities and in 1998 he was elected president of the country.
[Democracy is not just turning up to vote every five or four years], it’s much more than that, it’s a way of life, it’s giving power to the people… it is not the government of the rich over the people, which is what’s happening in almost all the so-called democratic Western capitalist countries.
Chavez is a proponent of socialism, hailed by his supporters as an ally of the poor and working class. The constitution was amended in 1999, the year he first took office as president, and as a result the situation in Venezuela has improved drastically for women, the indigenous population and LGB individuals. Additionally, the right to education, housing, food and healthcare is enshrined the constitution. Regardless, poverty is still widespread in Venezuela though issues such as malnutrition are improving. The main criticisms of Chavez concern his control of the country. Though immensely popular in Venuzeula, many have accused him of becoming increasingly autocratic the longer he remains in power and human rights groups have expressed concerns about freedom of speech for the press and politically motivated arrests.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nelson Mandala recently spent four weeks in hospital fighting a lung infection. There have been concerns about the health of the 94 year old for many years and he has not appeared in public since South Africa hosted the soccer World Cup in 2010.
I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself. I dream of the realization of unity of Africa whereby its leaders, some of whom are highly competent and experienced, can unite in their efforts to improve and to solve the problems of Africa.
Nelson Mandela was born into a strictly segregated South Africa, but had a relatively privileged upbringing as the son of the chief of the Tembu tribe. He was expelled from University for leading a student strike and was a founding member of the ANC’s Youth League. He was repeated arrested for his political activism on apartheid and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island in 1962. He served 27 years before being released in 1990. After his released he negotiated with President F.W. de Klerk for the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, and for the establishment of a democracy. The latter was achieved in 1994 and he led the ANC to win the first multi-racial elections in South Africa held the same year. The first black leader of South Africa, he served one term as president before retiring from political life.
Mandela is hugely popular at home and abroad for his anti-apartheid and anti-colonial stances, and his government made considerable progress to reconcile the black and white communities in South Africa, as well as enacting social reforms targeting economic inequality in the country. Some have criticised Mandela’s lack of action on HIV during his presidency and there are many who regard his actions with the ANC as terrorism. Economic inequality is still severe in South Africa, with the black population remaining disproportionately poor.