For Carib News 11/28/16
Fidel Castro, a revolutionary leader of a Caribbean nation of eleven million people, has had an extra-ordinary impact on world society. His impact stretched beyond the shores of Cuba into the Caribbean, Africa and the Western Hemisphere. In his speech in the Cuban court after his initial failure to overthrow the Batista dictatorship, Castro made the case that “History will absolve me”.
At his death, Cubans in Miami were dancing on his grave while Cuban nationalists in Havana mourned his passing. The Cuban government has declared nine days of mourning. The incoming Trump administration has declared it will reverse President Obama’s normalization of relations with Cuba unless Cuba buckles to American demands.
From his rebels marched triumphantly into Havana in 1959 until he ceded power to his brother, Raul Castro in 2006, Fidel Castro dominated decision-making in Cuba. As the New York Times obituary of Mr. Castro reminded readers that the February publication of Herbert Mathews’ interviews with Mr. Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains in 1956, introduced Fidel Castro to the larger American audience. At the time Fidel communicated that he was about the business of restoring the Cuban constitution, over-throwing the Batista dictatoring and restoring democracy to Cuba.
Once Castro took power, he gravitated to Marxism-Leninism and established an alliance with the Soviet Union. Even more than anyone else in the Kremlin, he became a true believer in communism. Throughout his life, Fidel Castro was sharply critical of capitalism and American imperialism. For the more than the four plus decades that he exercised power in Cuba, he struggled against American hegemony in the western hemisphere. In contrast, America did everything in its power to remove Castro from power. The American supported invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961 ended in utter failure. Numerous attempts to assassinate him through underground intelligence organizations failed abysmally.
Although Fidel Castro remained committed to the revolutionary precepts of Marxism-Leninism, he did evolve as a revolutionary leader. There was a time when the Cubans believed as Regis Debray, the French writer, that a spark could trigger a prairie fire. Che Guevara tried that in central Africa and in Bolivia where he ended up losing his life exhorting peasants to rise up who were not interested or moved by revolutionary fervor.
Castro eventually recognized that revolution was not an exportable commodity and each country had its own peculiar class dialectics and external involvement tended to be counter-productive. The Cubans played no role in the overthrow of Eric Gairy in Grenada in March, 1979 by the New Jewel Movement. But the Cubans were instrumental in building the new airport that had been deemed essential for the expansion of tourism on the island.
Many Grenadians felt that during that four year period from 1979 to 1983, the Cubans meddled excessively in the internal affairs of Grenada. Nonetheless, the Cubans furnished Grenada with sorely needed medical practitioners and educators. The Cubans had no involvement in Bernard Coard’s engineered overthrow and assassination of Maurice Bishop and his inner circle. Fidel Castro took a principled position and spoke declaratively that nothing that Bishop could have done was deserving of the fate meted out to him at Fort Rupert.
There was an altruistic internationalism that became the personification of Fidel Castro’s leadership. This occurred despite the fact that Cuba was a developing country with limited resources. Cuba in its generosity offered thousands of scholarships to students in Third World countries to study at Cuban Universities. Today there are generations of professionals throughout the Caribbean who were trained as doctors, physical therapists, educators, etc., in Cuba’s Universities. Unlike American college graduates, these students returned to their respective countries with skills to impart and devoid of debt.
Cuba’s influence and impact stretched beyond the Caribbean and the Western Hemisphere into southern Africa. This is a story not widely known except in southern Africa. Castro was fond of stating that African blood flows through the veins of the Cuban people. The Cuban military played a decisive role in the defeat of apartheid in the southern region of Africa.
As the Portuguese no longer found it desirable to continue the colonization of Angola and Mozambique, the South African Defense Forces (SADF) felt they could fill that vacuum and prevent liberation regimes from sharing borders on their racist doorstep. President Neto of Angola and the MPLA as early as the 1970s appealed to the Castro regime to send Cuban troops to protect the independence of newly liberated Angola from the SADF and the splinter movement by Jonas Savimbi’s U.N.I.T.A. The Cuban military was able to stabilize Neto’s government and prevent SADF from marching into the capital, Luanda.
Cuban troops provided that protection through the latter part of the 1970s and from 1981 to 1987 there was basically a stalemate as South African troops continued to encroach on Angolan territory. Fidel Castro made the decision to increase the number of Cuban troops to drive out the apartheid forces from Angola.
The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale is regarded as the epic battle when Cuban and Angolan military defeated the SADF and demanded that supervised elections under the auspices of the United Nations be held in Namibia. The Liberation Front, SWAPO, was able to wrest control of their country from the apartheid regime. With the defeat of SADF, the apartheid government in South Africa knew that they would have to cede power to Nelson Mandela and the African National congress. Soon thereafter, Mandela was released from prison.
In an interview with Ted Koppel on American television, Koppel tried to get Mandela to denounce Fidel Castro. Mandela made it known to the American journalist that while the United States government was accommodating itself to South African apartheid regime, Cuba and Fidel Castro showed solidarity with the people of Angola, Namibia and South Africa and reshaped the history of that region.
For the people of Africa and the Caribbean, Fidel Castro was more than a brutal dictator. He was a revolutionary who played a pivotal role in ridding Africa of the scourge of apartheid. Cuban exiles in America will dance on his grave, but the people of Africa will remember Fidel Castro’s contribution to the liberation of southern Africa.