Influential pockets of America, especially the mainstream
corporate media, are obsessing about Fidel Castro’s health problems
and possible death. The Black World must therefore pay close attention
to these groups. Their gleeful reactions reveal America’s not so
friendly intentions towards Castro and Cuba, a land that has consistently
stood by African and African American people.
Castro is justifiably revered globally as a political
icon. Several reasons show why. First is his visionary leadership.
Fidel did not just dream a nation free of injustice, poverty, disease
and ignorance. Envisioning a country of “new man” he and his comrades
with direct and consistent collaboration with Cuban citizens of
all sectors brilliantly wrestled back their country-an island being
exploited, debauched and corrupted by the greed and imperial domination
of U.S. capitalism. And despite missteps and some failures, the
self-determined national revolutionary project has transformed much
of the dream into life-defining achievements in health, education,
and physical security.
The Cuban Revolution, from the beginning, squarely
confronted institutional racism, an ongoing social and governance
transformation with a renewed national focus in the last few years
in the Color Cubano project, under the ministry of culture and other
special social and educational polices, instituted by the Cuban
In less that half a century, Cuba did not just achieve
great things inside the country. It shared. A solidarity foreign
policy benefited underprivileged peoples in other lands. Cuban educators,
doctors, scientists, artists, athletes and analysts are winning
hearts and minds across the world by contributing to the material,
intellectual and spiritual uplift of all humankind. Cubans built
medical facilities, trained health personnel and educated students
from marginal communities—in Africa, the Caribbean, and even the
U.S. While black and white Americans were being ravaged by hurricane
Katrina, Castro and the Cuban people (along with Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez) offered to send doctors and supplies. But despite
the failures of FEMA and the American Red Cross, the Bush Administration
rejected the generous offer because of its hatred of Castro and
the Cuban National Project he has led since 1959.
Most inspiring, Cubans died to liberate non-Cuban
people of color. The battle fought in Cuito Cuanavale, an Angolan
town, best exemplifies this. In 1988 Cuban and Angolan soldiers
stopped apartheid South Africa’s war machine which had invaded
Angola and was bent on capturing Cuito Cuanavale, and then all Angola.
The purpose? To impose the murderous Jonas Savimbi as an apartheid-defending
puppet president of Angola. Defeating apartheid South Africa at
Cuito Cuanavale was highly significant. It marked the beginning
of the end both in the liberation of Namibia and of South Africa,
and in ending Angola’s nightmarish civil war.
A grateful African World defiantly insisted on thanking
Cuba. Thus in May 1994, a freshly inaugurated President Nelson Mandela
said to Castro, publicly, “You made this possible.” And it is why
the ANC had elaborated earlier, “without the . . . Sacrifice of
the Cuban people . . . We possibly would not have reached the historic
victory . . . Cuba remain[s] a shining example.”
Castro is not immortal. He will surely die one day.
However, the accomplishments that really count—ideals of equality
and justice, freedom, and solidarity which Cuba has institutionalized
under his leadership—will endure. This crucial point seems lost
on some Americans: the reactionary Cuban community engaging in crass,
morbid jubilation; the corporate media, enraged and vengeful, which
demonizes Castro as an anachronistic dictator from a by-gone communist
era, and which dismisses his profound and continuing influence on
modern history; sensationalist pundits and bloggers churning out
wild speculation; and the Bush-Rice foreign policy machine, issuing
stale ideological critiques and politically threatening polices
to “bring democracy to the Cuban people”. Fury blinds these Castro-haters
to the obvious: Cuba is more than the towering figure of Fidel Castro.
Cuba is no paradise. And Fidel Castro is no god, just
an extraordinary statesman over the last half-century who, despite
at times stumbling on some fundamentally important issues of participatory
democracy, has never fallen away from the Cuban nation’s solemn
historical quest for true independence and self-determination. Institute
for Policy Studies scholar Saul Landau, among others, respectably
raises not uncommon criticisms among conservatives, liberals, and
socialists about the absence of an independent press, of representative
political parties, and of vigorous public dissent—key elements of
a mature modern participatory democracy that should be openly debated.
However, these critical appraisals increasingly not uncommon to
the U.S. press, political parties, and passive citizens, do not
change a fundamental fact about Fidel Castro and Cuba: Fidel Castro’s
leadership and statecraft transformed Cuba into a much better, kinder,
gentler society, especially for poor people of color and other historically
exploited and marginalized Cubans.
Today’s globe is inter-connected; developments in
one country affect everyone. This confers a universal right and
obligation—to comment, responsibly, on events anywhere. So let a
million analyses of Castro’s health and significance bloom. Let
even enraged right-wingers participate and hyperventilate. However,
besides history’s, only one appraisal of Castro really counts—that
of Cuban citizens. Only they will properly weigh Castro’s successes
and failures, and determine where their country must go. It is therefore
Cuba’s self-appraisal that the African World must value.
James Early is a Board Member of TransAfrica
Forum and the Director of Cultural Heritage Policy at the Center
for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Smithsonian Institution.