Friday, January 05, 2007

Zimbabwe & Cuba: Birds of a Feather

Zimbabwe and Cuba - Birds of a Feather

The Herald (Harare)
January 5, 2007
By Obi Egbuna

THE unity of all people who experienced colonialism begins with sharing experiences of decolonisation and deriving inspiration from each other's victories.

When posterity examines the solidarity between Africans and South Americans, the bond between Zimbabwe and Cuba will feature prominently.

On his visit to Zimbabwe last year, the Cuban deputy foreign minister, Cde Yiliam Jimenez Exposito said the force behind the bilateral ties was the brotherhood between President Mugabe and Commandant Fidel Castro.

When Commandant Castro presented President Mugabe with Cuba's highest honour -- the Jose Marti Award in 1985 -- he had already seen the warrior in Gushungo.

President Mugabe and Commandant Castro were similarly incarcerated but used their prison time productively.

The Cuban leader was sentenced to 15 years in prison for masterminding the storming of the Moncada Barracks on July 26 1953 but was released after two years, while President Mugabe served 11 years when the Rhodesians discovered how central he was to the decolonisation process.

It is, however, important to note that Commandant Castro had a trial where he first gained international recognition while President Mugabe wasn't given that basic courtesy.

Both Zimbabwe and Cuba understood that protracted armed struggle was the only option left if they wanted to be sovereign and independent nations.

Cuba had experienced slavery, annexation, colonialism and neo-colonialism, with the slavery beginning with the arrival of the colonial pirate, Christopher Columbus, who landed in Cuba in 1492 under the impression that he had reached Japan.

The slavery only ended when it became clear that the Cuban revolution, which started in 1868, had become unstoppable.

In her book "Uncle Sam's Unaccomplished Dream", Angela Grau Imperatori exposes how obsessed the US government was with adding Cuba to its list of territories, when, in 1820, Thomas Jefferson said "Cuba would be a most interesting addition which could ever be made to our system of states."

In 1854 a proposal was devised called the Ostend Manifesto to acquire Cuba from Spain for US$130 million. This proposal was followed up by an offer from President William McKinley to buy Cuba for US$300 million, when this offer was rejected the Spanish-American war began.

On December 10, 1898 Spain and the US signed the Treaty of Paris, with Spain renouncing all rights to Cuba, US troops then occupied Cuba until 1902 even though the Teller amendment enacted in 1898 said once the Spanish withdrew Cuba could be granted full independence.

The Platt Amendment, named after Republican Senator Orville Platt, was then enforced, this document stipulated that the US could exercise the right to intervene in Cuban political and economic affairs militarily if necessary, this amendment saw US Governor Magoon assuming military rule of Cuba from 1906-1909.

The Platt Amendment was replaced in 1934 by President Franklin Roosevelt's Good Neighbour Policy, which was, however, trashed when Roosevelt sent 29 warships to Cuba and Key West Florida and bombers in case of uprising and rebellions by the Cubans.

This cycle of injustice lasted until January 1, 1959 when Commandant Castro and the July 26 Movement guerrillas emerged victorious from the Sierra Maestras.

Zimbabweans saw Cecil John Rhodes form the British South Africa Company in 1889, after his Pioneer Column of 500 mercenaries acquired, through conquest, 15,7 million acres of land from Matabele King, Lobengula, whom they left with only four million acres of arid, remote land.

The brutal hanging of Mbuya Nehanda, and Sekuru Kaguvi during the First Chimurenga typified the terrorism that Rhodes and his fellow accomplices were capable of.

Because of superior weaponry, everything from Masvingo to Harare came under the control of the BSAC, as part of Rhodes' plan to form a colonial empire from Cape to Cairo. This saw more Britons migrating to Rhodesia, where they established a legislative council.

In no time, the Rhodesians passed the Land Apportionment, and Land Tenure Acts, which gave the BSAC control of 50 percent of the land and the autonomy to set up what were called Tribal Trust Lands where Black Africans worked on a collective basis but were denied the right to own it as individuals.

Rhodesian Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins summed up the relationship between Zimbabweans and Rhodesians using the analogy of the relationship between a horse and its rider.

The advent of Ian Smith and UDI brought new impetus to colonial extremism.

While the United Nations imposed sanctions on Rhodesia because of Smith's obsession with becoming the modern day Rhodes, he still stayed in power for 15 more years until his war losses forced him to the negotiating table at Lancaster House.

Because Zimbabwe and Cuba gained independence through protracted liberation struggles, the majority of people in both countries are eternally grateful to the thousands of comrades who laid down their lives for independence and sovereignty.

Some of the heroes who personify this dedication are Josiah Magama Tongogara and Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

While Che has emerged as an international symbol of anti-imperialist resistance revered all over the world, the military genius and vision of Comrade Tongogara has for the most part been recognised in the Sadc region. So similar were the military strategies of these guerrillas that Cde Tongogara has been likened to the Che Guevara of Africa.

Comrade Che, originally from Argentina, fought side by side with the Cubans until final victory, he then went on to the Congo to continue and eventually died at the hands of the CIA-trained mercenaries in Bolivia on October 8 1967.

While Cde Tongo is best known for leading the Second Chimurenga, he also helped Frelimo in Mozambique and became a close friend of Cde Samora Machel. He was also a member of Zambia's Unip.

The only difference between the two comrades is that Che lived to see Cuba end neo-colonial military rule, while Cde Tongo died on December 26 1979, four months before Zimbabwe's Independence on April 18 1980.

Both Zanu-PF and the Communist Party of Cuba, are revolutionary parties that understand the importance of avoiding the cult of the personality, which is why freedom fighters are only declared heroes after their death.

Commandant Castro has survived between 600 and 638 attempts on his life while 11 attempts have been made on Cde Mugabe's life, with some coming before he was sworn in as Prime Minister.

This is the 45th year of the US-imposed blockade on Cuba initiated by John F. Kennedy in 1962, who also made his own attempt to depose Commandant Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

This year is the sixth since the sanctions law, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, was signed into law by George W. Bush to deny Zimbabwe balance of payments support.

Because of the length of the Cuban blockade, 70 percent of Cubans were born and have lived under it. Because it has come before the United Nations General Assembly 14 times US Imperialism cannot deny it exists, even the late Pope John Paul I and former US president Jimmy Carter denounced the blockade as inhuman.

Since over 180 countries are opposed to it and only four US allies are in favour, the US is on record for blatantly ignoring the wishes of the majority of nations in the world.

In Zimbabwe's case, however, the US and Britain have gone as far as claiming that the sanctions don't exist or are only travel-related.

The British Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Andrew Pocock, arrived in Harare claiming to be committed to building bridges but has since exposed his true colours. Zimbabwe and Cuba have seen neo-colonial agents being used to form opposition parties. In 1983, Ronald Reagan announced the formation of the Cuban American National Foundation whose slogan is from Proletarians to Proletarians.

Zimbabwe, on the other hand, saw the British sponsoring the MDC in 1999, through funds channelled to the ZCTU through the Westminster Fund for Democracy -- a coalition of Britain's main political parties -- Labour, the Conservatives, and Liberal Democrats.

While the MDC functions on the ground in Zimbabwe, and has contested and consistently lost elections to Zanu-PF, CANF and other terrorist groups like Alpha 66 do their master's bidding 90 miles away from Havana, in Miami, Florida.

Zimbabwe and Cuba pride themselves in their national achievements; for instance both countries have the highest literacy rates and are the models in fighting the HIV and Aids pandemic in their country's regions.

Cuba has the world's lowest HIV and Aids rate, while Zimbabwe has the lowest prevalence rate in Southern Africa, currently pegged at 18 percent.

Zimbabwe established the world's first National Aids Levy, whose funds are directed towards the National Aids Council. The NAC along with the Ministry of Health and Child

Welfare are scoring superbly against the pandemic.

Cuba trained thousands of Zimbabwean teachers and medical doctors since the mid-1980s, and presently has 146 doctors working throughout Zimbabwe.

Cuban-trained doctors sign an agreement to return to the Zimbabwean countryside to serve their people upon completion of their studies. Such agreements are similar to contracts signed by US citizens studying at the Latin American School of Medical Sciences, who are required to return to their poorest neighbourhoods to help the people.

While the US Embassy in Zimbabwe, in conjunction with the US State Department has offered 2000 scholarships to Zimbabwean students, they have done everything to destroy this medical scholarship programme that enables students to study in Cuba. This, at a time when there are nearly 60 million people in the US without health insurance, with nine million of them being mere children.

The African community in the US was the main beneficiaries though Native Americans, Latinos and more recently poor whites were included as well.

W.E.B. Du Bois wrote a journal in 1904 entitled the Physique and Health of the American Negro where he claimed that since slavery, the African-American community's relationship to the US Health Care System hadn't changed. This means the country that parades itself as the world's authority on democracy and human rights, has a health care system on the verge of collapse, while Zimbabwe and Cuba are getting stronger in this particular area.

In Africa, the Sadc region is the cradle of Cuban solidarity. In Zimbabwe there is a Zimbabwe-Cuba Friendship Association and a Zimbabwe-Cuba Married Association, which are both practical examples of the bond between the two nations.

Zimbabwe recently established a Free the Cuban 5 Committee and is planning a nationwide petition demanding the immediate release of the five patriots; this committee will also be pushing Zimbabwe's Parliament to pass a resolution calling for the release of the group.

A strong argument can be made that US Ambassador Dell and the Director of US Interests Section Michael Parmly are running their areas, more like extensions of US intelligence agencies than diplomatic offices in pursuit of the best relations possible with Zimbabwe and Cuba.

The US State Department appears to be developing its strategies in relationship to Zimbabwe based on mistakes they made on Cuba, where their travel ban has been defied by at least 250 000 people annually. In Zimbabwe's case, they allege "excessive violence", as the reason people living in the US shouldn't visit.

In an attempt to provoke the Cuban government between 2001 and 2004, 18 Cuban diplomats working in Washington and New York were declared persona non grata and deported.

Zimbabwe's embassy in Washington and the UN Mission in New York were spared; however, both Comrades Mugabe and Commandant Castro are not allowed to travel 25 miles outside New York when they attend UN sessions.

The Writer is an African (American) and member of the US-based Pan African Liberation Organisation.

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