Thursday, May 29, 2008

An African Liberation Day Tribute to Companero Fidel Castro on the Occasion of His Retirement

An African Liberation Day Tribute to Companero Fidel Castro
on the Occasion of his Retirement

By Ron Wilkins, Deputy Chairman – Patrice Lumumba Coalition
Professor, Department of Africana Studies, California State University, Dominguez Hills

“Who has ever shown more solidarity with Africa than Cuba has?” Fidel Castro

May 25th marked African Liberation Day. In the words of brother Elombe Brath, Chairman of Patrice Lumumba Coalition, “African Liberation Day is a symbolic day to mobilize the broad masses of African and all progressive peoples around the issue of totally liberating the African continent and those African people still remaining in colonial bondage or under other oppressive regimes and repressive conditions”.

Hence today is the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity in 1963, by the then independent 32 African states. Coincidentally, it was May 25,1958, exactly 50 years ago, that Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro won a decisive victory after 74 days of intense combat against soldiers of the Batista dictatorship.

That victory signaled a strategic turnaround in the war that would eventually revolutionize Cuba. Later on Cuban Internationalist forces would assist African peoples in ways that no other nation on earth has ever duplicated or surpassed. This is why the dynamic film “Cuba! Africa! Revolution!” is the centerpiece of day’s program and the entire event pays tribute to companero Fidel Castro on the occasion of his retirement. This film and tribute to our distinguished companero Fidel Castro is taking place simultaneously in a number of North American cities.

Fidel Castro “is the first man in the history of Latin America to achieve worldwide stature and fame during his lifetime”. These words were written 39 years ago by New York Times correspondent Herbert Matthews, who first interviewed Fidel in the Sierra Maestra in 1957, two years before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

An admitted early opponent of the revolution, Matthews later published a book in 1969 in which he became compelled many times over near the book’s end to acknowledge Fidel as a “hero” and exemplary leader. My own opinion of Fidel, as the Cuban people affectionately refer to him, is that he is perhaps the world’s chief living example of successful socialist revolutionary leadership. My reasons then for writing on Fidel’s leadership qualities, are to be found in my enduring and ever-appreciating admiration for the man and the Cuban people.

Fidel began life, oddly enough, as the sixth of nine children on his father’s 23,00 acre sugar plantation in Oriente Province on August 13, 1926. Fidel grew to reject status and comforts that would have been characteristically “normal” for one born into such a wealthy family. During his youth Fidel read quite extensively and became a serious student.

While a sixteen year old student at Colegio Belen Preparatory School, Fidel’s best subjects were agriculture, Spanish and history. Shortly thereafter at the University of Havana he studied law and graduated in 1945. Fidel even practiced law briefly from 1950 through 1952. His knowledge of Cuban history and law was put to good use later as Fidel undertook what he considered to be his duty to liberate Cuba.

This knowledge was to serve the young resistance movement well during the Moncada trial at Santiago on October 16, 1953. It was there that an eloquent Fidel delivered the historic five-hour defense speech termed “History Will Absolve Me” which firmly established the historical and legal basis for the Cuban Revolution.

Throughout the period of “formal” education in Fidel’s life he was deeply moved by the misery of his countrymen and the corrupt dictatorship that fronted for U.S. interests on the island. Fidel learned early on that Spain had held Cuba for 400 years, eliminated most of the Indigenous people, introduced enslaved Africans to develop the plantation economy, and were eventually displaced themselves in 1899 by U.S. imperialism.

While Fidel read Marx and Lenin he obviously studied Jose Marti much more intensely. Marti was killed at age 42 during Cuba’s second war for independence from Spain in 1895. He is honored in Cuba as the Revolution’s apostle, and his often-repeated words seem to serve as Fidel’s major source of inspiration and guidance. So that today while Cuba’s maximum leader is a Marxist-Leninist and socialist, his conduct and style are in keeping with the Martian tradition.

During the Moncada trial Marti was credited by Fidel with having instigated the attack. Fidel echoed these words of Marti on the concept of duty during the trial: “A true man does not seek the path where advantage lies, but rather, the path where duty lies, and this is the only practical man, whose dream of today will be the law of tomorrow, because he who has looked back on the upheavals of history and has seen civilizations going up in flames, crying out in bloody struggle, throughout the centuries, knows that, without a single exception, the future lies on the side of duty”.

Fidel’s unshakable determination and capacity for enduring hardship and maintaining high morale has been amply demonstrated many times. His bold words at the Moncada trial were a straightforward illustration of this capacity. “When men carry the same ideals in their hearts,” said Fidel, “nothing can keep them isolated, neither walls of prisons nor the sod of cemeteries. For a single memory, a single spirit, a single idea, a single conscience, a single dignity will sustain them all”.

I have read many books by and about Fidel and Cuba, yet seldom have I read Fidel’s words in the “first person singular” context. Fidel is always recalling the contributions of others to the struggle. Edmundo Desnoes, Director of the Instituto del Libro in Havana, referred to this revolutionary principle of selfless dedication when he described Marti and Fidel as “public men who have surrendered themselves to a cause”.

Shortly after the costly and unsuccessful assault against the Moncada Garrison in 1953 Fidel clarified his motives in a letter from the Isle of Pines Prison to Conte Aguero. “I have repeatedly told you, “ said Fidel, “that I do not harbor the slightest personal ambition, nor do my comrades, and that our only aim is to serve Cuba and make worthwhile the sacrifice of our dead companions”. One must properly conclude from the foregoing quotation that Fidel has put the cause before himself.

At the same time Fidel is holding up his conduct for the Cuban people to scrutinize and criticize. Fidel meets and exceeds the fundamental requirements for effective revolutionary leadership, not because of the prison letter’s words, but rather Fidel’s underlying conduct. In this instance and on countless other occasions dating from at least the year of the Moncada attack (1953) until the present, Fidel has demonstrated effective leadership qualities in rare combination and measures. He served as an example to others, and encouraged criticism and self-criticism as a matter of principle.

Fidel is also a man of great personal courage. In 1944 at age eighteen he was voted the best school athlete because of his convincing physical build and skill. While some have argued, few may disagree that it afforded him an advantage over his adversaries. Well before Fidel’s birth Marti had declared that”he who dies, if he dies where he should die, lives”.

Fidel himself has stated, “I prefer to be riddled with bullets, than to live humiliated”. Similarly, the first stanza of the Cuban national anthem reads, “to die for the fatherland is to live”.

In test after test, whether in Batista’s prisons, Cuba’s mountains, or in power, he has faced every major crisis bravely and honorably. Fidel demonstrated the same resolve and courage whether it was the Moncada misfortune, Granma landing, Bay of Pigs invasion, missile crisis or tragic events in Grenada. Even the numerous CIA assassination attempts have not deterred him.

In a related vein Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, once said, “the most important feature of Fidel’s character is that he will not accept defeat”. The author Matthews must have become convinced of this as well when he wrote, “there never was a time when sabotage, subversion or even invasion held any hope of eliminating Fidel Castro. So long as he lives he will never accept defeat for himself or his revolution”.

Fidel, too, has maintained an honest character and has not been corrupted by wealth or luxury. Many of us recall his visit to New York in September, 1960, to address the U.N. when his announcement that he preferred to stay in Harlem’s Theresa Hotel rather than some plush downtown hotel suite, stunned the U.S. government and U.S. intelligence personnel. Until his hospitalization, his various sleeping places in Havana had been furnished with only simple comforts.

According to Matthews, “luxury not only has never meant anything to Fidel, it positively irritates him and makes him uncomfortable”. Matthews further stated that “Fidel’s contempt for money went so far that when he first came to power in 1959 he even grumbled because the banks were charging interest”. “It is this anti-money instinct”, observed Matthews, “that inclines him -- as it did Che Guevara – to feel that the rewards of labor should be moral rather than materialistic”.

Fidel is a natural orator and writer with an overpowering and magnetic personality. Until the decline of his health he customarily delivered speeches of several hours duration without notes to capacity audiences in Havana’s Revolution Square. During a January 1, 1984, speech titled, “Cuba Cannot Export Revolution, Nor Can the United States Prevent It”, given in Santiago to mark the 25th anniversary of the revolution, Fidel reaffirmed that “the people can rest assured of one thing, and that is that we may make mistakes once and many times, but the one thing that they will never be able to say about us is that we embezzled, that we made shady deals, that we betrayed.

We will never be led astray by vanity and ambition, because as our apostle said, “all glory in the world fits in a kernel of corn” and there is no greater satisfaction, non greater prize than doing our duty, as we have been doing up to now, as we will always do”.

With regard to just one aspect of Cuba’s awesome internationalist responsibilities, Fidel went on to say that, “it is incumbent for us to speak for our people. The blood shed by the heroic cooperation personnel who fell in Grenada will never be forgotten. I hope the imperialists also will never forget how those men did not tremble or waver at fighting against the best troops of the United States, even when they were a thousand miles from their homeland and in conditions of absolute inferiority in number and weapons”.

There is a familiar and poetic consistency in Fidel’s words, for one’s historical fulfillment of duty and one’s willingness to admit mistakes are old themes and qualities of leadership dating back at least to Moncada. Also, as Matthews was careful to observe, Fidel has always spoken with “great clarity and fluency”.

Fidel’s conduct as Cuba’s head of state and spokesman for developing nations has been exemplary. One fault, which is not his own , is that a Fidel Castro comes on the scene but once every two or three hundred years and there are not enough Fidels or Cubas to go around. In my judgement, Fidel qualifies as the embodiment of the new man that Ernesto Che Guevara wrote about and became himself. Antonio Maceo, Malcolm X, M’balia Camara, Ida B. Wells, Kwame Ture, Solomon Mahlangu, John Henrik Clarke, Thomas Sankara, and Amilcar Cabral are but a few more examples of the new man and woman.

During my only trip to Cuba I asked a randomly chosen ten year old student at Havana’s Pioneer Palace to respond to the common North American claim that Fidel is a bad man and that Cuban children are not free. I will never forget how she proudly and calmly replied that “such people are sadly mistaken Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro loves all of the children, and is faithful to the principles of Jose Marti”.

By any objective account there should be no doubt as to why Fidel has been dubbed, El Jefe Maximo” or The Maximum Leader by the people of Cuba. It is a well deserved and appropriate title for a man with such an enormous capacity for loving and leading the dispossessed.

In an article titled “Socialism and Man in Cuba”, Che Guevara described the communication between leadership and the masses as “almost intuitive”. Whether it has been a crisis or a routine matter, Fidel seems to have known the thoughts and actions of the Cuban people in advance, and they seem to have known his. So much of Cuba’s progressive transformation and zeal bears the personal stamp of Fidel, that Cuba has become Fidel and Fidel is Cuba.

Clearly power has not corrupted Fidel. Contrary to being selfishly motivated, Fidel’s strict adherence to revolutionary principles has enabled him to lead Cuba responsibly and wisely. As a matter of fact, Ignacio Ramonet, the journalist who has produced the epic work “Fidel Castro: My Life – A Spoken Autobiography”, has stated that “most of his enemies admit that he is one of the very few heads of state who has not taken advantage of his position to enrich himself”.

Cuba’s people love and respect Fidel because through his enduring faith to revolutionary principles, Cuba has been transformed from an economically backward dependency to a showcase for socialist achievement. This intense love and respect for Fidel can be traced back to the “beginnings” or formative stages of the New Cuba, when Fidel personally commanded the revolutionary forces in the Sierra Maestra.

As evidence of Fidel’s “influence” or “example” take note of the following story handed down by veterans of the revolutionary war. “Sometimes in the Sierra Maestra it got so bad,” according to the legend, “that we had to put Fidel on a mule – only because the mule walked slower than he did”.

Despite the praise as Cuba’s most outstanding son, Fidel’s ego does not obstruct his principles, when the man himself vigorously promoted the Cuban law prohibiting statues of any living leader. This prohibition also applies to the naming of Cuban streets, parks, towns, and so on. Notwithstanding Fidel’s obvious popularity, there is no officially sanctioned and systematic distribution of his photographs in Cuba.

By far Fidel’s greatest feat is the creation of the New Cuba, with its outstanding economic and social achievements – which are living testimony to the soundness and popularity of his ideas and partnership with the former Soviet Union and other nations. Some of these are free health care, free housing, infant mortality 5.6 deaths per 1000 live births,

Fidel as a world leader and an uncompromising representative of the dispossessed provides a stunning example of progressive, tough and ingenious leadership. In the words of Ramonet, “whether his detractors like it or not, Fidel Castro has a place in the pantheon of world figures who have struggled most fiercely for social justice and with greatest solidarity come to the aid of the oppressed”.

Before his health declined he would rise at 6:00 a.m., and devote a minimum of three to four hours daily to study. His skills as an effective communicator and brilliant economist have been demonstrated many times over in his published works.

For example, Fidel received more than a dozen rounds of applause and two standing ovations when he addressed the U.N. General Assembly as chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement in October, 1980. I am in complete accord with Ramonet’s observation that “Few men have known the glory of entering the pages of both history and legend while they are still alive. Fidel is one of them. He is the last “sacred giant” of international politics. He belongs to the generation of mythical insurgents…”

Despite false and persistent allegations by U.S. officials that Cuba violates human rights, it is worth noting that at the Geneva-based, U.N. Human Rights Commission 80% of measures in defense of human rights, have been proposed by Cuba. Revolutionary Cuba is a country where there are no homeless people and where begging and unemployment have been eradicated.

In Cuba, education at every level is free, there is no illiteracy and 85% of Cubans enjoy tax-free ownership of their homes. Medical care in Cuba is completely free. Infant mortality in Cuba is 5.6 deaths per 1000 live births and life expectancy is 77.5. The life expectancy of Cuban citizens is now almost 18 years longer than in 1959. Cuba has so much “Medical Capital”, with 40,000 doctors serving Cubans and 30,000 doctors serving abroad, that she has become a medical superpower.

Cuba is the largest educator of doctors in the world. Cuba educates 10 times more doctors than does the United States. Within 10 years Cuba will have 100,000 doctors and may well have educated 100,000 more from other countries. Cuba has a 0.07% aids rate – one of the lowest indexes of Aids in the world. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Cuba offered 1610 doctors, all of which were refused by the Bush Administration.

Under the brilliant leadership of Companero Fidel Castro, Cuba’s solidarity with Africa, will go down in history as perhaps the world’s most concrete and far-reaching manifestation of Black-Brown Unity. From the 1961 weapons shipment to Algerian independence fighters and support to pro-Lumumbist forces in Congo during the same period, until the crushing defeat of fascist South African forces in Angola, Cubans have stood shoulder to shoulder with African patriots.

The great son of Africa, Amilcar Cabral, once noted,”The Cuban combatants are ready to sacrifice their lives to free our countries, and in exchange for that aid to our freedom and the progress of our peoples, the only thing they will take away with them are the combatants that fell in the fight for freedom”. In September 1974 when Guinea-Bissau finally won its independence, about 600 Cuban internationalists including 70 doctors, who had served with the guerrillas since 1966, were there to mark the celebrations.

We salute Fidel’s timely and extraordinary leadership for the crushing defeat handed South African invaders at the dawn of Angola’s independence. Soon thereafter, Fidel was keen to note during a 26th of July, 1976 address commemorating the anniversary of the Moncada attack, the striking similarities between the Angolan and Cuban revolutionary experiences.

During the speech at Pinar del Rio in the presence of Angola’s late president Augustinho Neto, Fidel said, “So, when we, the assailants of the Moncada were in prison on the Isle of Pines, in February, 1955, Neto and his comrades were also imprisoned in the colonialist jails of Angola”. Underscoring the common heritage of the two peoples Fidel asked, “After all, who were our people, our nation” And who but the old African slaves -- or their descendants – fought in great numbers in our wars of independence in 1868 and 1895?, and who knows how many descendants of Angolans were among them!”

Of course, the most massive and successful internationalist military campaign in Cuba’s history, was “Operation Carlota”, in which Cuba transported over 300,000 combatants and almost 50,000 civilians to Angola to confront apartheid South African military forces. In the words of Fidel “Never before had any Third World country acted in support of another nation in a military conflict outside its own geographic region”.

Cuba used their best trained forces and their most advanced military equipment, including Mig 23’s, which left Cuba itself, vulnerable to attack from a bellicose United States. It was South Africa’s defeat at Cuito Cuanavale which radically changed the political landscape of Southern Africa.

The apartheid regime was forced to concede Namibia’s independence, release Nelson Mandela after 27 years of imprisonment and agree to a timetable for black majority rule in South Africa. Ironically, given the hostility of U.S. rulers and their disinformation campaign against Cuba, few U.S. residents know this history.

As we celebrate the defeat of fascist South Africa by Angolan, SWAPO and Cuban forces at Cuito Cuanavale in Southeastern Angola, we must never forget that the United States was South Africa’s ally. That the U.S. has never supported a single liberation movement on the African continent. In point of fact, when our Cuban companero’s confronted racist South Africa in Angola, the U.S. secretly transferred, via Israel, eight atomic bombs to South Africa, for use against Cuban forces.

Every African man and woman, has a responsibility to honor those thousands of Cuban companeros who fought and died with dignity for the freedom of our Motherland. To be worthy of the heroic example of commandante Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara and those Cuban revolutionaries who have been down for us, we must be prepared to shed our blood, if necessary, in defense of Cuba!

It is our duty to defend the Cuban Revolution unhesitantly and without qualification. We must vigorously oppose ongoing efforts by U.S. Imperialism to maintain the criminal and inhumane blockade against Cuba; finance Florida-based Cuban reactionaries; continue their imprisonment of the ”Cuban Five”; continue to prosecute U.S. residents who travel to Cuba and continue to spread lies about Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution!

Long Live Cuba-Africa Solidarity!
Long Live Companero Fidel Castro!
Victory to the African Revolution!

No comments: