Sunday, November 27, 2016

Castro’s Enduring Legacy
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail Reporters

Cuba’s founding communist leader and revolutionary icon Cde Fidel Castro, whom President Mugabe once described as a “great friend of Africa”, has died.

Cde Castro (90) had been ill for some time and died in the early hours of yesterday, sparking an outpour of grief from the progressive world, including Africa and the East.

Cuban President and Cde Castro’s brother, Raul, announced the death without stating the cause. A towering figure of his generation and beyond, Cde Castro came to power via an armed revolution against the dictatorship of American-backed Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

In 1965, he became First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, and led the island’s transformation into a leading education, health and social services development hub.

His spirited commitment to Communist ideology in the face of Western persecution earned him global recognition and acclaim among colonised people.

Zimbabwe figures in the latter group of Zapu’s military wing, Zipra, received direct military support from him and his countrymen.

Besides providing specialised combat, military building capacity and intelligence training, a good number of Cubans visited Zipra bases in Zambia regularly to offer logistical and medical support and to transport recruits to Angola for training.

Some were killed by Rhodesian forces during such operations. In Angola, Cuba fought alongside the Angolan army, PLAN (Swapo guerrillas) and Umkhonto WeSizwe (the African National Congress’ armed wing) in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 to defeat apartheid South Africa military forces that had invaded Angola in support of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.

The apartheid army considered itself invincible, terrorising Frontline States, but was humiliated in that battle which forced South Africa to pull out of South West Africa, now Namibia.

Despite such heroics, President Castro had his fair share of enemies in the West. He is believed to have survived more than 638 assassination attempts by the United States in his 50 years at the helm.

He once jokingly remarked, “If assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would have won gold.”

Cde Castro threatened US dominance as he constantly spoke out against imperialist hegemony, thus making him Washington’s chief target in the Carribeans.

In 1961, the CIA sponsored a paramilitary group to topple his government in what has come to be known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion. However, Cde Castro’s Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces defeated the invaders within three days, humiliating US President Eisenhower’s administration.

Cuba-US relations were governed by the Platt Amendment, an amendment to a US Army appropriations bill. It established terms under which the US would end its military occupation of Cuba which had begun in 1898 during the Spanish American War.

The CIA also sponsored “Operation Peter Pan”, an exodus of more than 14 000 Cuban youths who had been incentivised to “flee indoctrination by Castro”.

Vice-President Dr Joshua Nkomo and President Mugabe were close to Cde Castro. On a visit to Cuba in 2002, President Mugabe said Cuba-Zimbabwe relations would endure because the two countries shared a common struggle.

“I and Fidel are good friends and very solid revolutionaries in defence of our own sovereignty,” President Mugabe said at the time.

President Castro reciprocated, saying of the Western economic sanctions on Zimbabwe, “Sometimes small people have to fight big people, and if our effort has been worthwhile, we are confident such heroic people as Zimbabweans will be able to overcome the obstacles before them.

“There is no country weak enough to be crushed. That is why I am confident in Zimbabwe’s victory despite the obstacles.”

In an interview with The Sunday Mail yesterday, Cuba’s chief diplomat to Zimbabwe, Ambassador Elio Savon Oliva said Cde Castro’s legacy would endure.

“Fidel Castro is a hero indeed to the Cuban nation. He is the man who fronted the Cuban revolution which restored dignity and sovereignty to the Cuban people.

“He stood up, strengthened and defended his country when he was facing the greatest opposition from the West. He was a unifier, a visionary and his wisdom helped steer the country to where it is now. He has left a legacy to the next generations of Cuba to learn and emulate.”

Ambassador Oliva also said, “As Cubans, we console ourselves, knowing that he was a great man who did and sacrificed a lot for his country and people. He worked hard and dedicated most of his life to the betterment of his people. His death has not only robbed the Cuban people, but Zimbabweans as well.

“He was also a hero to the African people. President Fidel Castro supported the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe and other African states. His aim and wish was to see Africans liberated and independent.

“He continued to support Zimbabwe even after Independence by providing training for doctors and teachers. We say may his soul rest in peace.”

Ex-Zipra cadre Cde Grace Noko told The Sunday Mail yesterday, “When we went for training in Cuba, we were well-received and were treated well during the course of our training.

“We had been dropped in Angola and from there we travelled by ships for about two weeks until we reached Cuba. Castro was a warm man who hated racism and oppression. One thing I remember about him is that he hated people who despised blacks because of their colour.

“So, our leaders, the likes of Dr Joshua Nkomo, were inspired by Castro. He counselled them along the lines of the right to Independence, economic freedom and the need to fight inequality.

“The training was well-conducted, tough and of high standard. We were trained not only to fight in the war, but also to economically liberate ourselves afterwards.”

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