Thursday, September 14, 2006

Fidel Castro’s Health: Why the African Diaspora should support revolutionary Cuba

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 government.

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.