With all the fanfare going on here in the US with the presidential elections, mainstream media (and even the Black press) have not given much attention to the end of a remarkable era in Cuba. Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, who has outlasted about nine US presidents (twelve administrations counting two-term or partial two-term presidents), has stepped down as president. As leader of Cuba, Castro has dueled with presidents from Eisenhower to Bush. What does his resignation mean for Africans in the Diaspora?
“The Cuban revolution has shed blood for African freedom,” said Castro. One source says that he was “citing the battle of Cuito-Cuanavale in which 50,000 Angolan and Cuban troops defeated the CIA backed army of Jonas Savimbi and the army of apartheid South Africa.” Castro has helped Blacks and others in various ways. For example, Cuba has trained 60,000 doctors, with 15,000 of these serving worldwide.
I visited the island nation in 2002. While there, I was privileged to speak to the Cuban people on state-run television about my book, Wicked Words: Poisoned Minds-Racism in the Dictionary (1997, now out of print). Castro also had me interviewed on Radio Havana. The government treated me like royalty.
Former President Jimmy Carter lectured there also, only he didn’t need an interpreter like I did. He gave his entire talk in Spanish. (We also happened to be on the West Bank together during the historic Palestinian elections in January 2005.) Later, as a guest on my radio show, former L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti talked about his impressive book, Dance in Cuba (2005) as he recounted his rewarding visits to the beautiful island country. But, what is Castro’s Cuban connection with “Coloreds”?
Muhammad Ali: After long desiring to do so, Muhammad Ali finally met Fidel Castro in September 1998 when he, actor Ed Asner, and representatives from Disarm Education Fund, a humanitarian organization based in the US, brought aid to the communist island nation. Castro told the world that the philanthropic gesture was an unmistakable indication that the American people are against the decades-old US embargo against Cuba.
Harry Belafonte: As he has done with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Harry Belafonte has met with and praised Fidel Castro. Belafonte is said to have been personally responsible for the introduction of Rap and Hip Hop into Cuban culture and society. One source states that, “According to Geoffrey Baker’s article ‘Hip hop, Revolucion! Nationalizing Rap n Cuba,’ in 1999, Belafonte met with representatives of the rap community immediately before meeting with Fidel Castro. This meeting resulted in Castro’s personal approval of (and hence the government’s involvement in), the incorporation of rap into his country’s culture.”
CBC: In June 2000, Fidel Castro told the Congressional Black Caucus that he is willing to extend free medical training to low-income African Americans and others who could then return to the US and serve the poor and underserved. He also told members of the CBC that he supports their work.
Angela Davis: In July 1969, Angela Davis was invited to visit Cuba as part of a Communist Party delegation from the US. While there, she worked as a laborer in the coffee and sugarcane fields, and toured schools, hospitals, and other places of interest. “Fidel is the leader of one of the smallest countries in the world,” she noted, “but he has helped to shape the destinies of millions of people across the globe.” One source says that she “remarked that everywhere she went in Cuba, she was immensely impressed with the gains that had been made against racism. She saw blacks in leadership positions throughout the country.”
Louis Farrakhan: In March 2006, Minister Louis Farrakhan met with Fidel Castro while visiting Cuba. Several months later, as both men battled ailments, Farrakhan wrote a goodwill letter to the Communist leader. In the communiqué, in which he twice quotes Jesus, he ended as follows: “In closing, you and the revolution you inspired have angered many people of wealth and status who have enriched themselves at the expense of the poor. I believe this is why Jesus told the people of His day: ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.’” It has been noted that a good number of those with “wealth and status” happened to be White Cubans.
Jesse Jackson: During his US bid for president in 1994, Castro invited Jackson to Cuba. Castro promised to orchestrate the release of certain prisoners to coincide with the visit. True to his word, the June 28, 1984, issue of the New York Times reports: “The Rev. Jesse Jackson said today that President Fidel Castro of Cuba would release 26 Cuban political prisoners on Thursday if the United States gives them visas and if arrangements can be made to fly them there. The Cuban prisoners, Mr. Jackson said, would be in addition to the 22 United States citizens whom Mr. Castro agreed to free this morning.”
Nelson Mandela: At the start of the South African-Cuba Solidarity Conference that occurred in Johannesburg in October 1995, Nelson Mandela related how much the Cuban people loved Fidel Castro. “I went to Cuba in July 1991, and I drove through the streets with Fidel Castro. There were a great deal of cheers. And I also waved back believing that these cheers were for me. [Laughter] Fidel was very humble, he smiled but he never said a word. [Laughter] But when I reached the square where I had to make some remarks to the crowd, then I realized that these cheers were not meant for me, they were meant for Fidel Castro.”
Malcolm X: On September 21, 1960, Fidel Castro met with Malcolm X at the Theresa Hotel in Harlem. Enigmatically, as a representative of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm was fiercely religious while Castro, as the leader of a communist country, was staunchly atheistic. ‘If the United States is against a man,’ said Malcolm to Castro, ‘usually there is something good in that man.’ The FBI file on Malcolm reportedly states that he “further expressed the opinion that any man who represented such a small country that would stand up and challenge a country as large as the United States must be sincere.” Castro has numerous other connections to Africans in the Diaspora.
Whatever his failings may be in other areas, Castro’s interest in the worldwide Black community is very well documented. A great many Africans in the Diaspora feel that they have lost a true friend as a leader on the world scene. And, no, I’m not a communist. In fact, people identifying themselves as Communists have brutally persecuted my dear spiritual brothers and sisters of various nationalities. This troubling reality aside, credit should indeed be given where credit is due. Love him or hate him, Fidel Castro has stood the test of time in an ever-changing world. To him I respectfully say: “Commandante!”
Dr. Firpo Carr n can be reached at 800.501.2713 or