I should have been in Havana, Cuba, joining thousands of other comrades and friends of Cuba in a celebratory concert, exhibition and international symposium marking the 80th birthday anniversary of President Fidel Castro but on July 31st came the sad news that the Commandante was seriously ill. The colloquium had had to be rescheduled.
Those of us who love Cuba and support Fidel were anxious that the grand comrade, who is used to raising the revolutionary torch against imperialism, may be giving up the ghost. Castro symbolizes defiance, resistance and ideological clarity in a world full of opportunism and reactionary pragmatism. He has become a cult figure to many that they find it is difficult to contemplate his mortality. Those who oppose Castro and what he stood for led by the government of the USA, their reactionary allies in the Cuban-American Miami Desperadoes and their fifth columnists inside Cuba could not help prematurely dancing on their imagined grave of Castro.
Bush through Condoleezza Rice and the Florida megaphones started talking of life without Castro. Washington’s wish that its five decades of mega conspiracies to assassinate Castro be finally aided by nature was shattered again. The other symbol of anti Yankeeism, Hugo Chaves of Venezuela, was by Castro's bed side toasting his quick recovery and raising defiant thumbs and clenched fists at the bullies next door. Though weak, the Commandante is not done yet hence America's nightmare is not ended!
What makes Castro and Cuba so thick that despite being less than 100 kilometers off the Miami coast, it has withstood US aggression, sabotage, conspiracies, interventions, destabilization, diplomatic and political hostility and economic blockade for almost five decades? The US that has routinely changed governments, deposed regimes, eliminated heads of state and subverted many administrations across the world has been unable to cause any regime or leadership change in its own backyard.
The general goodwill for Cuba and Fidel across the world derives from that enigma. It is a David in the face of the biggest Goliath of our times. Surviving American bullying makes even those who do not share Fidel's ideology or vision of society to respect him and his country. Just imagine how many US presidents Castro has seen: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. Let us hope that he survives the evangelical Bush J., just to prove to him that God does not reside in America exclusively! That would make it ten US presidents in a row!
It is not just defiance against America that has kept Cuba going. The revolution has brought genuine changes to the people of Cuba. They are aware of it and are prepared to defend it. The leadership has largely identified and been identified by the broad masses. It does not mean that there are no governance issues. "Man does not live by bread alone' but the provision of bread is very essential for the man to realize other freedoms and protect other rights. A country in which dying at '60 or '70 is regarded as 'dying young' has justified itself to its populace. A country in which illiteracy has been banished within two generations has created a leadership legitimacy that goes beyond mere coercion and authoritarian rule.
And this is another source of the enduring appeal of Cuba to many people. How many Africans will hesitate to trade in all the pretentious bourgeois rights of 'voting without choosing' for a general improvement in their living standards? Do you think that people care what ideology the ruling party or parties have if they can educate their children and provide decent health services and other welfare? They will not care about the ethnicity, religion, region or even citizenship of the leader if he or she can guarantee all these. This does not mean that they prefer dictatorship and do not care how and by whom they are governed. Rather it is an expression of preference for a state and government that delivers the common good instead of serving the narrow interest of the rapacious elite.
But Cuba's attraction is also due to its consistent and principled solidarity with peoples of the Third World. It is true that Cuba was active in the Cold war and made its own share of mistakes such as supporting the Soviet Union in its duplicitous alliances in the horn of Africa especially Ethiopia and Somalia. However Cuban solidarity has proven to be more long-lasting and beneficial to the peoples of Africa than the Soviet or Chinese.
When the USSR collapsed, many thought that Cuba would follow suit because of Cold war perceptions that it was just a lackey of Russia. I remember arriving in Havana a couple of times during 93-96, fearful Cuba’s collapse. There were long queues at bus stops due to fuel and other shortages but the people understood why they were facing the challenges. Of course a minority of the population opposed to the regime and abundantly having misplaced faith in the big brother next door, thought the end was near (and actively tried their worst to make it so) but Cuba survived and became even stronger, albeit with adjustments in policies to accommodate the new situation but without sacrificing its vision of a people centered society organized for social justice.
The double standard of the US in relation to Cuba while at the same time supporting various kinds of oppressive regimes in South America and across the world was more educative to citizens of the world than any PR by the government of Cuba. That is why year in-year out at the UN general Assembly, an overwhelming majority of the members always voted against the US blockade of Cuba. It is widely recognized even by countries firmly allied to Washington that Cuba's 'crime' is refusing to follow Washington's dictate. That is why US diplomatic and political campaign to isolate Cuba has never succeeded.
But it is not just the defiance of Washington and sympathy for the underdog that makes Cuba popular to other Third World countries and progressive opinion across the world. It is a state that does not just preach to or lecture other people but practices, to the best of its ability and limited resources, the internationalism and solidarity that it preaches.
For us in Africa, whenever we called Cuba has always answered. It was in direct solidarity with us against apartheid, not just promises but losing lives in the battle of Quito Quinavale that helped to convince White South Africans that brutal force will not guarantee their safety and security in the country and Africa as a whole. At that time, Washington and many Western governments were preaching 'constructive engagement' that translated into destructive destabilization of the Frontline states. They may now claim to be 'our partners in development' today but should not rob us of our historical memory.
It is not just in the battlefields that our alliance with Castro and Cuba is sealed. Go to many African countries and remotest corners of this continent. You will find Cuban doctors tending to our weak, wounded and sick besides free training of hundreds of thousands of Africans by Cuba as doctors, engineers, academics, agronomists, pharmacists, educators and community workers.
To Africa, Cuba remains a friend in need and a friend indeed! Castro's illness touches us directly. May the ancestors join forces with the excellent doctors Cuba has, in bringing the Commandante back to full health for more years. Should the final hour come, our bond with Cuba will remain. Castro may have been very critical to forging that alliance but it is the Cuban people who have continued to solidify it.
By Dr. Tajudeen Abdul
Deputy Director, Africa, for the UN Millennium Campaign based in Nairobi Kenya. He writes this weekly column in his personal capacity as a Pan Africanist and a Director of the London-Based Justice Africa
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