Collage of Commandante Fidel Castro photos with different African leaders
By Alex Masereka Joel
In one of his famous quotes, Former Cuban Leader Commandante Fidel Castro said, “I began revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and plan of action.”
Faith and a plan of action always guided Commandante Fidel from the day he was born on 13th August, 1926 until he bowed out in November 2016.
With faith, Commandante Fidel launched the Cuban Revolution with the 26th of July Movement in 1953 when he and his rebels attacked the Moncada barracks, one of Cuba’s biggest military garrisons at the time.
Although it wasn’t successful then, Fidel kept the faith that it was possible for him to even with his small number of comrades who believed in his ideals, to delete Cuba’s dictatorship led by Fulgensio Batista.
On January 1st 1959, riding on the promise to free Cuba from the shackles of her powerful neighbour, the USA, Fidel took power and set out to still use his faith and action to change the country.
True to his promise, Commandante Fidel created a healthy and literate Cuba, making access to health care and education a universal right for all Cubans in a addition to making the nation free of imperialistic ties.
It is said that before Fidel took power, a US ambassador wielded more power than the country’s leader just to show how Uncle Sam had put the island nation in her armpit.
It is amazing that Commadante Fidel leading a small island nation, was able to make it stand shoulder to shoulder with a power that is the USA.
However, Fidel with his disdain for colonialism and imperialism, ended that kind of relationship, something that defines his legacy.
To date, its not only Cuba that has benefitted from Fidel’s ideals as he stood up for many of the world’s people leaving on the margins of society.
As a result, Cuba enjoys 5-star recognition for her health services that have been spread out to the rest to the world.
In Uganda and Africa at large, students continue to benefit from scholarships offered by the Cuban government to study medicine at the country’s prestigious medicine universities.
As the world joins Cubans in celebrating his birthday, Africans will have that justified sense of entitlement and attachment to Fidel. He holds a special place in our hearts because he left large footprints on the continent.
As a Caribbean nation, Cuba was host to 1 million African slaves.
With this in mind and as part faith and plan of action strategy, Commandante Fidel set out to expand his ideals to especially countries that were under the yoke of colonialism.
In Africa, Commadante Fidel gave a helping hand to movements that were fighting for independence at a time when anti-colonial fervour was gaining momentum.
In January, 1966, just seven years after taking power, Fidel organised the Tricontinental, a conference of revolutionary movements from Africa, Asia and Latin America (Primera Conferencia de Solidaridad de Los Pueblos de Africa, Asia, America Latina). This conference emerged from two dynamics.
States that emerged out of the anti-colonial movement had, by 1961, created the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which included not only radical regimes but also those with a more conciliatory attitude towards imperialism.
Outside NAM existed movements with unfinished anti-colonial wars of national liberation which had a more radical edge to them and which had been gathered together in 1957 in the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO).
At the conference, Commandante Fidel made his most unwavering commitment to support the struggle against colonialism as part of his foreign policy.
Keeping with his promise, he sent troops to Guinea Bissau, Algeria, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire) to help movements in these countries.
This he supplemented with delivering spirited speeches at the United Nations General Assembly in which he bashed imperialism and those who supported it.
Agostinho Neto, Amilcar Cabral, Samora Machel are some of the revolutionaries in Africa who were inspired and directly benefitted from Castro.
The most defining battle in Africa will probably be the one in Angola that had far reaching repercussions to the battle against apartheid in South Africa.
In Angola, he sent troops and aid workers to Angola in support of the country’s Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government from 1975, as it waged a conflict against apartheid-era South Africa and CIA-backed nationalist forces (also supported by then-Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo).
After the Portuguese pulled out Angola, there was a battle between MPLA led by Augostinho Neto and UNITA backed by the USA which risked taking the country back under colonialism, something Fidel assisted MPLA was not ready accept.
This war for the soul of Angola resulted in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, a series of conflicts that Cuban-backed MPLA forces fought against South African forces and UNITA rebels. The battle was thought to have been the largest on African soil since the Second World War.
As the forces waged war on the frontline, there were efforts to find peace through dialogue and both sides presented a set of demands. Among those presented by the Cuban backed MPLA forces were that the apartheid regime in South Africa would free all prisoners arrested under their discriminative laws among which was celebrated freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.
Little wonder, Mandela chose Cuba as his first country to visit when he was president and its also fair to assert in the war to free South Africa from apartheid, Commdante Fidel played an active role in which Cubans sacrificed.
“We are now being advised about Cuba by people who have supported the apartheid regime these last 40 years. No honourable man or woman could ever accept advice from people who never cared for us at the most difficult times,” Mandela responded to western critics of his visit.
The battle and negotiations resulted in the colonial South African force pulling out of Angola and according to historians, this was the last imperialist force to withdraw from a colony in Africa. In essence, Fidel Castro helped end colonialism in Africa, although his contribution to the continent remained.
Today, Africa and the world at large are witnesses and beneficiaries of Cuban expertise in health.
The Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade aka Cuban Doctors continue to touch lives in Africa and across the world in dealing epidemics like Ebola in West Africa and now the coronavirus.
Thanks to the vision of Comandante en Jefe (Commander in chief) Fidel Castro, Cuba has developed a powerful biotechnology industry, which has focused on saving lives during the epidemic, in Cuba and around the world.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba has sent some 3,000 medical teams to 28 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa as well as to the Middle East to help in combating the pandemic.
Formed in 2005 by Commadante Fidel, the brigade pledge to serve wherever they are needed.
As we celebrate Commandante Fidel’s birth, the onus is on us to emulate what he stood, fighting for those on the fringes of society and creating a just world, and challenging the ugly head of imperialism and neo imperialism wherever it shows face.
This also includes rallying behind Cuba to support the Island nation to challenge old attacks it continues to battle. One of them being the unjust US Economic Blockade imposed on the nation in 1961 and remains to date despite United Nations General Assembly unanimously voting against it and that it be lifted.
However, there is hope that while Commandante Fidel was able to build an excellent education and health system, send troops to help revolutionary movements even with the existence of this blockade, faith and action will enable Cuba overcome and match to victory.
FIDEL POR SIMPRE! HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE!
The writer is a news editor with Business Focus, Pan Africanist and member of the Uganda – Cuba solidarity movement