Cuba is going through nine days of mourning for the death of its long time leader Fidel Castro, whose ashes will be taken around the country before being laid to rest in the same cemetery as Jose Marti, the freedom fighter who is revered through Latin America. Castro is viewed with great admiration throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia and you can be sure that his funeral will be attended by a huge number of national leaders. Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau issued a warm statement of condolences, recalling that his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, was a friend of Fidel’s.
President Obama attended the funeral of the king of Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive, reactionary, and brutal regimes in the world, but now there is strong pressure on him to not attend this one. If Obama does not go, it will show once again how isolated the US is, that only its military and economic power give it any standing in the world, while Castro is held in high regard by vast regions of the world despite the fact that he led a small and poor country.
In the clip below, Kenneth Adelman, a Reagan administrative operative and later advocate for the Iraq war, gets his comeuppance from Nelson Mandela at City University at 1990 (just a year after the latter was released from prison) when he tries to get Mandela to condemn Castro. Notice how Adelman ingratiatingly begins by saying that people like him shared Mandela’s struggle against apartheid when in reality the Reagan administration supported the racist South African regime, called Mandela and the ANC terrorists, and paid only lip service to opposing the abominable practice of apartheid. Mandela was no fool and of course immediately recognized the disingenuousness of Adelman’s question and promptly put him in his place. It is a thing of beauty and the audience goes wild.
Mandela then turns on his interviewer Ted Koppel for pursuing the same line of questioning as to why Mandela does not criticize the internal affairs of countries the US considers as enemies but that aided the ANC. He asks Koppel why he is not consistent and also invite him to criticize the internal problems of the US. Koppel is left speechless.
As a result of reading news reports of Castro’s death, I only now became aware that director Oliver Stone had made a series of documentaries about him that included lengthy interviews. They were Comandante (2003), Looking for Fidel (2004), and Castro in Winter (2012).
I managed to watch Looking for Fidel (2004) on Saturday and it is an engrossing 60 minutes where Stone speaks to dissidents in the country, to people who were arrested for trying to hijack planes, and then questions Castro quite sharply about human rights. Castro was 77 at the time and still vigorous and active, not giving up his role in government until three years later. He is remarkably sharp and thoughtful and seems to enjoy verbally sparring with Stone.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. writes about the impact that Castro had on black America.
It is impossible to discuss Fidel Castro outside of an examination of the Cuban Revolution. And, while I hear that there are many Cuban Americans dancing with glee upon news of the death of President Castro, I know that the emotions within Black America are and will continue to be quite different.
For any Black American who knows anything about the history of the Western Hemisphere, both Cuba and Haiti have a special significance. Haiti, of course, for successfully ousting the French in 1803 and forming the second republic in the Americas; a Black republic. Cuba, in 1959, kicked out the USA, the Mafia, and a corrupt ruling class that had enforced racist oppression against most of the Cuban population. In the cases of Haiti and Cuba, their audacity in the face of a racist imperialism brought forth the wrath of their opponents. How dare the Cubans stand up to the USA? How could a country of all of these ‘brown’ and ‘black’ people insist that they should determine their own destinies?
Thus, Fidel Castro immediately had a special significance for countless Black Americans. When I was quite young I remember my father telling me how his brother-in-law, a professor at Johnson C. Smith University, had sat watching the television as pictures were shown of Cuban exiles entering the USA after the 1959 Revolution. His comment to my father was that all that he saw were white-looking Cubans stepping off the planes or boats. No brown and black Cubans. This told him something about the nature of the Cuban Revolution and its leader, Fidel Castro.
Castro further endeared himself to much of Black America when he visited the USA and took up residence in the Hotel Theresa in New York’s Harlem. It was there that he met another icon, Malcolm X. It was situating himself in the Black community that shook much of the US establishment and told Black America that something very unusual was unfolding 90 miles off the coast of Florida.
Fletcher goes on to describe his own late night meeting with Castro in Cuba in 1999 and how it showed how energized Castro became when he was talking politics.
It was close to midnight when we were informed that we needed to board the bus and head to his office. When we arrived we walked into a waiting room in anticipation of the meeting. Suddenly a door opened and out came an old man in an olive green uniform. Yes, it was Castro. I think, quite irrationally, I was expecting the young Castro of the 1960s. But here was someone about the same age as my father. He circulated around the room and was introduced to our delegation. We then retired to another room to begin our meeting.
It is hard to describe what happened next, and probably equally hard for anyone to believe it. We sat in the room with Castro until about 3:30am. He never lost a beat. He never seemed tired. In fact, as the minutes and hours went forward, he seemed to gain energy! Castro spoke with us about the Cuban Revolution, race, and many other issues. Yes, he spoke a lot, but we were transfixed. And, when we asked him questions, he would consider the matter and always offer a thoughtful response, rather than retreating into rhetoric. It was particularly illuminating when he informed us that the Cuban Revolution had underestimated the power of racism. As he said at the time, when the 26th of July Movement (the revolutionary organization that led the anti-Batista struggle) took power they thought that it was enough to render racist discrimination illegal and that should settle the matter. The entrenched power of racism, even in a society that was attempting to root it out, was more substantial than they had anticipated.
What made people around the world admire Castro despite his mistakes and faults was that he had the guts to stand up to the bullying by the US that hated the idea of any country, especially a neighbor, that was socialist, that pursued the subversive goal of providing all its people with free education and health care and a basic standard of living. He says at the end of Stone’s film that the US government many times offered to end the blockade of Cuba but that in return Cuba had to stop supporting revolutionary movements around the world. He said that the US essentially wanted him to betray the revolution and he would not agree. He says that the US does not honor its commitments and the only thing the US wants from others is surrender. You can imagine that in addition to trying to repeatedly murder him and destroy his country’s economy, they also tried to bribe him.
But he never sold out. People respect that. You can expect his funeral to be huge.