The world is marking the death of clearly one of the most controversial figures in geopolitics of the 20th century. When such figures are mentioned, they are generally heads of dominant states that changed the course of history through foreign policy engagements, and conflict action—whether it be war, peace or détente. Names like Roosevelt and Stalin, Kennedy and Khrushchev, Reagan and Gorbachev, Mandela and Botha. But only one spanned the course of five decades and changed how all western nations would relate to the eastern nations in the context of class revolution. And he would be known by one name.
Not since the Haiti revolution of 1804 has a small island nation overthrown colonial rule to establish class based rule, rejecting capitalist imperialism in the face of world superpowers. Self-determination never had a more staunch protagonist than that of Fidel Castro and Cuban Revolution of 1959. A small island leader who stood in defiance of the world’s biggest superpower, outlasted 10 U.S. presidents (and outlived six of them) and took on those critics who claimed they loved freedom more than money.
Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Fidel Castro — who died over the weekend at age 90 — was the most vibrant disruptor of class oppression the Western Hemisphere had witnessed since the American Revolution. But the press accounts of Castro’s legacy have been largely one-sided, favoring those of the privileged class who left Cuba for capitalism who were not allowed to return to their homelands.
Castro survived over two dozen assassination attempts, and many insurgent-sponsored attempts at overthrowing him, all to redistribute wealth among the masses by ousting capitalist influences and nationalizing the countries assets. A 50 year economic embargo suppressed Cuba’s growth every bit as the ideological shift from socialism to communism did, as Castro sought to ensure that socialist revolution survived the return of capitalist imperialism and shadow colonialism. History will forever debate whether Castro was a dictator or revolutionary. One thing we know for sure was that he did started and held a 50-year revolution against capitalism. Some even suggest he won. Revisionists are telling one side of the story, but history will tell both sides of the story.
In the meantime, how should the African Diaspora view Castro’s passing?
Cuban culture has been embraced worldwide in African, Latin and African-American cultures…many European cultures too. Cuban influences extend beyond its geopolitical stances. Cuban imports, music, art and cigars, are the gold standard of cultural expression…that extend far beyond the tastes of the elite classes. Castro’s consolidation of Latin America offered a counter-balance to the extraction of oil from developing oil rich Central and South American countries. What’s more, Cuba’s literacy rate is 99.7, according to UNESCO, and its health care system is been a model for the world as it is providing 37,000 doctors and nurses to 77 countries, according to a University of Pennsylvania study.
Despite the obvious ideological differences in political discourse, one cannot say that Castro did not remain committed to fighting the class warfare that paralyzed his and other nations. Afro-Cubans represented a significant force in presenting Cuba’s global face of immense human capital.
Perhaps the best example of this was during Castro’s first visit to the United States, at the height of the Civil Rights movement in 1961, when his delegation left downtown Manhattan to stay at the famous Hotel Theresa in Harlem—and had world leaders like Nikita Khrushchev, Gamal Nasser and Jawaharlal Nehru meet him in a place that they would have otherwise never ventured. But he also met with Malcolm X, the nation’s most notable Black nationalist to discuss America’s racial revolution that was taking place at the moment.
Castro was not blind to the crushing effects of economic subjugation that de facto segregation had on America beyond cities, beyond the highly publicized “Jim Crow” effects that de jure segregation held on the south. A primary reason South African apartheid fell was the fact that Castro sent Cubans forces into Angola to push out South African (CIA backed) forces at a time where the world was imposing economic sanctions on South Africa—while the United States was relaxing sanctions. A condition for Cuban forces leaving Angola was the release of Nelson Mandela, which ultimately led to the fall of apartheid.
In July, 1991, Nelson Mandela visited Cuba, to thank Castro and the Cuban people for standing against apartheid. Castro forced South Africa’s hand as he saw apartheid as a “creation of Western capitalism and imperialism.” according to a Los Angeles Times article. In that same article, Mandela himself said that Castro’s consistent commitment to eradicate racism was especially valued after the Bush administration lifted economic sanctions which he called “completely unacceptable.” Mandela acknowledged on that trip that without the involvement of Cuba, he would not be there (free).
As we witnessed in the past Presidential election cycle, the discussion about capitalism and wealth consolidation that has produced the nation’s greatest wealth disparities and income inequalities in its history, the fight to dominate poor people and colonialize people of color through economic slavery is real and has been resisted for decades. Fidel Castro used his platform from his tiny island in the Caribbean to fight vestiges of colonialism. And despite relinquishing his presidency nearly a decade ago, he, nor his message, never became irrelevant. It is the challenge of every nation, particularly ours: It is not dictators that crush the vision to control destinies, it is systems of oppression that do.
The idea of equal anti-imperialistic societies is one legacy that did not die with Fidel Castro.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is author of A Thousand Times NO To The Status Quo: The Radical Writings Of Anthony Asadullah Samad, Selected Counter Cultural Commentaries (1991-2014). He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com, on and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.