Gen. Antonio Maceo
The small Spanish Caribbean island of Cuba means different things to different people of different backgrounds. To the tourist it is a place of sandy beaches, laid back life style, and mojitos.
To the individual of a privileged elite with capitalistic tendencies it is a nation which has not fallen in line with the imperialist world system. To the African however it is a nation which many Africans such as myself will as their own.
This is due to the tremendous assistance that the Island has given Africa all across the board. It must be said that this assistance was usually not monetary. It was on a moral, brotherly level, that created the bonds that led to exchanging of ideas, cultural practices, and the recognition that we are from the same tree; but the fruit ended up falling in difference places.
From the fact that we on the African continent have had to deal with multiple colonizers; to the fact that our desire for self-determination, ownership of our land, and control of how we govern ourselves even if it is not in compliance with how the majority countries are governed, Cuba is truly a brother to Mama Africa.
From the formation of Cuba itself, Africa has been an architect in its affairs. Although whitewashed throughout history the great grandfathers of the Cuban Revolutions were none other than a Dominican of African extraction by the name of Maximo Gomez and a Venezuelan of mixed African- Spaniard heritage named Antonio Maceo.
We must also mention the enslaved African woman, Carlota, who led two rebellions against colonial oppression in the sugar mill of the Mantanzas as well.
Equally, we Africans owe a great deal to the first Black republic of Haiti, for showing it could be done. Cuba must be included in this regards because from its plight to independence, to the revolutionary period, the stamp of Africa is evident. So when did it become more evident?
Similar to Africa and the United States pre-revolutionary Cuba was rife with the elitist controlling all of the wealth, while the poor were left to survive off the crumbs left. In Africa it was the colonizers –and today neo-colonizers– and a few privileged African enablers who controlled the wealth.
In Cuba it was the so-called pure blooded Spaniards who used Cuba’s wealth while leaving the largely Afro, and mixed-race population in an economically precarious situation. In many ways pre-revolutionary Cuba was akin to a Lagos slum where health services are limited, illiteracy is high, and malnourishment is common place.
In the same way of some of our own pre-colonial revolutionary figures of Africa a young Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara would bring something to Cuba which would leave an imprint on all Africans and others across the globe facing the same challenges.
Castro, and Guevara made it a point to raise the status of Afro and mixed or mulatto Cubans in the revolution. One of Castro’s main commanders Franke Dreke was a student in the pre-revolutionary period. However he soon found himself as one of Fidel’s, and Che’s right hand men. After much toil, bloodshed, and patience the victory of the revolutionaries was solidified in January 1959.
Two months later Castro made racism illegal. For the first time ever Afro-Cubans where integrated into jobs that didnt have to just do with menial tasks. There was no more White private schools, and Black public schools. All Cubans regardless of skin shade were educated together. On the streets of Havana seeing mixed race couples became a normal occurrence. “Everything I have I owe to the Revolution,” said Afro-Cuban, Andres Castillo.
I really cannot put my hand on what possessed Fidel to export his revolutionary theory.
Due to the developments on the African continent, he saw it as fertile ground. Fidel Castro being the planter, and volunteers from all walks of life being the gardeners, ensured that the seeds of social, economic, educational, political, and racial progress across Africa would bear ripe fruit. Castro was a genuine nationalist and internationalist.
I myself have benefited from Cuba’s sincere sense of internationalism. As a track and field athlete from West Africa the Cuban school of athletics has taught me, and brought me a great deal of progression in my athletic endeavors.
Africans often expect to be in monetary debt when seeking foreign assistance. On the contrary the Cuban assistance provided left us with just a huge debt of gratitude that a price cannot be put on. No paper money was needed.
Cuba’s first exploits to instill revolution into the African veins happened in Algeria.The FLN guerrillas were fighting for Algebra’s right to self-rule from French Colonial rule that started in 1830.
In December 1961 Cuba provided arms to the FLN. Furthermore, FLN soldiers wounded by the French where nursed back to health in Cuba and in Algeria. When a territorial conflict between Morocco erupted, Cuba sent 686 fighters to keep the Moroccans at bay.
In the medical field Cuba would leave its mark on Ghana. This lead to a very drastic plunge in the infant mortality rate from 59% to 7.8%. Training camps were also established to prepare for the anti-colonial struggle.
After he came to power on 1983 before he was murdered four years later Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara benefited greatly from the Cuban aid he received for the many of his ambitious agricultural projects. His country was abable to attain food self-sufficiency.
Perhaps Cuba’s biggest contribution to Africa was on a physiological level; Cuba’s assistance helped reprogram Africans. Africans were able to see clearly that the systems colonizers put in place –and left behind– were rooted in usurpation, exploitation, racism and White Supremacy.
Part Two will also discuss Cuba’s role in Africa’s liberation struggle.