Commentary: Black and African lives have always mattered in Castro’s Cuba

Commentary: Black and African lives have always mattered in Castro’s Cuba
August 20
00:00 2015

In above photo: The late Nelson Mandela (left) and Fidel Castro (right). (Submitted/AP Photo)

Bill Turner, Guest Columnist

“What’s it matter to people of color, Black Americans, in particular ?”

That is the question I asked myself – as I do about most things – when the U.S. and Cuba [moved toward] normalized diplomatic relations last week [Aug. 15].

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez pre-empted the possibility of a lecture from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Cuba’s record for human rights abuses and its track record of silencing political opposition and limiting the rights of its citizens.

In his speech, Kerry’s counterpart said, almost sarcastically: “In Cuba, we have our own concerns in the area of human rights for the U.S.”

Then he ticked off the flaws and faults on the record of the U.S., citing the world’s highest incarceration rate, income inequality, police brutality, racism, and the rule of special interest groups on the economy and politics.

The Cuban government has mattered to human rights struggles around the globe since Fidel Castro and his brother, [then-]Defense Minister Raul, came to power in a coup in 1959.

In 1960, President Fidel Castro and the Cuban delegation to the United Nations stormed out of a midtown Manhattan hotel to stay instead at Harlem’s historic Theresa Hotel .

According to the New York Times, Castro felt that “Negroes would be more sympathetic” to his cause, and he drew enthusiastic crowds of supporters.

He was visited at the Theresa by Malcolm X, poet Langston Hughes, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India.

Not long after visiting Harlem, Castro welcomed Robert Williams, the head of the Monroe, N.C. NAACP who fled to Havana after being charged with kidnapping.

Fidel supported Williams with a radio station; his fight against the U.S. government became a global case.

With Cuban support, Williams was completely exonerated upon his return in 1975, when the State of North Carolina dropped all charges.

Also: *Assata Shakur – the godmother of rap legend Tupac Shakur – fled to Cuba in 1984 on the lam for murder charges filed in the late 1970s. In 2005, Shakur became the first woman to be named to the FBIs most wanted list. There are other African-Americans in Cuba, who, like Shakur, are fugitives from U.S. justice whom the FBI considers armed and extremely dangerous.

*Stokely Carmichael – the well-known ’60s-era Black Power disciple later known as Kwame Turé –mattered to Fidel Castro; in fact, they were mutual admirers. Before his death in 1998, Carmichael sought treatment for prostate cancer in Cuba, before dying in Ghana, where Castro had earlier supported the efforts of its first post-colonial president, Kwame Nkrumah.

*In a piece titled “9 Instances of Fidel Castro and Cubans Helping Black People Fight Colonialism and White Supremacy,” the Atlanta Black Star noted how Cuba has never hesitated to contribute weapons and its own military forces to freedom fighters, those the U.S. called rebels, insurgents, guerillas, and terrorists, especially in Africa, such as the cases in the wars for independence in Angola, Namibia, and Mozambique. In the Western Hemisphere, Cuban troops fought the U.S. military when it invaded the tiny Caribbean nation of Granada in 1983.

*Nelson Mandela, soon after being released from prison in 1990 after nearly 30 years of imprisonment, called his friend Fidel Castro, thanking him for sustaining the military arm of the African National Congress (ANC) party, which elected Mandela President of South Africa. Before and for the duration of Mandela’s years as a political prisoner, the U.S. supported the apartheid system.

*Cuba offered to send its world renowned medical workforce to New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit. Of course, the U.S. State Department declined the offer. Cuba sent a large group of disaster relief personnel to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake there five years ago. Cuba’s impact continues into the present, especially in Latin America where, most notably, it assists Venezuela, a target of U.S. sanctions. Cuba is credited internationally for spearheading efforts to extinguish the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, West Africa, last year.

The thaw in dealings between Cuba and the USA started, significantly, when President Obama shook hands with President Raul Castro in 2013 at President Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

No doubt, Cuba will matter even more, now that we’re closer.

Dr. Bill Turner is a noted educator, writer and thinker who called Winston-Salem home for many years.

Reach him at William H. Turner (c) 8/16/2015


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