This week President Obama made a historic visit to Cuba – the first by a US President in nearly 90 years. While this trip explores the potential relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, many Americans feel the only thing President Obama should talk to Cuban leadership about is granting its people Democracy and freedom. However, are we (America) in a position to give lectures on Democracy and freedom? Especially when unarmed black people are routinely shot by police, we incarceratemore citizens than any nation, and in many ways, Cuba has been more supportive of black people than America. This also begs the question of whether Fidel Castro is as evil as we’ve been taught.
Fidel Castro served as President of Cuba from 1976-2008 and Prime Minister of the Republic of Cuba from 1959-1976. The American media would have you believe that his rise to power meant the end of freedom in Cuba as they knew it. Basically, he’s largely been portrayed as the son of Satan or close to it. In 1959, Castro ousted a sitting Dictator, Fulgencio Batista. What is often overlooked is that Batista, as John F. Kennedy once charged, murdered 20,000 Cubans and turned a Democratic Cuba into a police state, all with the US supporting his “reign of terror.” Once in power, Castro implemented reforms that essentially seized the assets of American corporations and the elites in Cuba. This was during a time when U.S companies owned about 40 percent of the Cuban sugar lands, almost all the cattle ranches, 90 percent of the mines and mineral concessions, 80 percent of the utilities, practically all of the oil industry, and supplied two-thirds of Cuba’s imports.
Because of these reforms, Castro was now bad for business. In an attempt to oust Castro, President JFK authorized an unsuccessful military operation, not for “democratic freedom”, but all for business.This failed operation was not only embarrassing for the U.S., but it strengthened the position of Castro’s leadership. Castro’s leadership, incidentally, was supported by a great number of Cubans who wanted change. Overthrowing the government required a revolution and revolutions are bloody, just as when we fought a revolution to overthrow British rule. Those on the other side of Castro’s revolution have largely supplied the narrative about Castro that the media has fed us for decades.
What the media doesn’t show is that as a leader, Fidel Castro supported black people in various ways.
In the 1960’s as civil rights leaders were assassinated, Cuba implemented land reforms to benefit poor blacks on the Island, supported leaders like Malcolm X and even gave asylum to black freedom fighters who were forced to flee America.
Cuba was the only nation that actually sent troops to Africa to fight against Apartheid military forces, ultimately helping to free black South Africans. Meanwhile, U.S. President Ronald Reagan was quite supportive of the Apartheid government in South Africa, even going so far as to veto a bill to impose sanctions on that nation. For this and other supportive actions, Nelson Mandela became a great admirer of Fidel Castro.
In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, Cuba immediately offered 1,600 medics, field hospitals and 83 tons of medical supplies for the mostly black population in need. The offer of help was declined by the U.S., even as the city remained neglected by the federal government.
Understanding this history now requires us to challenge the dominant U.S narrative on Cuba and Castro. Further, it means we must challenge the belief that America is supremely qualified to lecture Cuba on Democracy and Freedom. Especially for blacks, the history should cause us to reexamine our feelings toward America and whether or not her enemies are ours. As Mandela once , one errs when they assume that their enemies “should be our enemies.” Castro has been clear on where he stands with respect to black freedom. In light of lingering racial unrest in America, any lecturing on Democracy must first be pointed at every disparity aimed at black lives, daily.