Growing up in the Cold War years, I was taught to hate both Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.
Government, media, the church, and my schooling combined to incessantly vilify “communist Cuba.”
Castro was the first of many Third World leaders to be demonized by Washington. All of them shared one characteristic that incurred U.S. wrath. They resisted exploitative multinational-corporate control of their economies. They thwarted Wall Street’s plundering ambition.
Despite the relentless propaganda, a measure of instinct survived. Even during the Bay of Pigs, I sensed that the Cuban defenders who triumphed so unexpectedly were, somehow, good guys.
Still, a great deal of confusion remained. Then, a very fortuitous thing happened.
Our family moved into a different home, with furnishings included. Among them was a console short-wave radio. I quickly discovered that Radio Havana’s English language broadcast always came in clearly. I began listening on a regular basis.
Almost immediately, I recognized, through the obviously sincere devotion of announcers and guests to poor people’s needs, that I’d been lied to about what Cuba actually represented.
Radio Havana spoke to troubling emotions I felt for my own country.
Somewhat earlier, I’d gone to Detroit to visit relatives. It was my initial experience with a major U.S. city. My cousin took me on a tour, driving past Ford’s Dearborn plant, etc. Then she drove across the Ambassador Bridge for a brief view of Windsor, Canada. On the way back, as we returned to Michigan and the USA, the first thing I saw was a terrible slum.
What a travesty that such impoverished desolation would be foreign visitors’ first impression of America!
That incident, along with growing awareness of our racial situation, weighed heavily on my soul.
Radio Havana billed its homeland as “the free territory of the Americas.” It always addressed issues of poverty and discrimination, not only in Cuba, but elsewhere, including the United States.
Then I acquired a book of Playboy interviews. Among the dozen or so notables featured, only Malcolm X and Fidel Castro had anything meaningful to say. Other “stars” babbled about trivial matters. But the two radicals concentrated on pervasive social injustice with forthright assessments of the causes and cures.
Eventually, I also became radicalized, not by any individual’s teachings, but by the Civil Rights struggle and the Vietnam War. By 1971, I was so pro-Cuba that I wanted to join the Venceremos Brigades (young U.S. volunteers) to assist the Cubans with their embargo-exacerbated problems.
My job prevented me from going, but I knew several others who went. Their accounts of what Cuban life was really like were profoundly instructive. Fidel was honestly adulated by the Cuban people.
Beyond conquering disease and illiteracy in their own country, Castro’s Cubans worked tirelessly throughout the Third World on similar projects. Cuba also provided armed assistance to people’s liberation struggles. Many Cubans fought and died in Angola and Mozambique, for example, to help defeat the forces of apartheid South Africa.
An obscure piece of history underscores why Fidel Castro is so loved around the planet:
In 1963, the Algerian revolution came very close to being overturned in what was known as the Tindouf campaign. Reactionary Moroccan forces, crucially supported by the U.S., were decimating Algerian fighters — plus countless noncombatants — who had no protective air cover or armor.
Former Algerian president Ahmed ben Bella described the dire situation in a piece for the socialist newspaper, The Militant, “Che Guevara, Cuba, And The Algerian Revolution,” Vol. 62, no. 4, 2 February 1998:
“The United States was clearly behind the Tindouf campaign. We knew that the helicopters transporting the Moroccan troops were piloted by Americans…”
“The Egyptian president, Abdel Nasser, quickly provided us with the air cover we lacked, and Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raul Castro, and the other Cuban leaders sent us a battalion of 22 tanks and several hundred troops. They were deployed at Bedeau, south of Sidi Bel Abbes, where I inspected them, and were ready to enter into combat if the desert war continued. The tanks were fitted with infrared equipment that allowed them to be used at night. They had been delivered to Cuba by the Soviet Union on the express condition that they were not to be made available to third countries, even communist countries such as Bulgaria, in any circumstances. Despite these restrictions from Moscow, the Cubans defied all the taboos and sent their tanks to the assistance of the endangered Algerian revolution without a moment’s hesitation.”
Conservative Cubans in Miami, whose selfish “values” stem from criminal profiteering by gambling and sugar interests in Havana before 1959, are obscenely overjoyed that Fidel has resigned. Cubans on the island have a word for them: gusanos, or “worms.”
Fidel Castro triumphantly lives on, primarily in the 21st Century socialism that’s being built across Latin America.
He’ll be inspiringly remembered as the most important internationalist of our era, always deeply loving and meaningfully advancing the world’s struggling masses.