Fidel Castro, Consummate Internationalist

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.

Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, Wisconsin, has been writing progressive commentary with a Heartland perspective for various outlets since the '60s. Read other articles by Dennis.

18 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on February 20th, 2008 at 8:51am #

    Mr Rahkonen’s article illustrates beautifully the way in which cold war propaganda “made” Castro. Because the US demonised him, and imposed that silly boycott, the knee-jerk pesudo-left in the US deified him! The “pimply adolescent” reasoning was that the US is always wrong (which is not wholly true, but not that far off the mark!), therefore, anyone who opposes the US must automatically always be right. Whoever the Devil says is a devil must be God!

    The problem was that it was all a “pot of message” whereas the working people wanted a mess of potage! Or a pot of anything as long as it was eatable! As long as the Soviet dictatorship poured treasure into the Cuban publicity stunt, including the military adventures that were part of it, Castro rode high on the hog. But that treasure was obtained by depriving working people in the Soviet Union of basic necessities and anything remotely ressembling a normal European lifestyle. Once the Soviet dictatorship was overthrown, the plug was pulled on Castro and he survived only because he was more use to the US as a propaganda bogeyman than if he had been overthrown.

    I think Mr Rahkonen is right to think that when the Cuban dictatorship is overthrown, and that may happen quicker than anyone thinks, Cuban will follow the current Latin American trend towards the 21st century ideology which is being built on the success of 20th century socialism and 19th century liberalism. Castro will probably be remembered as a charming con man and a consummate showman. An amusing gadfly who conned po-faced Americans into taking him seriously!

  2. Ron Horn said on February 20th, 2008 at 8:11pm #

    Michael’s comments sound like the ravings of a Trotskyist sectarian. Yes, Cuba did seek and got help from the Soviet Union, a cardinal sin amongst Trotkyists. Castro really had no choice but to seek help from them. He first sought aid from the US which spurned him. He then proceeded to nationalize US oil refineries and that, of course is a cardinal sin amongst the ruling investor class in the US, and this precipitated a series of US sanctions. Castro could foresee what Cuba’s destiny would be if he didn’t seek the help of the Soviets–pretty much like Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Granada, and Iraq to name a few. But I’m sure that would be preferable to you than to have Castro maintain an independent country with help from the Soviets.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain said on February 21st, 2008 at 4:49am #

    Michael Kenny’s remarks are, I regret to say, a load of codswallop. Castro has created a state that has endured shocks that would have destroyed other countries. The Yankee blockade, the withdrawal of Soviet aid by the cirrhotic, lying clown and toady Yeltsin, the thousands of terrorist attacks, the deliberate introduction of African Swine Fever and other bacteriological terrorist strikes, all were met by creative resistance. As a result Cuba has survived and prospered. It has world class health and education in a continent where both are denied to hundreds of millions.There is a high level of culture, not the brain-destroying toxic sludge peddled by the soul molesters of the Western ‘entertainment’ industry. Cuban cities are not defiled by omnipresent, lying, advertising slogans, that parasitic, quintessentially capitalist, industry that thrives on subverting self-respect and fostering alienation and insatiable appetite being banished. The Cuban media is infinitely more truthful than the mainstream capitalist media of the West, where real tyrants like Murdoch enforce an ideological fanaticism that brooks no dissent, and the media thrives on lies and disinformation
    As for Cuba’s ‘military adventures’, it was Cuba that set South Africa free. Apartheid’s defeat in Angola by Cuban forces was, according to Mandela, a crucial stage in the racists realising the jig was up. On the other side, observing his country’s close ally and dear friend’s defeat, was Ariel Sharon, a true representative of Western Civilization in all its glory.
    Cuba’s greatest triumph was to survive the equivalent of Peak Oil. Where the USA will be sorely challenged owing to its philosophy of ruthless self-interest and atomised individualism, Cuba, relying on social solidarity and innovative thinking, survived and prospered. All the time keeping up its stirling work of bringing medical services to the wretched of the Earth, the Cubans through permaculture, alternative energy and reliance on public transport managed to forge what the World Wildlife Fund has found to be the sole environmentally sustainable society on Earth. Is it any wonder that the US Reich, based on greed and the denial of any restraints on avarice and endless carcinogenic growth to further enrich a tiny, insatiable, parasitic elite, so despises Cuba and Castro? Cuba has been lucky in one respect. It has had a natural human refuse disposal system, whereby the greedy, those hostile to their neighbours and those constitutionally inclined to trampling others in their pursuit of advantage, can simply leave for the greatest cess pool of them all-the good, old US of A. Having been rid of the pimps, mobsters, drug pushers, pornographers and parasites in 1959, Cuba has been able to rid themselves of human detritus ever since, their worst citizens naturally being fatally attracted to a society, the US, where the worst rule, and have ever done so.
    If humanity has any posterity, Cuba and Castro will be seen as beacons of hope, the first modern state to be ecologically sustainable. If as I dread, the destroyers and defilers lead us all into the abyss, Cuba will be a sad, forlorn footnote.

  4. Lloyd Rowsey said on February 21st, 2008 at 8:03am #

    I hope the author of this piece, or RH or MM is reading Fidel’s recently published interview-based autobiography. I’m about 150 pages into it and I read a couple of sections each morning early or late at nite depending on when my mind is sharper, but I’ll probably never have time to give it the magnificant book review it deserves.

    I was born of a privileged family, but my dad was not an elitist, and by the time I was in my early twenties and in law school (1963-66), I knew that Castro was the consummate underdog of the 20th century, and that if/when I inherited money from my father (and/or from his father – a Goldwater conservative wildcatter who started getting rich in about 1930, by striking oil in the Taylor Oil Field about 30 miles east of Austin, Texas), a goodly portion, or hopefully all of it, was going to go to la Gente Cubana, Fidel, Che, y Camilo. I got my chance in 1998, and took $50,000 cash thru Cancun in a money belt with a Reality Tour given by Medea Benjamin, having told no one about it but my psychiatrist and my then-wife before doing it. (I had already told her, and it was his very astute suggestion that I tell absolutely no one.) Landing in Havana and seeing, still on the airport’s walls and visible to land airplanes “Patria es humanidad!” was the thrill of my life. And I was almost speechless with emotion when the Head of the International Organization that was Reality’s Tour’s contact in Havana thanked me personally at a large party being given about a week after I’d placed the stacks of $100 bills on a table in front of his assistant.

    To me, the most impressive thing about the first 150 pages of Fidel’s autobigraphy, was the gradually dawning realization that the revolution absolutely eschewed terror. Because the case of Cuba is still taught as a classic example of modern imperialism, at Harvard for example, and the soil for revolution vis-a-vis the Giant in the North was seeded far earlier and far more fertile-ly than later in Vietnam, for example. Eschewed terror, and used Che’s medical skills, and other revolutionaries’ medical skills as the movement gained momentum in 1958 and 1959, to medically attend captured Batista soldiers as well as their own.

    In any case, I suppose that’s enough about me and my love for the Cuban people to enable five or ten internet assassins to say what a fool I was, and of course the money never got to the hospitalized children I was later informed that it was would be used for, etc, etc, blah, blah.

    Oh no, one other true life story: about an ex-boxer/street person who accosted me about 4 AM the second morning the tour was in Santiago, and I asked him to meet me at the hotel we were staying at, late that afternoon. He did, and my spanish was still worse than his english. But he told me in english about being brought by “the promoters” to Florida in the 1940’s (I’d already told hm my father had taken me to see Willie Pep fight in San Antonio in the 1950’s); and after fighting eight or ten fights and getting squat for them, but big promises, he had landed back in Cuba broke and disilllusioned. I commiserated of course and bought him another mojito, and then the bulbe went off, and I asked him if he knew how Americanos sometimes referred to the fight business. He said, No? “La deportiva dulce,” I said. And almost before the third word was out of my mouth, he broke out into the loudest (and only) laughter I ever heard from him. And he was still smiling when our tour left the porch of the hotel overlooking Santiago’s central plaza, and I left with them.

    Lloyd Rowsey

  5. Lloyd Rowsey said on February 21st, 2008 at 3:08pm #


  6. HR said on February 21st, 2008 at 5:03pm #

    I think it’s great that Fidel Castro will be remembered in world history far longer than any of the Chamber-of-Commerce-serving politicians here who opposed him over the last five decades. Justice, real and poetic, would be truly served if Fidel were to live to see some of those surviving pathetic examples of the human species brought before an international tribunal to answer for their crimes, and complicity in crimes, against humanity.

  7. jose de PR said on February 22nd, 2008 at 5:44pm #

    when i was a kid, i remember how in every corner in puerto rico (where i live) there was a plot to destroy our local goverment by evil communist fidel. I remember how i used to hear by the right and center-right how fidel financed the “independentistas” in PR…and bring thru the kitchen communism. It was scary. Then i grew up and read just a bit, and find out ALL was true…but inverse.

  8. sierra said on February 23rd, 2008 at 9:49am #

    I wonder how many “good deeds” towards his fellow humans Mr. Kenney has done this past fifty years????

    Such a “mushmouth”; totally lacking any intellectual content whatsoever!

  9. The Rat said on February 23rd, 2008 at 10:51am #

    People love to laud Castro as Cuba’s greatest leader, but those under his yoke of oppression probably think differently. What does it say about a country that you’re not allowed to legally leave?

    Make no mistake. Castro was brutal.

    And he’s had 40 years to show the world he was pointing the way to…something. But what he has is a middling Caribbean country with crappy cars and no small measure of desperation.

    That’s not good. It’s not even great.

  10. The Rat said on February 23rd, 2008 at 11:25am #

    The consummate Internationalist. What a joke.

    I guess the Generalissimo was allowed to leave.

    Travel is broadening, but it’s a privilege denied to most Cubans.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain said on February 24th, 2008 at 5:42pm #

    The Rat is that familiar species of rodent who judges a country by its-cars! Not its education standards, its healthcare, not its outstanding position on the UN Human Development Index, or its unique position, as the only country determined by the World Wildlife Fund, on the entire planet, to be ecologically sustainable. You don’t judge Cuba by the fact that it exports healthcare to the poor world, or that its troops by defeating the South African racists at Cuito Carnevale ushered in the end of apartheid. You don’t judge Cuba by the fact that when a hurricane hits, everyone is quickly evacuated to safety and the death-toll is tiny, while in the capitalist paradise of the USA, black people are left to drown and rot, and then they are dispersed across the country and their neighbourhoods bulldozed. No you judge Cuba by its ‘crappy’ cars. Please Rat, stop insulting rodents. Change your name to something more appropriate like Crap, or Prat, or Yankee Doodle-Dandy.

  12. Lloyd Rowsey said on February 24th, 2008 at 8:09pm #

    Do the review, MM.

  13. The Rat said on February 24th, 2008 at 9:05pm #

    I judge Cuba by its freedom, mostly. And it’s crappy cars by extension.

    Do you think it’s a free nation?

    Why can’t people leave Cuba legally, Mulga?

    “Please Rat, stop insulting rodents.”

    Why don’t you stop insulting me? Because I didn’t insult you.

  14. Lloyd Rowsey said on February 24th, 2008 at 11:09pm #

    What’s a free nation, Rat? A nation with a price on overything?

  15. The Rat said on February 25th, 2008 at 9:24am #

    I think freedom of speech and movement are important basic elements, don’t you?

    After that, I don’t know, free elections.

    I think a strongman dictator is a strongman dictator. And to pick and choose which enemy of freedom we decide to condemn shows inconsitency.

    I’ve never been to Cuba. And I don’t agree with current U.S. policy toward the country. But I’m not going sing praises for a dictator like Casto.

  16. Mike McNiven said on February 26th, 2008 at 4:38am #

    Castro’s account of 2008 US presidential “camps”:

  17. Lloyd Rowsey said on February 26th, 2008 at 7:09am #

    I think the “shouting fire in a crowed theater” limitation on free speech and free movement applies in Cuba even more than in theaters — the “fire” being avoided in Cuba, after all, does not threaten merely a theater and the people therein, but a country, its revolution, its citizens’ lives and their half-a-century of social progress.

    But it is nice to hear you have reservations about the value of “free” elections, Rat. They come with a price tag like everything else where “Democracy As We Know It” rules. And it is nice to hear you oppose the embargo.

    Maybe you could just sing praises for Che and Camilo, long dead battlefield warriors, and for the people of Cuba, who have survived and are surviving the longest, most inhumane embargo in the history of the planet.

  18. Lloyd Rowsey said on March 7th, 2008 at 8:24am #

    lloyd rowsey
    gl rowsey
    g.l. rowsey