By Owei Lakemfa
FIDEL Castro, the humanist, revolutionary and romantic legend Cuba gave the world, was 94 on Thursday, August 13. The Nigeria-based Amilcar Cabral Ideological School, ACIS, held a virtual international conference to mark the posthumous birthday of a man who dedicated his life to the emancipation of human beings from hunger, disease, oppression and repression.
Particularly for us in Africa, it was an opportunity to salute a man who, as president of a tiny country, sent 55,000 troops across 9,000 kilometres to shed their precious blood for the liberation of Africa from the clutches of Western-backed Apartheid forces.
To ensure an end to military attacks on countries like Zambia and Angola, the independence of Namibia and South Africa, and freedom of liberation fighters like Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela who America and Britain had condemned as “terrorists” thousands of Cuban youths last saw the sun rise in Africa before their young lives set, far from home and their loved ones. For Fidel and the Cuban people, their sacrifices on the battlefields of Africa were their international duty.
One of those who addressed the conference was Fernando González Llort who in 1987, at 24, came out to Angola to fight for the total liberation of Africa. When terrorist Cuban exiles from the United States, US, were attacking Cuba, blowing up airlines and attacking civilians,
he was part of a group of Cuban patriots who went to the US to try stopping the terrorists. He was arrested and charged with General Conspiracy, False Identity and Conspiracy to act as a non-registered foreign agent.
He told the American courts: “I sincerely trust that one day Cuba will have no need for people like me to come to this country, voluntarily and out of love for their country and their people, to fight against terrorism.
The first duty of any self-respecting person is to his or her country. Throughout the years of my imprisonment, I will always carry with me the dignity I have learned from my people and their history.”
On February 27, 2014 he was released from American jail after spending 15 years. Llort, speaking as president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, ICAP, told the conference Fidel was a “…universal man, Fidel belongs to the world…
our commitment to his legacy brings us together today so that we can build bridges of unity, peace and solidarity together.” He lauded Fidel for his support of all oppressed peoples, including the Palestinians and the Saharawi.
Father Michael Lapsley, chairperson of the Friends of Cuba Society in Cape Town, South Africa, said his country can never forget Fidel. He observed that when Fidel died, there were no monuments named after him in Cuba because:
“We are all Fidel.” A Fidelista and current Cuban Ambassador to Nigeria, Clara M. Pulido Escandaell, posited that for Fidel, solidarity was a duty. She said he always kept his promises, but if for whatever reason he could not, he would explain to the people why he could not keep particular promises.
An American, Gail Walker, said her country for decades carried out a misinformation campaign against Fidel falsely portraying him as an enemy of America and a symbol of everything that is bad, but added that the annual United Nations votes against America for its blockage against Cuba, vindicated the justness of his struggles.
She noted that whenever Africa called, Cuba answered. Walker thanked Cuba for coming out to Africa to wage the war against Ebola, and for going round the world to wage war against COVID-19. Cuba, she said, has educated thousands of doctors from more than 120 countries, “including the country that has put a boot on the neck of Cuba”.
Former Nigerian High Commissioner to Australia, Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, said his experience in working with Cuban diplomats, especially at the United Nations in New York, showed them as highly principled, focused and engaging.
He said the hopes of a new international financial architecture might depend on the implementation of the 2014 Havana Plan of Action with its emphasis on shared prosperity for all human beings.
Imani Na Umoja from Guinea Bissau described Fidel as one of the greatest human beings that ever walked the earth. He said, like Fidel said, the duty of the revolutionary is to make the revolution.
The Venezuelan Ambassador to Nigeria, David Vasquez Caraballo, said despite American blockade and attacks on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the people will continue to fight in their interest and that of humanity. He said Latin America and Africa have a shared history on which they can build strong solidarity.
ACIS Coordinator, Comrade Biodun Aremu, said the objective of the international celebration was to “… further, deepen the global campaign for alternative ideas to global neoliberalism, and to draw lessons from the essentials of FIDEL in human history to inspire the struggle against imperialism in berthing a new world order for peace and respect for the rights of sovereign nations to exercise freely, their political and socio-economic rights without a super power hegemony”.
In my presentation, I noted that Cuba is a great country not because of its natural resources or military might but due to the ideas of comrades like Fidel, Ernesto Che Guevera, Camilo Cienfuegos, Raul Castro, Celia Sanchez, Haydee Santamria, Vilma Espin and all who have kept the revolution alive.
I observed that where most countries put their hope in power and money, Cuba places hers on ideas and revolutionary commitment. I posited that some countries are great because of their economic resources and military might, but Cuba is great because its leaders turned the entire country into a university of life and invested in its people.
My position is that Cuba is an international power primarily because of its doctors and health workers, teachers and international workers who are ready to go anywhere in the service of humanity.
I pointed out that for decades, those who exploit humanity feared that Cuba would export her revolution. They thought revolution is a commodity that needs to be exported through customs.
But that revolution is an idea that, like air, can neither be held nor stopped; it needs no export licence. Like Fidel expatiated: “When men carry the same ideals in their hearts, nothing can isolate them – neither prison walls nor the sod of cemeteries. For a single memory, a single spirit, a single idea, a single conscience, a single dignity will sustain them all.”
Participants at the conference demanded that the US lifts its 60-year embargo on Cuba, allows all countries to run the political system of their choice and that the Henry Reeve Cuban Medical Contingent which has been fighting COVID-19 in various countries, should be awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.