How Castro shaped Cuba’s internationalism legacy

President Nelson Mandela, right acknowledges the applause of MPs as he takes his seat in the National Assembly with Cuba’s President Fidel Castro during the Cuban leader’s State Visit to South Africa in September 1998. File Picture: Leon Muller/Independent Newspapers

President Nelson Mandela, right acknowledges the applause of MPs as he takes his seat in the National Assembly with Cuba’s President Fidel Castro during the Cuban leader’s State Visit to South Africa in September 1998. File Picture: Leon Muller/Independent Newspapers

Published Nov 24, 2023


Enrique Orta González

There’s no greater human virtue than solidarity, being capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world.

That’s according to Ernesto Guevara, Che, “the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary”. Bearing that in mind, I immediately think of the commander -in-chief of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, who was that kind of a revolutionary.

His vision of solidarity was based on a Third World perspective of liberation against imperialism.

Thus, Fidel’s view of internationalism was predicated on the need to build the broadest anti-imperialist unity in action, in solidarity with the struggles of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

However, solidarity for Fidel went well beyond strongly worded statements and declarations of support, since he took it to unprecedented levels, which on many occasions involved the participation of tens of thousands of Cubans in complex and dangerous endeavours.

One in particular is worth remembering. The presence of more than 300 000 Cubans in Africa helped their people fight for independence and sovereignty against the imperialist powers.

Cubans fought alongside Angolans, South Africans and Namibians for freedom in Southern Africa.

Speaking at the United Nations, in response to US criticisms for the presence of Cubans in Africa, Fidel said that Cuba was not guided by any materialistic concerns: “We are carrying out our international duty in helping the people of Angola”.

Cuba will never regret having been in Angola and having contributed to its independence. We firmly believed and still do in standing up with those who need it the most. We believe in solidarity like Fidel taught us – “to be an internationalist is to settle our own debt to humanity”.

The geopolitical impact of the South African regime’s defeat in Cuito was so huge that it would substantially contribute to the end of apartheid, the liberation of Mandela, the independence of Namibia and, of course, the liberation of Angola.

Fidel was also profoundly Latin Americanist. He believed in the unity of all the Latin American people and fought tirelessly to achieve it. His conviction led him to give political support to Salvador Allende, even when the Chilean road seemed to contradict Cuba’s strategy of revolution. But he understood the deeply revolutionary nature of Allende’s government and visited Chile in 1971. His words resonate as strongly as they did at the time. He steered the revolution to also lend support to the Nicaraguan and Grenadian revolutions, thus eliciting the wrath of the US.

He always stood with the people of Venezuela, a country that under the leadership of Commander Hugo Chávez, has upheld the rights of millions of human beings. Venezuela was the first home of the co-operation programmes Yo Sí Puedo (I Can), Barrio Adentro (Neighborhood Within) and Operación Milagro (Miracle Mission), an educational and two medical programmes designed to benefit thousands of people, especially in rural areas.

It was with Chávez that the idea of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (Alba in Spanish) was born, an initiative to finally accomplish unity and integration between the Latin American peoples which is working to this day.

Furthermore, he was a great supporter of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people. He condemned Israel’s policy of aggression, colonialism and expansionism. In 1979, he expressed in a speech to the UN: “The basis for a just peace in the region begins with Israel’s full and unconditional withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories and implies for the Palestinian people the return of all their occupied territories and the restoration of their inalienable national rights.”

The internationalist and supportive spirit that Fidel instilled in the Cuban people is one of his greatest legacies.

In the early years of our revolution, he was thinking about how Cuba could help the people of the world and he believed we could become a medical power. In 1962, he said: “Today, we can only send 50 doctors, tomorrow it is not known how many.” Since then, more than 600000 internationalist missions have been completed in 164 nations, in which more than 400000 health workers have participated, who in many cases have fulfilled this task on more than one occasion.

In 2005, following Hurricane Katrina in the US, Fidel proposed that Cuba assisted the people in the affected states, by sending doctors and other health professionals. This was refused by former US president GW Bush, but despite that, the event marked the beginning of the Henry Reeve brigades, which specialised in disasters and serious epidemics, and were constituted by Fidel himself.

Since the constitution of the Henry Reeve contingent, 88 brigades have been sent to 56 countries: three brigades faced Ebola in West Africa, 58 brigades faced the Covid-19 pandemic in 42 countries and most recently, a brigade of 32 specialists was in Türkiye after the devastating earthquake that affected that country.

Internationalism in Cuba is an expression of the new man formed by the Revolution and the fruits of Fidel’s gigantic work of social justice and humanism, achieved with the socialist society.

That’s his greatest legacy: the defence of the anti-imperialist, anticolonialist ideas and solidarity, the identification with the needs and pain of others, with the just causes of the world.

González is the ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to South Africa.

Cape Times

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