By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
African Americans, especially those who are conscious of how the world has changed during the past 50 years in terms of the progress for African liberation and self-determination , should be more than willing to express gratitude to Fidel Castro because of his outstanding historic and contemporary contributions to the advancement of the interests of African people throughout the world.
I am profoundly aware that my writing about this leader will make some of my brothers and sisters feel a little uncomfortable given the continuing controversies surrounding how the powerful status quo of how America views Castro. But, I think this is the right moment to at least issue a public statement of appreciation to a dedicated comrade in our struggle for freedom, justice and equality while he is still alive.
After I was released from being a political prisoner in my home state of North Carolina in 1979 as a member of the Wilmington 10, I remember what noted author James Baldwin said to me, “When someone is your comrade, you don’t just pretend that he or she is simply not there to be affirmed. After all else, Black people should speak boldly without the mask of apology about who are our real allies are in the context of our long struggle for freedom.” Baldwin’s admonition is still true today.
Look at what just happened to Ozzie Guillen, the manager of the Miami Marlins baseball team, who was made to issue a public apology for daring to utter favorable expressions about Castro. It is a glaring example of how some ethnic groups in America flex the strength of their cultural, economic and political muscle to ensure that their worldview and interests are respected by others. Guillen is a native of Venezuela and told Time magazine that “I respect Fidel Castro.”
As a result of the outcry from the Cuban-American community in south Florida , the Miami Marlins suspended Ozzie Guillen for five games. Subsequently, Guillen held a press conference to express remorse for his comment. Why are some people so passionate about their dislike for Fidel in 2012? This is a question of history, ideology, geopolitics and economics. But the answer to this question is also an answer involving African and African American history, culture and the global struggle of African people for equal justice and freedom. During the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and the “Pan African Movement” of the 1970s and 1980s, Fidel Castro was a major source of support and solidarity for the liberation of Africa from centuries of colonialism, imperialism and neo-colonialism. Decades ago, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Augostinho Neto in Angola, Sam Nujoma in Namibia, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Michael Manley in Jamaica, and W.E.B. Dubois and Malcolm X in America were all in solidarity with Fidel Castro and others about supporting the growing liberation movements in Africa.
Where is our memory today concerning this period of our history as a people? Are we too quick to forget? Do we have historical amnesia? We need to tell our children the truth our struggle here in America, the Caribbean and in Africa. African liberation required a revolution and a protracted struggle. The Cuban Revolution contributed concretely to the revolution and transformation of Africa. I witnessed first-hand in Angola how Cuban soldiers valiantly and heroically shed their blood and gave their lives along with Angolans, Namibians, South Africans and others to prevent the brutal apartheid regime from taking over all of southern Africa while the administration of President Ronald Reagan orchestrated the avarice game of “constructive engagement” with the minority-ruled White South Africa. The geopolitical structure of Africa was changed irreversibly by the formidable forces of unity between our African and Cuban freedom fighters. That is why I have no reluctance today whatsoever to say “Thank you” to Fidel Adejandro Castro Ruz for your leadership, sacrifice, and contributions to help Africa. You continue to be a beacon of light and inspiration for generations to come who demand freedom and liberation from oppression and imperialism. Long live the spirit and memory of Fidel Castro. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is president of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) and Education Online Services Corporation. He also serves as National Director of Occupy the Dream and can be reached at drbenjamin.chavis@ gmail.com