« ¡ Las ideas no se matan ! » « Ideas cannot be killed ! »
This is the sentence shouted out to the killing squad which was about to execute Fidel Castro on 26 July 1953, and this saved him. Indeed, El Commandante stood for ideas and above all for love: love of humanity, and planet earth. He understood that imperialism was nullifying the human being, and crushing people under its hands. He worked for the freedom of mankind. Fidel showed us that the size of a country or its people does not matter when fighting for great ideas and principles. Cuba is a small country, but its actions, its help, has been immense to Africa for the past 50 years. Even to this day, doctors across Africa are trained in Cuba, and Cuban doctors have vastly supported the health-care services of many countries including Ghana.
Nelson Mandela wrote from Robben Island, about Cuba: “It was the first time that a country had come from another continent not to take something away, but to help Africans to achieve their freedom.” Indeed, Cuba’s help to Africa has been selfless, and loving, and that of true brotherhood.
As a towering figure who stayed true to his Marxist-Leninist ideology even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro has empowered countless Africans. The struggle for liberation from colonial powers by Africans benefited vastly from help from this little country in the western hemisphere.
When Africa cried, Cuba was there. When Portuguese were killing, subjugating, imprisoning Angolans, Bissau-Guineans, Cape Verdians, Mozambicans, Cuba was there. When Apartheid and the South African regime was oppressing (with support of the Western world) Black South Africans cried, and Fidel heed their calls. When Lumumba was killed, and Congo at lost, they called and Fidel answered. When Namibia was crushed, Fidel and Cuba helped free them from the Apartheid regime. When Ethiopians needed help, Fidel provided troops and expertise. When France was perpetrating a genocide in Algeria, Cuba helped free them.
Castro’s support for Africa’s liberation led him to meet with some of the continent’s leaders including Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Sam Nujoma of Namibia, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
Responding to calls for help from the Angolan leader
Agostinho Neto who was trying to liberate his country from the Portuguese, Castro sent troops to Angola. Today, Angola is free of civil war thanks to the unfailing support of Fidel. Cuban soldiers are documented to have fought alongside Namibians and South Africans to prevent the apartheid regime from spreading all over southern Africa. They have also helped in Mozambique, and Guinea Bissau & Cape Verde supporting Amilcar Cabral. Between 1966 and 1974 a small Cuban force proved pivotal in the Guineans’ victory over the Portuguese. This time Cuba’s involvement also stretched to medical support (Cuban doctors) and technical know-how. Ultimately, Cuba’s successful battle against South Africa in Angola also hastened the Apartheid regime’s withdrawal from Namibia after 70 years of occupation, and led to that country’s subsequent independence.
Cuban troops have since the 1960s, served in Algeria, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone and Libya. Cuba was a thorn for the imperialists in Africa, France in Algeria, Portugal, Great Britain, South Africa, etc.
In a 1998 speech, Fidel Castro told the South African Parliament (it was his first visit to the country) that by the end of the Cold War at least 381,432 Cuban soldiers and officers had been on duty or “fought hand-in-hand with African soldiers and officers in this continent for national independence or against foreign aggression.”
Given this history, it was no surprise that one of Mandela’s first trips outside South Africa – after he was freed – was to Havana. There, in July 1991, Mandela, referred to Castro as “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people,” adding that Cuba, under Castro’s leadership “helped us in training our people, gave us resources to keep current with our struggle, trained our people as doctors.” At the end of his Cuban trip, Mandela responded to American criticism about his loyalty to Castro and Cuba: “We are now being advised about Cuba by people who have supported the Apartheid regime these last 40 years. No honorable man or woman could ever accept advice from people who never cared for us at the most difficult times.”
Altogether fitting was Cuban President Raul Castro’s address at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013. In Johannesburg, Raul reminded his audience: “We shall never forget Mandela’s moving homage to our common struggle when on the occasion of his visit to our country on July 26, 1991, he said, and I quote, ‘the Cuban people have a special place in the hearts of the peoples of Africa’.”
Upon arrival in Havana, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe said, “Fidel was not just your leader. He was our leader and the leader of all revolutionaries.”
So in essence, many countries in Africa became independent thanks to Cuba and Fidel Castro, thanks to his ideals and his love of freedom. I am not sure that there is a single African country which has not benefited in some way shape or form from Cuba. We all owe Fidel our love, our lives, our freedom, and we salute him: So long El Commandante, thanks to you, we are free! Thanks to you, we fought a long battle and won! thanks to you, we started new chapters and became ‘free’ countries! Africa owes you so much!