Saturday, August 26, 2006


Fidel Castro is revered by many

Here is a Pan-Africanist perspective on Cuban Leader Fidel Castro by Dr. Malik Sekou, a colleague and now Chair of the Humanities/Social Sciences Division of the University of the Virgin Islands, where I had the pleasure of teaching for two years. The article appeared in the August 23, 2006 edition of the Virgin Islands' Daily News.

We must be careful about our sources of information especially when it comes to Cuban politics. If you read the "mainstream" U.S. media you will only find Castrophobia, anti-Communist hysteria, and the same old drivel about Cuba's human rights violations.

Speaking from the Pan-Africanist side of the political spectrum in the Virgin Islands, Cuban President Fidel Castro's recent illness is a reminder of the mortality of revolutionaries but immortality of revolutionary ideas. We on the left wish Fidel a speedy recovery, but we are well aware that as he passed the 80-year milestone on Aug. 13, his physical presence has reached the golden stage.

I was impressed to read that priests from the African-Cuban religion invoked African gods to aid the recovery of Fidel. According to Granma, the Cuban newspaper, a priest, Victor Betancourt, insisted that: "We have to fight for health. We want to do a tambor (ritual) on the beach to Olokún (the divinity of the depths) with an animal sacrifice." The article went on to state that the Yoruba Association of Cuba prayed to the pantheon of orishas or divinities for the leader's health. "As religious believers, our position is to follow the plans of the gods, which are to understand and support the decisions taken by our maximum leader." Ase.

I know that well-wishers from every faith tradition - Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Ifa, and other African spiritual systems -sent warm birthday greetings and get-well messages. Fidel is highly respected and held in high esteem throughout the developing world, especially among African people.

Among Pan-Africanists, Fidel is within the same rank of Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Modibo Keita, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba and Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe. By the way, it is reported that he has a "lick of the tar brush," African blood runs through his veins just as most Cubans -Â even the "white" ones. Even more, his politics is the combination of many influences but two stand out - Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo. Maceo, the indomitable African-Cuban general of Cuba's two independence wars, is an ideological ancestor of Fidel.

But why do Pan-Africanists, black conscious groups, and African nationalists revere Fidel? Why do we tolerate domestic U.S. repression in order to support the Cuban people? Even more, some may ask why should Virgin Islanders embrace Cuba when its normalization of relations with the U.S. government may negatively impact our tourism?

Cuba is a part of the larger African world community and it is very much a Latin-African Caribbean society. During the early decades of the 20th century, hundreds of Virgin Islanders immigrated to Cuba in search of gainful employment. In fact, many Caribbean islanders have had close family ties to Cuban society for over a century. But more importantly, Cuba's Caribbean and African foreign policies have been honorable.

For four decades, Cuba supported just about every anti-colonial movement in Africa. In fact, guerrilla movements ranging from the MPLA, Angola, PAIGC, Guinea-Bissau and SWAPO, Namibia were aided in their struggle against imperialism, colonialism and in Southern Africa, white supremacy. The Cuban involvement in the decisive battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola was responsible for the retreat of South African occupation of Namibia, intervention in Angola, and eventual dismantling of apartheid in South Africa/Azania.

Closer to home Cuba has given thousands of scholarships to students within the Caribbean Basin. In fact, a standing offer to educate U.S. students in Cuba's medical schools still exists. Yes, Virgin Islanders can go to Cuba for medical school for free!

Cuba is not a threat to the United States or its territories. The Cuban Communist Party has already made a leadership succession and it includes hundreds of thousands of fervently nationalistic Cubans whose ancestry, color and faith reflect the masses. Even when Fidel leaves, his ideas will last forever within the Cuban Communist Party and Cuban People.

Dr. Malik Sekou is an associate professor of political science-history and Chairman of the Humanities-Social Sciences Division at the University of the Virgin Islands. He lives on St. Thomas.

The photo of Fidel Castro standing next to Lázaro Cárdenas (in coat and tie) was taken by my father, Dr. Thomas G. Mathews while the Cuban leader was reviewing a parade as part of the country's first July 26 celebrations following the overthrow of the Batista regime.

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Thanks for the invitation! I am currently spreading myself too thin across the blogosphere (I also have a presence at Daily Kos): Not enough time on my hands, but I will try to visit on occasion. For the moment, might you have any insights about how to place an audio file (MP3) on a blog entry?
you could try youtube, but if it's something specific...i don't know... but can find out for you!
Glad to have discovered your blog. I have been in Cuba recently on a two weeks tour. I have written four posts on Santiago and area. I still have to write on beautiful Havana. I was really impressed and i share perfectly your sentiment on the Cuban revolution.
The author, Malik Sekou, of the article is actually a relative of mine. We see eye to eye on a lot of things. I have begun a series of articles on US-Cuban relations beginning since the "Spanish-American" War. If you are interested, the are posted at the Daily Kos and at the Progressive Historians web communities. I'm not sure when I will have the next installment ready by.
Thanks for the link. I am still learning about Cuban history. My grand'parents were Lebanese immigrants to Cuba in the 1920s. My father's mother tongue is the Spanish Cuban and he is a strong admirer of the Cuban revolution even though he left with my grand'parents to return to lebanon just before the second WW. He is 86 now and when we were children he used to tell us stories about Cuba and the province of matanzas where he lived (Cardenas) including the strong anti-colonialist attitude of the working and the middle classes which my father admired.
I came to realise that what is particular to the Cuban revolution id the fact that it was not a divisive revolution like other nationalist revolutions. I think the Cuban revolution was patriotic instead of nationalistic. For my father, the son of recently arrived immigrants, to have felt sll this sympathy for the revolution and the country in which he grew up, he must have really felt himself as entirely part of this society.
My grand'parents were Lebanese immigrants to Cuba in the 1920s.

Wow!!! Then they must have lived through the 1933 revolution! Please see if you can get your father to tell you about that revolution (I would urge you to make a recording of what he tells you - it could be very valuable from a historical perspective). I'm serious! Despite being relatively recent, historians are still grappling with the significance of the 1933 revolution (and its relation to subsequent events culminating in Fidel's ascent to power at the end of the fifties).

One very exciting "revision" of Cuban history is being undertaken in light of Ada Ferrer's book Insurgent Cuba. her book focuses on the critical periods in the struggle for Cuban independence: 1868-1878 and 1895-1898. I hope to touch on it in my next "article". Here is a brief review of the significance of her contribution, though:

Ferrer shows how in both wars for independence, the simultaneous struggle against racism and colonialism fueled an insurgent energy that threatened both Cuban creole domination and Spanish colonial rule. This revolutionary threat from the poorest sectors of the Cuban population also alarmed U.S. leaders, and one objective of U.S. intervention in 1898 was to block this revolution
In my haste, I forgot to post the link for the review I quoted of Ada Ferrer's book. It was written by Robert Whitney in the journal Latin American Research Review, Vol. 36, No. 2. (2001), pp. 220-236.
Dr Mattews,
I discussed once again with my 86 year old father his memories of Cuba. I am afraid we cannot help too much about the 1933 revolution. My father had arrived to Cuba with his parents exactly around 1923 when he was three years old. There was a death in the family in Lebanon and my grand' father left in 1932 followed few months later by my grand'mother and the rest of the family including my father who was 12 at that time. He however remembers some revolutionary activism directed at peasants who were exposed to political tracts. he remembers also what he calls uncovered military vehicles roaming the streets with revolutionnaries in them (he is not actually sure whether these vehicles were for the revolutionnaries or for the government). He told me that it was the Machado government at the time and relations with the US were excellent. he continued to receive news about Cuba from cousins and Lebanese returning to Lebanon. He also told me some perosnal memories which indicate how much Cuba was at that time an eldorado for immigrants. My grand'parents had arrived from lebanon without much money fleeing a famine resulting from an invasion of locusts eating peasants cultures. They lived for a short time in a quarteria, according to my father, and were able to move on rapidly to a house. Both my grand'parents worked selling textiles to rich Cubans, and their children (two of them born in Cuba in addition to my father) were taken care of by locals. As a child I remember that everybody in the village told me that my grand'mother was the richest person in the village when she returned from Cuba. Everything is relative here of course, there weren't any rich people in the village, only peasants who owned their land.
My name is Emile Kanaan living in Autralia with my family.I am interested to find more about my great great uncles who fled to Cuba from North Lebanon Alma in 1922/28.Their names were Doumit,Tanious and they had a butcher shop in Havana.Were involved in a street fight in 1933 jailed and killed during their failed attempt to escape.Thier bodies were never recovered from the sea.

The requim mass in Alma was between May/April 1932.

Their father was Rizkallah Kanaan,mother name Latife Kanaan,both never left Lebanon. My grand father Boutros Kanaan was the only survivor as he was eleven and stayed in Lebanon. He died in 1990 in his village.

If you can shed some light on their stories ,please forward me

Many Thanks

Emile Kanaan
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