Of Mandela and Fidel

Of Mandela and FidelI read an article by Fabiola Santiago in which the writer claimed that were Nelson Mandela to visit Miami in 2013, he “might have enjoyed seeing how far his healing words and forgiving handshake have traveled since his controversial path through this community.”

This came beneath the backdrop of Mandela’s 1990 visit to Miami, where he received a cold shoulder from the Cuban-American community, and the local government cancelled his official welcome because he had visited Cuba and was liberal in his praise of Fidel Castro.

While Santiago might be right about the warm welcome Mandela would likely get in 2013 Miami, the writer is way off base to think that Mandela’s relation to Fidel is a “tiny asterisk” in his life, as was mentioned in the article.

The problem lies largely in the West’s view of Mandela as a peacemaker, without recognising his militancy. And further, there is a huge underestimation of the importance of the militant factor of the African National Congress (ANC) in the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.
I listen with a great degree of consternation to the particular tone of the praises heaped on Mandela by western leaders and press. I was glad to hear local commentator Alister Thomas so eloquently call out this hypocrisy.

But this is generally the same tone one also hears for Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. You never quite hear the same about Fidel, Che Guevara, Hugo Chavez, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Walter Rodney, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Marcus Garvey, Elijah Mohammed, or Louis Farrakhan.

The fact that Mandela chose the path of reconciliation after he became president rather than exacting revenge on white South Africa should not in any way detract from his militancy or from that of his countrymen and women who fought, killed, and die for their freedom.

Mandela was charged with the task of forming a guerilla army in 1961. And in his 2008 autobiography, he wrote of the people who inspired him and the guerilla tactics they used to bring down powerful oppressive governments. Among his inspiration were leaders of the Cuban revolution such as Che, Fidel, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Blas Roca. What must not be lost is the prominence that women such as Celia Sanchez and Heidi Santamaria played in the Cuban revolution and their equivalence of Winnie Mandela and Ruth Mumpati in the African liberation struggle.

Mandela credited Fidel’s (Cuba’s) military support of Angola in the 70s and 80s with helping to debilitate South Africa’s government enough to result in the legalization of the ANC in 1990. While many credit western economic pressure as the main engine that drove the cessation of apartheid, there are some astute commentators that credit the decades of harassment by the ANC and other freedom fighters as being the greater factor. Even blinded white leaders recognised that their regime would have crumbled and their elitist personal status would not have survived in an all-out South African civil war.

The West would not be consolatory to the likes of Fidel, Chavez, Mao Tse-tung, and Toussaint L ‘Overture. Revolutionaries who defy convention (by definition), and do not bend over to be violated by the West, are not going to be talked of favourably by the mainstream. Mandela identified himself with these. One has to remember before Mandela went to prison, and before Reconciliation he was in this revolutionary mode.

For certain, it was not lost on Mandela that the likes of the United States and Britain could have changed the course of history. According to Roque Planas, it has been reported that the US government played a role in Mandela’s arrest in 1962, and subsequently branded him a terrorist. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan vetoed the Anti-Apartheid Act, and in 1989, the ANC was placed on a list of terrorist organisations. Mandela and other ANC leaders were not removed from the official terrorist watch list until 2008.

The Cuban-American lobby, which still holds on to the Cold War mentality, sings the praise of Mandela. However, I wonder if Miami’s warmer welcome of Mandela would have actually been a reality if he had gone to see his friend Fidel in Cuba once again. I guess we will never know.

Of the many Cubans who left Cuba immediately after the triumph of the revolution, the most prominent were the wealthy, who had little interest in the good of the masses. Before the revolution, big business and even the mafia controlled a corrupt Cuban government in a land that was the playground of the rich.

The vast majority of Cubans who worked on farms, ranches, and factories could not afford a pound of beef or a bottle of milk. They could not educate their children in a country with one of the longest traditions of formal (including university) education in the Western Hemisphere. They had no access to health care even in a country which, back then, already had health tourism.

That was the Cuba that Fidel changed. But he not only did it for his people, he gave thousands of young people from all over the world a chance to attain higher education that they could not in their own countries. This has been done for South Africans and even Americans (but it will not be reported on CNN). Cuban health care professionals are in many countries providing health care for those who otherwise cannot afford it.

Like Mandela, Fidel recognised the true value of arts, culture, and sports to the development of his people. He moved opera, ballet, chess, tennis, camping and horseback riding from the domain of the rich in Cuba and made it for any and everyone.

So if the Cubans in Miami really want to show admiration for Mandela, maybe they should follow his example and forgive Fidel of whatever the perceived sins they think he has committed.

Dr Jerry Simon

photo - workers.org

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5 Comments In This Article   



#5 Alister Thomas » 2014-01-21 17:10

I only just read your article on Mandela and Fidel. It is indeed one of the most enlightened and progressive pieces memorializing Mandela, and dispensing with Western hypocrisy and evil in contemporary Geo-Politics. It was analytical, factual, and irrefutable.

And it would be remiss of me not to express with great humility. My thanks for your deference. Fraternally yours

Alister Thomas

RE: Of Mandela and Fidel

#4 KBJ » 2014-01-07 10:13

Great article. What's also missing is the role of Sam Nujoma and the SWAPO party of Namibia who waged a successful guerrilla warfare against the Apartheid regime and won their independence from South Africa in 1990 through the bullet.


Point of Correction

#3 Dr. J. Simon » 2013-12-14 21:41

Mandela visited Cuba in 1991. In re**al of Santiago's article I quoted the errorneous date.

Dr. J. Simon

Well said

#2 Patriot Mind » 2013-12-12 06:48

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your analysis, and i must say that I am in agreement with most of your assertions. Quite frankly, i don't know if we will ever get a truly comprehensive picture of the far-reaching role that many unsung heroes played in getting South Africa to where it is today!

Keep up the good writing Doc!

Patriot Mind

RE: Of Mandela and Fidel

#1 Ronin Ethiopia » 2013-12-12 06:00

Certainly a great perspective and truly missing from the global praise of Mandela! Missing also is the Bob Marley effect on the war for freedom in S.A. On the local commentary, missing is the first known set of Antigua Passports given away to members of the ANC, including Oliver Tambo - an act of penance for the unwitting involvement of Antigua (again) sending guns to white South Africa.

Ronin Ethiopia

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Dr. Jerry Simon

Dr.Jerry Simon,a general physician, is a graduate of the University of the West Indies and Villa Clara (Cuba) Medical School. He has previously worked in Internal Medicine and Psychiatry. Presently he is Medical Director of the NSA Medical Surgical Rehab Centre and is a certified member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

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