Influential pockets of America, especially the mainstream corporate media, are obsessing about Fidel Castro's health problems and possible death. The Black world must therefore pay close attention to these groups. Their gleeful reactions reveal America's not-so-friendly intentions towards Castro and Cuba — a land that has consistently stood by African and African American people.
Castro is justifiably revered globally as a political icon. Several reasons show why. First is his visionary leadership. Fidel did not just dream a nation free of injustice, poverty, disease and ignorance. Envisioning a country of "new men," he and his comrades, with direct and consistent collaboration with Cuban citizens of all sectors, brilliantly wrestled back their country — an island being exploited, debauched and corrupted by the greed and imperial domination of U.S. capitalism.
And despite missteps and some failures, the self-determined national revolutionary project has transformed much of the dream into life-defining achievements in health, education and physical security.
The Cuban Revolution from the beginning squarely confronted institutional racism. This ongoing social and governmental transformation has undergone a renewed national focus in the last few years with the Color Cubano project and other special social and educational polices instituted by the Cuban government.
In less than half a century, Cuba did not just achieve great things inside the country — it shared. A foreign policy of solidarity benefited underprivileged peoples in other lands. Cuban educators, doctors, scientists, artists, athletes and analysts are winning hearts and minds across the world by contributing to the material, intellectual and spiritual uplift of all humankind.
Cubans built medical facilities, trained health personnel and educated students from marginal communities — in Africa, the Caribbean and even the United States. While Black and White Americans were being ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, Castro and the Cuban people (along with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez) offered to send doctors and supplies. But despite the failures of FEMA and the American Red Cross, the Bush administration rejected the generous offer because of its hatred of Castro.
Most inspiring, Cubans died to liberate non-Cuban people of color. The battle fought in Cuito Cuanavale, an Angolan town, best exemplifies this.
In 1988,Cuban and Angolan soldiers stopped South Africa's apartheid war machine, which had invaded Angola and was bent on capturing first Cuito Cuanavale and then all of Angola. The purpose? To impose the murderous Jonas Savimbi as an apartheid-defending puppet president of Angola.
Defeating apartheid South Africa at Cuito Cuanavale was highly significant. It marked the beginning of the end in the liberation of both Namibia and South Africa, and in ending Angola's nightmarish civil war.
A grateful African world defiantly insisted on thanking Cuba. Thus, in May 1994, a freshly inaugurated President Nelson Mandela publicly said to Castro, "You made this possible."
Cuba is no paradise. And Fidel Castro is no god, just an extraordinary statesman over the last half-century who, despite at times stumbling on some fundamentally important issues of participatory democracy, has never fallen away from the Cuban nation's quest for true independence and self-determination. Castro's leadership and statecraft transformed Cuba into a much better, kinder, gentler society, especially for poor people of color and other historically exploited and marginalized Cubans.
Today's globe is interconnected: Developments in one country affect everyone. This confers a universal right and obligation — to comment responsibly on events anywhere. So let a million analyses of Castro's health and significance bloom. Let even enraged right-wingers participate and hyperventilate.
However, besides history's, only one appraisal of Castro really counts — that of Cuban citizens. Only they will properly weigh Castro's successes and failures and determine where their country must go.
James Early is a board member of TransAfrica Forum and the director of Cultural Heritage Policy at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Smithsonian Institution.