Fidel in the world, the world in Fidel. By Elier Ramírez Cañedo
In “Discurso de Intensidad (Speech on Intensity)”, an extraordinary essay by Cintio Vitier, he quotes Lezama Lima when he says that “the historical capacity of a country is not due to its extension but to its intensity”. How did a small Caribbean island, unknown to millions of people in the world before 1959, each such outstanding international prominence, become a country of great prestige and influence. Many of the answers to this question lead to Fidel Castro, the major inspiration and architect of the Cuban Revolution.
Fidel projected Cuba into the world with great intensity, but it did not happen overnight. It happened with the heroic accompaniment of the Cuban people and world solidarity. He had to carve that path against the current of the most powerful forces deployed by U.S. Imperialism to prevent it. Cuba, in addition to facing the economic siege, terrorist actions, sabotage, the mercenary invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961, armed bands, and many other forms of aggression, had to overcome the diplomatic isolation imposed by the United States.
In 1958, under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, Cuba had relations with just over 50 countries around the world. By 1964, under the pressure and threats of the United States, all the countries of the region -but Mexico- had broken off diplomatic relations with the Island. However, by the beginning of the 1970s, this situation had begun to be reversed until the present time, when Cuba maintains diplomatic ties with 197 countries and international institutions. Cuba has 128 embassies and permanent missions and 20 consulates abroad.
On the other side, the United States became more and more isolated in its aggressive policy against the Cuban nation as time went by, and, as if it was not enough, the economic sanctions imposed by Washington on Havana suffer their greatest diplomatic defeat in the framework of the United Nations General Assembly year after year when the world -practically the whole world- votes to end them. Every victory of Cuba in the international arena has been the imprint of Fidel. His exceptional leadership turned Cuban diplomacy into one of the most active and successful in the whole world.
Fidel began to take an interest in international events at a very young age. He followed everything concerning the Spanish Civil War closely, he also knew in depth the great military and political battles of the Second World War and the reconfiguration of the world it brought about. His fondness for Cuba’s universal history, and his own experience of the context lived on the island, made him create a vision of the world towards which he assumed a rebellious position, at the same time; rebelliousness became a revolutionary cause once he found an ethical and anti-imperialist compass in Marti’s thinking and, later, in the ideas of Marx, Engels, and Lenin.
From then on, especially after he entered the University of Havana in 1945, he dedicated himself not only to interpreting the surrounding reality but also to transforming it. Thus began his revolutionary struggle against the corrupt governments of the time and for a change that would free the island from its submission to the United States. However, his anti-imperialist dispute would transcend Cuban geography, extending fundamentally toward the region of Latin America and the Caribbean.
During his university years, Fidel was a member of the Pro-Independence Committee of Puerto Rico, the Pro Dominican Democracy Committee, participated in the frustrated expedition of Cayo Confites against the Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in 1947 and in the events known as the Bogotazo, where he shared his destiny with the Colombian people who were confronting the reactionary forces that had assassinated the popular leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán.
“At that moment -recalls Fidel-, I had an internationalist thinking and I started to reason and I said: “Well, the people here are the same as the people of Cuba, the people are the same everywhere, this is an oppressed people, an exploited people” -I had to persuade myself, and I said: “They have assassinated the main leader, this uprising is absolutely just, I am going to die here, but I am staying.” I made the decision knowing that it was military nonsense, that those people were lost, that I was alone, that it was not the Cuban people, it was the Colombian people, and I reasoned that the people were the same everywhere, that their cause was just and that my duty was to stay and I stayed all night, waiting for the attack until dawn”.
Likewise, Fidel had already pronounced himself in favor of the Panamanians’ right to sovereignty over the inter-oceanic canal and that of the Argentines over the Malvinas Islands.
During his historic plea known as History Will Absolve Me in 1953, where he defended the political program that would guide the revolutionary process, he also stated his commitment to the Latin American and Caribbean peoples:
“(…) Cuban policy in the Americas would be one of close solidarity with the democratic peoples of this continent, and that all those politically persecuted by bloody tyrannies oppressing our sister nations would find generous asylum, brotherhood, and bread in the land of Martí; not the persecution, hunger, and treason they find today. Cuba should be the bulwark of liberty and not a shameful link in the chain of despotism.”.
For Fidel, from his Bolivarian and Marti’s vocation, the Cuban Revolution should be just the beginning of a deeper revolution, which should take place throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959, this commitment to solidarity with the causes of the Third World countries, including Africa and Asia, and the oppressed and excluded in any geographical point of the planet, both in the North and in the South, would increase. Fidel never betrayed these internationalist ideals and principles. For the Cuban leader, politics could not be conceived without ethics and this was an idea that he also practiced consistently in the international arena.
In various circumstances the U.S. Government tried to negotiate with Cuba these principles or conditioned the possible improvement of relations between the two countries, in exchange for the island retracting its support for the liberation movements in Latin America, Central America, or Africa, withdrawing its internationalist missions from Angola and Ethiopia, reduce or break its ties with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), stop from supporting the independence cause of Puerto Rico and many other demands, only to crash again and again against the dignity of Cuba and Fidel.
Fidel would express that, apparently, in the mentality of the leaders of the United States, “the price of an improvement in relations, or of commercial or economic relations, is to renounce the principles of the Revolution. And we will never renounce our solidarity with Puerto Rico! (…) Now it is no longer Puerto Rico alone, now it is also Angola. Always, throughout the revolutionary process, we have carried out a policy of solidarity with the African revolutionary movement”.
On Cuba’s support to the Puerto Rican independence cause he would add two years later: “(…) when the Cuban Revolutionary Party was founded, it was founded for the independence of Cuba and Puerto Rico. We have sacred, historical, moral, and spiritual ties with Puerto Rico and we have told them [referring to the U.S. authorities]: that as long as there is a Puerto Rican who defends the idea of independence, as long as there is one, we have the moral and political duty to support the idea of Puerto Rican independence (…) and we have told them very clearly, that this is a problem of principles, and we do not negotiate with principles!”
On the possibility of the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Africa in exchange for normal relations with the United States, Fidel was categorical: “Cuba’s solidarity with the peoples of Africa is not negotiable!”
This ethical position of Fidel in a world characterized mostly by selfishness, chauvinism, narrow nationalism, and political opportunism remains one of the most important paradigms he bequeathed to humanity in the field of international relations.
Of course, U.S. Leaders, from their historical arithmetical behavior, could not understand or assimilate Cuba’s position.
Some, like Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, only saw a supposed Soviet demand as an explanation for Fidel’s decision to send thousands of men to fight in a continent as far away as Africa. However, as time went by, Kissinger himself had to admit in his memoirs that he had been wrong and point out that Fidel “(…) was perhaps the most genuine revolutionary leader in power at the time.”
From the second half of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s, there was no shortage of intelligence reports and analyses showing that Cuba was in Africa because of its internationalist idealism, willing to do so even without the backing of the USSR. “The Cubans are nobody’s puppet,” Robert Pastor, advisor for the Americas at the National Security Council, wrote to Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, on July 19, 1979. CIA analysts, for their part, noted that Fidel attached particular importance to maintaining a principled foreign policy. They wrote that Cuban policy was not without contradictions. Nevertheless, on matters of fundamental importance, such as Cuba’s right and duty to support nationalist revolutionary movements and friendly governments in the Third World, Fidel Castro made no concessions on principle for economic or political expediency.
However, the myth of Cuba as a satellite of the Soviet Union in Africa and other parts of the world was fed by the U.S. Government. The truth is that the active participation of the island in the struggles of the Third World was heresy not only for the United States but also for the USSR itself because although there were convergences in its visions, its way of understanding the world and the role of the socialist camp in it, also meant there were several divergences.
In Cuban foreign policy and in bilateral relations with the United States and Western capitalist countries, the Cuban leader contributed his capacity for tactical flexibility, dialogue, and the possibility of cooperation on the basis of mutual respect, but in matters of dignity and freedom, he was “prickly, like a hedgehog, and straight, like a pine tree.” Beyond the confrontation with the different governments of the United States, he always expressed his respect and solidarity with the U.S. people and succeeded in instilling those feelings in the Cuban people. Fidel was a convinced anti-imperialist, but never anti-U.S. people.
From the point of view of revolutionary praxis, Fidel’s first contribution to the world and to international relations was the Cuban Revolution itself. The Cuban process, totally autochthonous, constituted a turning point in the history of the continent. By immediately assuming a real and profound change in favor of social justice, the triumph and survival of the Revolution became an unacceptable example and a challenge for the hegemony of the United States in what it considered its “safe backyard”.
The idea that it was possible to break the chains of neocolonialism, that it was possible to free itself from the subordination and order established by the centers of power and try its own path, totally independent and sovereign, both domestically and in foreign policy, was also one of the greatest heresies of the 20th century on the international scene, especially considering the role destined for Cuba within the established world order, at the very gates of the leading power of the capitalist system. Fidel had to face and defeat not only the Washington-supported dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, but also the theories and supposed unobjectionable truths, which were based on the idea of geographical fatalism and the “historical impossibility” of a true Revolution on the island.
Cuba’s resistance and achievements in six decades of Revolution, in spite of the permanent hostility of the different governments of the United States, in their desperation to destroy the Cuban “bad example,” continues to be a breach of hope and inspiration for all those who struggle to change the existing “world disorder.”
Its legacies, both in ideas and revolutionary praxis, transcend the borders of the island. We can find him very strongly in Africa, “the most beautiful cause of humanity,” as he said. That is why, in July 1991, Nelson Mandela visited Havana and paid a heartfelt tribute to the colossal and beautiful Cuban epic of solidarity with the peoples of Africa: “We have come here, with the feeling of the great debt we have contracted with the people of Cuba. What other country has a history of greater altruism than Cuba has shown in its relations with Africa?” he said.
Also in Latin America and the Caribbean, the role of Fidel and Cuba has been very prominent in the bid for the birth of a new world, different and superior to the existing one. With advances and setbacks, the history of the continent will never be the same after the victorious passage of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution. The scratch in the stone of U.S domination remains open and its deepening is inexorable. After the Cuban triumph, the revolutionary struggles and experiences would multiply in the south of the continent, an example of this would be the one led by Salvador Allende in Chile, the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua in 1979 and, the arrival of Hugo Chavez to power in Venezuela in 1999, which made the redemptive flame reach an unusual strength.
The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) were part of the main integrationist creations and alternatives of that new era, without the presence and control of the United States, where there was also the notable contribution of the Commander in Chief, as before in the creation of the São Paulo Forum, the Network of Artists, Intellectuals and Social Movements in Defense of Humanity and in the defeat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), an initiative proposed by the U.S. government to strengthen its economic and political dominance in the region.
The same could be said of the significance of Fidel and the Cuban Revolution in the contemporary history of the Asian continent. In this regard, the relationship with Vietnam stands out, a country to which Fidel and the Cuban people provided assistance at crucial moments in its struggle for total liberation in the face of criminal U.S. aggression. Fidel Castro would be the first and only head of state to visit Quang Tri in September 1973, the liberated zone of the South, in the middle of the war. There, in a gesture of special symbolism, he raised the flag of the liberation front together with the Vietnamese combatants.
“And in the thoughts of Che and those who died gloriously with him in Bolivia, among their motivations, an important place was occupied by the feeling of solidarity towards the people of Vietnam. So when they died, they did not die only fighting for the freedom of the peoples of America: they also died, and they also shed their blood for the cause of the heroic people of Vietnam!” Fidel would express on June 3, 1969.
For friends and also for many of his adversaries, Fidel is remembered as one of the most outstanding world statesmen in history, often prophetic about global issues that, beyond ideologies and political systems, concern all of humanity, as passengers in the same boat.
“We are fighting for the most sacred rights of the poor countries,” Fidel emphasized. “But we are also fighting for the salvation of the First World, incapable of preserving the existence of the human species, of governing itself in the midst of its contradictions and selfish interests, much less of governing the world, whose direction should be democratic and shared; we are fighting – it can almost be mathematically demonstrated – to preserve life on our planet”.
In the framework of the United Nations, in the Non-Aligned Movement, Ibero-American Summits, and other meetings of international relevance, Fidel raised his voice to denounce or address issues such as peace; nuclear and arms disarmament; the capitalist and imperialist system, and the cultural colonialism it generates; the fight against inequality, discrimination, hunger, and misery; disrespect for international law and the United Nations Charter; the defense of the environment and the survival of the human species; human rights and their political manipulation; the defense of native peoples, their identities and cultures; the theft of brains; the unjust and unpayable foreign debt of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean; neoliberalism, as an expression of savage capitalism; the necessary integration of Latin America and the Caribbean; the defense of multilateralism and the need to democratize the United Nations system; among many others. His ideas on these topics are still valid today and have become banners of struggle, especially when we see the vertiginous aggravation of many of the problems that are endangering the very survival of the human species and to which, time and again, the Comandante called attention and called for an urgent change of civilizational paradigm, where the human being is truly placed at the center of all processes.
Undoubtedly, Fidel continues and will continue to live in every victory of the Cuban people, and in that rebellious and optimistic spirit that characterizes him when facing every obstacle. His ideas are not only a reference for Cuban revolutionaries, but also for those who struggle in any corner of the world.