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Tribute to Fidel Castro Ruz

When I received the invitation to participate in this act of tribute to the founder of the Cuban revolution, Commander-in-Chief, Fidel Castro Ruz, recently deceased…

When I received the invitation to participate in this act of tribute to the founder of the Cuban revolution, Commander-in-Chief, Fidel Castro Ruz, recently deceased in Havana, at the age of 90 years, I had no little doubt in accepting it.

I thank, on behalf of the Government and the people of Cuba, this generous recognition to who always had Africa in his heart and in his thoughts, and did so much for her.

Fidel, as we lovingly call him, and about who could not ever be possible to speak in past tense, considered any act of solidarity of Cuba with Africa in any circumstances as a humble way to retribute the historical debt of our country with this continent with its sons and daughters now our brothers and sisters, but long before part and parcel of our beloved ancestors.

Already in the first decades of the nineteenth century in a population hardly over 2 million inhabitants, more than 1 million were African slaves, cruelly uprooted from their countries and families and brought to the so-called Americas to be exploited without mercy.  They built most of what we have in our countries.  Actually, they built the wealth of our countries.

Much has been written about the horrors of slavery.

Not much about its impact on the development of the African nations. Much less was written about compensation.

It is quite common to speak about Africa’s economic backwardness in comparison with the highly developed North.

But look for the roots of that underdevelopment.  They are, without doubt, in the esclavization of their peoples for centuries and in the heinous exploitation of its natural resources, which, in one way or another, still persists.

I wanted to make these brief comments in order to situate in context the life and work of Fidel Castro, its impact in Cuba, Latin America, Africa and worldwide.

This will permit us better perceive his legacy. What was Cuba before January 1, 1959? I will take some excerpts from the books of history of Cuba. On May 20, 1902 Cuba had stopped being a Spanish colony only to turn into a neo-colony of the United States of America.

In 1898, after 30 years of heroic struggle, the Cuban liberation army had virtually defeated the Spanish colonial army.  Spain was not able to sustain the war from a military, economic or political point of view.  The colonial morale had collapsed faced with the determination of the independence fighters.

It was precisely at that moment in which the US government took advantage of the situation, taking as a pretext the explosion of the Maine ship to satisfy its old wishes of intervening in Cuba and materializing its dreams of annexing the Island.

Only with the support of the Cuban liberation army (MAMBI) could the objective of disembarking and defeating later the colonial army were possible.  On December 10, 1898, with the Paris treaty Spanish colonialism in Cuba officially ended.

The first injustice and offense to the dignity of the Cuban people was their exclusion from this negotiation.  The United States negotiated an independence that it had not won and Spain renounced to a right it had lost to the Cuban people. After the war, the US army and government maintained its occupation of Cuba. The Cuban government had its hands tied in terms of freedom.

On February 28, 1901, US Senator Orville H. Platt proposed an amendment to the Army Appropriation Act, which, once approved by his country had to be annexed to the Cuban constitution that would rule the new republic.  Or Cuba accepted the amendment or it would remain under military occupation.  That was the choice.

Another part of the Platt amendment gave the US the right to military intervention in Cuba under the false pretext of conserving the Island’s independence, maintain an adequate government, and protect lives, properties and independence.

Cuba was also forced to rent out services from the United States in order for Washington to maintain the independence and protect Cuba.

From this amendment the US Naval base in Guantanamo was born and still remains against the will of the Cuban people and is currently used as an international torture and crime centre by the government of the United States despite reiterated denunciations made at the highest international institutions. 

In one of his reflections, Fidel wrote:

“Cuba was forced to fight for its existence against an expansionist power located a few miles from its coasts, which proclaimed the annexation of our Island, whose only destiny was to fall into its bosom like ripe fruit. We were doomed to not exist as a nation.

“In the glorious legion of patriots that during the second half of the nineteenth century fought the abhorrent colonialism imposed by Spain over 300 years, Jose Marti was the one who most clearly perceived such a dramatic destiny.  This was stated in the last lines that he wrote when, on the eve of the rude combat planned against a well-armed and well-equipped Spanish column, he declared that the fundamental objective of his struggles was: ‘… to prevent on time with Cuba’s independence that the United States extend over the Antilles, and fall, with that increased force, upon our lands of America.  All that I have done to this day, and I will do, is for that’.”

I can go on and on to describe and prove that Cuba was not an independent country, but a neo-colonial territory under the aegis of our big and powerful neighbour.

In 1953, when Fidel Castro and his comrades attacked the Barracks Moncada, in Santiago de Cuba, and Carlos Manuel Decespedes, in Bayamo, both cities in the then Province of Oriente, the situation of the population, half a century after the proclamation of the pseudo republic, was like the leader of the revolution described in his famous allegation, “history will absolve me”, when he was tried. 

From that historical document I take these excerpts:

“Never has a lawyer had to practice his profession under such difficult conditions; never has such a number of overwhelming irregularities been committed against an accused man.  In this case, counsel and defendant are one and the same.  As attorney he had not even been able to take a look at the indictment.  As accused, for the past seventy-six days he has been locked away in solitary confinement, held totally and absolutely incommunicado, in violation of every human and legal right.

“He who speaks to you hates vanity with all his being nor are his temperament or frame of mind inclined towards courtroom poses on sensationalism of any kind.  If I had to assume my own defense before this court it is for two reasons.  First: because I have been denied legal aid almost entirely, and second: only one who has been so deeply wounded, who has seen his country so forsaken and its justice trampled so, can speak at a moment like this with words that spring from the blood of his heart and the truth of his very gut”.

Here is his description of the situation in Cuba by 1953:

“The problems concerning land, the problem of industrialization, the problem of housing, the problem of unemployment, the problem of education and the problem of the health of the people; these are the six problems we would take immediate steps to resolve, along with the restoration of public liberties and political democracy (…).

“88% of the small farmers in Cuba pay rent and live under the constant threat of being dispossessed from the land that they cultivate.  More than half the best-cultivated land belongs to foreigners.  In Oriente, the largest Province, the lands of the United Fruit Company and West Indian Company join the North coast to the southern one.  There are two hundred thousand peasant families who do not have a single acre of land to cultivate to provide food for their starving children.  On the other hand, nearly three hundred thousand Caballerias [1 Cabelleria equals 33.3 acres] of productive land owned by powerful interests remains uncultivated.

“With the exception of a few food, lumber and textile industries, Cuba continues to be a producer of raw materials.  We export sugar to import candy, we export hides to import shoes, we export iron to import plows.  Everybody agrees that the need to industrialize the country is urgent, that we need steel industries, paper and chemical industries; that we must improve cattle and grain products, the technique and the processing in our food industry, in order to balance the ruinous competition of the Europeans in cheese products, condensed milk, liquors and oil, and that of the Americans in canned goods; that we need merchant ships; that tourism should be an enormous source of revenue…

“Just as serious or even worse is the housing problem.  There are two hundred thousand huts and hovels; four hundred thousand families in the country and in the cities lived cramped into barracks and tenements without even the minimum sanitary requirements; two million two hundred thousand or four urban population pay rents which absorb between one fifth and one third of their income; and two million eight hundred thousand of our rural and suburban population lack electricity.

“Our educational system is perfectly compatible with the rest of our national situation.  Where the Guajiro [peasant] is not the owner of his land, what need is there for agricultural schools?  Where there are no industries what need is there for technical or industrial schools?  Everything falls within the same absurd logic: there is neither one thing nor the other.

“The little rural schools are attended by only half the school-age children-barefoot, half-naked and undernourished-and frequently the teacher must buy necessary materials from his own salary.

“Only death can liberate one from so much misery.  In this, however, -early death- the state is most helpful.  90% of rural children are consumed by parasites which filter through their bare feet from the earth.  Society is moved to compassion upon hearing of the kidnapping or murder of one child, but they are criminally indifferent to the mass murder of so many thousands of children who die every year from lack of facilities, agonizing with pain.  There innocent eyes-death already shining in them-seem to look into infinity as if entreating forgiveness for human selfishness, as if asking god to stay his wrath.

“When the head of a family works only four months a year, with what can he purchase clothing and medicine for his children?  They will grow up with rickets, with not a single good tooth in their mouths by the time they reach thirty; they will have heard ten million speeches and will finally die of misery and deception.  Public hospitals, which are always full, accept only patients recommended by some powerful politician who, in turn, demands the electoral votes of the unfortunate one and his family so that Cuban may continue forever the same or worse”.

Being a lecture delivered by  His Excellency Carlos E Trejo Sosa,   Ambassador of Cuba to Nigeria

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