Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (13 August 1926 – 25 November 2016)
(The New York Times)
This is the Cuba I saw in 1959 and 1960: Liberation
Fidel Castro speaks from a makeshift balcony draped with Cuban flags in Santa Clara en route to victorious entry into Havana. Photograph: Lee Lockwood/The Life Images Collection/Getty
Nelson Mandela, in 2001, thanking Castro for helping to end apartheid:
“From its earliest days, the Cuban revolution has been a source of inspiration for all those who value freedom. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of the vicious imperialist and orchestrated campaign to destroy the awesome force of the Cuban revolution. Long live the Cuban Revolution! Long live comrade Fidel Castro!”
Cuban military forces in Angola and Namibia (from 1975 to 1991) defeated the apartheid South African military (the SADF, at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988) whose invasions sought to prevent the national independence of these two former European colonies, and to occupy them. The success of these national liberation struggles, and the defeat of the SADF led directly to the instability and then collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa, the 1990 freeing of Nelson Mandela (imprisoned in 1962 based on a CIA tipoff), and the end of apartheid with the fully representative democratic election of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994.
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The U.S. supported the apartheid regime in South Africa during its 1966-1989 Border War with Angola, Namibia and Zambia (and Zimbabwe), and it allowed former US military officers to work as free-lance mercenary assassins for the South African Defense Force (SADF). Though it is technically illegal for US citizens to act as mercenaries and work as assassins for foreign governments, this technicality was conveniently ignored in those cases where the success of a “private business deal” was of political interest to the US State Department and the CIA (who “winked” and afterwards debriefed). Former members of the US military who had combat experience or superior training as members of elite commando-type units (e.g., Special Forces, Army Rangers) could earn enough to fund a very comfortable and immediate retirement, far beyond what was likely with any tenure in the US military, with just one or two undercover operations for the SADF. The American and European agents dispatching the targets described by Victoria Brittain (They Had To Die: Assassination Against Liberation, http://rac.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/48/1/60) were merely politically expendable labor (some were captured and executed), though well-trained thanks to earlier taxpayer investments. (see: John Stockwell – Chief of the CIA’s Angola Task Force during its 1975 covert operations – http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Stockwell/John_Stockwell.html)
South Africa lost its border war, so foreign troops (Cubans aiding, and South Africans invading) left Angola in 1988, Namibia gained its independence in 1989, and agitation in South Africa against the apartheid state swelled from 1990 till apartheid was overturned in 1994.
The Assassination Bureau
15 July 2009
Cuba Under Fidel Castro
by Benjamin Studebaker
[on: economic policy, governmental inflexibility and future prospects]
26 November 2016
I met Castro in 1960 (quite an experience).
I have been comparing my memories of significant events half a century ago to the commentaries, commemorations, and propaganda about them in present times.
In 2009, I recalled how incredible it was to experience the popular exultation in Cuba after the success of the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Freedom! I wish this for everyone on earth, always.
In 2010, I remembered how pleased we Catholics were that one of our own, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had been elected president despite the wide popularity in 1960 of that stalwart commie-chaser Richard M. Nixon. (The other zealous commie-hound, still popular to American public memory, was Robert F. Kennedy.)
In 2011, I recalled how my juvenile political consciousness began to darken because of the fact, not the failure, of the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961 and the Kennedy brothers’ crusade against Cuban communism. My president had sent an armada against the home of my grandparents. Could my family ever return to Cuba?
In 2012, I remembered our family living in terror through the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. At one point the question for us was: will Kennedy drop a nuclear bomb on grandma and grandpa in Havana before Khrushchev drops one on us in New York, or vice versa?
Overtones Of Awareness
9 September 2013
I recall visiting my grandparents in the city of Havana during a summer vacation in 1959. The colors, warmth, sounds and odors of Cuba were all rich, pungent and sensuous. Equally impressive to a boy growing up in New York City was the flagrant poverty of many Cuban people: adults with naked rented children huddled at street intersections begging from the passing tourists.
Fulgencio Batista was Cuba’s dictator, whose regime Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. characterized this way: “The corruption of the Government, the brutality of the police, the regime’s indifference to the needs of the people for education, medical care, housing, for social justice and economic justice … is an open invitation to revolution.” Bohemia magazine — the equivalent in Cuba of Life magazine in the U.S. at that time — would print pictures of revolutionaries shot dead during gunfights with Batista’s police, lying rumpled in pools of blood on the street. I only heard the adults talk Cuban politics back in New York, when I was taken to the upper west side of Manhattan, our old barrio, for haircuts at the Cuban barbershop below the elevated train along Broadway, and in the brownstone apartments of relatives and family friends during Sunday visits. Everybody was anxious, everybody wanted a free Cuba, everybody was thinking of Fidel.
Then, on the first of January 1959, Batista fled the island and Castro’s victorious army rolled into an ecstatically jubilant Havana on the 8th. We returned in June for a long summer vacation (and again in 1960). Even in the Cubana de Aviación four-engine turboprop one could sense the uplift, the exhilaration of the Cuban Revolution. But the full impact hit me when I exited the airplane and walked into the lush aromatic heat of a tropical country whose people were rapt with joy. The barbudos — the bearded ones — were everywhere. The barbudos were revolutionaries in pristine khakis, with gunbelts holstering highly polished and uniquely detailed pistols, some silver-colored, some gold-colored, some gun-metal blue, some with very long barrels, some with artistically engraved handles. Only the beards were shaggy, all other items from boot soles to cap crests were neat, shiny and crisp. At first I was a little nervous when a barbudo would climb onto a streetcar or bus and sit near me. But I soon got used to sitting next to gold-plated long-barrel Lugers, gleaming mirror-finish silvery Colt 45s, and robust Smith & Wesson 44 caliber six-shot revolvers. Sidearms were definitely the display items of identity.
During those summer vacations we travelled all over the island and saw many remnants of revolutionary struggle, one being a bullet-pocked hospital in the countryside, once the scene of a battle, now happily back in service. I even met Fidel at Isla de Pinos (now Isla de la Juventud). However materially poor some Cubans could be, especially campesinos, peasants in the hinterlands, they were all just so happy: believing themselves free, life despite its burdens was now a joy. Every person, every place, every moment exuded the same sense of uplift. I was immersed in a national sense of freedom, and it soaked into my psyche and bones. This experience permanently magnetized my political compass, so that regardless of verbal arguments and logical constructs in later years, my compass always points my sympathies toward freedom for any people.
Libya 2011: The Human Right to Political Freedom
3 May 2011
(a few minor chronological errors corrected in the above excerpt)
Lee Harvey Oswald, a disaffected American seeking glorious recognition as a leftist hero, acted as a freelancing James Bond (the world’s favorite fictional Tory) to impress the Dirección General de Inteligencia de Cuba (DGI, the Cuban intelligence service) by assassinating President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The DGI had been locked in a battle with the CIA to keep Fidel Castro from being assassinated, a project pushed hard by the Kennedy brothers, John and Robert. Lyndon Baines Johnson, John Kennedy’s successor, stopped the CIA’s Fidel assassination program shortly after taking office. The Soviet Russian intelligence service (KGB) had found Oswald too unstable to rely on as an agent, and happily let him return to America from his self-imposed exile in Russia (October 1959 to June 1962). The DGI had the difficulty of being a much less powerful organization situated far closer to its small nation’s overwhelmingly superior enemy. Thus, the DGI unlike the KGB might be willing to exploit the improvisations of a volunteer useful idiot. Oswald spent the last week of September 1963 in Mexico City, visiting the Cuban and Russian consulates seeking a visa to travel to Cuba, and as a consequence met DGI agents. The DGI was too professional to compromise itself by inducting a delusional American outcast into its ranks, but the DGI seems to have been either gutsy enough or desperate enough to allow Oswald to imagine he would be welcomed in Cuba should he accomplish something of significant value for the Cuban Revolution. Oswald returned to Dallas on October 14, 1963.
Fifty-Year Look Back 1963-2013
Part I: 1963-1968
18 November 2013
The unrelenting campaign by the Kennedy brothers to kill Castro (to have the specific person of Fidel Castro assassinated) and to topple the Cuban Revolution (the traditional anti-communist project stretching back to the Wilson Administration) made it logical and necessary that the Cuban communist government counterattack as a means of personal protection for Fidel Castro, and defense of the communist revolution in Cuba.
Lyndon Johnson came to realize (after he was told many of the facts in 1964, and recalling the 1963 assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, with US fingerprints) that the only way to stop this Godfather-type tit-for-tat presidential assassination madness was to shut down the CIA’s Castro project. Also, Johnson realized he had to suppress public knowledge of the US efforts to assassinate Castro because exposure of the Cuban link to the Kennedy assassination might cause a national uproar leading to war with Russia (the Cuban and Russian intelligence services had many intimate links, and while the Russians had passed up on using Oswald they had mentioned him to the Cubans, and followed developments).
So, the logical and amorally justifiable reason for John F. Kennedy’s assassination was kept from the public and out of the Warren Commission Report by the combined efforts of the Johnson Administration to avoid war with Russia (inevitable after a US invasion of Cuba), Robert Kennedy to keep the family name untarnished, and the Cuban and Russian governments to keep from being attacked.
However, the great wisdom Johnson acted on to end the presidential assassination spiral did not extend far enough to reverse official US hostility toward the Cuban Revolution. Since then, there has always been a seething desire for revenge against the Cubans for the “Kennedy hit.” This animus would find expression in the continuing allowance for Miami Cuban operations against Cuba and its people both on the island and elsewhere in Latin America, as well as in CIA sponsorship of terror and counterinsurgency schemes like the Bolivian operation that resulted in the killing of Che Guevara. Che died because of John and Robert Kennedy’s assassination sins, and for the Cuban DGI’s successful effort to shield Fidel Castro from them.
Cubans continue to suffer the US embargo (and many other forms of harassment) because the US governing elite is still unable to publicly admit its role in setting the conditions that rebounded as the “blowback” of the Kennedy assassination. So long as the U.S. maintains this sense of wounded pride, the Cuban people will be forced to suffer a revenge covering for a shameful denial.
Castro And The Kennedy Image After The Checkmate
23 April 2012
Cuba is a US concentration camp. Everyone there is being punished for failure to obey US Imperial authority. The United States enforces an economic blockage against Cuba that aims to starve and deprive (e.g., withhold medicines from) the population until they divorce their national allegiance to their own government and leaders, and give it over to the Imperial center in Washington D.C. The Cuban people have committed the crime of seeking to control the economic destiny of their island, and of applying the benefits of economic developments (say, the profits from tourist hotels, and rum and cigar production) to the improvement of social conditions. At one point in the 1980s (while income from the Soviet Union still came in), Cuba had the lowest rate of infant mortality in the Western Hemisphere (perhaps Canada beat it), and much lower than that of the U.S., this due to its universal health care system. The rate in the U.S. is higher because of the drug-related effects and general economic deprivation in the US minority population, in short because it is “more profitable” this way.
The US base at Guantánamo is a relic of a “treaty” between the U.S. and the Cuban Government the U.S. allowed to function after the Spanish-American War, in 1898, which granted a lease for the base for over a century. Guantánamo, like Hong Kong until recently, and Gibraltar today, is an example of imperialism in its purest form. The U.S. also acquired bases in the Philippines from the same war. Once the open warfare by the U.S. against the Castro regime began, the Cuban government shut off all water and electric power into the Guantánamo base, so the U.S. has to generate its own supplies. Cuba lacks the muscle to push the U.S. out, and it is constrained by the “legality” of the lease agreement for the base. There is no doubt that Cuba would wish to regain full sovereignty of its Guantánamo territory as soon as possible. Castro is a native of Guantánamo Province.
The departure of the U.S. from Guantánamo would be a bigger event in world affairs than even the departure of Britain from Hong Kong. Why? Because it would be a reversal of the imperialist grasp by the world’s superpower of a territorial possession in one of its most persistently disobedient and recalcitrant irritants, and a weak, minor Latin American nation to boot. There would be jubilation in the entire Spanish speaking world. The humiliation of so many Yankee imperialist abuses, from the Mexican border (near Oregon in 1845) to Tierra del Fuego, would have found one symbolic victory as a retort. So, I don’t expect the U.S. to leave, if it feels it can bully international attention into “distracting itself” from the issue. It is precisely to keep the message alive throughout Latin America that the U.S. is the master of the Western Hemisphere, that it will do all in its power to keep Guantánamo securely under its thumb.
Today the U.S. runs a concentration camp of colonial captives, who resisted the Imperial forces, and who made war against the United States. From the Washington D.C. perspective, keeping these individuals at Guantánamo makes sense, they are in the “high security” wing of a colonial prison island. These prisoners are close enough to be easily reached for interrogation, and yet sufficiently distant to be out of sight from polite society, like a garbage dump at the edge of town. Because the U.S. is a single-ideology two-party state, it is unlikely that any sufficiently drastic change will occur soon in US foreign policy to affect the continuation of the US Guantánamo presence. It is simply the case that the people of the United States are not overwhelmingly anti-imperialist. While the situation is somewhat like eating sausages, in that people who do usually prefer not to see how they are made, most Americans seem willing to accept some slight unpleasantness creeping into their consciousness in exchange for a maintenance of the “American way of life.”
3 November 2003
For a sense of Cubanismo (a Cuban sense of life), explore the many pages on this blog that combine the “Cuba” and “music” themes.