Buenas tardes damas y caballeros
It gives me great pleasure to be invited here tonight to commemorate and celebrate the Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution of January 1st 1959.
Unfortunately, most of what is portrayed of this historic event that so changed the political future of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, is orchestrated by the Western press. This jaundiced propaganda has worked to distort the reality of the problems in Cuba prior to the successful struggle for liberation and the subsequent gains for the nation of Cuba and its people following the said revolution.
It is not often mentioned in the Western Press that President Batista came to power twice – and both times through a coup. Interestingly, the United States recognized this dictator’s government on both occasions. Yet when Fidel Castro started to impose a new order of change to the excesses of the previous regime, the United States severed diplomatic relations and in April 1961 unleashed a disastrous and ineffectual attack by Cuban exile forces against the Castro government (the Bay of Pigs invasion).
What was Cuba like before New Year’s Day 1959?
There was social inequality; there was large income inequality; there was falling standard of living – especially amongst the masses; there was high unemployment; there was inequality in healthcare and education; in effect the masses were grossly neglected!
No street bore his name and there was not a single statue in his honour while he served his people, but Fidel Castro did not want or need that type of recognition. From tip to tip, he made Cuba his living, breathing creation.
The “maximum leader” was a workaholic micro-manager who turned the Caribbean island into an economic, political and social laboratory that has simultaneously intrigued and inspired the world. “When Fidel took power in 1959 few would have predicted that he would be able to so completely transform Cuban society, upend US priorities in Latin America and create a following of global proportions,” said Dan Erikson, an analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue thinktank and author of The Cuba Wars.
Thanks to universal and free education and healthcare, however, Cuba boasts first-world levels of literacy and life expectancy. The commandante made sure the state reached the poorest, a commitment denied to many slum-dwellers across many countries including the United States of America.
One can only imagine how much more could have been accomplished by Fidel and his Government, were it not for the illegal and cruel US trade embargo, a longstanding, vindictive stranglehold which cost the economy billions. What is most important in my mind is the fact that President Fidel Castro was able to share Cuba’s success with Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. The commitment to the masses of much of Africa went beyond the immense technical and medical and educational assistance.
When Africa was a battleground between the Cold War powers, Cuba emerged as a friend of liberation movements. Cuba’s involvement in Africa went beyond the ideological standoff between right and left to a real helping hand: sending soldiers, doctors and teachers when post-colonial Africa was perhaps at its most vulnerable. African activists found a leader willing to share flaming rhetoric as well as practical guidance to freedom at a time when Africans had few political allies. Those liberation leaders became the founding fathers of modern Africa and they will never forget Cuba’s help. It was perhaps Cuba’s willingness to fight side-by-side with Africans that made him such a towering figure on the continent. In 1975, as Angola gained independence from Portugal, it offered a safe haven to then liberation movements hunted in their own countries: the African National Congress, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union and Namibia’s South West African People’s Organization.
When the apartheid government, aided by the United States, attacked Angola, it was Castro who stood with the Africans. He sent 36,000 troops who succeeded in defeating the South African soldiers while also training the African fighters. Cuban troops remained in Africa until 1988, when an apartheid South Africa agreed to withdraw and grant independence to Namibia. Castro’s defiance of the United States was seen by African freedom fighters as defiance of imperialism and neo-colonialism.
Nelson Mandela once reportedly said that when he heard of the Cuban army’s victories in Angola, he was heartened by the idea of a non-white army out-maneuvering a white army. Upon his release, Castro was one of the first leaders Mandela met with, and dismissed criticism of his friendship with Castro.
“We are now being advised about Cuba by people who have supported the apartheid regime these last 40 years,” he said on a visit to Havana in 1991. “No honourable man or woman could ever accept advice from people who never cared for us at the most difficult times.” Castro’s commitment to Africa continued in post-liberation Africa. The country still trains African doctors, and continues to send doctors there. When Ebola ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, Cuba lead international aid efforts when other world powers spent much time merely talking.
In the Caribbean, Cuba also sent 1200 health workers to Haiti after the nation was hit with an earthquake in 2010. Most recently, more than 750 health workers arrived in Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, St. Lucia, the Bahamas, Dominica and Haiti, following the passage of several major hurricanes to the Caribbean – this in spite of the fact that Cuba itself suffered great damage through the passage of one of the said hurricanes.
Tonight I had to avail myself to attend this celebration. Our people all join with the people of Cuba in remembering and celebrating this anniversary. An anniversary that changed the world by the efforts and sacrifices of an ordinary man who achieved extraordinary accomplishments all in the interest of the disadvantaged masses. So that, even today the Government of the country that he led, for almost half a century continues to be a benefactor to Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Now in closing, I ask you to join me in toasting the government and people of Cuba for the successes achieved since the 1959 milestone which heralded a new beginning and which continues to benefit those peoples with little to hope for.
Larga via a la revolucion cubana!