In the few days since the death of Comrade Fidel Castro Ruz, the international commercial media has chosen to sensationalise his life and to provide an “open mike” for those who would demonise him, without reporting honestly on the extraordinary contribution of this great revolutionary and of the Cuban people to humankind.
This has caused me to think about Fidel and Cuba’s immortal legacy of solidarity, and what it means for Namibia, for Africa and for the peoples of the world today.
Fidel and his comrades who led the revolutionary struggle in Cuba in the 1960’s believed that the Cuban people could free themselves from the evils of poverty, greed, ignorance, inequality, racism, injustice and exploitation. They were driven by the powerful value of human solidarity: that the people must work together and sacrifice together to develop themselves and to improve the lives of all, rather than to benefit only the rich and powerful few. They organised their people block by block and town by town into committees to ensure that no one would be left out of the transformation process.
They worked to provide universal healthcare, starting with the children, and to ensure free education for all. Some of the achievements of the Cuban revolution are well known: the high percentage of university graduates; the large number of medical doctors and specialists; the resulting high standards of free education and free medical care; the high life expectancy (almost 80 years); the first country to end mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS; world-class cultural institutions and promotion of arts and culture; and important innovations in the fields of science, medicine and technology.
Another equally important value of the Cuban Revolution is the right of every people to decide its own destiny, free from outside control or interference. Cuba chose socialist development as the best way to benefit its people.
Cuba’s commitment to human solidarity and to the sovereignty and dignity of peoples led naturally to its international solidarity with peoples who were struggling against colonialism, oppression, apartheid and poverty.
As Comrade Fidel aptly stated “… our country is not just Cuba; our country is also humanity.” We will never forget the hundreds of thousands of Cuban citizens who participated in the struggles of their African brothers and sisters for independence from colonial domination and against apartheid. It is beyond doubt that the presence of the heroic Cuban forces, fighting and sacrificing alongside of Swapo against the South African army in Angola, was decisive in achieving our independence. Cuba also gave refuge to the hundreds of Namibian children who were victims of the South African army at Cassinga. Cuba raised, nurtured and educated them in their own school and in Cuban universities, which prepared them for their current roles in Namibian nation-building.
Over the past five decades, Cuban international solidarity has set an example for humanity. Tens of thousands of Cuban doctors have worked or are presently working in underserved developing countries. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Cuban doctors have worked in Namibia since independence, along with other experts, when needed.
Brigades of Cuban volunteer doctors have helped in countries hit by natural disasters, such as Haiti, Ecuador and Pakistan. A 450-member Cuban volunteer medical brigade, selected from 15,000 applicants, went to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to battle the Ebola outbreak. Cuba has also provided medical and other professional tertiary education to countless tens or hundreds of thousands of students from the developing world, including Namibia.
Cuba’s unwavering commitment to international solidarity was inspired and nurtured by Comrade Fidel. He was convinced that a better world is possible. He believed that this could be achieved through the battle of ideas, rather than through war and exploitation. He devoted his talents to leading the non-aligned countries to advocate a new economic and social order, and championed the cause of the countries of Latin America that were enslaved by international debt. As a leader and a teacher, he inculcated in successive generations of Cubans a love for humankind and collective adherence to values of equality, unity, selflessness, morality, ethical conduct, honesty and national pride.
I observed that whenever I met Cuban internationalists in Angola, Namibia or other countries, I saw the qualities of Fidel in almost every one of them.
By insisting on their own path to development and for their independent stances on international issues, the Cuban people have paid a heavy price. In 1960, the government of the United States, Cuba’s neighbour, declared an unprecedented economic embargo against Cuba, which intensified over the years, in order to strangle Cuba’s development. This embargo, known also as the blockade, not only prevents US companies from doing business with Cuba, but prohibits companies from other countries that trade with Cuba to trade with the US. The embargo continues today.
This has effectively prevented Cuba from developing its economy in a normal way, and has caused hardship in the daily lives of Cubans because of shortages, lack of equipment, parts and medicine. Despite repeated virtually unanimous resolutions of the United Nations (excepting the United States and Israel) demanding an end to the embargo, the embargo remains part of United States law and would have to be repealed by the Republican-controlled United States Congress. Therefore Cuba needs Namibia’s solidarity more than ever to bring an end to the embargo.
Finally, I urge my fellow Namibians to consider what we can learn from the morality and selfless human solidarity and international solidarity of the people of Cuba. We as a nation are the beneficiaries of solidarity. Let us work together in the spirit of Fidel and in the spirit of Harambee, to demonstrate that “Namibia is not just a country, but we are humanity” and that a better Namibia and a better world is possible.
Andimba Toivo ya Toivo
President of the Namibia-Cuba Friendship Association