Cuba: The fabled islands of humanity -By Owei Lakemfa

Filed under: Global Issues |



THE Cuban flag has gone up in Washington DC. It had come down 54 years ago. The American flag is to go up in Havana on August 14. It had come down in 1961. Cuba had on July 20, packed about five hundred guests into its 16th  Street mansion Embassy to raise its flag. It  has two primary requests of its big brother neigbour; lift the 54-year embargo on Cuba, and get out of our Guantanamo Bay.

US Secretary of State, John Kerry is travelling to raise the American flag in Cuba armed with two primary messages for his hosts; improve your  human rights record and  democracy.

In 1973, then Cuban President, Fidel Castro had made a prophetic declaration that “The US will come to talk to us  when they have a black president and the world has a Latin American Pope”  Then, it seemed quite absurd; the Catholic Church got its popes from a pool of Italian priests just as the headship  of the Anglican  Church comes from the English clergy. A black president of the United States? That seemed a million light years away;  African Americans did not get the vote until August 9, 1965  when President Lyndon Johnson signed The Voting Rights Act. But thirty six years after Fidel made  his  prediction, America had a black president!  I am not sure Fidel believed what he said; perhaps it was a wish, but it came to pass. It was that black President, Barrack Obama, who pushed for a restoration of ties.

The road to the restoration  was opened on December 17, 2014 when Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro made an announcement of intent. Then both countries  sent back the respective spies they had imprisoned, and on July 1, 2015, America removed Cuba from its list of state  sponsors of terrorism.

The fifty four-year conflicts between tiny Cuba with a population of 11.2 million spread over 110,860 square kilometres and a GDP of $212 Billion, and mighty US with a 310 million  population occupying 9,629,091 square kilometres and a $17.710 Trillion GDP, is like David taking on Goliath.

The conflicts, which claimed  thousands of lives, and produced romantic international figures like Ernesto Che Guevera, Camilo Cienfuegos and Fidel Castro, were sometimes quixotic. They had begun with the March 10, 1952 coup by Colonel Fulgencio Batista which America backed. But   many Cubans were unhappy that the American mafia had turned their country into a prostitution and gambling haven. They regarded  the plotters as traitors and puppets.

Then on July 26, 1953, 150  armed  youths led by Fidel stormed the Moncada Barracks. They were crushed and the survivors callously tortured. One of them, Haydee Santamaria was kept in an adjourning cell to hear the wailing under torture of her brother, Abel, whose eyeball was removed and brought to her, and her fiancé Boris Santa Coloma, whose testicle was removed and presented to her.

The survivors were put on trial, and Fidel, a rookie lawyer, indicted the Batista regime for treason. In his famous allocutus, he told the Court “Sentence me, it does not matter. History will absolve me”     The news of the atrocities and trial, led to a ground swell of public demand that the youths be granted amnesty.

When they got amnesty, some  went into exile in Mexico,  regrouped, trained and rearmed before returning on  December 2,1956, in an old rickety yacht called the Granma. Their plan had leaked, and Batista soldiers were waiting for them; only twelve of the 82 revolutionaries survived that ambush. One of them was the young Argentine medical doctor, Che Guevera who had been shot in the chest and neck. Che on January 1, 1959, led the victorious rebel columns into Havana.
The new Government nationalised major  sections of the economy. This led to the clashes with the US.  The embargo  was not only on spare parts, transportation,  food and medicine. It also included active sabotage. Some 300 counter revolutionary groups with external support, bombed hotels, shops, commercial ships, ports and farms. Commercial aircraft were hijacked and flown to US where they were confiscated and destroyed. There was the October 1976 hijacking of a Cuban Airline  with 76  persons on board which was blown up over the sea.  Cuba alleged that the  swine  fever virus was  deliberately introduced into the country in 1971 in a container, while a decade later, Type II dengue fever virus was  introduced by the Florida-based Omega 7 group with  over 350,000 people infected and 158 killed.

Perhaps, the most bizarre  were the over 600  recorded attempts to assassinate Fidel. These included the use of cyanide pills and  poison. There was also the 1971 attempt in Chile where a television camera with a gun in it was pointed at him,  and an  attempted assassination  at the 2002 Latin American Summit in Panama.

On April 17, 1961, mercenaries trained and funded by the CIA backed with B-26 bombers invaded Cuba. At the battle of the Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron) Cuban soldiers personally led by Fidel, defeated the invaders within three days and captured 1,200 mercenaries. Rather than kill or imprison the mercenaries, Cuba  exchanged them with the US for $2 million cash, and $50 million in medical supplies and food for children.

As part of international solidarity, Che led some Cubans to fight along side Lumumbist rebels against the dictator, Mobutu Seseseko in Congo. While many African countries including Nigeria have benefitted from  doctors sent  by Cuba, that country’s biggest gift to Africa was to send thousands of troops in 1975 to fight Apartheid South African forces that were always invading Frontline African states  like Angola. It was the first time Apartheid was militarily defeated and its collapse became irreversible.

Cuba has one of the best social services in the world including free health and education, almost 100 percent literacy, right to employment  and the distinction as the only country that has eradicated  mother-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. Cuba emerged from international isolation, embargo, the  missile crisis, collapse of the Socialist countries, terrorism and world financial crises, stronger.  It makes sense for America to abandon its archaic policies  towards Cuba.