On Saturday, August 13, the world will celebrate the 90th birthday of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro Ruz, the only individual ever to be acknowledged by the UN as a “World Hero of Solidarity.” It is very hard to think of a more important world leader than Fidel. The contribution he has made to the world socialist movement, to the Third World liberation struggle and to social justice has been monumental – especially when one considers that he has been the leader of a tiny country with roughly the same population as New York City.
At the current time, the Colombian government and leftist FARC guerillas are engaged in a peace process in Havana, and are very near to reaching a final peace accord, in large part due to Fidel’s efforts.
As Nelson Mandela himself has acknowledged, South Africa is free from apartheid in no small measure due to Fidel’s leadership in militarily aiding the liberation struggles in Southern Africa, especially in Angola and Namibia, against the South African military which was then being supported by the United States.
In addition, The Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Cuba, which trains doctors from all around the world, but particularly from poor countries, was Fidel’s brainchild. Today, 70 countries from around the world benefit from Cuba’s medical internationalism, including Haiti where Cuban doctors have been, according to The New York Times, at the forefront of the fight against cholera.
As we speak, Cuba has hundreds of doctors working in the slums of Caracas, Venezuela where Venezuelan doctors fear to tread. There are Cuban-trained doctors in remote parts of Honduras which are otherwise not served by the Honduran government. Patients from 26 Latin American & Caribbean countries have traveled to Cuba to have their eyesight restored by Cuban doctors. Among this list is Mario Teran, the Bolivian soldier who shot and killed Che Guevara. The Cubans not only forgave Mario, but also returned his eyesight to him. Cuba even offered to send 1,500 doctors to minister to the victims of the Hurricane Katrina, though this kind offer was rejected by the United States
As Piero Gleijeses, a professor at John Hopkins University, wrote in his book Conflicting Missions about Cuba’s outreach to Algeria shortly after the Cuban Revolution:
It was an unusual gesture: an underdeveloped country tendering free aid to another in even more dire straits. It was offered at a time when the exodus of doctors from Cuba following the revolution had forced the government to stretch its resources while launching its domestic programs to increase mass access to health care. ‘It was like a beggar offering his help, but we knew the Algerian people needed it even more than we did and that they deserved it,’ [Cuban Minister of Public Health] Machado Ventura remarked. It was an act of solidarity that brought no tangible benefit and came at real material cost.These words are just as true today as they were then, as this act of solidarity is repeated by Cuba over and over again throughout the world. And, it has been done even as Cuba has struggled to survive in the face of a 55-year embargo by the United States which has cost it billions of dollars in potential revenue, and even as it has endured numerous acts of terrorism by the United States and U.S.-supported mercenaries over the years.
Just recently, I was reminded of the fact that, for the past 25 years, Cuba has been treating 26,000 Ukrainian citizens affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident at its Tarara international medical center in Havana. Cuba has continued to do so, it must be emphasized, though even the potential for any help for this effort from the Soviet Union passed long ago.
According to Hugo Chavez, when he came to power in Venezuela in 1999, “the only light on the house at that time was Cuba,” meaning that Cuba was the only country in the region free of U.S. imperial domination. Thanks to the perseverance of Fidel and the Cuban people, now much of Latin America has been freed from the bonds of the U.S. Empire.
That Cuba not only stands 25 years after the collapse of the USSR, but indeed prospers and remains as a beacon to other countries, is a testament to Fidel’s revolutionary fervor and fortitude. Indeed, Fidel’s very life at this point – one that the U.S. has tried to extinguish on literally hundreds of occasions – itself constitutes an act of brave defiance against wealth, power and imperialist aggression. Incredibly, Fidel has survived 12 U.S. Presidents, a full quarter of all the U.S. Presidents since the founding of our nation.
I join the world in honoring Fidel Castro Ruz on his birthday, and hope that he continues to live and to lead for some time to come.
Daniel Kovalik lives in Pittsburgh and teaches International Human Rights Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.