¡Fidel Vive! A Cuban-American Activist Reflects on El Comandante
by José Pérez
I am a Cuban Muslim in Miami in mourning for Fidel Castro Ruz. And I have been wearing my black armband all week long.
I first learned the news of Castro’s transition to the realm of the ancestors from Cuban journalists who broke the story. I was shocked and saddened by the news of the inevitable fate that awaits us all.
I was born 10 years after the 26th of July Movement had succeeded in ousting Washington’s bloodthirsty and vile thug in Havana, Fulgencio Batista, and I’ve never known a day without Fidel being somewhere in my existence. I grew up in Miami, and I was programmed to hate Fidel and regard everything coming out of Cuba with scorn. Everything that came out of Cuba after our family left, of course.
This contempt persisted until I left Miami after the shameful circus that was Elian Gonzalez’ time in the United States.
Leaving Miami for the first time allowed me the chance to begin to question and investigate and really learn about Cuba, the revolution, and the living symbol and leader of that revolution: Fidel.
I learned that Cuba had erased illiteracy, which approached 40 percent in remote areas populated by peasants living in unthinkable poverty. I learned about the tens of thousands of medical school graduates and the medical teams that are still dispatched to disaster areas. Most recently, a delegation of doctors trained in Cuba announced that they were going to North Dakota to assist and stand in solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock. I learned that Cuba, my country, had the lowest infant mortality rate in the Americas.
The more I learned, the more I needed to go to my motherland to see things for myself as an adult. What I learned there was that everything that I had been taught about Cuba in Miami was a lie. There are no homeless people, no foreclosures, no one without medical coverage, no child without a school.
I also learned more about Cuban support of African liberation struggles in places like Guinea-Bissau, Algeria, Mozambique and, perhaps most famously, Angola.
On another visit home, I met two men who fought in Angola. Both were proud of what one said was a chance to help people win their freedom. That man, an elderly white man, spoke of his role in African liberation with a light in his eyes. It was evident that these gentlemen knew that they fought on the right side of history.
So it is with Fidel.
This is something that is not said enough: I am proud of Fidel Castro.
I am proud of the fact that my country—a small and underdeveloped West Indian nation—was instrumental in anti-colonial struggles of the Cold War era.
I am proud of the billboards in Cuba that read, “200 million children sleep in the streets—none are Cuban.”
Let me repeat this: There are no children sleeping on the streets of Cuba—nor are there Trayvon Martins, Sandra Blands, Tamir Rices, Philando Castiles or Freddie Grays. The sanctity of black lives and a deep commitment to making sure they are protected is a cornerstone of Castro’s Cuba.
In this regard, and in every regard not rooted in white-settler colonial capitalism, Cuba is doing better than the USA.
The Cuban Revolution was and remains a revolution for the world. And it is the height of irony and hypocrisy that white Cubans never express a care about African Americans, black history or issues that affect black people, but let an African American even mention Fidel Castro, and all of a sudden they want to teach black people about history.
Castro’s commitment not to privilege whiteness never wavered, and that is evident in the faces of those who carry the most animus toward him. These people either fail or refuse to understand that the Cuban Revolution was and remains a revolution for the world, not just Cuba—and especially not just for them.
El Comandante famously closed his defense argument during his trial in 1953 by insisting that history would absolve him. In many ways, it already has. For each error and tragedy that came out of the revolution, many more successes were realized. Because of this, more people around the world have received news of Fidel’s death with sadness than the relatively small number of ghoulish people in Miami who celebrate it.
Do not let mainstream media lie to you. History will look favorably upon Fidel Castro.
No one revolution is ever finished—except the failed ones. This is true of the Cuban Revolution. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it has not failed—despite the many attempts to cause just that or the lies that have been said about it. I agree with the late Trinidadian historian C.L.R. James, who argued in The Black Jacobins that the current revolution in Cuba is a continuation of the Haitian Revolution—that first mighty struggle to throw off the suffocating chains of colonialism for the improvement of life for all human beings.
What the Cuban people have been able to accomplish thus far says a lot of very special things about us and Fidel.
And I am very proud of that.
*originally published in The Root