Last Saturday, the world woke up to the news of the death of leader of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz. The world has indeed lost a great hero and beacon of the struggle for true independence from the forces of oppression and neo-colonialism. As Prime Minister, President, Commander of the Cuban Armed Forces and First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, his role at the helm of Cuba spanned nearly 50 years during which he left a major imprint on his country and on global politics. Castro was a towering international figure whose importance in the 20th century far exceeded what might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people. In death, as he did in life, the fiery apostle of revolution who defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader continues to divide opinion. On the screens, we saw some mourning the charismatic leader who started his revolution with a small band of people in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, eventually leading to the overthrow of the Batista government. Yet, others have been celebrating his demise. His critics accused him of recklessly taking the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, and also depriving millions of Cubans of their lives and liberties. US President elect, Donald Trump described him as a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.
But former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan and his successor Ban Ki-Moon, US President Barack Obama and many more world leaders paid glowing tributes to him. For us in Africa, Castro was a hero par excellence. His unwavering support for the freedom of South Africa and his stance against the apartheid regime will ensure that his name is recorded in the history books as one of the foremost international supporters of Africa's liberation struggle. His popularity in South Africa is therefore undeniable. No wonder, he received the loudest applause from the audience at the Union Buildings in 1994, as Mandela was sworn in as President. Ghana and many other developing countries still continue to benefit from the generosity of Cuba. Hundreds of Ghanaians receive different kinds of training in Cuba and thousands of Cuban doctors have served and continue to serve in the most deprived communities of our country.
During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Cuba was able to marshal the best medical resources in solidarity with Africa. Fidel will be remembered for his leadership of the Cuban revolution and for advances in Cuba in the fields of education, literacy and health. His government implemented social policies which have continued to bestow the benefits of the best social services for all Cubans. He demonstrated to the world that sovereign equality is a paramount idea that must prevail at all times, regardless of a nation’s size, economic or military muscle, or its relationship with the hegemon of the day. He steadfastly defended Cuba and its revolution for decades, and personally survived innumerable threats to his life. His love for the people of Cuba was selfless and unshakable. His devotion to the idea of freedom and sovereignty of all peoples and all nations spoke through his actions and solidarity. It is to be learnt from this icon that no price is too dear for freedom, shared prosperity and the best interests of all people. Arguably the greatest hero of the 20th Century, Fidel joined forces with like-minded legends including Che Guevara and his younger brother and now President, Raul Castro, to create a new resilient Cuban society that withstood decades of economic embargo and blatant aggression by the United States and its allies. Under his leadership and despite the economic hardships imposed upon his country, Cuba was able to build educational and healthcare systems that outperformed those of the so-called advanced countries and to make Cuba a star in arts and in sports.
We bid goodbye to a great man who led by example, stood firm and loved liberty in thought, word and deed. We are now left with his legacy and an obligation to continue the struggle for the economic liberation of the South, reform of international governance to reflect our diversity and sovereign aspirations, and an end to exclusion and marginalization of nations and peoples. In the fullness of time, the world will get to understand him for as he stated himself long ago, history will absolve him. Fare thee well Comandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz.