By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
I have read a few of the expectedly slew of pabulum fare of news features and articles parading as tributes to the legendary and, some will say, immortalized President Fidel Castro (1926-2016) who transitioned into history and the ages, as President Barack H. Obama would say, on Friday, November 25 and predictably found them to be nauseatingly bland, if also because nearly every one of them was one-sided and morbidly self-interested.
In the end, one got the wistful impression that the joke was on Cuban natives and nationals, the ones whose hard-earned human and material resources had been so generously and liberally expended, and at whose expense, for good or bad, Mr. Castro’s yeomanly African policy of total continental liberation and collective African self-rule had been so effectively executed, for the most part.
But I also found it rather contemptuously amusing that some prominent Western political figures, among them U.S. President-Elect Donald J. Trump, the man who has spent most of his brief political career promoting Aryan Supremacy, including viciously sustained attempts to oust and proscribe the indisputable American citizenship of President Obama, would cavalierly presume to off-handedly dismiss Mr. Castro as a mean-spirited dictator without any redeeming features whatsoever.
In the main, though, it was the objectively balanced review and measured celebration of Castro’s life authored by Sean Jacobs, an associate professor of International Affairs at the New York City-based New School University – my alma mater, partially speaking – that most piqued my interest. Mr. Jacobs is a South African national, and my focus here is on tributes written by English-speaking people of African nationality, irrespective of race or ethnicity.
At any rate, what fascinated me about Prof. Jacobs’ tribute was the fact that the author was careful to underscore the fact that his perspective was “Afrocentric,” not that, somehow, the subject’s indisputably global stature and admiration would have been somewhat diminished had the firebrand Cuban Communist not planted some 400,000 Cuban troops in the apocalyptic Western imperialist-fangled cauldrons of Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo (aka Congo-Kinshasa) and Angola.
I may have left out one or two other Armageddonian spots on the proverbial primeval continent. In all, approximately between 10,000 and 20,000 Cuban troops are estimated to have been killed in the noble process of expeditiously facilitating the total decolonization of the African continent.
Prof. Jacobs, in his Guardian (UK Edition) newspaper article, also noted the fact that Cuba’s significant history of having approximately 62-percent of its population of just over 11 million people having had their ancestors forcibly uprooted from Western and Central Africa (one Ghanaian veteran journalist, who also proudly claims to have personally met President Castro, actually had the temerity to note that Cuba’s African-descended population was a piddling 10-percent), may very well have significantly informed that country’s radical African decolonization policy agenda.
But, of course, inside Cuba itself, the seemingly intractable problem of racism within the upper echelons of the country’s administrative hierarchy is scarcely lost sight of (See Jonathan Watts’ “Fidel Castro’s Last Journey Maps Story of Leader’s Triumphs and Shortcomings” Guardian [UK Edition] 12/2/16).
It is a problem to which, we are informed by some Afro-Cubans on the ground, much more than has been achieved, so far, by the September revolutionaries ought to have been achieved. But, of course, we also need to imperatively recognize the fact that the profile of every great leader is never wholly saccharine or without its own fair share of imperfections.
Which is why on July 26, 1991, when the equally immortalized President Nelson R. Mandela, arriving for an official visit to Cuba at Havana Airport pontifically declared that “The Cuban people have a special place in the hearts of the peoples of Africa,” the spearhead of the modern South African liberation movement could not be contradicted. The leader of the African National Congress (ANC) would further add, “Fidel Castro is a great source of inspiration to all freedom-loving peoples.”
For me, personally, though, the one giant figure deafeningly present at the funeral of Fidel Castro, if also because he was conspicuously absent, was General Arnaldo T. Ochoa (1930-1989), the man who commanded the Cuban forces in Angola in that globally celebrated landmark firefight that became known as the Battle of Cuito-Cuanavale (1988-9).
It was this decisive battle that forced a badly routed but hitherto intransigent Apartheid South Africa-sponsored South African Defense Forces (SADF) to rapidly and effectively withdraw from Angola, where they had been playing Western-proxy during the Cold War, and subsequently from Namibia, the expiration of whose United Nations suzerainty mandate the racist South African regime had flatly refused to accept.
It was the Battle of Cuito-Cuanavale which, in retrospect, guaranteed that a fast-aging Nelson Mandela would also not experience the brutal fate of firebrand anti-Apartheid liberation fighters like Messrs. Stephen Bantu Biko and Robert Sobukwe.
At the time of his unusually hurried prosecution and expeditious execution by firing squad, for what has been widely alleged to have been trumped up charged of drug-running and diamond smuggling, General Ochoa, who had played a major role in the Sierra Maestra Battlle against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, the great darling of Washington, had just been promoted to the third most powerful position in the country, after the brothers Fidel and Raul Castro, as head of all military installations in the Havana region (Wikipedia.org).
And so as we mournfully celebrate the passing of President Fidel Castro, I also choose to celebrate and mourn the at once brutal, tragic and unconscionable execution of General Ochoa who, as already hinted at the beginning of this column, was no less human and fallible than General Fidel Castro. May history equally adjudge and acquit both Generals Castro and Ochoa.