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NAJEE’S NOTES: Fidel Castro was a friend to Africa

Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary and former political leader who governed the Republic of Cuba for 47 years as prime minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as president from 1976 to 2006, died last week.

While I don’t agree with all that Castro did, his death for me was not a happy moment. I look at the total picture of what his life and leadership accomplished.

There is a reason why he is vilified in the U.S. and yet remains a huge hero throughout the Third World. Castro’s legacy outside the United States is important.

Castro fought against U.S. imperialism for more than 50 years, instituting the best health care, child immunization and literacy systems in the Western Hemisphere (surpassing the U.S. and Canada), exporting doctors to countries in need all over the globe (the Bush administration turned down his offer to send medical teams to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina), and he was an unrepentant advocate of the poor. It is no surprise that millions mourned his passing.

Castro helped create one of the highest literacy rates in his country because the country invested more in its educational system than they do in their prison system, which we do not do in United States even though we’re fully capable of doing that. Castro was viewed as a hero who stood up to the United States and assisted Marxist guerrillas and revolutionary governments around the world.

Cuba’s involvement in Africa started with its support of Algeria’s liberation struggle against France, then moved to the Congo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 1964, Castro sent his personal emissary, Che Guevara, on a three-month visit to a number of African countries.

In the 1970s, Castro sent Cuban troops to Angola to support a left-wing government over the initial objections of Russia. Castro also provided military training and other forms of assistance to South Africans.

From the moment Angola achieved independence in 1974, the military might of the apartheid South African state was turned to overthrowing the Angolan government. Angola survived in large part because Cuba sent its soldiers to give their lives for the freedom of the people of Angola, Namibia and South Africa.

In the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola, which lasted from 1987 to 1988 and was one of the largest battles on African soil, Castro committed thousands of elite Cuban troops to fight for freedom.

That battle demolished the apartheid regime’s military ambitions and paved the way for the peace accord mediated by the United States and signed in 1988. It’s now widely recognized as a major turning point in the fight against the racist regime that controlled South Africa at that time.

The Cubans defeated a U.S.-supported proxy force of the South African apartheid army and Angolan “rebels.” These instances were the first times South Africa’s army was defeated, a humbling experience that the apartheid regime’s white generals still, in retirement, find hard to believe.

It also led to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Angola and the independence of Namibia. The agreement also led to the closing of the African National Congress camps in Angola — a development that ultimately helped bring the apartheid regime and the liberation forces headed by the ANC to negotiate South Africa’s transition from white minority rule to democracy.

Black South Africans understood the significance of those defeats. The black South African newspaper the World wrote about the battles: “Black Africa is riding the crest of a wave generated by the Cuban victory in Angola.“

Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned at the time writing from his jail cell at Robben Island, wrote: “It was the first time that a country had come from another continent not to take something away, but to help Africans to achieve their freedom.”

Castro’s policy in Africa was far more progressive and humane than France, England and the United States. Castro was offering critical support for the African National Congress at the same time that Dick Cheney was openly supporting apartheid. It was a sincere and true love affair between Castro and the people of Cuba and Mandela and the freedom fighters of South Africa.

Mandela, in notes for what was intended to be a sequel to his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” wrote: “Men and women, all over the world, right down the centuries, come and go. Some leave nothing behind, not even their names. It would seem they never existed at all. The world will always know that there once was a man named Fidel Castro. Africans will never forget him. “

His unshakable anti-colonial and anti-apartheid beliefs guarantee a revered place for him in the hearts of South Africans. After Mandela was freed from prison in 1990, he even went to Cuba to thank Castro himself.

Castro wasn’t a saint, as some on social media have pointed out to me, but his incredible friendships and support for black activists that included Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Minister Louis Farrakhan and Assata Shakur, who has lived in exile in Cuba since 1979; as well as his support for African peoples against colonialist and racist regimes seeking to oppress them is a very important part of Castro’s legacy and for that he deserves a great deal of credit.

Community Calendar: More good news from Los Angeles City Hall and Kimberley Baker Guillemet, who is the manager of Mayor Garcetti’s Office of Reentry. If you have a past criminal history and you are looking for a job, please attend the city’s first ever “Fair Chance Hiring Fair.”

This special job fair will be held at L.A. Trade Tech College, 400 W. Washington Blvd., Dec. 2, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Arrive at 8 a.m. for registration and pre-screening.

After a pre-screening interview, selected attendees will have job interviews with employers representing the following industries: government, transportation, service, insurance, culinary arts, administrative & clerical, security, engineering, technology and more!

All attendees will be provided with job prep resources. Make sure to bring your resume and list of references and be interview ready.

For questions: email mayor.reentry@lacity.org or call (213) 978-0741.

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