Cape Town – There are many reasons for Cuba to commemorate Africa on May 25. Africa is part of the very essence of our homeland.
As a result of four centuries of cruel slave trade, almost 1300000 Africans came to our island. Their strong presence marked forever the history of our nation.
The dark bellies of slave ships brought to Cuba men, women, and children of more than 200 ethnic groups from ancient African cultures. They brought to our homeland African customs, tastes, beliefs and traditions forever marking the essence of our culture and contributing decisively to the formation of the Cuban nationality.
The African influence is evident in all the manifestations of our culture. Its presence is felt in the visual arts, in our music, dance, literature and musical instruments.
It has influenced the Spanish we speak, our food and religion. In short it is part of the Cuban way of being. “Cuba is a Latin African people,” said our historic leader Fidel Castro.
The deep relations between Cuba and Africa, and our presence in the continent, cannot be understood in its true magnitude, without full awareness of Africa’s contribution to Cuban-ness.
Cultural fusion found its maximum expression in our 19th-century independence struggles. Most of the troops of our liberating army and many of its leaders were of African descent.
In 1895, the Cuban insurgent forces numbered about 20500 men, the vast majority of African descendants, even though they were barely 30% of the country’s population.
Before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, official policies despised the continent that offered Cuba an enormous demographic and cultural contribution. Our only presence in Africa was a small and forgotten consulate in Egypt.
The dominant culture in pre-revolutionary Cuba, increasingly Americanised, relegated the image of Africa almost exclusively to the stereotypes that Tarzan films offered, and racial discrimination proliferated.
Beginning in 1959, the Cuban Revolution immediately began to redistribute national wealth and, consequently, to reshape social relations, including racial ones.
The programmes implemented in areas such as education, health, housing, employment, etc. would benefit, first of all, poor families, among whom the black population was over-represented, in relation to their demographic weight.
These efforts in internal policies would have their full correspondence with the external ones, especially in the uncompromising defence of sovereign equality between nations, international solidarity and support for national liberation movements throughout the world.
Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro emphasised the “moral debt” and the “duty of compensation” that Cubans have with Africa, by virtue of the crucial role of Africans and their descendants in the independence and revolutionary wars, as well as for their contribution to the construction of the Cuban nation.
That is why Fidel affirmed: “The fulfilment of solidarity obligations is not a virtue, it is a duty.”
Almost half-a-million Cubans fought in Africa against colonialism and for independence. More than 2200 of them lost their lives fighting in this continent.
It was not a coincidence that the 1975-1991 Cuban internationalist military mission in Angola was baptised “Carlota”. This was a tribute to a black Lucumí slave woman, who led two slave uprisings in the Cuban province of Matanzas, in 1843, and died fighting for her freedom.
Cuba has not fulfilled its debt to Africa yet and perhaps it might never be able to. However, we have shared our modest and sometimes insufficient resources and technical experience.
This was the case from the beginning of our revolution. We lost practically half of the 6000 doctors on the island in 1959. In 1963, Algeria became a newly independent African state and was suddenly abandoned by almost all the French specialised medical personnel. They requested and needed our help. Cuba did not hesitate to send a health brigade that provided its services free of charge.
In all these years, hundreds of thousands of Cuban collaborators have provided their services in Africa, in the sectors of health, education, construction, sports, agriculture and many others.
From 1961 to the present, tens of thousands of young people from the vast majority of African countries have graduated in Cuba. Continue reading