Obi Egbuna Jnr Simunye
From the moment a neo-colonialist military dictator named Fulengcio Batista informed his most loyal supporters, who made up the crux of their nation’s aristocracy and ruling class, that he was conceding victory to a group of guerilla fighters that went by the name of July 26th Movement, Cuba became in the eyes of oppressed and exploited peoples of the world over, not only a paragon of virtue, but a must-see attraction for individuals whose political beliefs ranged from the far left to the far right on our planet’s existing ideological spectrum.
For many years the proverb curiosity killed the cat has been used by governments to circumvent human beings’ natural desire to investigate and experiment with ideas that have officially been declared forbidden to them.
It is for this reason former US president John F. Kennedy stated that the most dangerous aspect of the Cuban Revolution was not its ability to sustain itself, but that it would serve as an inspiration to others throughout the Western hemisphere who lived under the same conditions that made Cuba ripe for revolution that would bring about the fundamental changes they truly deserved.
Africans at home and abroad must remember two months before Commandante Fidel Castro’s historic visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly in September of 1960, a delegation of so-called African American writers led by Amiri Baraka, Robert Williams, Julian Mayfield, John Henrik Clarke, Sarah Wright and Harold Cruse visited Cuba on the first anniversary of the revolution, in which the highlight was a journey from Havana to the Sierra Maestre.
The decision to have visitors walk up the mountains where a group of disciplined patriotic guerilla fighters, ranging from 80 to 200, endured these gruelling conditions to achieve the most ground-breaking political victory in the Caribbean since the Haitian Revolution in 1804, was a bold and pragmatic move that planted seeds in the minds of guests who understood the might of the US imperialist propaganda apparatus all too well.
Thanks to an article entitled “African American and Cuba’s First Experiment in Tourism: The Joe Louis Commission in Post-Revolutionary Cuba” written by University of California-Riverside historian Ralph Crowder, Africans everywhere had the opportunity to learn that the former heavyweight champion led a delegation of 71 journalists, that were a who’s who of the National Newspaper Publishers’ Association (NNPA), which is the umbrella organisation for so-called African American newspapers.
The most noted members were John Sengstacke, publisher and general editor of the Chicago Daily Defender and co-founder of the NNPA; attorney Loren Miller, editor and legal counsel of the California Eagle; Carl Murphy, editor and publisher of the Baltimore Afro-American.
Also along for the ride were representatives from Johnson Publications, who owned Ebony and Jet Magazine, The Philadelphia Tribune, Ohio Sentinel, Pittsburgh Courier, New Orleans Weekly, Los Angeles Sentinel, Cleveland Call Post, True Magazine and New York Amsterdam News.
What resulted from this trip was the Joe Louis Commission-negotiated series of contracts to the tune of $282 000 that would promote so-called African American tourism to Cuba using the NNPA as a backdrop.
Louis followed up his visit by officially registering as a paid agent of the US Justice Department when he returned to the United States.
The article also noted Louis and his New York City-based adverstising firm Rowe, Louis, Fischer and Lockhart Inc received a 15 percent commission for organising the trip. Through this firm, Louis was contacted directly by Commandante Fidel Castro, a huge boxing fan, in the spring of 1959 to make this business trip a reality.
For anyone who doubted the strategic brilliance of Commandante Fidel Castro, let this serve as a lesson to each and all of you.
It was the pan-African giant Ahmed Seku Ture who said the job of a revolutionary is to make even reactionaries work for the revolution, who coincidentally happens to be the only other revolutionary figure besides the Father of the Cuban Revolution, Jose Marti, that the Commandante ever referred to as an apostle.
It is a known fact that Louis had no involvement in the civil/human rights movement inside US borders, and blindly followed the lead of his contemporary and fellow US soldier, baseball icon Jackie Robinson in condemning Muhammad Ali for refusing to join the US military and serve as a human billboard to encourage our people to fight for a US-French imperialist regime change in Vietnam.
The irony is that when Commandante Fidel and his delegation made their way to the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where they were received with the warmest of welcomes, it was none other than Jackie Robinson who was there to let it be known that the Commandante should not be treated as a hero or liberator of his country and people.
What stemmed from the historic delegation of handpicked writers who visited Cuba on the heels of the Joe Louis delegation was an ideological divide that exists up until today.
On the one hand, Amiri Baraka penned arguably his best essay entitled “Cuba Libre, Robert Williams” during his exile spearheaded Radio Havana.
The following year one of our finest protest journalists, William Worthy, with the help of Julian Mayfield, had a statement of solidarity published in the Afro-American newspaper letting it known that standing with the Cuban Revolution was our historical obligation, plain and simple.
Representing the right wing side of the spectrum on the question of Cuba, Harold Cruse, best known for his book “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual”, where on pages 374-75 promoted an opportunist reactionary named Carlos Moore who he coined a young Cuban Negro patriot and his document entitled “Have Black People a Place in the Cuban Revolution?”
Moore later wrote “Castro, The Blacks and Africa” in 1989 and 19 years later “Pichon a Memoir Race and Revolution in Castro’s Cuba” with a foreword by Maya Angelou.
While Moore’s analysis is nothing to write home about, his best attribute is convincing civil/human rights icons like Ambassador Andrew Young and Dr Angelou that attacking the remains of racism, which are carry-overs from colonialism and slavery, takes precedence over fighting to lift the blockade.
Ambassador Young helped Moore secure money from the Ford Foundation to publish his first book and Dr Angelou’s foreword definitely helped with sales for the second book.
It appears Dr Angelou forgot that Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah was the first world leader to support the Cuban Revolution. However, the Maya Angelou that lived studied and struggled in Ghana during Nkrumah’s administration is not the same person who validated the counter-revolutionary assertions of Mr Moore.
We can only hope so-called African Americans who are travelling to Cuba primarily for superficial reasons, grasp and share this crucial history, while they are puffing on their Cuban cigars and sipping on their mojitos or rum and coke.
Unfortunately, this demographic has been led to believe that the high- profile field trip by former US president Barack Obama to Cuba, which only resulted in the loosening of the blockade, signalled a new era in US-Cuban relations.
In actuality it bought US imperialism sometime in avoiding the inevitable of lifting the monstrous blockade once and for all.
One can only imagine our ancestors and fallen comrades considering the loosening of slave chains and handcuffs around our wrists and nooses around the necks of lynching victims a step towards true progress.
This explains why someone like Dr Umar Johnson, who calls himself the Prince of Pan Africanism, feels comfortable going on a show like the Breakfast Club and calling Commandante Fidel a racist instead of joining his contemporaries in the fight to lift the US blockade on Cuba.
Who could blame President Mugabe and Venezuela’s President Commandate Nicholas Maduro if they question what Africans in the US who proclaim undying loyalty to Cuba are willing to do to get sanctions on Zimbabwe and Venezuela lifted. The fact is nearly 60 years later the blockade remains firmly intact.
We thank Ambassador German Sanchez, the Cuban Ambassador to Venezuela, for his masterpiece of a pamphlet “Barrio Adentro Other Social Missions In the Bolivarian Revolution”, which brilliantly chronicles Cuba’s role in assisting with Missions Robinson, Sucre, Ribas, Barrio Adentro and MERCAL from 2003-2004.
If they travelled to Zimbabwe and Venezuela just for photo-ops with President Mugabe, the late Commandante Hugo Chavez and now Comrade and President Maduro just like they did with Commndante Fidel, perhaps they should stay put in Babylon where their loyalties truly lie.
- Obi Egbuna Jnr is the US correspondent to The Herald and External Relations Officer of the Zimbabwe Cuba Friendship Association (ZICUFA). His email is [email protected]