Fidel pointed out that blacks in Cubathose who had been taken from Africa and enslaved to perform work whites didnt dare do in this torrid, tropical climatehad supported the revolution, overwhelmingly. The abolition of slavery in Cuba in the latter half of the nineteenth century had been completely intertwined with the struggle against Spanish colonial rule, with blacks serving at all levels in the Cuban Liberation Army (right up to General Antonio Maceo). Nonetheless, under the nominally independent, U.S.-dominated pseudo republic, as it was popularly known in Cuba, blacks had continued to be targets of discrimination, and sometimes outright terror, because of the color of their skin.
In stark contrast, the new revolutionary government, starting in January 1959, actively combated racist discrimination. It did so not only through decrees and legislation, but above all through speedy and vigorous enforcement by militias in any store, on any beach, at any social event, at any job interview, or anywhere else blacks or mestizos were denied equal treatment or access. Any and all distinctions based on race were erased in our constitution and rightly so, Fidel said.
That the government and party in Cuba sought to be colorblind in how they functioned, however, was not enough by itself to overcome the historic legacy of chattel slavery and racist discrimination, Fidel said. Thats what experience over more than a quarter century in revolutionary Cuba had shown. We cant leave it to chance to correct historical injustices, Fidel told the congress delegates. To really establish total equality takes more than simply declaring it in law. It has to be promoted in the mass organizations, in the youth organization, in the party . [W]e cant leave the promotion of women, blacks, and mestizos to chance. It has to be the work of the party; we have to straighten out what history has twisted.
And world capitalism, for centuries, has twisted everything in its path, including racial differences.
The revolutionary government and party had never asked anyone about their race and rightly so, Fidel said. And he pointed to several prominent party leaders who, despite outward appearances, had a black or Chinese grandparent. Why go around asking such questions? In the past it was to discriminate, today its for the opposite reasonso we ask.
At issue here is simply the color of skin, Fidel said. In Cuba, he added, we are all the product of a mixture of races. Ask the imperialists if this mixture has been easy to dissolve, divide, or crush. They havent been able to do it. And for exactly that reason, Fidel said, the new Central Committee elected by the congress includedin addition to more workers, and not just workers who have become leaders but workers from the factory floora strong injection of women, a strong injection of blacks and of mestizos.
This political advance for the revolution in Cuba is a byproduct, at least in part, of the impact of the internationalist operation in Angola. Its an affirmation of what Malcolm was fighting for, and of his confidence in the Cuban Revolution and its leadership. And its a verificationfor communist workers in the United States and other imperialist countriesof our strategic commitment to affirmative action not as a question of moral witness or sacrifice, but in order to unite the working class as a whole to fight more effectively against our common exploiters and oppressors, the capitalist class.
Under the impact of the victory at Cuito Cuanavale, the white supremacist regime withdrew its forces from Angola and entered talks with the Cuban and Angolan governments that ended with Pretoria having to recognize the independence of its colony, Namibia. Between the initial battles in late 1975 and the departure of the final Cuban troops in May 1991, 375,000 internationalist volunteers had served in Angola and 2,000 had been killed.
By early 1990, less than two years after Cuito Cuanavale, rising struggles by working people in South Africa forced Pretoria to lift the ban on the African National Congress and release ANC leader Nelson Mandela after almost twenty-eight years of imprisonment. The apartheid regime crumbled in face of rising mass protests over the next few years, and in 1994 Mandela was elected president in the first elections ever conducted there on the basis of universal suffrage.
In July 1991 Mandela visited Cuba and spoke along with Fidel Castro to tens of thousands of Cubans and international guests. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character, Mandela said.
Cuito Cuanavale was a milestone in the history of the struggle for southern African liberation! Cuito Cuanavale has been a turning point in the struggle to free the continent and our country from the scourge of apartheid! Mandelas speech can be found in How Far We Slaves Have Come! South Africa and Cuba in Todays World (Pathfinder, 1991), pp. 17-28 [2006 printing]; and is excerpted in Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution (Pathfinder, 2005), pp. 179-82.
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