Many Africans remember Fidel Castro and Ernesto Guevara, internationalist symbols in the struggles for the independence of the peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean. Africa and Cuba have maintained cordial relations for decades, before and after the Cold War.
Both share common political and development aspirations. Further, Cuba supported liberation struggles over the years. On the other hand, African countries express unflinching support for Cuba’s fight against the United States’ political and economic blockade against Cuba.
In an email interview with IDN’s Kester Kenn Klomegah, Salim Lamrani discusses several significant issues that still hold Africa and Cuba together in the era of global geopolitical changes, as well as US policy towards Cuba.
Salim Lamrani holds a doctorate from the prestigious Sorbonne Université and currently lectures at the University of La Réunion Island (Université de la Réunion), a French university in the Academy of Réunion. It is the first and only European university in the Indian Ocean. By virtue of its unique geostrategic position, it is the only European university in the region.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Question: Do Fidel Castro’s political ideas of people’s democracy hold ground for the current developments in Cuba?
Answer: Three facets characterized Fidel Castro. He was, first and foremost, the architect of national sovereignty, who had realized José Martí’s dream of a free homeland independent of the influence of the United States. He was then the social reformer who had placed the human being at the centre of the social project by universalizing access to housing, education, health and culture. Finally, he was the internationalist who extended a fraternal hand to peoples struggling for their emancipation.
Cubans have not renounced any of these great principles. They wish to preserve their independence and their socio-economic system where the State controls the strategic sectors of the country and its natural resources, with an equitable distribution of the national wealth. Likewise, solidarity with suffering peoples, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic, is always a priority of Cuba’s foreign policy.
Question: Looking at Cuba, a far distance from Paris—how do you assess the political challenges and especially its impact on the lives of Cubans?
Answer: Cuba has been confronted with the hostile policy of the United States for more than half a century and is suffocated by anachronistic, cruel and illegal economic sanctions that affect all sectors of society, and in particular the most vulnerable categories.
The progress observed under Obama administration was reversed by Donald Trump who imposed more than 250 economic retaliation measures on the island during his mandate. To date, President Biden has still not reversed the sanctions adopted by his predecessor, despite the commitments made during the electoral campaign, and Cubans are suffering from the shortages generated by this policy.
Cuba is also facing the Covid-19 pandemic which has greatly impacted the tourism sector which is one of the country’s main sources of income. The impact has been harsh for many Cubans who make a living from this sector. In addition, Cuba is faced with rising prices of raw materials, especially food, which makes the daily life of the inhabitants of the island difficult.
Question: Is that situation in the country influencing the steady flow of migrants to, say the United States, Europe and other countries?
Answer: Economic difficulties can create the temptation to migrate to other places in order to be able to enjoy a material life of better quality. This is a reality that concerns all countries of the South. Moreover, as part of its fight against the Cuban government, the United States has long encouraged Cubans to emigrate with the Cuban Adjustment Act, which stipulates that any Cuban who emigrates legally or illegally to the United States January 1, 1959 or later, is not only accepted but also benefits after one year and one day from permanent resident status.
Question: Do you think external forces interfere a lot in the internal affairs of Cuba, and how would you argue that the external interference constitutes a roadblock in the country’s development?
Answer: Since 1960, the United States has sought to overthrow the Cuban government and install a regime more favourable to their interests. This policy was kept secret throughout the Cold War. But since 1992 and the adoption of the Torricelli Act, Washington has openly claimed its intention to carry out a change of regime on the island, which obviously contravenes the fundamental principles of international law. To achieve this objective, the United States relies on two pillars: economic sanctions and the financing of an internal opposition in Cuba.
Clearly, Cuba has not been able to develop its social project under normal conditions since the country lives under constant threat from its powerful neighbour. The main obstacle to the development of the island are the economic sanctions.
Question: In your objective interpretation, the United States, Russia, China et cetera play significant roles in shaping the destiny of Cuba?
Answer: Of these three countries, the only one trying to impose its will on Cuba is the United States. It is the only one that imposes economic sanctions and aims at regime change. China and Russia have established relations with the island based on sovereign equality, reciprocity, and non-interference in internal affairs.
Question: What would you finally say about the interconnection between Fidel Castro’s revolutionary ideas and thoughts and Africa? How do the Cuban political elite perceive Africa? Is there anything else Africans have to know about hidden secrets of Fidel Castro?
Answer: Cubans consider Africa as the Motherland because many slaves took up arms during the First War of Independence between 1868 and 1898 and the Second War of Independence against Spain between 1895 and 1898, in order to make the island a free land. Cubans have made a great contribution to the liberation of Africa by supporting independence and revolutionary movements on the continent, in Algeria, Congo, Guinea Bissau, Angola, Namibia, South Africa and elsewhere.
It is very important to say here that Africans owe a great deal of gratitude to the Cubans who were the only ones to come to the continent, not to plunder its wealth, but to help the peoples win their freedom. For their part, the Cubans emphasize that they have only done their duty and that they have only paid their debt to the Africans who fought for the independence of Cuba.