NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 62

60 When the Fidelistas rolled into Havana, victorious over the u.s.-backed Dictator Fulgencio Batista, they carried memories of the earlier Cuban revolution that the u.s. had tried to erase. The 1959 revolution “embraced the independence movement as its spiritual and ideological predecessor,” writes Ada Ferrer. “It extolled the anti-imperial and antiracist nationalism of nineteenth century figures, and it excoriated the intervention of the United States. By its own account, the revolution of 1959 represented the fulfillment and embodiment of nineteenth century patriotic ideals, thwarted by the intervention of the United States in 1898 and by the decades of direct and indirect American rule that followed.”6 If J.F. Kennedy had understood more of this history, he might not have greenlighted the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Castro revolutionaries predicted a u.s. counter-revolutionary assault, and waited for it. The cia planning for this counter-revolutionary coup began under Eisenhower a few months after the Cuban liberation. The pretext this time was that the invasion was supposed to look like it was executed by Cuban exiles in the United States. In the mix was the fantasy of the Cuban people rising up to greet the invaders as liberators, throwing roses in their path and joining the counter-revolution. The threat of communism was also part of the ticket, even though as we have seen, the pattern was set long before communism became a global factor. Not long after the “perfect” military fiasco at the Bay of Pigs (which included plans to simultaneously assassinate the Castro brothers and Che Guevara), the revolution declared itself Marxist-Leninist. The Bay of Pigs was an attempt to baby-snatch the new Cuban revolution like the one in 1898. The rationale that a communist Cuba must be eliminated is only the latest iteration of the American fear of, and hostility toward, alternative political possibilities. Long before Marx, the Haitian Revolution was opposed by the United States out of fear that it would spread a contagion (a “domino effect”) for liberation from slavery and White colonialism. Fearing a liberated Haiti, Thomas Jefferson warned that Haiti had created a bad example and argued it was necessary to “confine the plague to the island.”7 The u.s. embargo on trade with Cuba has tried to revive the “White Curse,” as Eduardo Galeano calls it, that was formerly placed on a free Haiti. From some angles, Cuba looks like the twentieth and twenty-first century version of Haiti — a thorn in the side of American dominance. The dissonance between the American and Cuban way of addressing freedom dates back to the colonial past. Cuba’s remarkable contribution to the overthrow of Apartheid has faded in u.s. memory, very much like the revolution of 1868. Cuba began to support liberation movements in Africa in 1960; it supported the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Ethiopia and, most importantly, Angola, where it sent over 55,000 troops to confront and defeat the South African Defense Forces. This exceptional act of solidarity and liberation drew the Apartheid regime to the negotiations that ended its White supremacist order.8 Cuba’s intervention was the flip side of the Bay of Pigs invasion as it was a brilliant military campaign to liberate instead of a pitiful flop of an invasion to repress. In the curious arc of history, the Cubans seem to have reciprocated the Haitian contribution to Latin American emancipation. Nelson Mandela saluted this act when he traveled to Cuba in 1991 to thank Fidel Castro and Cuba for supporting the struggle against Apartheid. In his speech, he remarked, “What other country has such a history of selfless behavior as Cuba has shown for the people of Africa? [….]In Africa we are used to being victims of countries that want to take from us our territory or overthrow our sovereignty. In African history there is not another instance where another people has stood up for one of ours. […] The decisive defeat of the aggressive apartheid forces destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor.” No two societies in the Western hemisphere are as wide apart in their ideas and practice of freedom and humanistic values as these two. The gulf yawns when Little Havana propagandists in Florida denounce Cuba on human rights while ignoring the innocent and tortured political prisoners on Guantanamo, Cuban land, that the u.s. stole after the 1898 invasion. Given that one society models itself as a universal and transcendental norm and brands others as abnormal human splinters, will the opening of new relations between the u.s. and Cuba produce benefits for Cuban people, not only in material wealth, but also in terms of spiritual and cultural health?