Why Raul Castro is speaking at the Mandela memorial and David Cameron isn’t

Raul Castro will be speaking today at the Mandela Memorial and David Cameron won't. Here's why.

Mandela Castro

You may be wondering why Cuban leader Raul Castro features so prominently as a speaker at today’s Nelson Mandela memorial ceremony.

Not because he leads an undemocratic government – other autocrats with far worse records than the Cuban leader will be in attendance, such as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe – but because he is the leader of Caribbean island that bears little relation to South Africa and because he is one of just a handful of world leaders who have been given the honour of speaking at the ceremony.

Above all the high profile appearance of the Cuban leader seems strange because the past week has seen fawning tributes to Mandela from people whose politics are about as far removed as it is possible to be from the Cuban Revolution.

Firstly this demonstrates the cliché that Mandela united people right across the political spectrum, but it also throws a new light on the usual Cold War dogma of the ‘good’ West versus the ‘evil’ East.

This is not to say that it wasn’t a jolly good thing that the West won the Cold War – if you think Russia is bad today (it is), consider what it was like under a leader like Stalin who murdered over 20 million of ‘his own’ citizens.

The Cold War was not, however, a clean fight between good and evil. As well as terrorising the Russian people, the Soviets also backed some relatively benign figures like Chilean President Salvador Allende, while the US sided with the military regime which overthrew him and murdered some 3,000 Chileans in cold blood.

The same irony was apparent in the behaviour of the Soviet Union’s satellite states. While Communist Cuba sent thousands to die fighting apartheid troops, the US and Britain backed the racist Apartheid regime in its proxy wars in West Africa – all in the name of anti-communism.

In the 70s and 80s the CIA sent cash, guns and troops to apartheid South Africa and to the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) while it was fighting the left-wing Soviet-backed People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). For its part, Cuba sent 15,000 troops to fight the the apartheid South African army and its CIA-backed Angolan allies.

The eventual victory of black Cuban and Angolan troops over the white South African army, culminating in the battle at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, was highly symbolic, and drove a nail into the pernicious myth of white superiority which helped sustain the unjust apartheid system.

As Mandela himself put it:

“The defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale has made it possible for me to be here today. What other country can point to a record of greater selflessness than Cuba has displayed in its relations with Africa? For the Cuban people internationalism is not merely a word but something that we have seen practiced to the benefit of large sections of humankind.”

Raul Castro will be speaking today at the Mandela Memorial and David Cameron won’t. The fact that Margaret Thatcher was calling Mandela a terrorist and Ronald Reagan was (mistakenly) claiming Apartheid SA had “stood beside the United States in every war it has fought” while Fidel Castro was sending Cuban troops to fight Apartheid perhaps explains why.

4 Responses to “Why Raul Castro is speaking at the Mandela memorial and David Cameron isn’t”

  1. swatnan

    I don’t think Dave could deliver a monologue for four hours flat.

  2. Mas

    BUSH WAR: THE ROAD TO CUITO CUANAVALE: The Soviet Soldiers’ Accounts of the Angolan War. Here’s my dropbox link for anyone that wants to download a FREE pdf copy of the book.

    http://bit.ly/18vG0KU

  3. Mark H Burton

    By saying Raúl leads an undemocratic government you fall into the trap of equating democracy with the charade of the liberal representative model. I’m not saying Cuban democracy is by any means perfect (although rendering of accounts by representatives to their constituencies, recall, banning of political party(s) from participation are strengths, particularly at municipal level); but what other country involves all sections of its population in line by line scrutiny of major policies, which are then revised. I don’t remember this happening in 2010 when social care budgets were cut here by up to 25% !

  4. Wallace Prism

    “The eventual victory of black Cuban and Angolan troops over the white South African army, culminating in the battle at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, was highly symbolic, and drove a nail into the pernicious myth of white superiority which helped sustain the unjust apartheid system.”

    What a steaming great pile of drivel. I know ex SADF who where involved in that operation and they absolutely massacred the Cubans/Angolans. South Africa sent a small force to prevent Unita from being overrun by a build up of Cuban/Angolan troops and Soviet weapons. The SA supply lines were stretched so they had no intention of doing anything other than keep the enemy to their side of the Lomba river, which they did with a spectacular rout of FAPLA/Cuban forces. The SADF had no reason at all to risk trying to occupy Cuito and anyone who believes they did is a military ignoramus. They did shell Cuito from long range and my friend, who was a special forces observer, witnessed the carnage from airburst shells over the tented Cuban/FAPLA camps. The reason SA did not counter the propaganda at the time is that the Soviets (the bankers behind the operation) felt the conflict unwinnable and forced the Cubans to the negotiating table and SA didn’t want to publicly embarrass Castro into staying in Angola. The ANC/MK clown car did try to honk it’s way into the fight, but most of them mutinied. Unfortunately the MK drek was incorporated into the SADF which has now degenerated to a shadow of it’s former self despite huge, wasteful arms purchases. SA withdrew from Namibia because the Soviet threat receded with the end of the Cold War. As for being forced to negotiate, SA business leaders were holding talks with the ANC long before the battles in question.

    The only grain of truth in the Cuban victory myth is that SA would have had difficulty combatting the latest Russian aircraft if the conflict had continued.

    Few people seem willing to reflect on Mandela and the ANC’s praise for leaders and regimes that would have put a bullet in the back of their heads if they’d opposed their states. The rhetoric about the Apartheid Regime is pretty rich considering how easy Mandela had it while incarcerated in comparison to actual political prisoners (even Amnesty Int did not regard Mandela as a political prisoner) of the regimes he considers friends. There is no need for scare quotes around the word terrorist as Mandela was convicted for supporting acts of violence resulting in civilian deaths to further political aims, a charge he did not deny. SWAPO/PLAN, and the ANC were trained by Marxist regimes with all the attendant focus on terrorising people into compliance. PLAN were notorious for the bullet to the back of the head, rape and torture of non-compliant villagers. MK tended to deal with insurrection by handing offenders a spade and standing by with a pistol.

    People seem to love their black/white thinking. The SADF was responsible for the development of education, medicine and agriculture in the Namibian border regions while PLAN were responsible for many acts of brutality, which is not to say that the SADF had clean hands. My point, really, is that the bullshit put out by the ANC and their supporters should not be taken at face value.

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