Castro and decolonization

By Colleen Dehais

Ben Kucinski/Flickr
(Ben Kucinski/Flickr)

Many people in the United States feel a kind of historical nostalgia about certain time periods and political figures, many of which are associated with colonial legacies. For all his failings, Fidel Castro represents, to many, a nostalgia related to international anti-colonial, anti-apartheid and anti-racist movements. For those who fall within that group, some of this sentiment is owing to the fact that Castro granted political asylum to Assata Shakur, a Black Panther and radical civil rights activist who escaped from a U.S. prison in the early 1970s. However, much of the emotional idealism that has surrounded Castro as a political figure amidst his recent passing rests on his legacy as an incessant and ardent supporter of decolonization.

Directly impacted by the imperialism of the United States, Cuba under Fidel Castro actively opposed colonialism, which proved not only a set of symbolic actions but a true affront to oppression in practice. Castro’s efforts ranged from aid that he provided to movements against apartheid in South Africa and Palestine, to support for resistance in other parts of Latin America, to solidarity with Vietnam amidst their war with the United States.

Cuba under Castro was revolutionary because it was able to maintain its independence and relative stability as a former colony regardless of both the oppressive embargos it endured and the 638 attempts the CIA orchestrated to assassinate Castro. Furthermore, Castro expanded his anti-colonialist politics through contributions to radical movements for liberation across the globe.

The United States intended to disempower Cuba as an independent and politically left-leaning nation. This illuminates the fear the United States and other imperialist nations have of a truly decolonized world, one in which their sphere of hegemonic influence does not extend beyond their borders. Colonialism did not stop in the 18th century, nor in the 19th, nor in the 20th century until this point. A legacy of racism, economic hierarchy, and the apathetic dispensing of lives in the Global South for the sake of Western economic and political interests still remains.

It also goes without saying that political and journalistic portrayals of Cuba in the United States are hypocritical. Guantanamo, the notorious detention facility for individuals the U.S. deems terrorists, lies on the same island as Cuba. The characterizations of Cuba and Castro by the mass media are selective for if Castro is responsible for human rights violations, they are nowhere near the scale of the genocides the United States has been complicit with in Palestine, Rwanda and Latin America.

The media remains an institution bought out by the rich and powerful, dictating a worldview that perpetuates the status quo, each day leaving disproportionately marginalized peoples to die. In the U.S., black lives are routinely taken unjustly by an arm of our government and Latinx immigrants are left in deplorable conditions in detention facilities on the border. Yet, the media has long given much more attention to claims of alleged atrocities committed by dictators abroad.

More details of Castro’s dictatorship are sure to come to light, giving us an opportunity to listen to and learn from the experiences of Cubans. I do not doubt the credibility of claims that Castro suppressed human rights domestically, but there still is praise due for the solidarity he and Cuba showed in the fight against colonialism and oppression. In the same vein, it is critical that we as residents of a country that is a neocolonial power put pressure on our institutions to make changes. So many of our economic privileges ride on the suppression of democracy and development in formerly colonized nations.

Colleen Dehais is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].