By Ron Ridenour
“Fidel Castro, October 12, 1987”—that is what Fidel wrote on my book, “Yankee Sandinistas: Interviews with North Americans living and working in the new Nicaragua,” after reading it.
In 1980, I fell in love with a Danish woman, Grethe, and moved to her country. On my way to assist the rebellion in El Salvador, in 1987, we traveled to Cuba. This was my first visit to Cuba and my first book had just come out when I met Fidel.
I had given him a copy after he spoke about the legacy of Che Guevara 20 years after his murder in Bolivia. We were hundreds of Cubans, a few solidarity foreigners and journalists gathered before a newly built hospital in the Cuban province of Matanza.
My rebirth from being an American Dreamer to an internationalist occurred because of the Cuban revolution, because of what Fidel and Che taught me when I was an airman “defending” the United States against all the bad guys.
“Yankees Go Home”, “Out of Cuba”, “Cuba Si, Yankee No”. We internationalists sang and we wrote on placards we carried back and forth before the US Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles, California on April 19, 1961. It was here that I joined the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
This was the first time I demonstrated, and here I was opposing “my” government. I had recently been discharged after four years in the United States Air Force, which I had joined at 17. What I learned in those years was the aggressor; the read bad guy was the United States. We constantly flew over and harassed Russian, Chinese and Cuban territory, yet we airmen and soldiers had orders that if “the enemy” did the same we were to shoot them down. They never did “trespass” however.
The United States murders, commits genocide and conducts thousands of military interventions and wars reign since the very beginning of its independence from Great Brittan. “Born in the USA: regimen of permanent wars” describes this sordid history.
At the top of my website are quotations, which also explain why I became an activist against US Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine and for a socialist alternative, something Fidel stood for.
“It is the function of the CIA to keep the world unstable, and to propagandize and teach the American people to hate, so we will let the Establishment spend any amount of money on arms,” John Stockwell, former CIA official wrote.
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke
Fidel was a champion pantheon of the people, one who made indelible contributions in the global struggle for equality and emancipation. Fidel will be remembered for many reasons, among them:
Fidel led his country out of poverty, creating employment for all, bringing the infant mortality rate down under the US level, advancing the literacy rate higher than in the US, abolishing official racism, acting in solidarity with the poor and oppressed throughout Latin American and Africa, assisting Vietnam militarily against the goliath. These struggles favoring the poor over the rich inspired billions of people, many of whom voted their progressive political parties into power.
Without the solidarity Cuba’s leadership and soldiers offered to Angola, and indirectly to Namibia and the black people of South Africa, white racist South Africa with US-Israel support would have crushed their struggles for sovereignty. Furthermore, Nelson Mandela would have died in prison—that is what I heard him say in Cuba standing beside Fidel soon after his release from prison. And Fidel stood for sending hundreds of thousands of highly educated Cubans around the world to heal, to teach and to entertain.
Fidel was Cuba’s Don Quijote, alongside Che Guveara. His idea of socialism was different from Soviet and China, and surely more humanitarian than capitalism: no police or soldiers shooting in the streets, no death squads, no massacres, no Gulags or torturing, no starvation, plenty of social human rights yet with fewer civil rights than promised and desired.
Fidel defied the monster and got away with it all these years, something cherished by billions in a hundred countries. He even brought a warmongering US president to his land, sporting his fine talk. For the first time, the perennial enemy pretends to be a friend hoping to stab Cuba in the back.
Fidel, Cuba and Me
In 1987, Cuba’s Ministry of Culture invited me to work for its book publishing house, Editorial José Martí, which published my book, “Backfire: The CIA’s Biggest Burn” concerning double agents in the CIA loyal to Cuba. This was the first of six books I wrote on Cuba. Between 1988 and 1996, I worked for the publisher and for Prensa Latina, the foreign news agency, which Che started.
I briefly met Fidel four times. In my sleep, I stand in a crowd close to where Fidel is speaking. My wary eyes catch an assassination attempt on our leader’s life. I cast myself over him and take the bullet. Ah, dying a hero!
Yet Fidel died peacefully, defying the monster once again. This epitaph was encouraged by my former colleague Dave Lindorff. Before me is the Danish TV-Radio news story about his death. In the nation’s main broadcast medium story of Fidel’s legacy is a four-word clause within one sentence: he “survived 600 murder attempts”.
There is no reference to who tried to murder him, neither to the illegality or immorality of it. Readers and listeners must simply know that it was the world’s loudest “human rights advocate”, the United States of America. There was no condemnation; no call for bringing the nation’s leaders before any international tribunal of war crimes. And I’m sure that the mass media employees do no know or don’t want to remember that the International Court of Justice found the US guilty of war crimes against Nicaragua, in1986—just as a point of reference.
What we did get to read, however, was what President Barack Obama had to say about Fidel: “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.” “We offer condolences to Fidel Castro’s family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”
Oh Yeah, “friend and partner” of the country whose president the US had tried to murder 600 times. US terrorist attacks did murder and maim several thousands of Cuban on their own soil. And it nearly caused an atomic world war prevented on October 27, 1962 by the brave Russian submarine ship captain Vasil Arkhipov. The “dirty commie” refused to fire his nuclear missile while under depth charge grenade attack in international waters by a US ship armed with atomic weapons readied to deploy.
The Revolution and Fidel’s Downsides
Ten years passed before I was in Cuba again. Fidel had recently spoken to college students about internal conflicts.
“This country can self-destruct; this Revolution can destroy itself, but they [the US] can never destroy us; we can destroy ourselves, and it would be our fault.”
In his November 17, 2005 speech, Fidel referred publicly for the first time to Cuba’s own fault in failing to develop a revolutionary consciousness among the population as a whole.
A disillusioned populace, Fidel explained, pursues individual greed-consumerism and can destroy the Cuban revolutionary project, something the enemy cannot. That would mean that the key goal, which was Che’s motto—“The ultimate and most important revolutionary aspiration: to see man liberated from his alienation”—had not progressed sufficiently.
That the “maximum leader” made this reflection public was an enormous admission of the greatest actual challenge for this humanistic revolution. The moral root to this dilemma—selfishness vs. holism portrayed by capitalism on the one hand and socialism on the other—is, in fact, at the core of existence for the human race and the planet.
I witnessed a great degree of disillusionment especially among the youth. A few students gathered quietly to discuss problems while the Communist party and its mass media basically ignored them.
As a correspondent for the English daily “Morning Star”, I was invited to receive the newly elected president of Bolivia, the indigenous fighter Evo Morales. A corps of foreign and national reporters stood by the runway alongside hundreds of Bolivian students studying medicine in Cuba. Evo’s plane was soon to land. I had prepared a question for the new hope of Bolivia: How do you intend to confront and win the inevitable conflict between your humanitarian program and that of the greedy transnational corporations?
What then occurred caught me by surprise. Fidel arrived and promptly shook hands with the enthusiastic Bolivian youth. I was standing next to the last Bolivian. Suddenly, Fidel stopped in front of me. His large right hand was slightly extended. My hand rose exuberantly to reach his. Then four Rons spoke at once.
Revolutionary Ron: I want to shake his hand, hug him; tell him how much he means to me, to us.
Journalist Ron: Now you have to come up with a good question. He is there waiting for you.
Ego Ron: Tell him you want to get a book published here so that Cubans can read you, so that you can be somebody in this land of your heart.
Cuban Ron: You must not touch The Commandant’s hand. Remember how supposed journalists tried to murder him in Chile, in 1971, with a gun hidden inside a TV camera? Fidel’s guards will think of me as a potential killer.
The Cuban Ron stopped my hand. Confused Journalist Ron could not think fast enough to dominate the other Rons, and instead asked Fidel the question for Evo.
The realist Fidel replied: “That is a question for Evo Morales”.
What a dummy I am, and the President walked onward.
I told this story to two Cuban journalists. They said that I should have caught his attention by telling him that it was I who had burned my Yankee passport and renounced my citizenship in front of the US Interests Section in Havana, in January 1991, in protest of its first war against Iraq.
The following day, I repeated the anecdote to Antonio García Urquiolla. He was a merchant marine captain I had sailed with and a double agent infiltrated inside the CIA (see “Backfire”). The CIA had wanted him to assist in murdering Fidel.
Antonio’s reply to me: “Ron won the battle of Rons”!
In 2009, I was again in Cuba, then to witness the revolution’s 50-year celebration. I wrote:
“Seventeen days after the first May Day of the revolution, May 17, 1959, Fidel Castro proclaimed the first radical land reform to an outburst of great popular joy, as well as a violent reaction from the national landowners and their ally in the United States, the latter continuing its merciless revenge against the revolutionary government of Cuba.
“On that day 50 years ago, Fidel said: ‘A wonderful future awaits our country if we dedicate ourselves to work with all our might.’
“The historic and indelible advantages Cubans earned from forging an incipient socialism following the nation’s real independence, with its ensuing products and services for all, was supported by the vast majority of the population, especially in the early years…
“However, today, fifty years later…The nation is clearly fraught with passivity and poor production in quantity and quality. I believe this is so in large part because people lack the real power to make decisions at their work centers, schools, and even in their local governments and provincial and national legislatures.”
“It is no secret that many are tired and discontent. The four main areas of dissatisfaction, as I see it, are: a) low salaries and the two currency system, which separates people; b) shortages of sufficient foodstuffs and other basic goods; c) perpetual lack of sufficient housing made worse by last year’s hurricane destruction; d) insufficient improvement in worker empowerment, with few exceptions.
“And then, for many -especially the revolutionary conscious people who yearn for the days of Che’s enthusiasm for creating the new man and woman- there is the crippling effect that the government continues to limit the access to ample information and real debate, hampering an exchange of ideas necessary for them to become empowered.” May Day 2009 in Cuba
Soon after this piece appeared, I received an email from Armarantha Visalakshi. She wrote representing the Latin America Friendship Association in Tamil Nadu, India. Her group had actively supported Cuba for many years. She had translated into Tamil Che’s and Fidel’s writings.
And now she told me: “It is a great shock for the people of Tamil Nadu to find that Cuba…supported the Sri Lanka Government in annihilating the Tamil population in the Island nation [Sri Lanka].”
“We here in Tamil Nadu celebrated the 80th birthday of Comrade Fidel by releasing eight books on Cuba’s achievements in various fields…We are struck dumb and rendered disheartened and disillusioned by this act of those countries of Latin America on which we have pinned our hopes for the future.”
On my wall before my writing machine is my photo of the Cuban billboard: “Ser Internacionalista es saldar nuestra propia deuda con la humanidad.” “To be an internationalist is to settle our debt with humanity.”
This motto is at the heart of what Fidel said: “Those who are exploited are our compatriots all over the world; and the exploiters all over the world are our enemies… Our country is really the whole world, and all the revolutionaries of the world are our brothers.“
It was this more than anything else that made me a great admirer of Fidel and his country’s sacrifice for international brotherhood. But now this letter from India forced me most reluctantly to investigate her charges. It remorsefully resulted in writing scores of articles and a book, “Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka” (New Century Book House, Chennai, India; November 2011).
Here are excerpts from my first article, “Cuba-ALBA Let Down Sri Lanka Tamils”, Nov.16, 2009.
I quote from Che’s famous “Socialism and Man” essay: “The revolutionary [is] the ideological motor force of the revolution…if he forgets his proletarian internationalism, the revolution which he leads will cease to be an inspiring force and he will sink into a comfortable lethargy, which imperialism, our irreconcilable enemy, will utilize well. Proletarian internationalism is a duty, but it is also a revolutionary necessity. So we educate our people.”
That said I came to the heart of the dilemma.
“I think that the governments of Cuba, Bolivia, and Nicaragua let down the entire Tamil population in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, as well as ‘proletarian internationalism’ and the ‘exploited’, by extending unconditional support to Sri Lanka’s racist government…[by]signing a UN Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution praising the government of Sri Lanka for ‘the promotion and protection of human rights’, while only condemning for terrorism the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which fought the government in a civil war since 1983 until their defeat on May 19, 2009.
“During the last year of war, the Sri Lankan government illegally and brutally interned nearly half-a-million Tamil civilians; 280,000 of these civilians were entrapped in several ‘welfare centers’ upon the LTTE’s surrender…Their conditions are the opposite of ‘promotion and protection of human rights’. Hundreds have died and are dying for lack of food, water, basic health care.”
Having spoken the truth that the Cuban government, the greatest internationalist nation on earth, reversed the key principle of solidarity, I became a betrayer in the eyes of some Cuban solidarity organizers. I am sorrowfully isolated from the warmth of Cuba’s revolutionary circles, but I can not stop my critique. The younger Fidel, and Che, would not have forgiven me if I did.
In 2011, I was invited to conduct a speaking tour of my Tamil book being released in India. I spoke of how great the Cuban revolution was for us all but lamented this critical flaw in failing to support the oppressed Tamil people. In one rally, I appeared with Che’s face on a red t-shirt to the standing ovation of 15,000 Tamils. Che and the Cuban revolution were still the great love and hope for this people, despite the fact that the Fidel and Raul Castro government betrayed their trust.
I am now moved to cite my conclusion on this matter: “I am sickened by the Cuban government’s hypocritical support of [the Sinhalese President] Rajapaksa and his family regime…I recommend that leftist-progressive organizations and websites, and especially solidarity groups with Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua (ALBA countries) make these governments aware that they need to return to their original principle as internationalists who support the oppressed everywhere on earth, and cease supporting unquestionably the genocidal government of Sri Lanka.”
No revolutionary or communist government has dared to hand over the reigns of real power to the working class, to construct the collective way of socialism. There is a perennial lack of trust in the people, and in trusting our ideological morality.
If morality does not become integral to our struggles, I’m afraid we are headed for a global moral collapse already underway due to the intrinsic immorality of capitalism and its imperialism; the foundering of contemporary socialism; and the rise of fascism throughout much of the world.
November 28, 2016