Fidel Castro: Suppressor of blacks

Monday Book Review

January 25, 1993|By Gregory P. Kane

CASTRO, THE BLACKS AND AFRICA. By Carlos Moore Center for Afro-American Studies, UCLA. 472 pages. $23.50.

THE regime of Cuba's Fidel Castro has overseen the systematic FTC destruction of black self-help groups called the Sociedades de Color. It has suppressed Afro-Cuban religions; banned Afro hairstyles as counterrevolutionary; pursued a foreign policy in Africa motivated as much by white supremacy and paternalism as by altruism; and alienated sympathetic American blacks like former exiles Robert Williams and Eldridge Cleaver as well as diplomats from black African countries.

Those are just a few of the charges leveled against the Marxist government that has prided itself on eliminating racial discrimination, promoting racial democracy and being a friend to blacks around the world.

Carlos Moore, who levels these charges, was born in Cuba in 1942 to Jamaican-Barbadian immigrants. A journalist, ethnologist and holder of two doctoral degrees from the University of Paris, ++ Mr. Moore left Cuba as an exile in 1963. Although his book has a distinct black nationalist perspective, Mr. Moore neither grinds an ideological ax against the Castro regime nor engages in a 472-page diatribe.

Rather, he provides a scrupulously researched, superbly documented history of Cuban domestic and foreign policy from 1959 through the 1980s and a case study of how the dynamic of white supremacy operates even in a society committed to anti-discrimination and integration.

Mr. Moore also -- possibly unintentionally -- portrays Fidel Castro as a brilliant, charismatic leader who has consistently outwitted and outmaneuvered both his Soviet allies and his American adversaries.

By skillfully playing the Soviets against communist China and purging Cuba's pro-Soviet Communist Party in early 1962, the Cuban leader was able to extort from a reluctant Moscow recognition of Cuba as part of the communist bloc. Even after the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 resulted in the withdrawal of Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba, Fidel Castro used the occasion to extract even more concessions in military and economic aid from Moscow.

The Cuban premier was even more successful in embarrassing and humiliating his U.S. adversaries. He frequently compared his abolishing of racial discrimination in Cuba to America's insipid and reluctant efforts to enact even mild civil rights legislation. When white-owned hotels in Manhattan demanded advance payment for the Cuban delegation's visit to the United Nations in 1960, the Cuban leader countered by staying at the black-owned Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where he met with black leaders like Robert Williams and Malcolm X.

After the Bay of Pigs invasion, a group of black American intellectuals issued a "Declaration of Conscience" that appeared a full-page ad in the New York Times. It condemned American support for the invasion and contained such pro-Castro propaganda as "Today, thanks to a social revolution which they helped make, Afro-Cubans are first-class citizens . . . of their country where all racial barriers crumbled in a matter of weeks following the victory of Fidel Castro . . ."

Chief signatory of the declaration was Robert Williams, the militant black American advocate of armed self-defense and friend of Fidel Castro, who would further humiliate the United States by sending telegrams to the Cuban U.N. ambassador and President Kennedy requesting that the same American aid provided to anti-Castro Cubans be given to American blacks fighting Ku Klux Klan terror.

But unlike Williams and other American blacks, Malcolm X was suspicious of Fidel Castro's intentions. He indicated as much to Carlos Moore in a private conversation in Paris and in a public speech in which he declared that "Not even in your so-called socialist, Marxist and other type of societies have they ever had a black man on the top."

But Malcolm X was still willing to use Cuban support for his own ends, which author Moore claims included recruiting American blacks to fight with the pro-Lumumba faction in the Congolese civil war. In fact, Mr. Moore makes it clear that he believes Malcolm X was assassinated by the CIA for his recruitment of "about one hundred militant black Americans . . . for direct participation in . . . the African revolution." If that claim is true, the CIA had at least one good motive for assassinating Malcolm, even if agency operatives didn't actually do it.

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