New York tribute to Mandela and Cuba

By Cheryl LaBash and Monica Moorehead

Harlem, N.Y. — A special tribute to the great freedom fighter Nelson Mandela was held Feb. 8 at the historic Riverside Church Chapel in Harlem, N.Y.  Mandela, the first Black-elected president of post-apartheid South Africa, died this past Dec. 5 at age 95.  The theme of the meeting was “Mandela ¡Presente! The Truth about Nelson Mandela:  A Revolutionary Fighter — Revolutionary Cuba’s Key Part in the Defeat of Apartheid.”

Along with several hundred activists involved in many struggles of workers and oppressed peoples in Latin America, the Caribbean, North America, Asia and the Middle East, a high-level delegation from the Cuban Mission to the United Nations attended. This delegation was led by the Cuban Ambassador, Rodolfo Reyes, and Mariela Castro Espin, the daughter of Cuban president Raul Castro and the late Vilma Espin, a founding member of the Federation of Cuban Women.

Also in attendance was the South African Ambassador to the United Nations, Jeremiah Nyamane Kingsley Mamabolo.

The stirring tribute began with the singing of the South African and Cuban anthems, followed by videotaped greetings from Kenia Serrano, president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship for the People.

A powerful original video was shown of Nelson Mandela speaking before Fidel Castro and 100,000 people in Matanzas, Cuba, at the 1991 July 26th celebration. Mandela thanked the Cuban internationalists for their decisive role in defeating the apartheid army during the late 1980s. This visit was the first trip taken by Mandela outside South Africa after his release from prison in 1990.

Both ambassadors, who were also anti-apartheid combatants, spoke in glowing terms about Mandela’s legacy.  Castro Espin noted the relationship among the Haitian revolution, the Cuban revolution and the struggle in South Africa. She particularly noted that after the Haitian Revolution, Black liberation fighters were condemned as terrorists.

After a musical interlude, noted civil rights attorney Michael Tarif Warren spoke about the Cuban 5. He recognized that both Mandela and Fidel were attorneys who chose the road of revolution instead of their profession. He saluted particularly the internationalist combatants among the imprisoned Cuban 5 — Gerardo Hernández, Fernando González and René González .

The final speaker was Gail Walker, co-executive director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization/Pastors for Peace, which is under attack by the U.S. government. She reminded the crowd that the CIA under George H. W. Bush aided in arresting Nelson Mandela, resulting in his 27-year imprisonment. Walker noted Mandela’s principled stance for his allies — assassinated Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Yasir Arafat and Fidel Castro. Like Mandela, IFCO did not shirk from its support of Viva Palestina’s humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.

The evening ended with the singing of “Guantanamera,” led by an audio recording of the late folk singer Pete Seeger, with lyrics by legendary Cuban fighter José Martí. The meeting was co-emceed by civil rights attorney Joan Gibbs and Ike Nahem, from the July 26th Coalition.