At least 500 people jammed the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Cultural Center in Harlem, N.Y., on Feb. 4, to pay tribute to Fidel Castro Ruz, leader of the Cuban Revolution, at an event entitled, “The Legacy Continues.” Gail Walker, executive director of IFCO (Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization)/Pastors for Peace, shared emcee duties with Malcolm Sacks of the Venceremos Brigade.
Walker noted the event was being held on “hallowed ground,” the site where El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz — Malcolm X — was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965. Sacks called Fidel “a real example of a revolutionary leader.”
At the podium was a large photograph of Malcolm X and Fidel laughing during their historic meeting at Harlem’s old Hotel Theresa in 1960. In the meeting hall, along with the historic site’s murals of Malcolm’s life was a beautiful banner with a portrait of Fidel painted by Carlito Rovira, a former member of the Young Lords.
As people arrived, videos were played of Fidel being released from prison two years after the July 26, 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks, at the Granma’s landing on Dec. 1, 1956, and directing the first defeat of U.S. imperialism in the Western Hemisphere at Playa Girón (the Bay of Pigs) in April 1961.
The Afro-Boricua Drumming and Dance Ensemble set the evening’s tribute in motion. Zayid Muhammad, revolutionary poet and organizer from Newark, N.J., gave a libation that evoked Caribbean revolutionaries Marcus Garvey, Pedro Albizu Campos and José Martí.
Another video showed Comandante Fidel in the Sierra Maestra with his comrades Che Guevara, Celia Sánchez and Juan Almeida, a Black Cuban who became a commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. Nelson Mandela and Hugo Chávez Frías were also seen with their friend Fidel Castro.
There was also video footage of Fidel speaking at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1995 and at Riverside Church in 2000. Talking about his 1960 visit to New York, Fidel recalled he had said, “I’m going to Harlem. That’s where our best friends are.”
The Honorable Anayansi Rodríguez, Cuban ambassador to the United Nations, said to audience members, “You are sisters and brothers.” She pointed out that Fidel made several trips to New York City before and after the Cuban Revolution’s triumph in 1959. The ambassador also spoke of Fidel’s love for the Rev. Lucius Walker, a sentiment which was visually displayed in a video where Fidel embraced his friend.
Rev. Walker, Gail Walker’s father, founded Pastors for Peace. He died in 2010. He had been wounded by U.S.-backed contra terrorists seeking to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government in 1988. Two people in Walker’s group were killed.
Video statements were played from South Africa, Angola and Namibia. Jerry Matthews Matjila, South Africa’s ambassador to the U.N., called Fidel “a great friend and ally.” Over 2,000 Cuban soldiers died fighting for African freedom against apartheid armies supplied by the Pentagon and Israel.
Walker recognized Nguyen Phuong Nga, U.N. ambassador from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, who was in the audience. So was former political prisoner Sekou Odinga, a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army who spent 30 years in jail. Walker also acknowledged longtime Puerto Rican revolutionary Esperanza Martell, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry of the House of the Lord Church and James A. Forbes, senior minister emeritus of the Riverside Church.
Cuba: beacon of international solidarity
Dr. Joaquín Morante, a physician practicing in East Harlem, announced that Cuba had provided a free medical education to 145 doctors from the U.S. at the Latin America School of Medicine. He was one of them. “I stand amazed at what was accomplished,” said Morante, noting that Cuba trained 20,000 physicians from over 100 countries at the school. None paid a dime.
Fidel pushed for the establishment of the medical school after thousands of people died following hurricanes in Central America and the Caribbean in the late 1990s. Walker mentioned that hundreds of Cuban medical workers fearlessly fought Ebola in Africa. Even former President Barack Obama had to praise them.
While communist Fidel helped thousands of doctors to treat poor people around the globe, capitalist Uncle Sam has trained thousands of thugs at its “School of the Americas” to torture poor people.
The tribute had many cultural presentations. Sala Cyril read a poem saluting Fidel by Zenzile Khoisan from South Africa. “Revolutionary Cuba is my second homeland,” declared Puerto Rican revolutionary Frank Velgara, who read a poem honoring Fidel. Velgara helped organize the tribute.
World-renown jazz pianist Dayramir González and violinist Taitiana Ferrer performed. Cuban-born González said that at 16 he was able to travel the world. He warned people not to get sick in the U.S. since “health care and education are not a priority,” unlike in socialist Cuba.
“Long live the Haitian and Cuban revolutions!” declared Ninaj Raoul, director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees. She said Haiti should have established Committees for the Defense of the Revolution like Cuba had done.
‘Cuban people will protect Assata Shakur’
Jaime Mendieta, the president of Casa de las Américas, also spoke of Fidel’s trip to New York following his release from prison in 1955. Fidel addressed 800 people to gain support for the July 26th Movement fighting the dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Members of Casa de las Américas courageously aided the struggle against Batista and later defended the Cuban Revolution. Luis Miranda, longtime president of CASA who died in 2007, was wounded in New York City by Cuban counterrevolutionaries. The attackers were protected by city police.
Anti-war activist Leslie Cagan, who received Cuba’s Medal of Friendship, reminded the audience that the event was being held on the anniversary of Amadou Diallo’s assassination in 1999. New York City cops fired 41 shots at the immigrant from Guinea.
Larry Hamm, leader of New Jersey’s dynamic People’s Organization for Progress, helped wind up the program with a fiery speech: “U.S. imperialism has not been able to defeat the Cuban Revolution. We must end the blockade against Cuba. … To make revolution in the United States is the greatest tribute to Fidel.”
Hamm strongly asserted, “We know the Cuban people will protect Assata Shakur,” referring to the Black revolutionary given asylum and trained as a doctor by Cuba.
The program ended with drumming and dancing by Dr. Drum and Bomba Ya. Members of the audience joined in and danced in the aisles.
In the beautiful printed program produced by the New York-New Jersey Cuba Sí Organizing Committee, Workers World Party declared: “Fidel will continue to inspire not only the Cuban people but the hundreds of millions around the world who yearn for liberation. A genuine Marxist Leninist, Fidel was able to stand up to the strongest imperialist power to create and build an independent socialist project right under the nose of the U.S.”
Long live the memory of Comrade Fidel Castro! Long live the Cuban Revolution!