By Isaac Risco (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES — Admired around the world, Nelson Mandela also had a symbolic relationship with a Latin American country and, in particular, a man, Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
In his last open letter to Mandela in 2010, Castro called him an “old and revered friend.”
“In all my years in prison, Cuba was an inspiration and Fidel Castro a tower of strength,” once praised the late South African president.
One of the historical photos now circulating shows Mandela about to warmly embrace the old Latin American revolutionary, one of the few occasions in which Castro used a suit instead of his classic olive green military uniform during the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in 1998.
After becoming a global icon, “Madiba” never hid his allegiance to Cuba for its early support for his fight against apartheid, despite criticism that arose against Castro for the authoritarian excesses of his government.
“We profoundly respect and admire him, not only for what he did for his people, but also for his proven friendship to our country,” said the younger brother of Fidel, President Raul Castro, upon learning of Mandela’s death on Thursday.
A video also displays the affection Mandela and Fidel Castro professed, calling each other “brothers” during a visit by the South African to Havana in 1991. Cuba was the first Latin American country that he had visited. Mandela would later visit Argentina and Brazil, but his point of reference on the American continent would always Cuba.
In a dialogue recalled on Cuban TV on Thursday night, Mandela tells Fidel, “Before you say anything, you have to tell me when you are coming to South Africa. When are you coming?”
“I have not visited my South Africa homeland,” Castro responded, and he paid off his debt in 1994. Cuban television recalled that dialogue on Thursday night.
The revolution came to power in Cuba in 1959 led by a young Castro who electrified the world, including a militant activist in the far South. Especially in the Third World the bearded Cuban leader became a symbol of the struggle against colonialism.
For decades socialist Cuba tried to translate the spirit of their revolution to other struggles for emancipation, and also gave direct support to Africans. The Caribbean island sent troops to fight in Angola, a campaign considered in Cuba as one of the great “internationalist” deeds of Castro.
In the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, Cuban troops played a decisive role in stopping the advance of the Angolan insurgency operating with the support of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Cuito Cuanavale is considered today as a turning point for Africa, where the apartheid ended in 1992. Mandela never forgot the gesture.
“Our friend Cuba, who helped us train our people, who gave us resources that helped us so much in our struggle,” said the South African leader in his meeting with Castro in 1991.
Mandela also always ignored any criticism of his meetings with controversial leaders such as Castro or the old revolutionary and later Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
“We should not abandon those who helped us in the darkest hour in the history of this country,” Mandela told former US President Bill Clinton during a visit to Cape Town, to justify his ties with Castro and Gaddafi.
For Mandela, his vision of Latin America was always linked to Castro and Cuba.