Why Does Mandela Have Greater Recognition Internationally than Fidel?

The UN secretary general unveils a statue of Nelson Mandela before the beginning of the 2018 Peace Summit. Photo: ONU

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

HAVANA TIMES – A few days ago, on September 24th, the UN held a Peace Summit called the “Nelson Mandela Peace Summit” in honor of the centennial of his birth this year. Who doubts this wasn’t a fair tribute? Quite likely, not even his political adversaries, supporters of apartheid, did.

Why is the great South African leader revered, a democratic socialist who was a true friend to Fidel?

For starters, it must be said that Mandela was an upstanding and just man. He didn’t just fight out of rebellion and he wasn’t a rebel first and foremost, like Maduro and Diaz-Canel stressed at the Summit. He had the “decency” to fight against injustice in his country, but he didn’t hate or try to destroy his enemies, he just defeated them by forcing them to respect his race’s rights and to lead tolerant lives. The democrat in him outweighed the rebel and he was never an authoritarian figure.

He didn’t take advantage of his people’s support, which he deserved to have, nor of their devotion which they professed while he was still alive, to uphold megalomaniac personal projects or to remain in power. He could have done this (it’s a trend in Africa and the Third World on the whole), but he chose the opposite path, the path of freedom.

He was only in office for one term and then he gave up his seat to others, serving as an example of constructive civility, like any true redeemer of their people should. Doesn’t this behavior seem the absolute opposite of what Cuban and Venezuelan revolutionaries do?

Marti would have commended a socialist like Mandela and he would have never have supported Fidel, I have no doubt about that. There is evidence that he sympathized with the socialist ideal with the same vigor that he criticized radical socialism. And in his letter to Gomez on October 20th 1884, his real political testament (for myself and others) clearly states: “civic freedom (are the) sole object for which it is worth throwing a country into the struggle.”

While it’s true that Mandela did support armed struggle at one point, that was at a time of fighting to survive, when his people were suffering a lot of violence and injustice and his leaders were being persecuted. He wanted to be like Gandhi and he was always inclined to more peaceful means. But he didn’t pick up arms just to impose his ideals, which shine like chimeras a lot of the time when they are placed in the light.

It is also true that Mandela joined the Communists, but I will go out on a limb here and say that he was never a true Communist at heart. How many Cubans who defend democracy today haven’t been through the exact same thing? Back then, being a Communist meant being atheist and Mandela never abandoned his Christian beliefs: he was a Methodist. He didn’t believe in a fight to the death between social classes either. His tie to Communism was rather a kind of alliance against the established power and an attractive framework of co-existence of races in a segregated country, as white and black people worked side by side like brothers in this political movement.

The way Mandela faced his extended prison sentence “without hatred” is definitely commendable. After sparking international support and changing the political situation, he could have been released with the halo of a hero who has redeemed his people, but he didn’t put himself on a pedestal. He is a true example of greatness.

When Mandela came into power, white people didn’t have to emigrate en masse and leave South Africa to escape his vengeance, capitalists didn’t lose their businesses or assets and other political parties weren’t wiped out. Apartheid was the only thing that was abolished, fulfilling his promise. His victory was great because it was a victory for all of his people, the Black population won without the White population having to lose. He didn’t divide his country any more than it already was. On the contrary, he got the wheels rolling for a real unification process.

He was Fidel’s friend and he showed his gratitude without any concern or fear of being stigmatized. That was another virtue of his, in my opinion. Because it’s fair to say that during the Cold War, while governments in the US and Western Europe were calling him a terrorist and an enemy of freedom and supported the apartheid government, Fidel supported Mandela’s cause and helped him with his war in Angola (which doesn’t need to be analyzed from another perspective in this article). He was grateful.

Does Fidel deserve to be recognized internationally and held in such high honor?

I believe that Fidel could have deserved a UN tribute similar to Mandela’s own now or in the future. He could have received a Nobel Peace Prize and the Princess of Asturias Award, just like Mandela. He had enough intelligence, courage, altruism, skills and opportunity to deserve them. However, he chose to walk down a different path than Mandela and he lost himself in extremist ideology.

Because any form of extremism is negative in the short or long-term, even if you chase after atruistic objectives. You inevitably end up being detrimental and selfish. Marti, the true visionary he was, was aware of this. Mandela, the strong leader he was, could prevent this from happening.

Fidel embraced extremist ideology out of altruism. It was a blind path that ended up destroying the freedom he sought. His eagerness and haste for justice became a hunger for power and he took the Cuban people’s sovereignty away from them and gave it to his party, which he not only personally led, but which became the only party to exist and was placed above the State.

He pushed education, healthcare and sports initiatives, which are still merits even without the right funding. The problem was the high price that needed to be paid for these achievements. He sunk the entire country into poverty by taking control of the national economy, he divided Cubans and transformed them into an exile people and our most basic human rights are still limited, even today, such as freedom of speech, movement, political association and economic enterprise.

Fidel’s greatest work, which he did receive awards for and UN recognition, was his solidarity efforts. No matter what the objectives of foreign policy were, and money, he sought and seeks this solidarity; from accusations of semi-slavery of Cuban professionals who go on solidarity missions and their real financial motivation, it still has an undeniable merit. That’s why he was granted the Gold Medal of the Spanish Senate and the “World Hero of Solidarity” title from the UN. It is always better to have politics that save lives than to make war.

Maybe if when the Soviet Union collapsed, he had made a move back towards the original plan that the Cuban people supported and that led him to triumph in 1959, restored the 1940 Constitution, promoting national reconciliation, rescuing democracy and the country’s economic progress, then he would have deserved the world’s highest honors just like Mandela.

But he didn’t and that’s why his legacy is another one, different to the peace and tolerance that inspired this Summit. There’s your answer.