Lecture on Cuba, racism and African liberation

AS PART of the activities of Black History Month sponsored by the Halifax Regional Library, professor Isaac Saney of Dalhousie's Transition Year Program recently presented a lecture on the history of the struggle of the Cuban people against racism in Cuba up to the present day, and the role of the socialist republic of Cuba in assisting African liberation struggles. Prof. Saney is the author of the recent book Cuba, A Revolution in Motion, and has co-produced with Mark Rushton a video on Cuban assistance to Africa entitled, "I Am My Sister's And Brother's Keeper" which premiered in Halifax last December. The talk was held at the library on Gottingen Street and was introduced by Professor David Divine, the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Studies at Dalhousie. Those in attendance were largely students or involved in Canada-Cuba solidarity.

Going back to the earliest days of European colonialism in the Americas Prof. Saney went into great detail on how the issue of racism has played out in the history of Cuba, e.g., the history of the resistance of the aboriginal people to the Spanish conquest, and the rise of the African slave trade which set the stage for the development of Cuban society. Racism was thus an integral part of the colonial society of Cuba. The struggle against racism and slavery was a main feature of Cuba's struggle for independence. Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, one of the early leaders of the independence movement and a prominent slave-owner himself, was noted for having begun his revolt by ringing the bell at his estate to announce the emancipation of all his slaves with an invitation to join him in the struggle for Cuban independence. Later, the United States government interfered with the Cuban independence movement and replaced many of the gains of the movement against slavery and racist with "Jim Crow" laws and segregation. The struggle against US domination and the dictatorship of Batista also involved a struggle for the removal of such racist practices and the creation of more egalitarian society.

Prof Saney talked at length about the assistance that Cuba gave to the African liberation struggles, in particular, to the struggle for independence in Angola and against the South African apartheid regime. One of the great landmark events was the humiliating and ignominious defeat of some 6,000 crack troops, armed with Mirage aircraft, tanks and artillery, of the South African Defence Force at the village of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola during 1988; the racist toops had invaded southern Angola in an attempt to save its surrogate army of J Savimbi (Unita) and subjugating Angola. The sovereignty of Angola was defended, Namibia became indepndent and the apartheid regime was shaken to the core. He concluded that a genuinely non-racist society requires socialism, and that combatting racism requires a conscious, active intervention rather than leaving it up to chance.

The talk was received well by all those present as was evidenced by the number of excellent questions raised and by the positive comments which followed the meeting. Professors Saney and Divine intend to organize a similar presentation during next year's Black History Month. -- Charles Spurr

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