Black Lives Matter pledges to honour Fidel by pushing his anti-racist vision

Fidel Castro meeting with Malcolm X.
Fidel Castro meeting with Malcolm X in Harlem in 1960.

Black Lives Matter, the US anti-police brutality group formed to oppose racist police killings, mourned the death of former Cuban president and revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in a statement reflecting on his life. In it, the group discussed the lessons it has learned from his struggle against racism and imperialism.

“We are feeling many things as we awaken to a world without Fidel Castro,” the group said on November 27. “There is an overwhelming sense of loss.”

The group said that in its struggle for freedom and justice, it will use “the lessons that we take from Fidel”, saying: “From Fidel, we know that revolution is sparked by an idea, by radical imaginings, which sometimes take root first among just a few dozen people coming together in the mountains. It can be a tattered group of meager resources, like in Sierra Maestro in 1956 or St. Elmo Village in 2013.”

In September, Black Lives Matter adopted a radical vision statement to defeat racist oppression in the US. Many of its ideas build on the aims of the Cuban Revolution, as well as other liberation struggles, while adapting them to the 21st century.

When in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly in 1960, Castro famously refused to stay in a luxury hotel, with Black civil rights leaders instead arranging for the Cuban revolutionary to stay in the impoverished, largely Black area of Harlem. There, he met with legendary African American revolutionary Malcolm X. 

Castro is remembered both for the gains in fighting racism in Cuba, but especially for the active solidarity with anti-colonial and anti-racist liberation struggles in Africa. Most famously, Cuba sent thousands of volunteers to Angola in the 1970s and '80s to fight apartheid South Africa's invasion. At the same time as Cuba fought alongside Black Africans against the South African forces, countries such as the US, Britain and Israel were actively backing the Apartheid regime.

Cuba's role in defeating the South African forces was crucial to defeating Apartheid, a fact recognised by Nelson Mandela who made his first international trip after his release from prison to the Caribbean island to thank the Cuban people.

Black Lives Matter Fidel succeeded in his revolution because he managed to win “the hearts and minds of the people,” while continually adopting and reshaping the struggle to fit with what the grassroots wanted.

“No single revolutionary ever wins or even begins the revolution. The revolution begins only when the whole is fully bought in and committed to it. And it is never over.”

Black Lives Matter said it learned from Fidel that a revolution “transcends borders; the freedom of oppressed people and people of color is all bound up together wherever we are. In Cuba, South Africa, Palestine, Angola, Tanzania, Mozambique, Grenada, Venezuela, Haiti, African America, and North Dakota. We must not only root for each other but invest in each other’s struggles, lending our voices, bodies, and resources to liberation efforts which may seem distant from the immediacy of our daily existence.”

The group thanked Fidel for supporting Black movements in the US, noting:  “As a Black network committed to transformation, we are particularly grateful to Fidel for holding Mama Assata Shakur [an African American political prisoner now living in Cuba in exile], who continues to inspire us.”

Black Lives Matter concluded: “As Fidel ascends to the realm of the ancestors, we summon his guidance, strength, and power as we recommit ourselves to the struggle for universal freedom. Fidel Vive!”