This article was reprinted from the October 28, 1995 issue of the People’s Weekly World. All rights reserved – may be used with PWW credits.
NEW YORK – Almost 1,600 Harlemites and solidarity activists packed the Abyssinian Baptist Church to give a hero’s welcome to Fidel Castro, the president of Cuba.
The mainly African American audience, which included New York Democratic representatives Charles Rangel and Nydia Velasquez, enthusiastically greeted the Communist leader with a 10-minute standing ovation. Chants of “Cuba si , Bloqueo no!” resounded from the rafters and sent a strong message of protest to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and President Clinton for excluding the Cuban leader from their sponsored events.
The audience erupted in shouts of “Fidel, Fidel” when Elombe Brathe, head of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition and chair for the meeting, asked the audience, “Who would you rather come to Harlem, Fidel or Giuliani?”
Rosemari Mealy reminded the crowd that this was the 35th anniversary of Castro’s famous first stay in Harlem. At that time Castro made his first speech to the U.N. and, after being rudely mistreated downtown, he moved his delegation to the Theresa Hotel in Harlem. Mealey, who is the author of a book on the meeting of Castro and Malcolm X, told the crowd that Ben Davis, a leader of the Communist Party USA, first “Communist Councilman from Harlem” organized a rally for Castro attended by thousands. She drew loud applause when she said, “We can attest to the fact that Fidel Castro has always been welcomed in Harlem.”
Rev Calvin Butts, the pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, said, “It is in our tradition to welcome all who are visionaries, revolutionaries and who seek the liberation of all people.”
Castro, who spoke for over an hour, was interrupted by applause numerous times as he presented a militant attack against the blockade and a spirited defense of the achievements of the Cuban revolution. He joked about donning a business suit for his address to the U.N. General Assembly’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
“I got rid of the business suit,” he quipped. “I said to myself, the last time I went to Harlem I was wearing my fatigues. How can I go to Harlem dressed in a business suit?”
Declaring that the Cuban people will never renounce their revolution, Castro cited the achievements of socialism. Infant mortality is now only 10 per 1,000 live births, lower than New York City. Cuba has trained 60,000 doctors — 15,000 of them serving in other nations around the world. To the delight and enthusiastic applause of the crowd, Castro offered to send Cuban doctors to Harlem or anywhere else in the U.S. to serve people lacking medical care. Castro stressed Cuba’s assistance in fighting neocolonialism.
“The Cuban revolution has shed blood for African freedom,” he said, citing the battle of Cuito-Cuanavale in which 50,000 Angolan and Cuban troops defeated the CIA backed army of Jonas Savimbi and the army of apartheid South Africa.
Castro also received a hero’s welcome earlier Sunday from the hundreds of chiefs of state and other delegates to the U.N. celebration. His six-minute speech received a thunderous ovation—far more warmly greeted than President Clinton’s. He denounced a handful of wealthy nations that exploit the poor and underdeveloped nations of the world, while dominating the United Nations.
“At present, 20 million men, women and children are dying every year of hunger and incurable diseases,” Castro said. “The Cold War is over but the arms race goes on. And nuclear and military hegemonism perpetuate themselves. How long shall we wait for the total removal of all weapons of mass extermination, for universal disarmament, and for the elimination of the use of force, arrogance and pressure in international relations?
In an obvious reference to the U.S blockade of Cuba, Castro said, “We lay claim to a world without ruthless blockades that cause the death of men, women, and children, youth and elders, like noiseless atom bombs. We lay claim to a world of peace, justice, and dignity where everyone without exception has the right to well-being and life.”