In the Spirit of Mandela

 
 
Mandela offers an insurmountable example to Latin America and the Caribbean, which are currently moving towards unity and integration for the benefit of their peoples, on the basis of respect for diversity, and convinced that it is through dialogue and cooperation that discrepancies can be resolved and a civilized relationship established between those who think differently....
 
I remember his bond of affection with Fidel Castro, a symbol of the fraternal relations between Africans and Cubans. Fidel has said: “Nelson Mandela will not go down in history for the 27 consecutive years he spent incarcerated without ever renouncing his ideas. He will go down in history because he was capable of cleaning-up his soul from the poison that such an unfair punishment could have planted there; and for his generosity and wisdom, which at the moment of victory allowed him to lead with great talent his selfless and heroic people, knowing that the new South Africa could not be built on hatred and vengeance.”
 
   -- President Raul Castro's speech in Johannesburg
 
 
The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality or universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important.  For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger and disease.  We still see run-down schools. We still see young people without prospects for the future.  Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love.  That is happening today.  
 
And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice.  We, too, must act on behalf of peace.  There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.  There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.    And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
 
The questions we face today -- how to promote equality and justice; how to uphold freedom and human rights; how to end conflict and sectarian war -- these things do not have easy answers.  But there were no easy answers in front of that child born in World War I.  Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done.  South Africa shows that is true.  South Africa shows we can change, that we can choose a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes.  We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.
 
    -- President Barack Obama's speech in Johannesburg
 
It is fitting to his role in reconciliation that Nelson Mandela's memorial should provide an occasion for Presidents Barrack Obama and Raul Castro to finally meet and shake hands.  Mandela related to the aspirations and the imperfect practices of both countries, and personally to their leaders.
 
Nelson Mandela strongly expressed his gratitude for Cuban support to the people of South Africa, both historically in the military struggle against apartheid and at present with medical assistance. He also adamantly opposed the US embargo and regime change strategy.
 
Raul Castro's speech was introduced with these words,
 
"an address from a tiny island, an island of people who liberated us, who fought for our liberation."
 
Watching "The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela" last night, a moving Frontlines biography,  and the memorial program in South Africa on C-Span this morning, the following occurred to me as a path toward US-Cuba reconciliation in the spirit of Mandela (which could also help resolve the more immediate issue of releasing prisoners):
 
  • The US officially retire its cold war goal of regime change and terminate Radio and TV Marti and democracy programs of USAID and other agencies.
  • Cuba cease treating all dissidents as tools of US intervention and end acts of repudiation and harassment by security forces.

Neither country will gain everything it wishes, but both will have sheathed destructive and counterproductive weapons.  Private assistance can still be sent by Miami ultras, but it will no longer be inflated by direct and indirect US taxpayer subsidy.  The economic and social stress of the embargo will still prompt disquiet among Cubans.

John McAuliff

Fund for Reconciliation and Development

 

Updates:

1)  China's Deputy Prime Minister also spoke at the memorial.  Did President Obama shake his repressive hand too?

 2)  I wonder whether the reaction to the handshake by Rep. Ros Lehtinen, etc. is so over the top, Elian style, that it (coupled with harsh opposition to the Iran agreement) neutralizes opposition to Obama taking more signficant steps than shaking hands.  

"I came here when I was a small child with my family fleeing the aggression of the communist tyranny in Cuba, and to see the president of the United States shake hands with a sadistic murderer, which is what Raul Castro is and what he represents, it is nauseating," the Cuban-born Republican said.