With the recent death of former dictator and Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, I thought it would be interesting to summarise Castro’s rather odd relations with the jewish state.
To begin with we should note that there are serious questions surrounding Castro’s ancestral origins and, as I have explained in a previous article, the evidence suggests that Castro both had jewish ancestry and that this significantly influenced his political development. (1)
In the 1960s and 1970s in the heyday of the anti-colonial movement, Castro worked closely with organisations such as Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (hereafter PLO). This was based on the belief that Arafat was a genuine anti-colonial revolutionary and Castro’s Cuban forces greatly assisted the PLO by providing professional combat training for their guerrillas from the 1960s to as late as the 1980s. (2)
By the 1980s however Castro’s enthusiasm for the PLO had waned considerably as Arafat was increasingly viewed by the Cuban government as a political opportunist who would say whatever would get him the most international support in his struggle against Israel. (3)
This is evidenced by Castro increasingly switching his support away from the PLO towards dissident Palestinian groups like the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine run by Nayif Hawatimah. (4)
In order to understand this we should note that during the initial phase of Cuba’s involvement in the Middle East it served as an agitator against the established order, and was a strong supporter of Arab states against Israel specifically because, as Castro’s propagandists argued, it was the regional surrogate of the United States. (5) This included, but was not limited to, Castro dispatching a Cuban tank brigade to assist Hafez al-Assad’s Syria in their conflict with Israel over the Golan Heights in 1974. (6)
On a superficial level Castro’s support of al-Assad’s Syria, Nasser’s Egypt and Arafat’s PLO in their struggles against Israel seems to suggest an antipathy towards the jewish state.
Yet as with the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war Castro could support both sides and see no contradiction in doing so. (7) This could be said to be based upon simple real politick as Castro was a fierce exponent of Cuban nationalism, (8) but to the end of his life Castro was absolutely desperate for good relations with Israel. (9)
This is odd precisely because Castro had no particular reason to want good relations with Israel as it had little to really offer him geo-politically or economically.
If he had significant jewish ancestry of which he was both very aware (10) and that was important in his political development as I have argued, then this would in fact solve the mystery of Castro’s strange desperation to have good relations with the state of Israel.
This is despite the fact that Israel had been an ardent supporter of the economic boycott of Cuba by the United States in the United Nations. (11)
Yet Israel also duplicitously conducted a significant amount of trade with Cuba during the height of tensions (including the Cuban Missile Crisis) with the United States and also provided the fledgling dictatorship with much needed technical and scientific know-how in agriculture on which Cuba’s economy was then completely dependent. (12)
The point man in all of his was Richard Wolf, Castro’s close friend and the main financial backer of his revolutionaries, who was himself jewish and Castro’s Ambassador to Israel from 1960. (13)
This close relationship between Israel and Cuba continued even during the height of the tensions and Castro’s support of the PLO in their campaign against the jewish state with Israel providing much needed investment in the Cuban textile industry. (14)
Further after the collapse of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact in 1991; it was Israel that kept Cuba afloat economically and by extension allowed Castro to remain in power by regenerating Cuban’s tourism industry and taking over the management of Cuba’s ailing citrus farms. (15) Thus continuing to betray the United States while giving lip service to the economic blockade in the United Nations.
Thus we can see that Castro’s pro-Israel policies – which have included denouncing so-called ‘Holocaust denial’ and anti-Semitism (16), refusing to sever ties with Israel when it launched wars of conquest (17) and ensuring that the sole private business able to legally operate in Cuba until recently was the island’s only kosher butcher shop (18) – only really make sense if we view Castro as a revolutionary of partial jewish origin whose ancestry influenced his decision-making in regards to domestic and foreign affairs.
It was only natural that Israel reciprocated in kind so that one of its own could remain in power.
- Cf. Damian Fernandez, 1988, ‘Cuba’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East’, 1st Edition, Westview Press: Boulder; David Grantham, 2015, ‘Cuba’s Cold War Foreign Policy in the Middle East: From Agitator to Mediator’, History Compass, Vol. 13, No. 9, pp. 445-453
- https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/11/29/how-fidel-castro-was-at-the-heart-of-middle-east-politics/?utm_term=.f0f4280541f9; United States Information Agency, Cuba Annual Report: 1989, p. 31
- United States Information Agency, Op. Cit., pp. 31-32
- Cf. Fernandez, Op. Cit.; Grantham, Op. Cit.
- United States Information Agency, Op. Cit., p. 32; Allan Metz, 1993, ‘Cuban-Israeli Relations’, p. 114 in Jorge Perez-Lopez (Ed.), 1993, ‘Cuban Studies 23’, 1st Edition, University of Pittsburgh Press: Pittsburgh
- Fidel Castro, 2007, ‘My Life’, 2nd Edition, Allen Lane: London, p. 539
- Metz, Op. Cit., p. 117
- Geoff Simons, 1996, ‘Cuba: From Conquistadors to Castro’, 1st Edition, MacMillan: Basingstoke, pp. 46, 58; Volker Skierka, 2004, ‘Fidel Castro: A Biography’, 1st Edition, Polity Press: Malden, p. 316
- Simons, Op. Cit., p. 46; Metz, Op. Cit., p. 114
- http://www.searchlightmagazine.com/2016/12/fidel-castros-paradoxical-relationship-with-israel-and-jews/; Metz, Op. Cit., p. 116
- Ibid; http://www.jewishvoiceny.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=16394:fidel-castro-and-the-jews&catid=121&Itemid=776&lang=en