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From Palestine to Cuba: Palestinian leaders remember the late Fidel Castro

Nov. 26, 2016 4:24 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 27, 2016 3:59 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian leaders expressed their condolences on Saturday for the death of Fidel Castro, a Cuban leader and revolutionary who passed away late Friday at the age of 90, and remembered his staunch support for the Palestinian people and their struggle for freedom and independence.

The head of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), Salim al-Zanun, highlighted in a statement the historical relationship between the Palestinian struggle and Cuba, and recognized the late President Yasser Arafat’s relationship with the deceased Cuban leader, who broke off diplomatic ties with the state of Israel in 1973 and was one the first countries to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) after its founding in 1964.

Al-Zanun added that Cuba today still believes in the justice of the Palestinian cause and continues to support the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, return, and an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) eulogized the late leader in a statement, underscoring that Castro had “consistently stood with the oppressed peoples of the world in their confrontation with imperialism, Zionism, racism, and capitalism.”

The PFLP celebrated the Cuban revolution, which ousted the US-backed Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, saying that the revolution “belonged to the entire people,” and united workers and peasants to ensure the victory of their revolution, adding that Cuba has remained “an example of the nationalization of production, the division of wealth, and the construction of exceptional free education and health care systems.”

“From Angola to South Africa, Palestine to Mozambique, Bolivia to El Salvador, Castro’s legacy of international revolutionary solidarity and struggle continues to serve as an example in practice that transcends borders toward revolution, democracy and socialism,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Democratic Union also expressed sadness over the death of the celebrated leader, with the group’s Secretary-General Zahira Kamal saying that Castro’s death was an important moment for the Palestinian people, and extended their condolences to the Cuban people and all of his supporters around the world.

Similarly, Secretary-General of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) Nayif Hawatmeh said that "the departure of the comrade, the leader, the friend, the great revolutionary, the patriot, and the nationalist Fidel Castro is a great loss for all revolutionaries and nationalist forces around the world."

Castro rose to power in Cuba in 1959 and was lauded as a leader of the poor and oppressed, while rearranging the global political landscape through a socialist regime that was staunchly opposed to American imperialist policies. The deceased leader also implemented policies which established free national education and health care services throughout the country.

The celebrated leader also survived more than 600 assassination attempts by the US government.

As a result of his failing health, his brother Raul took over the position of president in 2006.

The Palestinian cause was a central issue during the whole of Castro's political life. Diplomatic ties between Cuba and Palestine began in the same year that Castro became prime minister in 1959 following the Cuban revolution, when Raul Castro and Che Guevara visited the Gaza Strip.

According to Al Jazeera, Arafat and Castro developed close diplomatic and personal ties, with Castro inviting Arafat to Cuba at least eight times. Palestinian authorities have noted that during each visit Castro "always welcomed [Arafat] like he was a head of state."

Cuba publicly condemned Israel at the United Nations for the first time during the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israeli forces launched a military campaign that resulted in the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. According to Al Jazeera, Cuba and Nicaragua were the only Latin American countries to grant the PLO full diplomatic status, with Cuba severing ties completely with the Israeli state several years later.

Following the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, Cuba also began to provide military support to the Fatah movement, and eventually extended his support to Palestinian popular and democratic fronts that became central to the resistance movements during the first Palestinian intifada.

In addition, Castro cosponsored UN Resolution 3379 that was passed in 1975, which stated that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." However, the resolution was eventually repealed in 1991.

In 2014, Castro, along with several other Latin American countries, directly spoke out against Israel’s most recent offensive on the besieged Gaza Strip, which left some 1,462 Palestinians dead, a third of whom were children, calling the assault a “new, repugnant form of fascism” in a column for a local Cuban newspaper.

“Why does the government of this country (Israel) think that the world will be impervious to this macabre genocide that is being committed today against the Palestinian people?” it read.

However, others have criticized the leader for his longstanding rule over Cuba and what critics said was the concerted stifling of political dissent, as Cuban Americans in Miami flocked to the streets to celebrate the leader’s death, with one critic commenting on Twitter: “Rest in Peace for education, healthcare, and racial equality for the people. Rest in Pain for starving, murdering, and silencing them.”

Despite criticisms, Castro has remained an icon for left-wing movements and underdeveloped countries which saw the leader as a voice of the oppressed who could stand up against destructive American policies, while instilling hope into independence movements around the world throughout the anti-colonial rebellions of the 1960s and 70s.

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