“The world will have to look upon Africa with reverence and shame,” stated Abel Prieto, in regards to the debt owed by humanity to the continent, recalling the plunder of its natural resources, how its children were kidnapped and shipped across the world, the scars left by colonialism and the distorted image often presented by hegemonic media outlets.
Last weekend, Cuba’s Minister of Culture spoke during the closing ceremony of the International Scientific Committee sessions – Volume IV of the General History of Africa, a project sponsored by UNESCO.
Over six days, approximately 30 renowned experts and academics from around the world came together in the Casa de las Américas, to discuss and reach a consensus on key aspects toward the creation of a document encapsulating the latest results of this unprecedented encyclopedic initiative.
Prieto was invited to talk about the Cuban Revolution’s links with Africa as well as the cultural legacy of the continent, which forms an unquestionable part of the island’s identity.
He referred to the creation of institutions geared toward preserving and promoting such a legacy, the significant number of books by African and Caribbean authors published on the island, and the implementation of the La Ruta del Esclavo (Slave Route) program.
Prieto received a round of applause as he explained how following the triumph of the Revolution in January 1959, Africa became a central focus of the revolution’s internationalist vision, led by Fidel Castro – which included the training of human resources, collaborative health and educational initiatives; the development of infrastructure; and selfless international and solidarity missions, such as that undertaken by Cuban doctors and nurses to combat the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He noted that the Cuban people will forever remember the words spoken by Nelson Mandela when he said that: “The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice, unparalleled for its principles and selfless character.”
The Minister also highlighted the importance of the meeting – which took place in Havana’s Casa de las Américas, an institution that offers an Afro-American Studies Program, led by Zuleica Romay, regarding the current global situation, characterized by racism, intolerance, xenophobia, egotistical attitudes and fascist ideas.
Following President of the Casa, Roberto Fernández Retamar’s, detailed report on the ways in which the institution has reflected and promoted African and Caribbean cultures; Katherine Muller-Marín, director of the UNESCO Regional Office, paid tribute to Cuban historian José Luciano Franco (1891–1989), who was a founding member of the project.
Muller-Marín reported that to date over 300 experts from diverse disciplines and countries have participated in the initiative.
A report read out by Augustin Holl, a professor from Cameroon, confirmed progress made during the event, the closing ceremony of which saw the participation of Miguel Barnet, President of the National Union of Writers and Artist of Cuba (Uneac), Alí Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO’s History and Memory project, and Ray Lema, President of the International Coalition of Artists for the General History of Africa.