Americans generally view Nelson Mandela as a hero and Fidel Castro as a villain. Mandela saw things differently.

The South African leader’s nationalist and anti-imperialist stances collided head on with the world’s superpower and gave him a lot in common with its Cuban archenemy. Mandela embraced the former Cuban dictator because he opposed apartheid and represented the aspirations of Third World nationalists that the United States undermined across the globe during the Cold War.

As it did for many leftists in the Global South, the Cuban Revolution’s triumph in 1959 inspired Mandela. Charged with the task of starting a guerrilla army in 1961, he looked to the writings of Cuban Communists for guidance.

“Any and every source was of interest to me,” Mandela wrote in his 2008 autobiography. “I read the report of Blas Roca, the general secretary of the Community Party of Cuba, about their years as an illegal organization during the Batista regime. In Commando, by Deneys Reitz, I read of the unconventional guerrilla tactics of the Boer generals during the Anglo-Boer War. I read works by and about Che Guevara, Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro.”

Mandela’s admiration for the Cuban Revolution only grew with time. Cuba under Castro opposed apartheid and supported the African National Congress -- Mandela's political organization and the current ruling party. Mandela credited Cuba’s military support to Angola in the 1970s and 1980s with helping to debilitate South Africa’s government enough to result in the legalization of the ANC in 1990.

The U.S. government, on the other hand, reportedly played a role in Mandela’s 1962 arrest and subsequently branded him a terrorist -- a designation they only rescinded in 2008. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan vetoed the Anti-Apartheid Act.

Given this history, it shouldn’t be surprising that Mandela remained sharply critical of the United States into his later life. When the George W. Bush administration announced plans to invade Iraq in 2003, Mandela said: “If there’s a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care.”

Shortly following his release after 27 years as a political prisoner in 1990, Mandela visited Cuba to express his gratitude, calling Castro’s Revolution “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.”

"We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious, imperialist-orchestrated campaign," Mandela said during the visit, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We, too, want to control our own destiny.”

During a public event in Havana, Mandela asked Castro to visit South Africa.

“Who trained our people, who gave us resources, who helped so many of our soldiers, our doctors?” Mandela said. “You have not come to our country -- when are you coming?”

None of this went down well with the Cuban exile community in the United States, most of whom fled the dictatorship in the early 1960s. Even before Mandela’s visit to Cuba, Castro’s opponents in South Florida fumed over the praise Mandela heaped on the island’s Communist dictator. When Mandela came to speak against apartheid in Miami in 1990, five Cuban-American mayors signed a letter criticizing him for his pro-Castro comments.

The pressure prompted the local government to snub Mandela, canceling an official welcome of the recently released leader.

In response, black leaders boycotted the Miami tourist industry until 1993, according to the Miami Herald.

Despite protest from Cuban Americans and criticism from those who pointed to human rights abuses in Cuba, Castro and Mandela continued their warm relationship, with Mandela saying he wouldn’t turn his back on those who had opposed apartheid. Castro took Mandela up on his offer to visit in 1994, when he traveled to attend Mandela’s inauguration as South Africa’s first black president.

Mandela passed away on Thursday at the age of 95.

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  • Mandela And Castro

    A Cuban hangs a poster of Cuban former president Fidel Castro and South African president Nelson Mandela at his home in Havana, on December 6, 2013. The Council of State of Cuba decreed official mourning on Friday and Saturday at the death 'of close friend' Nelson Mandela and will become national mourning on Sunday, with the suspension of festive activities AFP PHOTO/Yamil LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Mandela And Castro

    El líder cubano Fidel Castro habla con el presidente sudafricano Nelson Mandela el 19 de mayo de 1998 en una cumbre de la Organización Mundial de Comercio en Ginebra, Suiza. Mandela falleció el jueves 5 de diciembre de 2013 a la edad de 95 años. (Foto AP/Keystone, Patrick Aviolat, Archivo)

  • Mandela And Castro

    FILE - In this May 19, 1998 file photo, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, left, shares a laugh with South Africa President Nelson Mandela at a meeting of the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. South Africa's president Jacob Zuma says, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, that Mandela has died. He was 95. (AP Photo/Keystone, Patrick Aviolat, File)

  • Mandela And Castro

    A Cuban receptionist speaks by phone at an office in Havana, next to portraits of Cuban President Fidel Castro and South African Nobel Peace Prize Nelson Mandela 03 May 2007. The VI Hemispheric Summit Against Free Trade Agreement and for People Integration, starts on Thursday in the Cuban capital. AFP PHOTO Rodrigo ARANGUA (Photo credit should read RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Mandela And Castro

    Former South African president Nelson Mandela (L) hug with Cuban president Fidel Castro at Mandela's office in Johannesburg 02 September 2001. Castro who took part in the UN World Racism conference in Durban used the opportunity to visit Mandela, whose health is effected by cancer. AFP PHOTO YOAV LEMMER (Photo credit should read YOAV LEMMER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Mandela And Castro

    Cuban president Fidel Castro (R) expresses his joy in meeting former South African president Nelson Mandela at Mandela's office in Johannesburg 02 September 2001 . Castro who took part in the UN World Racism conference in Durban used the opportunity to visit Mandela, whose health is affected by cancer. AFP PHOTO YOAV LEMMER (Photo credit should read YOAV LEMMER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Mandela And Castro

    Cuban President Fidel Castro peers through the bars of President Nelson Mandela's former cell on Robben Island near Cape Town 04 September. The Cuban President is on a two day official visit to the country, following his attendance at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit which finished late 03 September. Castro once reviled by apartheid leaders was given a rousing welcome by President Nelson Mandela today. (Photo credit should read ANNA ZIEMINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Mandela And Castro

    Despite the rain, Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) and South African President Nelson Mandela (L) stroll through the gardens of Tuynhuis in Cape Town 04 September. Castro is on a two day official visit to South Africa following his attendance of the Non-Aligned Summit (NAM) which ended yesterday in Durban. (Photo credit should read ANNA ZIEMINSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Mandela And Castro

    South African President Nelson Mandela greets Cuban leader Fidel Castro as he arrives for the opening of the 12th Non-Aligned Movement summit in Durban 02 September 1998. (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Mandela And Castro

    Cuban President Fidel Castro (2nd L) enjoys the presence of South Africa's President Nelson Mandela (C), surrounded by Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi (L) and Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the GATT Agreement, during the ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) held in Geneva, 19 May. (Photo credit should read PASCAL GEORGE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Mandela And Castro

    Cuban president Fidel Castro (L) gets a quick photographic lesson from photographers before Nelson Mandela's inauguration, 10 May 1994 in Pretoria, as first democratically-elected president. (Photo credit should read KEVIN CARTER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Mandela And Castro

    MATANZAS, CUBA: South African Nationa Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela smiles 26 July 1991 in Matanzas as he salutes the crowd . A right, Cuban leader Fidel Castro. (Photo credit should read OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)