See tour scheduleBY JAMES HARRIS
Students were riveted by Dreke’s talk as he spoke from his experience as a commander of the Cuban Revolution, who for nearly four decades has been involved in Cuba’s internationalist solidarity with Africa.
Since the victory of the revolution on Jan. 1, 1959, he said, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have joined anticolonial and anti-imperialist struggles in Africa, from Algeria to Guinea-Bissau to Angola. In 1965 he served as second in command under Ernesto Che Guevara of an internationalist combat mission in which 128 Cuban volunteers joined national liberation forces in the Congo.
Over a 13-year period in the 1970s and ‘80s a total of more than 300,000 Cuban combatants fought in Angola alongside Angolan and Namibian forces, repelling repeated assaults by the South Africa apartheid army and finally decisively defeating the invaders in 1988. Today Cuban doctors, teachers, technicians, and other volunteers carry out internationalist missions in a number of African countries.
"The only thing that Cuba has brought back from Africa is our 2,000 combatants who fell in battle," Dreke said. Unlike the imperialist powers that come to plunder the continent, "We don’t own any property or companies in Africa. The only thing we have in Africa is our sweat--and the hearts of the African people.
"As Fidel has said, Cuba has gone to Africa to pay part of our debt to humanity, which in truth is unpayable," Dreke stated, referring to Cuban president Fidel Castro. "We are indebted to the African continent and to other peoples of the world."
Dreke replied to questions on a range of subjects, from the part played by women in African liberation struggles, to the Cuban Revolution today, to the role of the International Monetary Fund and other imperialist lending institutions in the Third World.
Cuba will not go back to capitalism
When a student asked whether capitalism is being reintroduced in Cuba today, Dreke replied that while Cuba has had to develop tourism and other sources of hard currency, capitalist rule was overthrown four decades ago. "Capitalism doesn’t exist in Cuba. It died on January 1, 1959--forever. And when the present generations pass away, capitalism will continue to be dead.
"Do you know what capitalism in Cuba was?" he said. "Women did not have rights. There was racial discrimination--whites went to one park and Blacks had to go to another. The land belonged to the rich. The poor did not have land. The poor did not have houses. They couldn’t study--half a million people or more were illiterate. The army would beat people in the streets.
"When you want to think about capitalism, think about what’s happening in the United States," he concluded. "You are our brothers and sisters, but capitalism is not."
Altogether, more than 700 people attended meetings in Georgia for Dreke and for Ana Morales, who has helped lead Cuba’s medical missions in Africa. The Atlanta Africa-Cuba Speakers Committee organized their speaking engagements in both Atlanta and Valdosta. The committee involved faculty members and students at Clark Atlanta University (CAU), Spelman College, and Morehouse College. It received broad support from student groups, including the Dark Tower Project, Meeting of the Minds, SASSAFRAS, Spark O.N.E., and the Ujamaa Society.
Dr. Marvin Haire, the president of the National Association of Black Political Scientists and professor of political science at Clark Atlanta, convened weekly meetings of the local tour committee. Other members of the body included Kwaku Danso, chair of the International Affairs and Development at CAU; Sobukwe Shukura of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party; and Dr. Kwame-Osagyefo Kalimara, a professor at Spelman College and founding member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Danso, formerly Ghana’s ambassador to Central America and the Caribbean, already knew Dreke and Morales from their work in Guinea-Bissau.
The committee organized an airport welcome by 25 people to greet Dreke and Morales on their October 26 arrival, followed by a well-attended reception. One activist in the committee who works as a printer at the Atlanta Journal Constitution secured a feature interview with Dreke by that paper (see page 10.)
Cuba’s medical missions in Africa
A high point of the tour was a presentation by Ana Morales on Cuba’s medical missions in Africa before a packed auditorium of 300 enthusiastic young people at Spelman College. Morales was introduced by Kathleen Phillips-Lewis, chair of the school’s African Diaspora and the World program.
"In Africa 28 million people are infected with HIV," said Morales. "Cuba is ready to help Africa. The main thing we have to offer is our human resources. If other countries also help, Cuba is offering to send 4,000 doctors, medical staff, and teachers to create 20 medical schools on the African continent that can train 1,000 doctors a year. We have also offered to send specialists to direct a campaign for AIDS prevention, diagnostic equipment, and anti-retroviral treatment for 30,000 patients.
"How is it possible for Cuba to offer all of this solidarity? The key is the human capital: the cultural level Cuba has reached through our revolution, the high level of consciousness and confidence of the population."
Before the Cuban Revolution, Morales said, "our national health system had the same kind of problems other countries have. But there was a social transformation. In a discussion with medical students in the early years of the revolution Ernesto Che Guevara explained that to be a revolutionary doctor, first you have to make a revolution."
Before the meeting 60 people attended a reception at the Women’s Research and Resource Center hosted by Dr. M. Bahati Kuumba, associate director of the center, to welcome Dreke and Morales to Spelman College. Patricia Rodney, director of the Master of Public Health Program in the Community Health and Preventive Medicine Department of Morehouse School of Medicine, and wife of Guyanese anti-imperialist leader Walter Rodney, brought her class to the reception.
During the seven-day visit local Cuba solidarity activists also hosted a dinner and meeting, which discussed the next stage in the defense campaign for five Cuban revolutionaries who have been locked up in federal prisons on frame-up charges of conspiracy to commit espionage. Atlanta will be the location of the next round of legal proceedings in the case of the five patriots, whose "crime" consisted of gathering information on Florida-based counterrevolutionary groups that have a history of assaults on Cuba.
Attending the meeting were a student leader from Spelman College, activists from the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, Atlanta Network on Cuba, Green Party, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, National Center for Human Rights Education, Project South Institute to Eliminate Poverty and Genocide, and Socialist Workers Party. A planning meeting for defense of the Cuban Five is scheduled for November 6.
Struggle against racism
At the dinner one of the questions concerned the struggle against racism in Cuba.
Before the revolution, Dreke said, "Blacks and whites in Cuba were segregated." Poor whites were also segregated from rich whites, he noted.
"There were schools that were practically for whites only. Our beaches were private beaches, our hospitals were private hospitals, our high schools were mostly private and it was almost impossible for many poor people to go to the public schools.
"The revolution did away with all that--and not just with laws" but in practice, Dreke said.
Dreke pointed out that his book, From the Escambray to the Congo: In the Whirlwind of the Cuban Revolution, describes how after the victory of the revolution "we did away with the ropes that had been set up in parks to keep Blacks and whites apart." But from the beginning, he said, Fidel Castro had explained that "you could not wipe out racism simply with laws, because it was something that was in the minds of people. It was going to take hard work."
In a report to the Third Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in 1986, Dreke said, Castro explained that "there was something that could still be seen as a racial problem. Everybody had the same rights, but Fidel was not satisfied with that," arguing that further steps were needed to bring both Blacks and women into "leadership positions at all levels." (The speech is printed in New International no. 6 under the title "Renewal or Death.")
Accompanied by students and workers the two Cuban revolutionaries visited the "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America" exhibit at the Martin Luther King historical site. Several of the students were originally from Haiti, Cuba, Cape Verde Islands, and Monserrat.
Tyronne Brooks, a civil rights veteran and president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, sponsored a luncheon for the two Cuban guests at Paschal’s restaurant in Atlanta’s historic West End community--a restaurant in which Martin Luther King had an office in the early days of the civil rights movement. Others at the luncheon included Connie Tucker of the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice and Atlanta attorney Don Edwards.
Dreke and Morales also participated in a November 1 ribbon-cutting ceremony at the grand opening of the National Center for Primary Care at the Morehouse School of Medicine. Later they were given a tour of the Southwest Hospital.
Ninety people attended the last meeting of the tour at the Interdenominational Theological Center. Mack Jones, the recent department chair of political science at CAU, introduced the two guests. "Let me start with two of my assumptions," he said. "First, that the most important and the most outstanding international action in the last half century was the triumph and consolidation of the Cuban Revolution. The Cuban Revolution demonstrated to the world and especially to the poor countries of the world that there is an alternate path of development. And then, that the most egregious affront to humanity in the last 50 years has been the unrelenting assault of the American government on the Cuban Revolution."
At the meeting, three student members of the Atlanta Africa-Cuba Speakers Committee--Martha Ramirez, Pearl Dorga and Claressa Dubbery--urged young people to attend the congress of the Continental Organization of Latin American and Caribbean Students (OCLAE) that will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico, November 29–December 2.
Cuban revolutionaries meet with farmers in southern Georgia
Atlanta daily interviews Víctor Dreke