The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 27           August 11, 2003  
Cuba marks revolution’s
opening act at Moncada
Castro speaks to thousands at
50th anniversary celebration in Santiago
lead article
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba—“It seems almost unreal to be here in the same spot 50 years after the events we are celebrating,” said Cuban president Fidel Castro. He was addressing an enthusiastic crowd of 10,000 workers, farmers, students, and others at a rally here July 26 to mark the 50th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks.

On that date in 1953, a group of some 160 men and women led by Fidel Castro—then 26 years old—carried out simultaneous armed attacks on the Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba and the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes barracks in Bayamo, both in eastern Cuba. They aimed to spark a popular revolt against the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

The attacks failed, and more than 50 captured revolutionaries were murdered, many of them after brutal torture. Castro and 27 other fighters were subsequently rounded up and put on trial. But the assaults had an electrifying political impact in Cuba, and marked the beginning of a growing revolutionary struggle.

Three years later, the July 26 Movement and Rebel Army launched the revolutionary war against the dictatorship that culminated in the overthrow of the Batista regime on Jan. 1, 1959. That victory laid the basis for the establishment of a workers and farmers government, and opened the door to the first socialist revolution in the Americas.

Fifty years later, working people throughout the island celebrated their revolutionary power and success in resisting Washington’s unceasing attacks on their revolution.

At one of the midnight festivities held the night before the July 26 anniversary in working-class districts across this city, residents of one neighborhood told a group of visiting youth from the United States who are part of the Third Cuba-U.S. Youth Exchange about the experiences that they or their parents lived through during the revolutionary struggle in Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city. “My father took part in the November 30 uprising and he knew Frank País. Then he was in the Sierra Maestra mountains” with the Rebel Army, said Marta Jiménez, referring to the mass revolt organized in Santiago by the July 26 Movement on Nov. 30, 1956. País was the central leader of that uprising, which was crushed.

At the celebration itself, Juana Alcira, a restaurant worker, said she joined the underground movement in the nearby town of Palma Soriano just before she turned 14. “I would sell bonds to raise money, and sell the newspaper” for the July 26 Movement, she said. Alcira is now a member of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution.

Participants included large contingents of construction, telecommunications, restaurant, and other workers. International delegations came from Brazil, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and other Latin American countries. Besides the Cuba-U.S. Youth Exchange, delegates from the United States included members of the Venceremos Brigade.

Several of the speakers at the rally called for the release of five Cuban revolutionaries serving long terms in U.S. prisons on frame-up charges of conspiracy to commit espionage. Antonio Guerrero, one of the five, sent greetings to the rally from his jail cell in Florence, Colorado.

Castro pointed to the famous courtroom speech he gave on Oct. 16, 1953, known by the title “History Will Absolve Me.” In it he presented a revolutionary-democratic program for Cuba, calling for a thoroughgoing land reform, the uprooting of racist discrimination, and other democratic rights. That speech was later written down by Castro and smuggled out of prison. It was printed and distributed in tens of thousands of copies, becoming the program of the revolutionary movement to overthrow the dictatorship. After an international campaign demanding their release, Castro and other veterans of Moncada were freed as part of a general amnesty and went into exile in Mexico. There, they regrouped their forces and returned to Cuba aboard the yacht Granma in December 1956. Those who survived an ambush by Batista’s forces a few days after their landing began the revolutionary war in the Sierra Maestra.  
Moncada program was fulfilled
After the January 1959 victory, “we carried through the Moncada program to completion within the first few years,” Castro noted in his speech. One element of that was turning all of the former dictatorship’s army barracks into educational institutions—including Moncada, which now serves as an elementary school. This year’s celebration was held at the school.

The Cuban president quoted and paraphrased from his 1953 speech detailing the conditions that workers and farmers faced at that time. “In 1953, more than 600,000 workers were jobless. More than 500,000 workers in the countryside would work for four months a year and face unemployment and hunger the remaining eight months of the year,” he said.

“About 85 percent of small farmers paid rent on the land they worked and faced the constant threat of eviction,” Castro recalled. Two hundred thousand peasant families were landless and the best lands were in the hands of U.S. capitalists. Some 2.8 million rural working people had no access to electricity. Urban workers paid up to one-third of their wages in rent to landlords. Disease was rampant, while working people often could be admitted to a hospital only with a recommendation from a political boss—in exchange for their vote.

“These words and ideas described our underlying thinking about the capitalist economic and social system, which simply had to be eliminated,” Castro pointed out.

Comparing conditions then with those today, the Cuban leader noted that in 1953 some 22.3 percent of the population was illiterate, while the figure today stands at a bare 0.5 percent. Unemployment, previously the scourge of the working class, is currently 3.1 percent. The percentage of high school or university-level students has risen from 3.2 percent of those 10 years and older to nearly 59 percent today. Some 85 percent of people now own their house or apartment and do not pay rent. Electrification of homes has risen from 55.5 percent to 95.5 percent. And Cuba has more doctors per capita serving abroad than any other country in the world.

Life expectancy in Cuba now exceeds 76 years, and infant mortality is down to 6.5 per 1,000 live births—indices comparable to the most advanced capitalist countries.

Castro said that Cuba was now in the middle of a transformation of its educational system. One such step is the effort to “municipalize the university,” that is, to establish university extensions in every municipality in the country—a move aimed at expanding access to higher education among working people.

Turning to the other main subject of his remarks, Castro responded to recent statements by the imperialist governments making up the European Union, reiterating their condemnation of Cuba for supposed human rights violations and threatening to cut off or sharply reduce their “humanitarian aid” to the Caribbean nation.  
‘Our sovereignty is not negotiable’
EU officials have condemned Cuba as repressive, denouncing the prosecution and execution of three ringleaders of an armed hijacking of a passenger ferry in Havana’s harbor in April. They have also denounced the arrest and conviction of 75 individuals, who belong to small counterrevolutionary groups funded by Washington, on charges of collaborating with U.S. Interests Section officials in aiding the U.S. government to carry out its economic war against Cuba.

Castro dismissed “the so-called humanitarian aid” from capitalist governments in the European Union, noting it had amounted to an average of $4.2 million a year. At the same time, Cuba pays EU governments $1.5 billion annually to purchase imported goods, he noted. “Who is really aiding whom?” he asked.

Revolutionary Cuba will only accept aid without strings attached, he said.

“The government of Cuba, out of an elementary sense of dignity, rejects any ‘humanitarian aid’ from the EU countries,” Castro stated. The Cuban government also rejects the EU statement that “the political dialogue” must continue, he said. “Our sovereignty and dignity are not negotiable with anyone.”

Castro pointed to Cuba’s internationalist aid to semicolonial countries and national liberation movements around the world, including the more than 300,000 volunteer soldiers who served in Angola in the 1970s and ’80s, defeating the repeated invasions of that country by the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. “While Cuban combatants were spilling their blood fighting against the apartheid troops,” he said, the European Union governments “were conducting trade worth billions of dollars every year with the South African racists, and, through their investments, they were profiting from the semi-slave and cheap labor of native South Africans.”

Describing the imperialist powers’ plunder of the semicolonial world, he stated, “Neither Europe nor the United States will have the last word on the future of humanity.” The crowd erupted into chants of “Fidel, hold firm, Cuba will be respected!”

Following the rally, several workers attending the event reiterated the stance taken by the Cuban president. “Any aid we receive must be without conditions,” said Jorge Pérez, a construction worker.

“We don’t need the EU’s aid,” said Bárbara Castelnau Torres, an engineer at the telephone company. “The internationalist aid Cuba offers other countries is unconditional, based on the fact that in doing so Cuba pays back its debt to humanity.”

“We will not negotiate our principles,” she added.
Related articles:
U.S. youth off to Cuba for July 26 anniversary  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home