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   Vol. 68/No. 3           January 26, 2004  
Mirta Vidal, lifelong socialist
NEW YORK—Mirta Vidal, a long-time member and supporter of the Socialist Workers Party, died January 3 in New York City after a lengthy illness. She was 55.

Vidal, who was born in Argentina and came to the United States as a youth, joined the Socialist Workers Party in the late 1960s. She was part of a generation that was deeply affected by the rising tide of revolutionary struggles throughout the Americas in the wake of the 1959 Cuban victory, the depth and tenacity of the national liberation struggle of the Vietnamese people, and the mass proletarian movement for Black rights in the United States that gave impetus to struggles by Chicanos and other oppressed nationalities, as well as to the movement for women’s emancipation exploding onto the political scene at that time. She was among the small vanguard of youth that joined the communist movement as a result of their experiences in these movements.

In the early 1970s Vidal helped lead the work of the United States Committee for Justice to Latin American Political Prisoners (USLA), a broadly based group that defended imprisoned revolutionaries, trade union militants, church activists, political refugees, and other victims of repression by U.S.-backed regimes throughout Latin America. In 1977 she was the founding editor of Perspectiva Mundial, the Militant’s Spanish-language sister magazine.

Over the past decade, as a supporter of the communist movement, Vidal did extensive work to help transcribe and translate material for a number of books published by Pathfinder Press.

In the spring of 1968, Vidal visited France and was deeply affected by the power of the working class that she witnessed during the mass revolt of workers and youth that erupted in May and June, threatening to bring down the government of President Charles DeGaulle.

When she returned to New York and became active in the anti-Vietnam War movement on campus in Queens, she met members of the Young Socialist Alliance and Socialist Workers Party and was attracted to their revolutionary working-class political perspective and activities. She joined the YSA and threw herself into building it. She joined the SWP shortly afterward.  
Rise of Chicano struggle
Vidal became the Third World Task Force director of the New York Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam and in 1971 was elected national secretary of the YSA. She served as national director of the Chicano and Latino work of the YSA at a time when the Chicano liberation movement was growing quickly in the Southwest.

During that time, Vidal also served on the staff of the Militant, writing on political developments in the United States and Latin America. She wrote a regular column on the Chicano struggle called “La Raza en acción.”

In 1971 Pathfinder published Chicano Liberation and Revolutionary Youth, a pamphlet by Vidal based on a report she gave to the 1970 YSA national convention. A series she wrote for the Militant covering the first national Chicana feminist conference served as the basis for another Pathfinder pamphlet, Chicanas Speak Out: New Voice of La Raza. This pamphlet is still used in a number of university classrooms.

Also in 1971 the Militant ran a series of articles by Vidal from Crystal City, Texas, covering the emergence of the Raza Unida Party in that town, including its first election campaign. Raza Unida was a Chicano political party independent of both Democrats and Republicans that spread to several Southwestern states.

In the fall of 1973 Vidal joined SWP leader Ed Shaw on a trip to Argentina to cover the presidential campaign of the Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores (PST—Socialist Workers Party), with which the SWP in the United States had fraternal ties. At that time, in the wake of massive struggles throughout the Southern Cone and the recent military coup in Chile, a prerevolutionary situation existed in Argentina. The Argentine rulers had decided to call elections for that year and brought back former Argentine leader Juan Perón from exile to run for president. Taking advantage of this opening, the PST ran former Socialist Party leader Juan Carlos Coral for president and won a wide hearing for its revolutionary perspectives among working people.

In early 1974, Vidal was a fraternal delegate from the SWP to the Third World Congress of the Fourth International after Reunification (10th World Congress). Deep-going differences within the world movement the SWP was part of—over communist party-building strategy in Latin America especially—were sharply debated at that Congress.

In a message to a 1995 memorial meeting celebrating the life of Shaw, Vidal wrote that she was tempted during the trip to Argentina, her native country, to remain there. She said her experiences on the trip and discussions with Shaw helped her decide that she could make a bigger difference and would receive better training and education in communist politics and party-building as a member of the SWP if she returned to the United States—a decision for which she said she had “always been grateful.”  
Work in USLA Justice Committee
After returning from Argentina, Vidal joined the USLA Justice Committee staff, where she served for the next few years, including as its national coordinator.

The U.S. Committee for Justice to Latin American Political Prisoners was established in 1966 by individuals representing a broad range of political views, including leaders of the SWP. Its campaigns spanned a period when brutally repressive U.S.-backed regimes in Latin America and the Caribbean imprisoned or murdered tens of thousands of people. These regimes targeted labor militants, leaders of peasant struggles, communists, socialists, and other revolutionaries, as well as nuns, priests, and lay people who were supporters of popular struggles.

From Mexico to Chile, the Americas were marked by sharp class struggle and revolutionary upsurges, ruling-class terror campaigns, failed experiments by left-wing guerrilla fronts that lacked a mass popular base, and rightist coups.

In this context, John Gerassi, author of The Great Fear in Latin America, Paul Sweezy, editor of Monthly Review, Father Felix McGowan, Catarino Garza, then SWP candidate for lieutenant governor of New York, and Joseph Hansen, editor of the Militant, spoke at a public meeting in New York on Sept. 30, 1966, to protest the prosecution’s demand for the death sentence in the trial of Hugo Blanco in Peru and other acts of repression in Latin America. At this meeting, they founded USLA and agreed to serve as its first executive board members.

Blanco, a communist and peasant leader, had been jailed for his work organizing a mass movement of peasants to seize land from the wealthy landowners in Peru’s La Convención Valley in 1961-62.

The day before the New York meeting, as if to punctuate the founding of the group, the national headquarters of the SWP at 873 Broadway in Manhattan was firebombed by a group of counterrevolutionary Cuban exiles.

USLA took up cases of political prisoners of all political tendencies in country after country in Latin America. This nonpartisan, united-front approach enabled the group to involve the widest range of supporters in its campaigns.

The fight to save Blanco’s life, gain his freedom, obtain legal status for him in several successive countries of exile, and win his right to travel—including to the United States—unfolded through the entire life of USLA.

In September 1973, a U.S.-backed right-wing military coup overthrew the Socialist Party-led government of Salvador Allende in Chile. In one of its biggest campaigns, USLA joined in the worldwide effort to aid all those, both Chilean and foreign-born, targeted by the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Vidal was centrally involved in this campaign, which was able to help many political refugees get out of Chile and obtain political exile status in other countries.

One of the members of the board of USLA was Dore Ashton, art critic for the New York Times and professor of art history at Cooper Union. Vidal and others worked with Ashton and a broad range of artists who donated their works to organize a benefit art exhibit at a Christopher Street gallery in Greenwich Village. Sale of the art works raised $30,000 for coup victims and their families.

Vidal then worked with couriers who carried out the risky job of getting the funds into Chile and delivering them to those whose lives were at stake.

USLA issued a special issue of its Reporter, running 10,000 copies, and USLA leaders traveled to Mexico to interview some of the first refugees they helped to get out of Chile. They reported back to a public meeting of 1,300 in New York. From these interviews, USLA prepared a book, Chile’s Days of Terror, as part of the defense campaign.

In December 1973, in the midst of this campaign, the USLA national office on Fifth Avenue in New York City was hit by a powerful bomb, which exploded while activists were working.

USLA ran many national tours to publicize its defense campaigns, organizing meetings for John Gerassi on the Blanco and other defense campaigns in Latin America in 1967; for former CIA operative Victor Marchetti, who spoke about the U.S. political police role in Latin America; and for Harald Edelstam, Swedish ambassador to Chile at the time of the coup, who helped many, including Blanco, to escape.

In 1975 USLA sponsored a two-month U.S. speaking tour for Argentine revolutionary leader Juan Carlos Coral as part of a campaign against increasing government repression and rightist attacks in Argentina that targeted working-class and student organizations. Seven PST members had been assassinated by the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (AAA), party offices had been firebombed, and party leaders had been jailed. Coral’s name appeared on lists released by the AAA of those targeted for murder.

Coral spoke to some 6,000 people at meetings across the United States, and reached many more in radio and newspaper interviews.

On the first week of his tour, Coral’s meeting at the University of Chicago was attacked by a group of 50 right-wing Cuban thugs, some armed with clubs. A defense guard organized for the meeting prevented the attackers from reaching the stage; one of the guards, Andrew Pulley, required seven stitches to close wounds received defending the meeting.

Broad, well-organized defense guards were organized for all of Coral’s meetings throughout the tour, successfully deterring further attacks.

USLA also campaigned in defense of Puerto Rican nationalist political prisoners and helped initiate the defense for Héctor Marroquín, a young member of the SWP who was threatened with deportation by Washington after he fled Mexico to escape torture and death threats. In 1977, USLA helped win a visa for Hugo Blanco to speak in the United States and organized a tour for him. Blanco spoke to some 10,000 people across the country.

In a 1975 interview with Intercontinental Press, Blanco, drawing on his diverse and sometimes unhappy experience with defense committees in many different countries, commented on the nonpartisan, nonfactional character of USLA—in the long tradition of the revolutionary workers movement that “an injury to one is an injury to all”—and how important that was to winning the broad backing it gained.

“Groups like USLA have the advantage of not including political points—like support for socialism—that narrow their base, and they also use the method of mass mobilizations,” Blanco said. “I agree with USLA’s approach.”  
First editor of ‘Perspectiva Mundial’
In 1977, after leaving the USLA staff, Vidal became the first editor of Perspectiva Mundial, where, tutored by Intercontinental Press editor and SWP leader Joe Hansen, she helped to establish the high standards for translation and reporting that have marked the magazine since its inception.

Through her political experience as an SWP cadre—from the earliest days of the anti-Vietnam War, Chicano, and feminist movements, through her work on the Militant and Perspectiva Mundial, to her involvement in the international work of the party—Vidal developed her abilities as an organizer and learned the importance of accurate translation, the bedrock for learning and sharing political experiences and views among equals.  
Translated for Pathfinder books
After the increasing challenges she faced with chronic health problems led Vidal to drop her membership in the SWP in the 1980s, she began to work as a court interpreter in New York, where she soon won the respect and admiration of her co-workers for the same qualities and abilities that had marked her contributions to the SWP.

She fought to establish working conditions and standards for interpreters that would allow them to provide accurate translations—and not summaries—to those facing the court, a basic right. Vidal was active in and served as president of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.

Vidal campaigned for team translating, to allow translators to avoid fatigue that diminishes their ability to translate, and for standardized training and testing of translators.

Insofar as her health permitted, Vidal continued to support and participate in the party’s political campaigns until her death. In particular, she lent her talents to translate for Perspectiva Mundial and Nueva Internacional.

In recent years she transcribed, translated, and edited translations of major sections of several Pathfinder books. These include:

Vidal acted as interpreter for several visiting leaders of Latin American struggles, including leaders of Cuban youth organizations and of Brazil’s Movement of Landless Rural Workers. In 1995, during a visit to New York by Cuban president Fidel Castro, she translated for him at a meeting in the Bronx of opponents of the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

In recent years she also continued to contribute to campaigns in defense of political rights and the rights of immigrants. Last year Vidal helped the Róger Calero Defense Committee produce materials in Spanish for its successful campaign to prevent the deportation of Calero.

Some 75 members of Vidal’s family, friends, colleagues, and comrades attended a memorial meeting for her in Brooklyn on January 9. Among those who spoke was SWP leader Mary-Alice Waters, who talked about many of the political highlights of Vidal’s life recounted above.  
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