The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 74/No. 13      April 5, 2010

‘Cuban Revolution carries out
course of proletarian internationalism’
Retired Cuban brigadier general Armando Choy
concludes successful five-day speaking tour
in Montreal on Cuba in world politics
(feature article)
MONTREAL—A standing-room only crowd of more than 250 people heard Armando Choy speak at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) March 19. The meeting capped a successful five-day speaking tour here by Choy, a retired brigadier general in Cuba’s armed forces who has held many leadership responsibilities since he participated in the revolutionary struggle to overthrow the U.S.-backed military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s.

In the course of the week Choy spoke to more than 700 people at college and university meetings, activities in the Chinese community, and other events. The many presentations by Choy were followed by discussion periods in which a wide-range of questions about the Cuban Revolution were addressed.

Along with Moisés Sío Wong and Gustavo Chui, Choy is one of the three authors of the Pathfinder book Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution. The book explains how the revolutionary conquest of power by working people in Cuba some 50 years ago—and their defense of that power in the face of Washington’s decades-long determination to destroy it—shows the road forward for humanity today. It has generated very broad interest since its publication in 2005, and has been the subject of more than 75 meetings and panel discussions in cities around the world.

The UQAM meeting was chaired by Victor Armony, director of the Observatory of the Americas at UQAM, which organizes conferences with guests from Latin America; and Patrick Véronneau, a law student. The Observatory and Pathfinder Books in Montreal were the main organizers of the five-day tour. Numerous student and faculty groups at several universities, along with organizations in the Chinese community and others, also sponsored the tour.

In addition to Choy, speakers included Teresita Vicente, Cuban ambassador to Canada; Timothy Chan, president of the Chinese Canadian Historical and Cultural Society (CCHCS) in Montreal; and Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press and editor of Our History Is Still Being Written. The platform also included Cuban Consul General to Montreal Sergio Vélez and Michel Prairie from Pathfinder Books.

The meeting was conducted in French, Spanish, and English with simultaneous translation available for all participants. Fourteen volunteer translators took part in the effort.  
Broad support for the tour
A broad range of organizations and individuals helped to organize, promote, and finance Choy’s tour.

In addition to the UQAM meeting, Choy spoke to 200 students at the University of Montreal and 50 students at Marianopolis College, an English-language pre-university college (see article in last week’s issue of the Militant). In the Chinese community Choy was the honored guest at a banquet hosted by CCHCS. Held at the Ruby Rouge restaurant in Chinatown, it was attended by 100 people.

All events in the tour, big and small, had French-English-Spanish translation, and when needed, Chinese as well.  
Cultural soiree
Another highlight of the visit was the opportunity to meet and talk with many in Quebec’s cultural and artistic community at a dinner hosted by well-known Quebecois artist Armand Vaillancourt and his companion, artist Joanne Beaulieu. Vaillancourt, a longtime supporter of Quebec independence and defender of the Cuban Revolution, was one of those who invited Choy to Montreal and attended many of the tour events. In front of their house hangs a large banner calling for freedom for the Cuban Five.

Vaillancourt and Beaulieu gave Choy a tour of the three-story home, including Vaillancourt’s studio and workshop. At the same time, street performers including a fire-eater and singer-guitarist entertained the guests.

The dinner attended by close to 100 people was billed as a “frank discussion on culture, democratic rights, and other questions in relation to the Cuban Revolution.”

Choy, who is president of the State Working Group on Havana Bay and directs the major environmental clean-up project there, also had the opportunity to talk with City of Montreal parks and environmental officials during his visit. Along with Consul Sergio Vélez, he met with Pierre Bouchard, director of the parks department, and other city officials to exchange experiences about environmental programs and policies in both Montreal and Havana.  
Cuba’s revolutionary history
In introducing Choy to the audience at UQAM, Waters described the movement that Choy joined in the 1950s to overturn the U.S.-backed military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, “one of the most brutal that Latin America had seen.”

“After exhausting all other avenues,” Waters explained, “working people in Cuba took up arms against the dictatorship and in six years of revolutionary struggle overthrew it.” When they took power, she noted, “they did not set out to make a socialist revolution.” They simply began to take measures to narrow the gap between “the obscenely rich and the desperately poor.” That included agrarian reform to guarantee land to the landless rural poor.

“Millions of acres of the best land was owned by U.S. families and their corporations,” Waters said. The agrarian reform, limiting the size of land holdings brought down the beginning of the “efforts of the U.S. rulers to overthrow the revolution”—a political course which continues today. As they fought to defend their gains, the workers and farmers of Cuba mobilized to deepen their revolution, “to establish the first free territory in the Americas, and to stand down imperialism for 50 years,” she said. “That’s how Cuba’s socialist revolution was born.

“This is the source of the U.S. government’s implacable hatred of the Cuban Revolution,” she noted, “and we should keep that in mind today as we witness yet one more wave of attacks on its people and government—the effort to tar Cuba as a country that persecutes and imprisons political opponents for their ideas.”

“Revolutionary Cuba is a country where no one has ever been tortured or ‘disappeared’,” she said. “The government’s respect for the human rights of the people of Cuba and of the world is unmatched.”

“In Cuba it is said that the people are one-third European, one-third African, and one-third Chinese,” Choy said in his opening remarks, describing the importation of indentured Chinese laborers into Cuba in the 19th century. Choy noted the unblemished record of Chinese-Cubans alongside fighters of European and African descent in battles against the Spanish colonialists, who derived enormous wealth from the labor of African slaves and Chinese laborers.

Earlier Timothy Chan had explained that in the 19th and early 20th century Chinese laborers sometimes traveled across Canada from Vancouver through Montreal, and on to Cuba, including some from his own family.

“Chinese-Cubans played a distinguished role in the Cuban Revolution as well,” Choy said, recounting how he and other young Chinese-Cubans joined the movement. The Cuban Revolution from the start declared war on discrimination against Blacks and women and Chinese, Choy explained. “We fight for equality. We’re not perfect, but we have made big advances.”

Choy explained how Cuba has carried out a proletarian internationalist foreign policy since the beginning of the revolution, a course independent of the policies of the government of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). “We had excellent relations with the Soviet Union, but we never bowed our heads to them,” he said. “We supported liberation struggles in Africa and Latin America, and the Soviet Communist Party didn’t agree with us.”

The Cuban general noted the effort led by Che Guevara to organize a revolutionary movement in the Southern Cone of Latin American, starting in Bolivia. “Che didn’t get the support necessary from the Bolivian Communist Party. They followed the Soviet Communist Party and turned their back on Che,” he said, contributing to the defeat of the effort and the murder of Guevara in 1967 by the Bolivian military and U.S. intelligence forces.

The position of the Cuban Revolution, Choy continued, is that “oppression must not be allowed to go unchallenged for centuries. It must be changed.” He gave the example of Cuban military aid to the government of Angola from 1975 to 1988, when several hundred thousand Cuban volunteers fought alongside the Angolan army against an invasion of South African apartheid forces that also occupied neighboring Namibia.

“Thanks to our help not only Angola but Namibia won independence,” Choy said, “especially after the decisive battle at Cuito Cuanavale,” a small town in Angola where the South African army suffered a historic defeat in 1988.

Choy described the challenges Cuba faces today in a world wracked by the deepening crisis of capitalism. “We know we have problems. Our president, Raúl Castro, has spoken about that,” Choy said. Today the Cuban government is taking measures to increase food production on the island, and reducing the amount of food that must be imported and paid for with hard currency.

“We are giving out idle land to those who want to farm it. They sell a part of the produce to the Cuban government for distribution, and the rest they sell wherever they want,” Choy said. “That’s a transformation we are carrying out within our socialist system, but we are not denying our socialist principles” of equitable distribution.

Both Waters and Choy appealed for support for the five Cubans who have been imprisoned for more than 11 years in U.S. jails. “The five patriots were in the United States to penetrate and gather intelligence against counterrevolutionary organizations planning actions, including terrorist actions, against our country. The five didn’t carry out espionage against the United States. They are patriots,” Choy declared, adding that with support and solidarity from all corners of the world, “some day the United States government will be obliged to free them.”

After the UQAM meeting more than 50 people, including Choy, gathered at a nearby bar and restaurant where discussion continued until after midnight.  
A week of wide-ranging discussion
Throughout the tour Choy was asked questions about Cuba’s revolutionary history, government policies, and human rights record. Recently, including on the eve of the tour, newspapers in Quebec and across Canada have carried stories on the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who claimed to be a political prisoner in Cuba and took his own life through a hunger strike. There has also been coverage of the alleged repression by the Cuban government of the “Ladies in White,” a group of self-proclaimed “dissidents” who have carried out antigovernment protests.

“These are opponents of the Cuban Revolution who have broken our laws,” Choy responded, “But there are no political prisoners in Cuba. You can’t take money from a foreign government to work against the revolution. No country in the world permits that.”

One student asked Choy if he had advice on what could be done to change things in his country of origin in Africa, and another asked the same question about Canada.

“We don’t have a schema to impose on others,” Choy responded. “Every country has its own conditions and characteristics. We have a course of proletarian internationalism in Cuba. We don’t just give our leftovers to other countries. Our policy is to share the little we have.

“We can’t tell you and we don’t want to tell you what is to be done here,” he said. “We say a better world is possible, but it must be for all the inhabitants of the world.”

Two people asked how Cuba has prepared for the possibility of a U.S. invasion. “We can tell you that they can’t intervene in Cuba, because we won’t allow it,” Choy responded. “We’ve prepared our entire people.” If such an aggression should take place, he continued, “It won’t be like Iraq or Afghanistan… . Without exaggeration, if they invaded our territory hundreds of them would die every day.”

“I have been very much at home here with the professors and students, and with the members of the Chinese community,” Choy told the audience at the University of Montreal. “We are comfortable answering all questions, from those about the so-called political prisoners to our relations with the United States.”

Throughout his visit Choy received greetings from a number of prominent individuals and groups. These included: Karen Sun, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, Toronto Chapter; Eleanor Yuen, head of the Asian Library and Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver; Karin Lee, a filmmaker with the Top Dollar Sisters Productions; and Tim Louis, a Vancouver attorney.

A message to Choy from Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, read, “The boldness of this week’s Quebec events—inspired by the book-length interview with you together with FAR [Revolutionary Armed Forces] Generals Moisés Sío Wong and Gustavo Chui, Our History Is Still Being Written—encourages all of us working together to build the United States tour of the two Cuban students to continue the exchange about the Cuban Revolution and its place in the world that is now under way in Montreal. That success sets a standard we can organize to live up to over the coming four weeks.”

During his visit Choy was interviewed by reporters from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Spanish and Chinese; the CBC’s short wave division Radio Canada International; CBC television; the community radio station Radio Centreville; and, the online newspaper of locked-out Journal de Montreal reporters and writers. Choy’s tour was prominently featured on the Web site of Montréal Black Entertainment Television. Coverage of the tour along with photos appeared in the March 18 issue of the Chinese-language weekly La Presse Chinoise.
Related articles:
Cuban youth arrive for U.S. tour
Cuban youth begin U.S. speaking tour
Cuban artists, writers answer slander campaign
Cuba aids Chile quake victims
Communist literature well received in Montreal  
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