|Participants in Feb. 14 meeting launching newly published book Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution as part of events at Havana International Book Fair.|
The meeting, one of the hundreds of book presentations at the 10-day-long Havana International Book Fair, Cuba’s biggest annual cultural event, drew 130 people from multiple generations. Among them were numerous university students, including several American youth studying in Cuba, members and leaders of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), and dozens of women and men who fought in the revolutionary war that overthrew the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in 1959 and opened the socialist revolution in the Americas. The event was held at the Casa del ALBA cultural center in the heart of Havana.
The book, published in both English and Spanish, includes interviews with Vilma Espín, Asela de los Santos, and Yolanda Ferrer. Espín was a leader of the Cuban Revolution for more than 50 years, as a combatant of the July 26 Movement in Santiago de Cuba and the Rebel Army’s Second Front in the mountains of eastern Cuba, and later as the central leader of the revolutionary activity that gave birth to the Federation of Cuban Women, of which she was the president until her death in 2007. De los Santos, likewise a revolutionary combatant in the Santiago underground and Rebel Army, was a lifelong comrade in arms of Espín. A founding leader of the FMC, she served as its first general secretary, and is currently a researcher in Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces Office of History. Ferrer, who joined the FMC as a teenager in 1960, is today its general secretary and a member of Cuba’s Council of State.
Arelys Santana, second secretary of the FMC, who chaired the event, introduced the other three speakers on the panel: de los Santos; Leira Sánchez, a member of the National Bureau of Cuba’s Union of Young Communists (UJC); and Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder and editor of the new book.
Santana also acknowledged the presence in the audience of several of the historic leaders of the revolution. These included revolutionary combatants such as Div. Gen. José Ramón Fernández, vice president of Cuba’s Council of Ministers; Armando Hart, one of the founding leaders of the July 26 Movement and its national coordinator for a year before being captured by Batista’s police; Brig. Gen. Teté Puebla, who was second in command of the Mariana Grajales Women’s Platoon in the Rebel Army; and Víctor Dreke, commander of the volunteer battalions that defeated the counterrevolutionary bands in the Escambray mountains in the early 1960s, internationalist combatant at the side of Ernesto Che Guevara in the Congo in 1965, and today vice president of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution.
Also participating were many other founders and leaders of the FMC including Carolina Aguilar, Alicia Imperatori, and Isabel Moya, director of the FMC’s publishing house, whose interview with Yolanda Ferrer appears in the book. Ferrer, who had planned to speak at the presentation but was attending a women’s conference in Qatar at the time, conveyed greetings to the gathering.
Santana quoted from Waters’s introduction to The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution, noting that “this is not a book about women; rather it is about the millions of Cuban women and men who conceived, made, and continue to make the revolution.”
She described the speakers platform as representing three generations of Cuban revolutionaries. Waters’s participation on the panel, she added, represents “the coming American Revolution, to recall the words of Jack Barnes,” the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party and author of the book Cuba and the Coming American Revolution. Waters and the SWP, she told the audience, are “comrades in arms, defenders of the Cuban Revolution who bring the facts about it to all platforms, especially over there in the heart of the empire.”
‘Education of new generations’Leira Sánchez, the UJC’s international relations secretary, said The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution tells a story “that is not often written about in its full scope,” one that “contributes to the education of new generations” in Cuba. It is written “in a clear language that is easy to understand even for young people,” who did not go through those experiences.
Sánchez said she first met de los Santos several years ago when she was a student at the Enrique José Varona Teachers Institute. De los Santos “spoke about everything that had been achieved in the Second Front in bringing to life the guiding program outlined in ‘History Will Absolve Me.’ At that time it was virtually an unknown history for me,” Sánchez recalled.
The UJC leader was referring to the Rebel Army’s Second Front, commanded by Raúl Castro, which covered a vast rural territory in eastern Cuba freed from the control of the Batista regime. In the final months of the revolutionary war in 1958, de los Santos was placed in charge of the Second Front’s Department of Education, which oversaw the opening of more than 400 primary schools and the initiation of literacy classes for rebel combatants and others.
“History Will Absolve Me” was Fidel Castro’s courtroom defense speech at his 1953 trial for having led an attack on the dictatorship’s army barracks in the cities of Santiago and Bayamo. It became the political program of the July 26 Movement, outlining basic social, economic, and democratic measures that the revolutionary government would implement.
The new book, Sánchez said, “offers good reasons for why young Cubans should assure the continuity of the revolution.”
Social revolution led by Rebel ArmyDe los Santos told the audience that the efforts waged in the Second Front were the forerunner of “the great revolution in education we launched after the victory” of January 1959, beginning with the mobilization of 100,000 young volunteer teachers, most in their teens, who spread out across rural Cuba to teach nearly a million women and men to read and write. They wiped out illiteracy in Cuba within a year.
She quoted a paragraph from Waters’s introduction to the book that she said “gets to the heart” of the social revolution led by the Rebel Army: “In the firsthand accounts of Asela de los Santos and Vilma Espín, we see the interaction between the Rebel Army combatants and the exploited, landless peasants and agricultural workers of the region. We see the ways in which they transformed each other and together became a stronger, more conscious revolutionary force.” (The full text of de los Santos’s remarks appear on page 9.)
De los Santos noted that the involvement of women in the Cuban Revolution began “with the significant numbers of women in the ranks of the Rebel Army” and “Fidel’s leadership in the struggle for equality.”
Following the revolutionary victory, “in the early days we spoke only of women’s participation,” she said. But “through that simple, concrete, yet by no means easy work, the first steps were being taken in the complex and long battle for the full equality for women.”
De los Santos concluded by saying that the book itself underscores “our determination to remain united, working for the revolution—both here in Cuba and there in the United States.”
Waters thanked the leadership of the Federation of Cuban Women and the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution for their collaboration in making possible The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution, a four-year effort.
Book needed by workers in struggleWaters focused her remarks on why the new book “is important in North America and elsewhere outside Cuba to the increasing numbers of workers who are searching for ways to effectively resist, and end, intensifying assaults by the capitalist owners of the means of production and their government on the wages, job conditions, and rights of working people.”
“The living example of the men and women who made the Cuban Revolution, and are still making it, is needed,” Waters said, “because working people everywhere, sooner or later, will be pushed toward revolutionary action.” (The full text of Waters’s remarks is printed on page 8.)
The event concluded with a surprise musical performance by a young all-woman a cappella ensemble that captured the enthusiastic mood of those present.
More than 100 copies in both Spanish and English of The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution were sold at the presentation, and 43 more during the course of the book fair. Presentations of the book after the fair are being organized by the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution, by the Union of Young Communists and Federation of University Students, and by the FMC. The February 14 event was covered by Granma and Juventud Rebelde, Cuba’s two daily newspapers, as well as other news services.
That same afternoon, another new book by Vilma Espín and Asela de los Santos was presented at the Havana book fair. Titled Contra todo obstáculo (Against All Obstacles), it is an account of how the July 26 Movement, led by Espín and others, organized the urban supply network for the Rebel Army in the Sierra Maestra mountains. The book, begun by Espín before her death and finished by de los Santos and others last year, was released by Editorial Verde Olivo, the publishing house of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces.
‘Example of men and women who made Cuban Revolution, and are still making it, is needed’
‘Embryo of new state power’
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