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Vol. 78/No. 4      February 3, 2014

18th World Youth Festival
hosted in Quito, Ecuador
QUITO, Ecuador — Some 7,000 delegates participated in the 18th World Festival of Youth and Students Dec. 7-13 under the slogan, “Youth Unite against Imperialism, for a World of Peace, Solidarity and Social Transformation.” Hosted by the Ecuadorean government, the weeklong event took place in a park in the center of the capital, high in the Andean mountains.

Each day was dedicated to a region of the world and a political theme. In workshops, conferences and cultural events, participants debated a range of political questions from unemployment and the world economic crisis to anti-colonial struggles, the civil war in Syria, ecological devastation and the fights for women’s liberation and right to abortion.

A Friendship Fair included displays from each country and political literature from participating organizations. An Anti-Imperialist Tribunal featured testimony on imperialist wars of conquest, occupations and exploitation throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

Delegates from about 80 countries participated, the majority from the Americas. Africa had the second-largest presence, including hundreds from Namibia and Angola. Fifty-five came from Western Sahara, where the Saharawi people have been fighting occupation by the Moroccan monarchy for more than 35 years. Vietnam and North Korea had the largest delegations from Asia. Nearly 80 came from Canada; 34 from the United States.

A delegation from Puerto Rico included Clarisa López Ramos, daughter of Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, a fighter for Puerto Rican independence who has been incarcerated in the U.S. for 32 years. López Ramos spoke about the fight to free her father and the Puerto Rican independence struggle.

About 800 came from Colombia, where the Cuban government is helping broker peace negotiations between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to bring an end to a nearly five-decade guerrilla war that has been an obstacle to the organization and struggles of working people. The result has been a gradual opening of political space for workers and farmers, who faced decades of government repression from police, military forces and rightist paramilitary organizations.

“This was the first strike I’ve participated in,” said Ismael Guetio, 25, a farmer from the town of Cauca, Colombia, who spoke in a workshop about a recent struggle by farmers.

Guetio described how peasants are unable to cover the costs of production at the prices they receive and spoke against the Colombian government’s free trade accord with Washington. “For us it means the elimination of the Colombian peasant,” Guetio said, describing the flood of cheap imports that are ruining small farmers.

The festival was coordinated by the World Federation of Democratic Youth, which was established in 1945 during World War II by youth groups affiliated to Communist parties allied with Moscow. Following an eight-year break in the festivals after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Union of Young Communists (UJC) of Cuba and other organizations led an effort to revive the festival and win participation from a wider range of anti-imperialist youth organizations around the world. For more than four decades, most festivals took place in Europe. Since 1997 they have taken place in Cuba, Algeria, Venezuela, South Africa and Ecuador.

Anti-imperialist trade blocs

“Our country decided to break with the tutelage of the World Bank and IMF and the imperial powers,” Ecuadorean foreign minister Ricardo Patiño said in a talk on the foreign policy of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.

Patiño said the government ended its lease for a U.S. military base on Ecuador’s Pacific coast; renegotiated and paid off its foreign debt; took steps to keep a greater share of the wealth extracted from oil and mining operations in the country; declined to establish a free trade accord with Washington; and joined trade blocs with other Latin American governments to counter those dominated by U.S. imperialism.

The Cuban delegation of more than 200 organized a program of activities at a tent dedicated to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, an economic and trade bloc of nine Latin American countries organized in 2004 on the initiative of the Cuban and Venezuelan governments. A year later the Venezuelan government launched PetroCaribe, which provides Cuba and 13 other Caribbean countries with Venezuelan oil at preferential prices, weakening the stranglehold of imperialist-dominated oil monopolies.

A workshop on the international fight to free the Cuban Five featured Irma González and Ailí Labañino, daughters of René González and Ramón Labañino — two of five revolutionaries framed up and jailed by Washington. Also on the panel were Miguel Colina, National Bureau member of the UJC, and Miguel Borell Alfonso, whose grandfather was among the 73 passengers killed in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban commercial airliner by CIA-trained anti-communist mercenaries. Irma González urged the more than 150 delegates in attendance to broaden the fight to free the Five.

“Washington is trying to squeeze, in every way, any economic help to Cuba,” said Colina.

What is a socialist revolution?

The delegations from several organizations in Ecuador, including the ruling Alianza Pais party’s youth organization, promoted what the Correa government has coined “The Socialist Revolution of Good Living.” This refers to a program of reforms aimed at spurring capitalist economic development with less dependence on Washington and using a greater share of profits from oil exports to finance social programs and public works — a perspective with similarities to the Bolivian government’s Movement Toward Socialism party, and the Venezuelan government’s “Socialism of the 21st Century.”

At the heart of some debates at the festival were counterposed views of socialism representing conflicting class interests. Many advocated electing progressive politicians to government who would enact reforms and run social programs for the benefit of working people. A minority put forward the view that capitalism has nothing to offer the world’s toilers and advocated the overthrow of capitalism through the revolutionary conquest of political power by the working class, as Cuba’s workers and farmers did in 1959.

In one exchange during a panel discussion, Ecuadorean anthropologist Ninfa Patiño said Correa is leading “a revolution in higher education, to be competitive on an international level,” pointing to Yachay, a large university being built in the north.

Jacobo Andi, a Quechua from Ecuador’s Amazon province of Pastaza who supports Correa, spoke from the floor to say that the government’s reforms don’t address the fact that few indigenous people can pass the university entrance exams because in the Amazon region and other rural areas they lack access to adequate teaching.

Panelist Hugo Wils, a member of the Young Socialists in the United Kingdom, pointed to the fraud of capitalist education reform. “Under capitalism, workers are taught to be obedient,” he said. “They seek to convince us that the rich are rich because they are smart and that we are workers because we are not as intelligent.”

The capitalist rulers can modify their system of indoctrination, said Wils, but the class-differentiated character and purpose of education under capitalism will remain the same. To transform education into something worthy of working, creating humanity requires the transformation of the working class through the fight for political power as was done in Cuba.

Adiro Fajardo, a Cuban art instructor, pointed to the example of the Cuban Revolution, which in 1961 mobilized hundreds of thousands of young volunteers to teach workers and peasants how to read, virtually wiping out illiteracy in one year.

Communists from the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada sold 816 books on revolutionary working-class politics along with 26 Militant subscriptions during the seven-day event.

Fifty-seven delegates picked up Is Socialist Revolution in the U.S. Possible? by Mary-Alice Waters. More than 100 copies of The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should be Free in English, Spanish and French were sold. Dozens bought copies of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes and The First and Second Declarations of Havana, speeches read by Fidel Castro in meetings of more than 1 million in Havana in 1960 and 1962 that laid out the socialist course of Cuba’s workers and farmers and sounded a call for revolutionary struggle in Latin America.  
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