Below are the remarks by Mary-Alice Waters at a Feb. 15 presentation on Cuba and Angola: The War for Freedom at the Havana International Book Fair (see accompanying article ). Waters is a member of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party and president of Pathfinder Press. Copyright © 2017 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
On behalf of Pathfinder Press, I also want to extend a warm welcome to the distinguished ambassadors from Congo-Brazzaville, Namibia, South Africa, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Equatorial Guinea who are with us today, as well as other members of the diplomatic corps from Angola and Mali.
Among those with us today are four other compañeros without whose contributions this book might not have appeared, at least not with all the qualities it has. They are our chairperson and coeditor of the book, Martín Koppel; Róger Calero, a member of Pathfinder’s staff; Lt. Col. José Gárciga, whose own service in Angola and research helped verify many details; and especially Iraida Aguirrechu of Editora Política, whose diligence and editorial skills were indispensable.
Above all, of course, a very special thank-you to General Harry Villegas — for giving Pathfinder the privilege of working with you to publish Cuba and Angola: The War for Freedom. For us and many others around the world, you will always be “Pombo.”
I think we tried Pombo’s patience more than once with our interminable questions, as we worked together to bring this book to fruition. Now that the product of his labor is in hand, we hope he will forgive us.
I’ll share with you the one criticism Pombo has voiced so far, however. He didn’t get to express an opinion about which color we used for the Spanish cover, and which for the English. But after seeing both, he told us he likes the red one better. The combatants of the FAR are known to be watermelons, he said: You may be green on the outside, but on the inside you’re red.
To speak the truth
A few days after the death of Fidel last November, supporters of the Cuban Revolution in New York organized an activity across the street from the Cuban mission to the United Nations to express our respect and solidarity. The de Blasio administration’s police confined us to a small area on a sidewalk, but we made our presence known to passers-by with banners and chants of “Cuba sí, bloqueo no!” among others.
We took special measures to keep business entrances along the sidewalk clear, but inevitably some customers were annoyed and wondered what was going on. So an employee at a small cafe came out to ask — at first with quite an edge to his attitude. “Chef Obadiah,” he said his name was; he was African American.
We explained why we were there, to honor Fidel and his leadership of the Cuban Revolution. We told him about Cuba’s internationalism in Africa, its aid to Angola, and support for the independence struggle in Namibia. And we showed him a copy of How Far We Slaves Have Come! with Nelson Mandela’s tribute to the Cuban people for their role in the historic defeat of the South African apartheid regime.
In a very different tone of voice, he said, “I never knew that Cubans helped free southern Africa! Why didn’t I learn that in school?”
I cite this to convey why for us in the United States it is so important that this new book by Pombo is now circulating in both English and Spanish — and before long in other languages too.
As a special note, I’ll add that within a few months, one of those languages will be Farsi, a language widely spoken across the Mideast and Central Asia — not only in Iran, but also Afghanistan, Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, Tajikistan, the Caucasus, and elsewhere. It’s a region where we know from firsthand experience there’s a real thirst for more and truthful information about the Cuban Revolution. A few weeks from now Pathfinder will be taking this book by Pombo, and many others available at this meeting today, to a large book fair in Erbil, in northern Iraq, only some 80 kilometers [50 miles] from the front line of battle in Mosul.
The story of the chef in New York, with one or another variant, occurs over and over again in our political activity among workers and youth in the US. And it is not only those who are African and African American who react as he did.
I hope Gerardo [Hernández] will say a few words about similar experiences he had during his long years in prison as part of the US working class behind bars, including the respect the Cuban Five won among fellow prisoners as a result of their service in Angola. In the pages of It’s the Poor Who Face the Savagery of the US ‘Justice’ System, an interview with the Five published by Pathfinder last year, they describe how the record of Cuba’s internationalism in Africa is one of the things that helped protect them.
What does ‘socialism’ mean?
Cuba’s example in Africa is also one of the clearest ways we have to explain what the oft-abused word “socialism” really means. It’s not the “socialism” that supposedly exists in Sweden according to Bernie Sanders, nor does it have anything to do with his timid calls for “regulating” the banking system of global financial capital — or to be more precise, “regulating” the money capitalists worldwide in whose interests and by whom that globalist system has been constructed.
A socialist revolution is something very different. As Fidel and Che and Raúl — and those of you here today — have always demonstrated in action, socialism is about working people “broadening their scope,” to borrow the phrase of the great US revolutionary leader Malcolm X. It is about learning who we are capable of becoming — how we transform ourselves, as we fight to transform our economic and social relations. Transform how we live and work together, as we break the chains of capitalist exploitation and compulsion.
The multiple generations of Cubans who served in Angola received an indelible education in capitalism, and not only the enormous historical brutality of its colonial version.
That is what was captured so well by Raúl’s words in May 1991, when he welcomed home the last Cuban combatants returning from Angola. The Angolan mission was not a “sacrifice” for the Cuban people, he emphasized. It strengthened and steeled them for the challenges to come — above all, as history turned out, the challenges of the Special Period.
“If our people know themselves better, if all of us know much better what we are capable of achieving,” said Raúl, “that too is thanks to Angola.”
Fidel’s political, military leadership
I want to make only one more point.
Pombo’s words are addressed to youth everywhere. That includes youth here in Cuba, both inside and outside the FAR. It is, above all, a book about Fidel’s political leadership of the Cuban Revolution and how those political capacities are the foundation of Fidel’s military leadership. It is a class question. A revolutionary army is always anchored in the irreconcilable difference between the values of the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism and the moral values — proletarian moral values, I would say — that Fidel has instilled in us all from the very first days of the revolutionary struggle.
For me, that above all is what comes through in Pombo’s account. The dignity and respect with which every human being is treated — Cuban, Angolan, Namibian, whether friend or enemy combatant.
The determination to win every battle with the least possible sacrifice of human lives.
The concern for the education and care of the children of Cassinga — survivors of the horrendous massacre in May 1978 carried out by South African forces at the Namibian refugee camp there in southern Angola.
The respect for women everywhere and insistence that Cuban women’s participation in the war was, as Fidel put it, “a moral necessity, a revolutionary necessity.”
The insistence that any Cuban who committed a crime in Angola be tried under Angolan law.
The insistence that “those not willing to fight for the freedom of others will never be able to fight for their own.”
All this, and much more you will find in these pages.
How Rebel Army learned to fight
As most of you here today know firsthand, Fidel will go down in history as one of the greatest military commanders of the toilers, of the humble.
In reading Pombo’s account, I keep being reminded of a story I first heard from General Néstor López Cuba or General Enrique Carreras some twenty years ago, I don’t remember which of them it was. It was while we were conducting the interviews published in Making History: Interviews with Four Generals of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, a wonderful book that contains interviews with Generals José Ramón Fernández and Harry Villegas in addition to Carreras and López Cuba.
One of them had been part of a Cuban leadership delegation to a congress or other event in the Soviet Union. During a reception, he and other officers of the FAR were talking with a group of their counterparts in the Soviet military, who expressed admiration for Fidel’s military leadership in Angola.
“Where did your commander acquire that knowledge?” one of the Russian officers asked. “At what military academy did he study?”
Our Cuban compañeros could hardly contain their amusement as they replied, “Fidel didn’t learn to fight by reading a textbook or taking a class. He learned, as we all did, by fighting.”
That is the story of any genuine revolution.
And it captures not only the past and the present, but the future of socialist Cuba as well.
Join May Day International Brigade to Cuba
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Cuba & Angola: the war for freedom in southern Africa
Havana event on book by ‘Pombo’ highlights Cuban Revolution’s proletarian internationalism and moral values
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