The 120 delegates from 19 countries discussed how to advance the international campaign demanding that the U.S. government end its economic war and subversive programs against the Cuban Revolution and get out of Guantánamo, Cuban territory occupied by the U.S. military for more than a century.
Later during the conference, Fernández spoke to the victory won in 2014 when Washington freed the remaining three of the five Cuban revolutionaries who had spent up to 16 years in U.S. prisons because of their actions to protect Cuba from violent attacks by U.S.-based counterrevolutionaries.
“If one day the U.S. blockade ends,” she said, “it will be thanks to the Cuban Revolution and to your efforts. If we were able to win the fight for the return of our five heroes, then you and we will win this fight too.”
Delegates represented organizations active in solidarity with Cuba from across Asia and the Pacific. Several dozen participants were from the Philippines. Others came from Japan, South Korea, North Korea, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, East Timor, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as from the United States. Special guests included two other ambassadors to the Philippines, Capaya Rodríguez from Venezuela and Mun Song Mo from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The event, initiated by the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), was hosted by the Philippines-Cuba Cultural and Friendship Association and the Philippine-Cuban Friendship Society. A third Cuba solidarity committee here, Amistad, which is led by supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front, did not endorse the conference.
“We meet every two years to renew our support for Cuba and coordinate our efforts in defense of its socialist revolution,” said Francisco Nemenzo, chair of the conference organizing committee, in opening the meeting. Nemenzo, president of the Philippines-Cuba Cultural and Friendship Association, is a former president of the University of the Philippines and a well-known socialist here.
‘Fidel inspired Filipinos like us’
He paid tribute to Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who died last November. Noting the deep impact the 1959 Cuban revolutionary victory had on radicalizing youth at that time, Nemenzo said, “Fidel Castro inspired Filipinos of my generation to question what our elders took for granted. If the Cubans were able to stand up to U.S. imperialism, why couldn’t we?”
Since U.S. forces seized the Philippines from Spain in 1898, Filipinos have fought against U.S. domination and the pro-imperialist regimes supporting it, but why haven’t these led to a successful socialist revolution? he asked. “Of course, there can be no revolution without the participation of the masses. But we must also recognize a historical fact. For a movement to make a revolution, it must produce leaders like Fidel Castro and Lenin.”
The Cuban delegation to the conference included Alicia Corredera, ICAP vice president for Asia, Africa, and the Mideast, and Yexenia Calzado, also of ICAP’s Asia department. It was headed by renowned revolutionary journalist and writer Marta Rojas.
In 1953 Rojas, then 23 years old, reported from the trial of Fidel Castro and other revolutionaries who had attacked the Batista dictatorship’s Moncada garrison in Santiago de Cuba. In 1965 she was the first Latin American war correspondent to visit freedom fighters in southern Vietnam during Washington’s war in Indochina, and she has returned to Vietnam several times since its liberation from U.S. domination in 1975. Her articles and books on these and other historical events are well known in Cuba.
Speaking for the Cuban delegation, Rojas thanked conference participants for their work in defense of the Cuban Revolution over the past two years since the last Asia-Pacific regional gathering, held in Hanoi. She reported that Cuba solidarity groups are active in 20 countries across Asia and the Pacific, and in 153 countries worldwide.
U.S. economic war against Cuba
Rojas emphasized that today the work to defend the Cuban Revolution must be “focused on the fight for the lifting of the U.S. economic, commercial, and financial blockade against Cuba, for the return of the illegally occupied territory in Guantánamo, and against the U.S. government’s political subversion programs.”
The Cuban government “will always be willing to negotiate with the United States, but as equals, and will never make concessions on matters that affect its sovereignty and independence,” she said. The Cuban people and its revolutionary leadership are determined “to continue fighting to maintain the political and social achievements of our revolution” and “showing our solidarity toward other countries of the world.”
She urged delegates to build participation in the upcoming May Day solidarity brigade in Cuba, as well as in an October 1-15 international brigade, called “In Che’s Footsteps,” in honor of Cuban-Argentine revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara on the 50th anniversary of his death in combat in Bolivia. Both brigades are sponsored by ICAP.
Later during the conference, Rojas thanked delegates for their tributes to Fidel Castro. She said that over the years, the imperialist media had “killed Fidel many times over” before he died of natural causes last November 25. That night, Rojas said, when she heard Cuban President Raúl Castro announce on national television that Fidel, at age 90, had died, “I told myself, ‘Fidel won!’” However many times they tried, his enemies couldn’t kill him.
Concern about conflicts in Pacific
Of concern to delegates at the Asia-Pacific conference, reflected in informal discussions and in some comments on the floor, was recent U.S. diplomatic and military moves aimed at pressuring China and North Korea, as well as sharpening conflicts over Chinese military expansion in the South China Sea.
In his remarks at the closing plenary session, Nemenzo said protesting Washington’s hostile policies against the Cuban Revolution should go hand in hand with opposing U.S. moves to increase its military presence in the Pacific. At the proposal of one of the delegates from India, the conference agreed to include such a point in its final declaration.
Also underlying the informal discussions and activities at the Manila conference were divergent views among Filipino delegates of the Duterte administration elected last year. Rodrigo Duterte, former long-time mayor of Davao, the largest city on the Southern island of Mindanao, ran for president as an “anti-establishment” candidate, even calling himself a “socialist.” His no-holds-barred verbal attacks on Washington, the European Union, NATO, the pope and other institutions of imperialist rule were popular. He promised to wage war on the criminal drug gangs, fight corruption, and take care of the poor.
Duterte’s antidrug campaign, marked by street executions of thousands of drug users and dealers by police and vigilante squads, has won support from broad layers of working people, even though many are disturbed by the extrajudicial character of the killings which have also been used to settle political feuds and personal grudges.
The government is also engaged in talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army on ending the Maoist/Stalinist group’s nearly 50-year-long guerrilla war.
Duterte’s foreign policy stances have been marked by anti-American and anti-imperialist rhetoric, seeking to play off Washington and Beijing against each other in order to win more space for Philippine ruling-class interests.
One of the keynote speakers at the opening plenary session was Philippine Health Minister Paulyn Rosell-Ubial. At Duterte’s insistence, after being appointed last year, she led a delegation to Cuba to learn about its public health system.
“The strength of Cuba’s health care is the human resources,” she said. “They have one doctor per 1,000 inhabitants. In the Philippines it’s one doctor per 33,000!” When working as a doctor in rural areas of the Philippines, Rosell-Ubial said, she had a workload of 120 to 150 patients a day. “I asked doctors in clinics in Cuba how many they saw. It is only 10 to 15 patients a day.”
In contrast with Cuba, where everyone has an annual medical checkup and there is a priority on preventive care, “here, 30 percent of Filipinos die without ever seeing a doctor,” she said.
The mayor of Manila, Joseph Estrada, hosted a dinner and cultural event for the delegates after the first day’s deliberations, with music and traditional dances.
Estrada was president of the Philippines from 1998 to 2001, and was later imprisoned on corruption charges in what he called a politically motivated conviction.
The mayor presented the keys of the city to Cuban Ambassador to the Philippines Fernández, who is based in Malaysia. She reported later in the conference that the reopening of Cuba’s embassy in Manila is under discussion.
Winning broader solidarity
Following the first plenary session, the conference broke up into two commissions to discuss work in solidarity with Cuba more concretely. Discussions continued informally throughout, as delegates got to know each other, share experiences and debate broader politics.
One commission discussed strategies for developing regionwide solidarity with Cuba. The other focused on using the media to help get out the facts about the Cuban Revolution.
Robert Corpuz, president of the Philippine-Cuba Friendship Society and a graduate of Cuba’s Latin American Medical School, spoke in the first commission about recent events in Manila and other cities to “promote awareness of the truth about Cuba.”
In the Philippines “there is a glut of housing projects but people cannot afford them, they continue to squat in slum areas, river banks, or bridges,” Corpuz said. “Supermarket shelves are overstocked with food products yet many people go hungry. This is the real face of capitalism.” In contrast, he said, Cuba’s socialist revolution “has dignified the Cuban people” and is an example for working people in other countries.
Ana Maria Nemenzo, a member of the Philippines-Cuba Cultural and Friendship Association, noted that Cuba and the Philippines shared a common history as former Spanish colonies. Both Filipinos and Cubans fought wars against colonial rule in the late 19th century, and “in 1898 we were robbed of our independence and transferred to U.S. colonial rule.”
“We in the Philippines continue to fight for our genuine independence,” she added. “But Cuba won its true independence by its revolution. We carry out activities to explain how Cuba gained its sovereignty and other achievements.”
Peter Weitzel, of the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society in Sydney, said it’s necessary to provide facts on how Washington continues its economic sanctions against Cuba. For example, he said, funds were collected in Australia to send hurricane relief aid to Cuba, but because of U.S. embargo laws, the money was frozen by U.S. banks where it had been deposited. Delegates from other countries noted that in Asian countries many people are not aware that Washington occupies Cuban territory at Guantánamo and that is part of the educational work that is needed.
Tissa Vitarana, a delegate from Sri Lanka, spoke in the second commission about the role of social media and said that in his country there are more cellphones than there are people. Pallub Sengupta, from the All India Peace and Solidarity Organization, replied that while social media can be a useful vehicle, “digital media doesn’t reach most people in India. We must take the movement beyond the educated and middle classes to farmers and working-class people who need to know about Cuba.”
Mary-Alice Waters, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, also spoke on this panel. “The U.S. government’s goal is not to ‘normalize’ its relations with Cuba,” she explained. If so, they would simply get out and leave Cuba alone. “When President Barack Obama announced the decision to restore U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, he said Washington’s policies had failed to achieve their objective so it was ‘time to try something different.’”
“Normalization” for the U.S. rulers “simply means using new methods to achieve the same objective — undermining the socialist revolution,” she said.
At the closing session of the conference, Waters, who is president of Pathfinder Press, presented conference organizers with a donation of Pathfinder books, many of them about the Cuban Revolution, for use by Cuba solidarity groups there.
A delegate from South Korea, Seok Yeol Hur, reported that a delegation of Korean unionists and others will be participating in this year’s May Day march in Havana.
Hur said that “in Korea we combine the campaign to oppose the economic sanctions against Cuba with the campaign opposing the U.S. economic sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” Washington’s war moves target the Korean people on both sides of the U.S.-enforced border, he said, noting that the U.S. military has maintained thousands of troops in the South since the end of World War II.
The Final Declaration adopted by the Asia-Pacific conference called for carrying out actions, coordinated regionwide when possible, to demand that Washington end its economic sanctions against Cuba, its occupation of Guantánamo Bay, and its “regime change” programs against the Cuban Revolution.
The declaration paid tribute to Fidel Castro, stating, “This conference challenges the vain illusions of imperialist and other reactionary forces that the Cuban Revolution can now be reversed with the physical loss of Comandante Fidel.”
The delegates welcomed the news that Fernando González, one of the five Cuban heroes, has been named the new president of ICAP. They saluted the work of outgoing ICAP President Kenia Serrano in helping to “broaden and strengthen the international movement of solidarity with Cuba.”
It was announced that the Cuba solidarity movement in Nepal has offered to host the next Asia-Pacific gathering, to be held in 2019.
Washington seeks alliances to press imperialist interests in Pacific, Asia
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