The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 8           February 28, 2005  
Links of Cuba and Africa highlighted
at Havana launching of book by Sankara
(front page)
Militant/Jonathan Silberman
Platform at Havana International Book Fair presentation of the Spanish-language translation of We Are Heirs of the World’s Revolutions by Thomas Sankara. From left: Manuel Agramonte, former Cuban ambassador to Burkina Faso; Ulises Estrada, director of Tricontinental magazine (speaking); Armando Hart, a historic leader of the Cuban Revolution; and Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press.

HAVANA—“In this book, We Are Heirs of the World’s Revolutions, Pathfinder presents five speeches by Thomas Sankara between 1983 and 1987 in which he expresses clearly and firmly his revolutionary ideas, not only in defense of his people but of all the exploited of the world,” said Ulises Estrada in opening a meeting held here February 10 as part of the annual Havana International Book Fair.

Estrada is the director of Tricontinental magazine, published by the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (OSPAAAL).Some 70 people attended the event, which presented Somos herederos de las revoluciones del mundo, the recently published Spanish-language translation of the booklet. It was one of many book launchings organized throughout the fair, which took place February 3-13.

Thomas Sankara was the central leader of the 1983-87 popular revolution in the West African country of Burkina Faso.

Speaking at the meeting, which Estrada chaired, were Manuel Agramonte, Cuba’s ambassador to Burkina Faso during the four years of the revolutionary government there; Armando Hart, one of the historic leaders of the Cuban Revolution and long-time minister of culture, who is today president of the José Martí Cultural Society; and Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press.

In 1965 Estrada was part of a leadership delegation sent to the Congo while Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara was leading a column of Cuban internationalists fighting alongside Congolese national liberation forces. Estrada has held a number of diplomatic posts in Africa and the Middle East over the years. As part of the Technical Vice-Ministry of Cuba’s Interior Ministry in the mid-1960s, he was responsible for helping train members of the advance team of Cuban revolutionary fighters who went to Bolivia to lay the groundwork for the guerrilla front led by Guevara in that South American country in 1966-67.

Among those in the audience was a leadership delegation from the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution, including several people who were involved in Cuba’s internationalist aid to African liberation struggles over the years. Also present was Freddy Ilunga, a Congolese liberation fighter who in 1965 served as a Swahili interpreter for Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara, while Guevara was there leading the column of Cuban combatants. Among the participants were also nearly a dozen university students, including four from West Africa who are studying in Cuba from Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, and Guinea-Bissau.

In his opening remarks Estrada highlighted Sankara’s leadership capacities, both the clarity of his revolutionary perspectives and his integrity and example for the exploited and oppressed worldwide.

In the speeches appearing in the pamphlet, Estrada said, Sankara addressed the Burkinabè people in order to mobilize them to “build a new, independent society, free from social injustice and centuries of domination and exploitation by international imperialism.”

In 1983 Sankara, a 33-year-old army captain, led a movement that brought to power a popular revolutionary government in what was then Upper Volta, a former French colony. One year later, the country was renamed Burkina Faso, “The Land of Upright Men.” Sankara was assassinated in a 1987 military coup that destroyed the revolutionary government.

Estrada explained that the government led by Sankara sought to mobilize the population in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries of the world, to combat the encroachment of the Sahara desert, including through the planting of trees and drilling wells. It launched immunization and literacy campaigns, and abolished compulsory labor and other oppressive social relations in the countryside.

He cited several speeches contained in the pamphlet, including Sankara’s tribute to Che Guevara at an Oct. 8, 1987, rally, explaining the importance of Guevara’s revolutionary perspective and example.

Referring to Sankara’s assassination on Oct. 15, 1987, Estrada said he was “convinced that the hand of his assassins was guided by imperialism, which could not allow a man with the ideas and actions of Sankara to lead a country on a continent so exploited for hundreds of years by international imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonial governments that do their bidding.

“Sankara’s political ideas will endure,” he said, “like those of Patrice Lumumba and Amílcar Cabral, also assassinated by traitors at the behest of the empire.” The latter two were leaders of national liberation struggles—Lumumba in the Congo and Cabral in Guinea-Bissau.

Urging those present to read and study Sankara’s speeches, Estrada concluded by saying that some day the peoples of Africa will realize “the dreams of Agostinho Neto, Sékou Touré, Julius Nyerere, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and so many others who left an indelible mark on history.” He was referring to leaders of the anticolonial struggles in Angola, Guinea-Conakry, Tanzania, and Egypt, respectively.  
Imperialism can and must be fought
Waters noted that with the new Spanish-language translation of We Are Heirs of the World’s Revolutions, the Pathfinder booklet, first issued in French and then in English, is now available in three languages. Pathfinder has also published Thomas Sankara Speaks, an expanded English-language selection of his speeches; Oser inventer l’avenir, an expanded collection in French; and Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle, a pamphlet containing a March 1987 speech by Sankara—available in French, English, and Spanish. A publisher in Iran has also produced a translation in Farsi. Pathfinder presented the pamphlet on the struggle for women’s liberation at the Havana book fair in 2002.

Sankara, Waters said, “reached out to, and spoke on behalf of, all those the world over who refuse to accept the economic bondage of class society and its consequences.” He knew that “such conditions are not ‘natural phenomena’ but the products of today’s imperialist world order. He knew that order can be fought and must be destroyed.”

She emphasized that “what marked Sankara above all was his confidence in the revolutionary capacities of ordinary human beings to accomplish this.” He stood out among the leaders of the struggles for national liberation in Africa “because he was a communist.” He did not reject Marxism as something European, alien to the class struggle in Africa. Sankara, she said, gave leadership not only to the people of Africa and the rest of the semicolonial world but “to working people in the imperialist world as well.”

Waters also called attention to a 1986 speech by Sankara exposing imperialism’s destruction of fields, forests, soil, and waters across the African continent. That talk, she pointed out, is cited extensively in the newly published issue no. 7 of the Marxist magazine Nueva Internacional, which was also introduced at the February 10 book launching. “Our Politics Start with the World” by Jack Barnes and other articles in that issue deal with the same political questions and course that Sankara fought to advance (see full text of remarks by Waters on page 5).

Agramonte spent many years in Africa, both as a revolutionary combatant in Congo-Brazzaville in 1965 and as Cuban ambassador in several countries over more than three decades. He gave a lively description of Sankara’s qualities as a political leader, drawing on his own experience as Cuba’s first ambassador to Burkina Faso.  
Sankara’s visit to Cuba
Agramonte told the story of how he accompanied the Burkinabè president on a 1984 trip to Cuba, where Sankara received the José Martí Order, the highest honor issued by the Cuban government to non-Cuban leaders. During the plane ride Sankara insisted on preparing his acceptance speech in Spanish, a language in which he was not fluent.

When Agramonte tried to dissuade him, Sankara answered, “Translators are traitors. I want to convey my message directly to the Cuban people and to that revolution that I love and admire so much.” Sankara worked meticulously with Agramonte to correct some points of grammar and pronunciation, as well as facts about Martí, and then delivered his speech in Spanish to everyone’s surprise and appreciation.

Agramonte also recounted a formal reception in 1986 when French president François Mitterrand paid a state visit to Burkina Faso. Sankara refused to treat the head of the French imperialist state with the deference Mitterrand considered his due, especially in a former colony. Sankara’s speech at the reception “made Mitterrand extremely uncomfortable,” Agramonte said. He reported he had just given Pathfinder a videotape of that meeting, so that it can finally be published.At the time, he said, none of the French press would report on it.

Armando Hart, who as Cuban minister of culture in 1984 had presented Sankara with the José Martí Order, was the final speaker at the book presentation. He applauded Pathfinder for publishing this collection of speeches by Sankara. “It is a tribute to Sankara, but also to what this outstanding son of Africa represents in history in the 20th century,” he said.  
Cuba and Africa: links in struggle
Hart highlighted the historic “links that tie Cuba to the peoples of Africa.” While many leaders of Cuba’s independence struggle in the 19th century were from the propertied classes, he said, the ranks of the liberation fighters were from the exploited layers of the population, many of them Black. Cuba’s revolutionary history and culture has been marked by the role of these combatants of African origin, “who have not received sufficient recognition,” Hart said, pointing to Antonio Maceo, a commander of the liberation forces, as a symbol of their sacrifice and contributions.

Hart stressed the place of Sankara in the history of ideas. “I think the future of ideas in the world lies in Africa, Latin America, and the United States,” he said.

“Until today, the cultural history of the world has been presented through a European schema,” Hart added. “I very much respect European culture, but the time has come to go beyond that narrow mold. Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean hold a place of enormous importance in that history.”

The world is passing through a moment in history, Hart said, where he wondered how many really saw themselves as “heirs of the world’s revolutions,” adding that “those who can say this are in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and potentially in the United States.”

He concluded by saying he was “grateful that I was invited to join in this tribute to a man I knew, admired, and continue to admire, one of the most outstanding symbols of the revolution that we need.”

At the end of the meeting, members of the audience crowded around the sales table to purchase copies of Somos herederos de las revoluciones del mundo and the issue of the magazine Nueva Internacional.

Throughout the book fair, these two titles were a focus of attention by visitors to the Pathfinder stand. Many were drawn to the large blow-up of the cover of the book, prominently displayed at the stand. Often they had heard about Sankara but did not know much about his political perspective and were interested to learn more about him. At the meeting and over the course of the book fair, a total of 133 copies of Somos herederos de las revoluciones del mundo and 101 copies of Nueva Internacional no. 7 were sold or distributed as complimentary copies to libraries, organizations, and others.
Related articles:
‘We are heirs of the world’s revolutions’
Talk by Pathfinder Press president at Havana launching of pamphlet by Thomas Sankara  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home