The conference came on the heels of winning freedom for the Cuban Five and opening of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington for the first time in six decades, said Yuniasky Crespo, first secretary of the National Committee of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) of Cuba, welcoming delegates to the island.
The UJC organized a program in conjunction with the assembly that allowed delegates to learn more about political developments in Cuba, including a visit to a neighborhood Committee in Defense of the Revolution and a report about the political decisions at the organization’s 10th congress held in July.
Exchange with GonzálezA political highlight was an exchange with one of the Cuban Five, Fernando González. The Five, imprisoned by the U.S. government for their efforts to defend Cuba from attacks by counterrevolutionaries in Florida, are all free and leading political work in Cuba.
“The Five spoke to the 10th UJC congress about the opportunity we have to fight to continue socialism and influence our own liberation” remarked José Maury del Toro, head of the UJC International Relations Department.
González emphasized that worldwide solidarity was key to winning freedom for the Five. Since their frame-up and imprisonment in 1998, the fight to free them was a centerpiece of the World Festivals of Youth and Students, organized by WFDY every four years.
“Young people must understand that now Washington is changing its methods, but not its policy objectives,” he said. “So we must always be alert and defend the cause of the Cuban Revolution. We continue to be a revolutionary, socialist and united country. Nothing will make us give in and change our principles.”
“Did the U.S. government try to buy you?” Bimal Rathnayake of the Socialist Youth Union of Sri Lanka asked.
“We knew we were in prison not because of who we are as individuals, but because of what we represent,” González replied. “Our imprisonment was an act of aggression by the U.S. government against Cuba.”
Francisco Santiago, a leader of Juventud Hostosiana of Puerto Rico, asked González about his experiences sharing a cell with Oscar López for four years. López was framed up for his support for independence for Puerto Rico and has served more than 34 years in U.S. jails.
López is a man devoted to the cause of Puerto Rican independence and if necessary willing to die in prison for this cause, González said, adding it was a privilege to share his cell.
Hamdi Yusef, international secretary of the Saharawi youth organization UJSARIO, asked if González had a message to send to the hundreds of Saharawi youth in Moroccan jails as they continue their fight for the independence of Western Sahara.
“A message of optimism, confident that in spite of the circumstances I am sure the Saharawi will obtain victory,” he responded. “Some may not witness that victory, but it will be theirs.”
Political discussion and debateA wide range of political questions were discussed and debated at the assembly. The fight against imperialism is a central part of WFDY’s program, but member groups hold a wide range of views about world developments and what to do next.
One debate focused on perspectives in Syria and the Middle East. Iraklis Tsavdaridis, of the World Peace Council, expressed a view echoed by many delegates, saying groups such as Islamic State are nurtured and tolerated by imperialism. He argued that the instability created by jihadists in the region is in the interests of imperialism because it gives them a pretext for their war aims.
A delegate from the Youth of Communist Party of Turkey argued that the “Arab Spring” and protest movements from the Middle East to Europe have served the interests of imperialism and capitalism, another common view among delegates. As an example, he pointed to mass protests in Turkey in 2013 demanding political rights and an end to government repression and attacks on the Kurds.
Fifteen delegates led by the Communist Youth of Syria attended. They argued for support for the Bashar al-Assad regime there, which they described as leading a war against imperialism.
“Intervention by Washington and other imperialist powers has created conditions that have helped fuel the wars in the region,” said Rebecca Williamson, representing the Young Socialists in the U.S. “But Washington is not the source of the increased resistance toilers have mounted against dictatorial regimes or national oppression, nor of Islamic State and other reactionary jihadi forces.”
She pointed to the need to support popular protests like those against the Assad regime that swept Syria beginning in 2011, demanding political rights, and support Kurdish victories against Assad and IS.
“Today we can organize solidarity with growing fights by workers and small farmers the world over resisting the effects of the slow burning capitalist depression,” she said. “The biggest obstacle facing the toilers is the capitalist rulers of their own countries.”
There was unanimous backing for WFDY’s long-standing support for the Palestinian people’s fight for national rights. At the same time, delegates from Palestine and elsewhere in the Middle East engaged in sharp debate over which political course to pursue today.
Delegates also united in backing struggles for the self-determination of Western Sahara and Puerto Rico.
The largest representation came from Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe, with smaller delegations from Asia and the Middle East as well. A newly elected General Council met and re-elected the Cypriot communist youth organization EDON to hold the position of president and the UJC to hold the general secretary post.
Jacob Perasso contributed to this article.
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