“Thank you for talking about Fidel’s life with happiness, and without a sentiment of loss,” said José Ramón Cabañas, Cuban ambassador to the United States. “Many U.S. workers respect Fidel.”
Fidel’s enemies have been wondering about the ‘post-Castro Cuba’ for years, Cabañas said. Describing how Cuban workers and youth, in their millions, reaffirmed their commitment to Cuba’s socialist revolution and its values, he continued, “They know they have something to contribute — that is how Fidel educated us. For many years, he told us, if at some point you are isolated, anywhere in the world, you will be your own comandante. You will know what to do, and how to do it. You will also know that our revolution will never forget you. Fidel said the Cuban Five would return, and we won their freedom.”
Miguel Fraga, first secretary of the Cuban Embassy, accompanied Cabañas and was introduced at the meeting.
Other speakers included Gnaka Lagoke, founder of Revival of Panafricanism Forum, who chaired; José Pertierra, a Cuban-American attorney who represented Juan Miguel González, father of Elián González; Dr. Piero Gleijeses, professor at John Hopkins University and author of Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976; Mary-Alice Waters, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party and president of Pathfinder Press; Heather Benno, ANSWER Coalition and Party of Socialism and Liberation; Jennifer Bryant, an organizer for the Venceremos Brigade; and Netfa Freeman, International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity, Pan African Community Action, and Institute for Policy Studies. Carlos Ron, consul at the Venezuelan Embassy, gave greetings.
“In the years to come, we will need more meetings about the Cuban Revolution in more countries, especially in Africa,” said Lagoke, who has organized annual meetings to discuss Africa and the Cuban Revolution.
People came from the Washington, D.C., area, Philadelphia, New York, and as far away as Chicago.
The internationalist solidarity that binds revolutionary Cuba and Africa was a central theme of the meeting. “Fidel is our link to Africa. For us in Cuba, Africa is not something else, we are Africans, ” Cabañas said to applause.
“Fidel was a Pan Africanist of the highest order and Cuba’s solidarity and footprint in the Pan African movement goes all the way back to the ’60s,” said Netfa Freeman. During Algeria’s war for independence against French colonialism, the revolutionary leadership in Cuba sent ships to take weapons to the Algerian National Liberation Front and bring war orphans and wounded children to the island for treatment and education, just two years after their own revolutionary victory, he said.
José Pertierra recounted how during a Christmas day lunch at Fidel’s home in 2010, Fidel got on the phone with volunteer Cuban doctors combatting a cholera epidemic in Haiti. “He talked to them like a general who was moving troops from one place to another giving them courage and enthusiasm,” he said.
A number of speakers described the decisive role of some 425,000 Cuban internationalists battling alongside Angolan and Namibian forces in a hard-fought war for freedom against South African apartheid invaders and their backers in Washington. The struggle began in 1975 as Angola won independence from Portugal and lasted for sixteen years.
“Cuba’s example was unprecedented. They were not guided by narrow self-interest, but by Castro’s sense of revolutionary mission. His internationalism trumped everything else,” Piero Gleijeses said. Fidel called the fight to defeat apartheid “the most beautiful cause of humanity.”
In face of growing U.S. military threats in the 1980s, Cuba refused to pull back or withdraw from Angola, he said, even when it meant rejecting the course of the leaders of the Soviet Union, who were focused on achieving detente with Washington. “When President Jimmy Carter offered to re-establish relations with Cuba if Cuba would withdraw from Angola, Cuba said no,” Gleijeses said. “The wave of the Cuban victory in Angola washed over the region.”
Fidel belongs to Cuba, the world“Fidel belongs first and foremost to the men and women of Cuba. But he also belongs to the working people of the world,” SWP leader Mary-Alice Waters said. “He demonstrated in action what proletarian internationalism means, and how and why it is inseparable from the socialist revolution in Cuba and the strengthening of that revolution.
It was Fidel’s historical understanding that the struggle in southern Africa would last until apartheid was defeated, and only its defeat would guarantee the sovereignty and independence of Angola, Waters explained. “Fidel was one of the great military commanders of the toilers of the world. He understood that military leadership of the working class in revolutionary struggle begins with political leadership. That above all is decisive,” said Waters.
“There were two great socialist revolutions of the 20th century — the Russian and the Cuban,” Waters said. “Neither was the product of any one individual — they grew out of the conditions created by capitalism itself. But without the presence and political leadership of Lenin and Fidel, in those revolutions at decisive moments and turning points, the odds that either one of them would have triumphed are small.”
“There are times when the role of an individual in history is decisive. Fidel’s ability to lead the other leaders at key turning points was crucial,” she said. “Without Lenin and Fidel, the history of the 20th century and 21st century would be hard to imagine. It’s why those two giants tower above all others and why we think of them together. They knew that only by eradicating capitalist relations could a new order be built.”
Two different courses were presented at the meeting on how to defend revolutionary Cuba today. Some speakers argued that “stopping” new U.S. President Donald Trump is paramount.
The Trump agenda is to smash labor unions, abolish environmental regulations, carry out mass deportations and unleash massive attacks on women’s rights, Heather Benno argued. “His goal is to return the United States to the most unrestrained form of capitalist rule — with no protections for oppressed sectors,” she said. “Protesting Trump is the heart and soul of El Comandante’s legacy.”
She urged participants to join in a Jan. 20 protest organized by the ANSWER Coalition seeking to disrupt Trump’s inauguration.
“We’re not only protesting Trump, we’re protesting the system that allowed Trump to be elected to head the largest imperialist war-mongering country in the world,” Jennifer Bryant said.
“Our responsibility here is to keep our fire on the U.S. government,” Waters countered, in response to a question during the discussion that ensued. “Whether the president is Trump or Clinton or Obama or another capitalist politician, the propertied families who dictate Washington’s foreign policy have worked consistently for decades to destroy the revolution, regardless of tactical shifts or which capitalist party held the presidency. We need to build a movement to demand that the U.S. return Guantánamo now, right now, end their economic embargo and end their subversive ‘regime change’ programs.
“The U.S. rulers fear the example of Cuba’s socialist revolution, and for the first time in decades they have begun to fear the U.S. working class,” she said. “Workers here have the same capacities to transform ourselves and we’re capable of taking power and transforming society.”
During the far-reaching hourlong discussion, speaker after speaker pointed to examples of Cuba’s internationalism, from aid to Venezuela in its efforts to resist Washington’s attacks to its response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The back and forth continued informally over a delicious West African dinner.
Participants picked up 13 copies of Cuba and Angola: The War for Freedom, Pathfinder’s newly released firsthand account of the Cuban internationalist mission in Angola, by Harry Villegas, a brigadier general of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) who served as Fidel Castro’s direct liaison to Cuban forces there.
“The whole meeting was eye-opening and inspiring, including the books,” Bryan Carrigan, a warehouse worker and Teamster, told the Militant. “I didn’t know Cuba had helped in Africa, like in Angola, and stayed for the long haul.”
‘Washington never accepted the Cuban Revolution’
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