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Vol. 81/No. 7      February 20, 2017

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NY event celebrates life of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro

NEW YORK — Hundreds of people packed the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Cultural Center here in Harlem Feb. 4 to celebrate the life and political contributions of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who died Nov. 25.

“Fidel’s unwavering solidarity has benefited countless people across the globe,” said Gail Walker, pointing to Cuba’s internationalist mission in Angola, which played a key role in defeating armed invasions of that country by the white-supremacist regime in South Africa, hastening the fall of apartheid. Walker, who is executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, co-chaired the meeting with Malcolm Sacks of the Venceremos Brigade.

Walker highlighted Cuba’s internationalism, including its treatment of thousands of children from Ukraine at the special Tarará medical facility outside Havana after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. She pointed to Cuba’s volunteer medical missions around the world, including its role in defeating the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

Anayansi Rodríguez, newly appointed Cuban ambassador to the United Nations, was the featured speaker. She noted that the meeting location was formerly the Audubon Ballroom where Malcolm X was assassinated in February 1965. Malcolm greeted Fidel when he came to address the U.N. in September 1960 as the representative of Cuba’s new workers and farmers government.

Castro used his speech at the U.N. General Assembly “to spread all over the world the truth about the young Cuban Revolution and his views on the international questions of the time.”

“The Cuban delegation was received by U.S. authorities with deep hostility,” she said. They were evicted from the downtown hotel where they were staying and no other hotel would take them in. Malcolm X and other Black leaders formed a committee to welcome the Cubans and arranged for the Hotel Theresa in Harlem to offer them accommodations. All of a sudden, hotels downtown made offers to give the delegation free rooms, but, to the chagrin of the U.S. State Department, the Cubans decided to accept the invitation to stay in Harlem in a show of solidarity with the fight for Black rights. Thousands of African-Americans and other workers gathered outside the hotel to welcome Castro and the delegation.

Castro’s first visit to New York was in October 1955, Rodríguez said, when he came to win support for the July 26 Movement and the fight against the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship. She described how Castro spoke to 800 Cubans and supporters of the fight for Cuban sovereignty at the Palm Garden Hotel, explaining the revolutionary movement’s goals.

Rodríguez quoted from a speech Castro made in Cuba on July 26, 1970, where he explained that the Cuban Revolution is not the enemy of the American people, but of its imperialist rulers.

“We are the pioneers of this revolutionary path, the first, but not the only ones,” Castro said, looking forward to the day when the workers and farmers of Latin America and the U.S. would make their own revolutions. “One day, sooner or later, we will become the people of Latin America. One day we will be part of hundreds of thousands; not to confront a powerful imperialism, but to live in peace and unity with a great people who have managed to shake themselves free from the imperialist yoke, who have been able to bring about a revolution in their own country.”

“For a socialist revolution to be true it must maintain firmness of principle,” Rodríguez said to applause. “We will continue to uphold those principles today and in the future, be sure of that.”

Other speakers spoke about the impact Castro and the Cuban Revolution have had around the world.

“Fidel has a special place in the heart of the Haitian people,” said Ninaj Raoul, director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees. “Haiti ousted the French in 1803 and Thomas Jefferson and the U.S. imposed sanctions on Haiti that lasted 60 years.”

“To this day Haiti is still paying for that revolution,” she said. Haiti today is one of the poorest countries in the world, exploited by U.S. imperialism. The Cuban Revolution on the other hand, she said, “ousted the ruling class, the United States and their mafia.”

“Every Friday at forums in the Haitian community we talk about the situation in Haiti,” she said. “Haitian people always bring up Cuba and the example of Cuba.”

Among other speakers were Joaquín Morante, a U.S. graduate of the Latin America School of Medicine in Cuba, who was born in Harlem; Frank Velgara, an activist in solidarity with Cuba and Puerto Rico, who read a poem to Castro; Jaime Mendieta, president of Casa de las Américas in New York; Larry Hamm, chair of the People’s Organization for Progress in New Jersey; and Leslie Cagan, former organizer of United for Peace and Justice and a recipient of Cuba’s Medal of Friendship.

Many of those attending the meeting were thirsty for information on the history and lessons of the Cuban Revolution and revolutionary politics. A Socialist Workers Party table, staffed by SWP candidate for New York mayor Osborne Hart and other party supporters, sold more than $400 of books by Pathfinder Press. Half the books were on the Cuban Revolution. The others were on a wide variety of political questions.
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