Why Cuba Won't Surrender by peggreenleft In 1961, Raul Macias a 16-year-old secondary stud
Why Cuba Won't Surrender
In 1961, Raul Macias a 16-year-old secondary student from Santiago,
Cuba, went to the Sierra Maestra mountains to teach the peasants to
read and write. "We were teachers but we were also students learning
about life from the peasants, about how hard their lives were", he
These were teachers unlike any previously seen by the peasants: they
weren't old; they didn't wear glasses or ties. So the brigadistas had
to use all sorts of tricks to convince their students to attend
classes. Macias recalls a young man who came to him to ask him to
write a love letter for him. Macias insisted that he attend literacy
classes and learn to write his own love letters.
Three decades on, recollections of this special time in the Sierra
Maestra are a source of inspiration to Macias. "Words cannot describe
what it is to see the power of literacy, to see the big self-discovery
it involves." For Macias it was also the beginning of a long and
passionate commitment to the Cuban revolution, one that brought him
this week to the other side of the world to urge solidarity with Cuba.
He spoke to Peter Boyle from Green Left Weekly in Melbourne.
"The contradiction between Cuba and the United States of America did
not start in January 1959, it started much earlier. It started when
the Cubans fought against the Spanish colonialists in the last
century", said Macias. "They imposed a president on Cuba and made it
"The real problem is that the Americans have never recognised our
sovereignty", says Macias. This was written, into the Cuban
constitution, which gave the US perpetual rights to a military base on
the island, Guantanamo, which remains today a reminder of Cuba's
neo-colonial status in the eyes of the US government and a permanent
provocation against the revolution.
"After the triumph of the Cuban revolution they did everything to try
to stop even the simplest measures to improve health and education and
provide jobs for our people."
The US government paints Castro as a dictator, but it is an unusual
"dictator" who, in his first law on land reform, seizes the property
of his own family for distribution to landless peasants, as Fidel did,
said Macias. "The Americans thought: `This man is crazy!' They thought
if he did that, what would happen to their property in Cuba?"
Countless governments in Latin America have promised land reform, but
few have delivered anything significant. In the Cuban land reform -
signed not in a presidential palace but in the mountains - more than
100,000 peasants received title to the land they had worked for years,
explaining in part why Castro remains immensely popular in Cuba.
But after the land reform, the US began planning the Bay of Pigs
invasion. This invasion by right-wing Cuban emigres, supported by some
US armed forces, in April 1961, was defeated in 72 hours. This was the
first time this ever happened in Latin America, said Macias. "The
Americans have never forgotten or forgiven this."
For years US governments have schemed at carrying out everything from
industrial sabotage to assassination attempts against Fidel Castro.
"We have not known a moment of peace." US governments have plotted
with the Mafia, which treated Cuba as its playground before the
People had been made fearful of the word "Communist". "I too was
anti-Communist as a boy, I had been told that Russian Communists ate
their own children." But that was a long time ago. Cuban consciousness
is very different today because the revolution has placed it ahead of
Latin America in terms of health and education and even on par with
the richest countries on some social indicators.
Tightening the noose
On April 19, the Bush administration tightened the 30-year-long
economic blockade of Cuba. Any ships that trade with Cuba will now be
banned from US ports, and US President George Bush reiterated his
determination to bring down the Cuban revolutionary government.
Bush admits he is trying to take advantage of the crisis caused by
the loss of an equivalent of US$5 billion a year from the collapse of
trade with the former Soviet Union. "Castro is on his own", Bush
Macias says that Cuba is facing a serious economic crisis as a result
of the collapse of trade with the former "socialist bloc". But these
attempts to paint Cuba as a mere satellite of a now crumbled Soviet
empire are false, says Macias. "Cuba always kept its freedom and the
Soviets never told us what to do."
Cuba came to rely on the former socialist bloc for much of its trade
and technological assistance because the US denied it the right to
trade freely with the rest of the world. Before the US blockade, Cuba
depended almost totally on the US for investment, plant and equipment
and for markets for its products, especially sugar. When the US
imposed the blockade, it was forced to adjust, and since the Soviet
Union offered to help, Cuba accepted.
"Socialism is made by people, and people are not perfect. We knew
this before perestroika and glasnost. The Soviet Union decided to try
to rectify their mistakes, which was good. But just as you cannot
rectify a capitalist system with socialist methods, we believe that
you cannot rectify a socialist system with capitalist methods.
"When the Soviet process began, I personally thought that it was not
bad. But I began to intuit that something was wrong here because the
control of these changes was not in the hands of the party, and it
seemed that nothing good was seen in the Soviet Union's history."
`Born in Cuba'
Ironically, when the capitalists began to take back control of the
Soviet Union, Cuba was "accused of not being a satellite of the Soviet
Union", Macias said.
"People ask me why Cuba is the last bastion of the socialist system?
I tell them that Cuba did not import the socialist system. Our
socialism is born in Cuba. The system was not imposed on us with
tanks, as it was it some countries in Eastern Europe.
"When Fidel and his comrades attacked the Moncada garrison, the
academic socialists, even the theoreticians in Moscow, said that
Castro was crazy because it was not in the book. Fidel Castro's number
was not in the official Communists' directory. But they forgot that,
when Lenin led the October revolution, the socialists in the Second
International said the same."
Macias says that the Cubans have to be prepared for the worst from
the US, especially while the presidential election campaign is on. But
just as the Cubans have organised to cope with the shortages caused by
the trade crisis, they have prepared for many different contingencies,
and won't give in without a fight.
Many ask whether Cuba can survive after Castro, said Macias, but
where does this question come from and what does it mean? Cuba has an
elected government, and there are many capable leaders in Cuba, so
there is no question of "succession". Fidel says he is happy to leave
his job and write his memoirs if that is what the Cuban people choose.
But Macias says that the Cuban people recognise that in this time of
crisis, Fidel Castro has an important role to play.
"His role is to explain to the Cuban people what the real situation
is. We do not hide the facts, the shortages, the problems. To explain
our plans for the future and to keep up our spirit to struggle."
Cuba did not ask to hold up the last flag for socialism at his time,
said Macias. But if that is the role that history gives to Cuba, it
will not refuse it. However, history may yet surprise the pundits.
Cubans are not spending sleepless nights, despite their problems, says
Macias, and the course of history today is not all bad news. Everyone
sees as progress the beginning of the dismantling of apartheid in
South Africa. But the apartheid regime only came to the negotiation
table after its defeat in Angola at the hands of the Angolan people
fighting with Cuban support, he said.
"So I don't come here to ask for solidarity, I come here to encourage
your solidarity", he told Green Left Weekly, "because this solidarity
is not just for the Cuban people, it is for all of us who fight for a
better world". Raul Macias will speak on the topic "Cuba and the New
World Order" at the Conference in Solidarity with Cuba to be held in
Melbourne on May 9-10.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank