Why Cuba Won't Surrender by peggreenleft In 1961, Raul Macias a 16-year-old secondary stud

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Why Cuba Won't Surrender by peg:greenleft 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 says. 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 their neo-colony." "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 revolution. 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 crowed. 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.

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