People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 51

December 17, 2006

Fidel And Cuba: A Havana Diary


Cuban children march next to a replica of the ‘Granma’ boat opening the parade along the Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba on December 2, 2006


Prakash Karat


THE 50th anniversary of the landing of Granma on Cuban soil and the 80th birthday celebrations of Fidel Castro were held recently in Havana. From November 28 to December 1, the Foundation held a series of activities to commemorate the 80th birth anniversary of Fidel Castro Ruz. This was followed by the military parade and a people’s march on the 50th anniversary of the Granma landing which marks also the foundation of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba. 


Fidel Castro’s birthday fell on August 13. The Guayasamin Foundation had planned the celebrations then, but since Fidel fell ill and had to undergo surgery, the programme was postponed. At the suggestion of Fidel, it was decided to hold the activities at the time of the 50th anniversary of the landing of Granma. The Guayasamin Foundation is named in the memory of Oswaldo Guayasamin who died in 1999. He was a prominent painter of Latin America, who belonged to Ecuador. Guayasamin was a firm supporter of the Cuban revolution, a friend of Fidel and had painted three portraits of Fidel Castro, the last being in 1996.


The four day celebrations were attended by 1800 participants from 80 countries. As expected the largest participation was from Latin America. They included three presidents, a prime minister, Nobel Prize winners, prominent cultural figures, leaders and activists of political parties and social movements. I had participated in these activities on behalf of the CPI(M) along with A B Bardhan, general secretary of the CPI and Margaret Alva, general secretary of the AICC.


The celebrations opened with an inaugural session on November 28 at the Karl Marx Theatre. A message from Fidel Castro was read out at the meeting. While regretting his inability to attend due to medical advice, Fidel reiterated his resolve to continue to carry on working.


A two-day symposium on “Memory and Future: Cuba and Fidel” saw a whole range of participants express their views on the significance of the Cuban revolution, the unique contribution of Fidel Castro to revolutionary theory and practice and the abiding influence of the Cuban revolution. Margaret Alva and A B Bardhan spoke at the symposium, which I could not attend as I arrived two days later. A common theme was the remarkable success of the Cuban revolutionary process in eliminating illiteracy and building an education and health system that is among the best in the world. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the difficult times Cuba faced in the “special period”, Fidel and the Cuban government kept the free education and public health services going. Today infant mortality is 6.3 per thousand compared to 65 per thousand in India. There is one doctor to 170 persons – the second highest patient to doctor ratio in the world next only to Italy.


Another theme touched upon by many participants was the internationalism of the Cuban revolution. They spoke about the role of the Cuban armed forces in rebuffing the South African apartheid regime’s armed forces in Angola and southern Africa. Cuban medical teams have served in scores of countries of Africa and Latin America. At present there are 25,000 doctors in 68 countries. After the destructive earthquake which hit Pakistan last year, Cuba rushed a 600 strong medical team to serve in the rough mountainous areas. The Operation Miracle co-sponsored with Venezuela that provides free eye surgery has covered half a million people in Latin America. In Venezuela, the services of the Cuban doctors and medical personnel have earned the admiration and support of the ordinary people who had no access to primary health care. 


The Latin American delegates highlighted the abiding impact of the Cuban revolution which inspired the Left and revolutionary movements in the last four decades through various ups and downs. At present when the Left is gathering popular support and registering successes in country after country, the seminal influence of Cuba with its heroic and indomitable struggle against US imperialism was underlined.


As the celebrations were held in Havana, important developments were taking place in Latin America. On November 28, Rafael Correa, the Left-wing candidate, won the elections for the president of Ecuador. The Bolivian president Evo Morales got a radical land reform legislation adopted through the Senate which would ensure that tens of thousands of acres of land lying uncultivated with big companies are taken over for distribution to landless farmers. A day after the December 2nd anniversary, Hugo Chavez won a big victory and was re-elected president of Venezuela with over 62 per cent of the votes. 


After the symposium, there was an all night music concert “All voices together”. The best known singers of Cuba were joined by their Latin American counterparts from Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador and other countries. More than ten thousand young people sang and danced to the hypnotic music belted out by famous singers such as Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodrigues. The songs feted the Cuban revolution, the solidarity of people fighting oppression and the hopes of a new future. While most of the older people left before midnight, the young continued to celebrate till six in the morning!


The other cultural event was the opening of an art exhibition. A hundred paintings of Oswaldo Guayasamin were displayed at the National Museum of Arts in Old Havana. The pride of place was occupied by the haunting portrait of Fidel by the artist. 


The closing session of the celebrations was held at the Karl Marx Theatre again. On the dais were Raul Castro, acting president and Commander-in Chief, Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, Rene Preval, the president of Haiti, Daniel Ortega, the president-elect of Nicaragua, Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of Saint Vincent and Grenadines, a Caribbean island country and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the legendary novelist and Nobel Prize winner for literature. Everyone missed Hugo Chavez on the occasion. He could not come as he was standing for reelection as president of Venezuela. In his place, there was the Venezuelan minister for foreign affairs. The speeches of the elected leaders were a striking and eloquent affirmation of their deep respect and affection for Fidel and their admiration for Cuba. As Ralph Gonsalves put it: there were five exemplary leaders in the twentieth century: Lenin, Mao Zedong, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro. The meeting was pervaded by the spirit of the resurgence of the Latin American Left. 


Carlos Lage, the vice president of Cuba and the secretary of the council of ministers, made a powerful speech in which he declared that the Cuban revolution is irreversible. Lage said, there will not be another Fidel and that nobody will try to imitate him. “Many of us will follow him. There won’t be ambitions, egotism or vanity. We will not allow that; we have a party. I’m not talking about today but about the future. Fidel is recovering, we will have him among us.” Lage assured that “When the day comes that Fidel is no longer with us, his life’s work, ideas and example will be ever present. We know that such a commitment is the best present that those of us that admire and love him can give him today. In Cuba, there won’t be succession, there will be continuity”.


The December 2nd parade held at the Jose Marti Revolution Square became a powerful affirmation by the Cuban people, Communist Party and the government of the vitality and continuity of the Cuban revolution. In his opening speech, Raul Castro Ruz announced the firm resolve of the people and the revolutionary armed forces to defend the homeland, the revolution and socialism (full text of the speech was published in People’s Democracy, December 10, 2006).


What followed was a stirring display of the commitment of the revolutionary armed forces and the people to their social system and way of life. The parade opened with thousands of school children escorting a replica of the yatch `Granma’ which brought Fidel Castro and his band of 81 revolutionaries to Cuba on December 2, 1956. This was the nucleus of the revolutionary army which overthrew the hated Batista regime. Less than 30 of them are alive today but the cause that they champion lives in the Republic of Cuba and its socialist system. After the parade of the soldiers, armed vehicles, tanks and the fly past by the air force came the sea of people. 300,000 people of Havana city participated in this mass demonstration. On the podium under Jose Marti’s statue were the leaders of the Cuban State and the visiting Heads of States and Governments. Immediately below were the foreign guests and the diplomatic corps. As the people marched, they shouted slogans `Viva Fidel! Viva Raul! Viva the Cuban Revolution!’. As the people marched past, they looked up hoping to see Fidel on the podium. Fidel was absent, but his presence was everywhere. 


The Revolution Square has seen scores of speeches by Fidel. Speeches by one of the greatest orators of the 20th century. Speeches suffused with revolutionary ideas and content –– an unparalleled record of the journey of the Cuban people to socialism. On December 2, Fidel did not appear to make one more of his brilliant speeches. There was a tinge of sadness in the air. But the powerful manifestation of the people was both a tribute to Fidel and a proclamation that the United States will not succeed to strangle socialist Cuba. 


For four months after Fidel fell ill, the Cuban government and party have worked smoothly. The NAM summit held in September was a great success. The economy is doing exceedingly well this year. In the United Nation’s General Assembly, 183 countries voted for the resolution calling for an end to the US blockade of Cuba; only four, including the United States, voted against. The Cuban party and the government have a strong collective style of functioning. Fidel himself made a big contribution to evolving this style of work. Just as Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Fidel Castro in Cuba did not allow a cult of personality to develop. Even pictures of Fidel Castro are not displayed. As he himself once said: “Why should there be pictures when I am alive and the people can see me”. 


Before leaving Havana, I had a meeting with Fernando Remirez de Estenoz Barciela, Head of the International Department and Member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee. He reiterated the same point that in the past four months, the government and the party had worked well and Fidel had been monitoring work from his hospital room. There was an exchange of views and an affirmation of the close ties and solidarity between the Communist Party of Cuba and the CPI(M).


The United States, under president Bush, continues to blockade Cuba. It relentlessly seeks to cripple the economy and subvert Cuba’s national sovereignty. Cuba has lived with the imperialist beast next door for 47 years and survived. The 50th anniversary of the Granma landing and the 80th birthday celebrations of Fidel Castro were a testament to the enduring strength of the revolutionary movement so ably built up and guided by Fidel.