As the new year opened, I was in Havana with Cuban friends commemorating the 40th anniversary of their revolution, a beacon of hope and strength for freedom fighters everywhere. The moment was one for rejoicing in the revolution’s grand achievements, celebrating its tenacity, and rededicating ourselves to fighting for its survival.
An explosion of light. On January 1, 1959, a long, broadly supported uprising led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara triumphed over the heavy darkness of U.S. domination and poverty enforced by island dictator Fulgencio Batista. Cuban working people gained national independence and, after a short time, a transformation of the economic system that made them the collective owners of their country’s productive resources.
From 1959 onwards, Cuba measured wealth by the well-being of its citizens, beginning with those persons traditionally most deprived: workers, poor farmers, women, people of colour, youth, and the elderly.
Cuban workers as a whole own their factories. Farmers collectively manage their land and crops.
Women control their own bodies; abortion, like childcare and care for the disabled, is universally guaranteed and free. And women are respected for their social contribution as members of the work force.
Overcoming racial inequality was one of the new society’s first priorities, and popular prejudice and institutional discrimination are refreshingly absent.
Young people are esteemed as the next generation carrying the responsibility to advance humanity. Services of all types focus on providing them with clothing, food, education, sports opportunities, and much more.
And Cubans honour their elders. Seniors are well-cared for, and no one’s grandmother ends up a bag lady.
Castro looks to the future. But no revolution is an island. Cuba’s gains are gravely threatened by the loss of the Soviet Union as an essential trading partner and by the decades-long U.S. blockade.
In a speech on New Year’s Day, Castro identified the globalization of politics and economy as a crucial issue not just for Cuba, but for every nation. “No country on its own, no matter how big or rich,” he said, “can solve its problems on its own.”
Millions of Cubans watched the broadcast of Castro’s address, transfixed, as I was also.
Speaking in San Diego, the island’s eastern metropolis and centre of 40th anniversary festivities, Castro condemned the rule of private profit as a dead end: “The current [international] system is unsustainable, because it is based on blind and chaotic laws which are ruinous and destructive to society and nature. The economic order which dominates the planet will inevitably fall.”
In pointing to this reality, Castro reaffirmed for Cubans that, despite the hardships they endure, the future they have put their faith in — socialism — is the future that all humanity is bound for.
“To all of our compatriots, and especially the young,” he said, “I assure you that the next 40 years will be decisive for the world. We will struggle for our nation and for humanity. And our voice can reach and will reach very far away.”
Internationalism: key to victory. I arrived in Cuba in December, soon after Clinton rained down bombs on Iraq. This crime was decried both by the government and the people of the island.
My friend Alicia, an activist in the Federation of Cuban Women, told me she believes that ending the U.S. embargo against Iraq should be even more of a priority for the world’s radicals than ending the embargo against Cuba. “The Iraqi people don’t have socialism,” she reasoned. “So every month, 5,000 die for lack of food and medical care because of that U.S. blockade.”
This internationalist generosity of spirit is typical of Cubans. But at the same time, the perils they themselves face because of capitalist hostility are considerable.
These dangers go beyond the material deprivations Cubans struggle with daily. They also include the inequalities and social regressions, like the appearance again of prostitution, that are coming about as a result of Cuba’s coerced scramble for dollars.
To ensure that the Cuban revolution survives and thrives for another 40 years, supporters around the world must repay the internationalism of the Cuban people in the most profound way. This means not only working to shut down the U.S. campaign against Cuba; ultimately, we can only guarantee Cuba’s security by bringing socialism to the rest of the Americas.
And this is what I left Cuba with a renewed commitment to do.