Jan. 1, 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. It is an occasion for rejoicing by all who love justice and struggle as partisans for the working class, the poor and the oppressed.
On New Years’ Day in 1959, the rebel army headed by Fidel Castro entered Havana after dictator Fulgencio Batista had ignominiously fled to the United States, and last minute attempts by the Eisenhower administration to replace Batista with some other pliant stooge had failed.
The revolutionaries moved quickly to implement a drastic program of land reform and a vast, innovative and extremely successful literacy campaign. In foreign policy, Cuba quickly aligned itself with those peoples who were fighting against imperialism and colonialism in Vietnam, Algeria and elsewhere. The anti-imperialist words and actions of Fidel and Che Guevara electrified the world, but enraged exploiters inside and outside Cuba. Gangsters, fascists and reactionaries of every type fled Cuba and attached themselves to the efforts of the CIA and the U.S. military to destroy the socialist revolution.
The enemies of the Cuban Revolution have tried everything including invasion, terrorism, sabotage and economic isolation through a vicious blockade to bring the Cubans to their knees. These brutal actions have caused much suffering in Cuba, but the Cuban people have emerged from all challenges with their heads held high. For this, they have won the admiration of millions around the world.
The defeat of the Cuban Revolution has been confidently predicted by its enemies over and over again. The fall of the Soviet Union and of socialism in Eastern Europe was a severe economic blow to Cuba, and the enemies of the Revolution began to make absurdly specific plans for a take-over “after Fidel falls.” But the Cuban Revolution has now outlived 10 U.S. presidencies (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush).
Despite all attacks and challenges, Cuba weathered that crisis without sacrificing its notable achievements in education, health care and environmental stewardship. Health care is free and widely available to all Cubans. Education, including higher education, is also free. Cuba has the highest educational achievement scores in Latin America, and an infant mortality level that is lower than that of the United States. Cuba also has the large scale organic agriculture.
The Cubans have done this while also lending large numbers of health care, educational and scientific workers to scores of poor countries around the world (Fidel Castro’s offer to send health care workers to help care for victims of Hurricane Katrina were rudely rebuffed by President Bush). Thousands of poor students from all over the world have received excellent university educations in medicine and other disciplines in Cuba free of charge.
Though Cuba today is still rather poor and faces serious challenges, not least because of devastation to its economy and infrastructure caused by a series of hurricanes in 2008, the Revolution shows every sign of being around for another 50 years, and beyond.
Fortune is smiling on Cuba: Oil, possibly in very considerable quantities, has been discovered off Cuba’s North coast, and the sharp move to the left by many of the other countries in Latin America is making nonsense out of the U.S. government’s efforts to isolate Cuba from international trade, as the socialist island is welcomed with open arms into regional trade bodies. And there are indications that the new Obama administration in Washington will move to a much more reasonable approach to Cuba.
This is a time also to salute people in the United States and worldwide who have not allowed themselves to be intimidated by harassment by the US government and threats of violence from the extreme right wing Cuban exiles, and have continued, from the very beginning, to speak out in support of Cuba’s right to choose its own path. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee was established scarcely four months after the fall of Havana to the revolutionaries. Though it was targeted for extreme infiltration and disruption by the FBI, and has not survived to our time, it did valuable early work in exposing U.S. plans for destroying the Revolution in its infancy. The Venceremos Brigade, established in 1969, has never stopped organizing teams of Americans, young and old, to travel to Cuba, often at the risk of prosecution and frequently subjected to severe harassment, to go down to Cuba and work alongside the Cuban people in the humble tasks of construction and farming that the Revolution needed to survive. The Venceremos Brigade has not skipped a year in the past 35, and is organizing a special trip in 2009.
Since then, a number of other valuable organizations have worked on organizing solidarity for the Cuban people and their Revolution, including IFCO/Pastors for Peace, the US/Cuba Labor Exchange and the National Network on Cuba to name just a few. Pastors for Peace, since 1992 when Cuba was going through its severe economic distress from the fall of the Soviet Union, its main trading partner, has brought hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid in its 18 caravans called Friendshipments. With each Friendshipment, has successively challenged the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba, compelling the U.S. government to soften its enforcement of the blockade.
U.S. citizens are not allowed to travel to the island neighbor, 90 miles from Florida, although such travel and normalized relations, including trade, would have a mutually beneficial affect for both countries. The Bush administration enacted harsher restrictions on Cuban Americans clamping down on their ability to travel and send money to family. An overwhelming majority of U.S. public opinion favors normalized relations with Cuba.
So Jan. 1 is a celebration of the New Year and for millions, the Cuban Revolution. We say happy New Year to the Cuban people and all who struggle for a better, more just world.