On Jan. 1, 1959, in the early hours of the morning, dictator Fulgencio Batista and some of his top cronies fled from Cuba. Rebel forces of the 26th of July Movement and their allies, commanded by Raúl Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, Juan Almeida Bosque and others, took Havana. Fidel Castro and his column marched across the island from Santiago over the next few days, with rallies in every town along the way, arriving in Havana a week later.
The Cuban people greeted the victory of the Revolution with rapturous rejoicing, and a burst of energy as they put their shoulders to the wheel of building a new society on socialist principles.
The task was far from easy, not least because at that point socialist Cuba faced organized sabotage from the United States and its allies. To economic sabotage and attempts at isolation were added a campaign of terrorism carried out by exile groups in South Florida, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and other countries, and abetted and financed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Cuba lost billions of dollars and the lives of more than three thousand of its citizens in these attacks. But Almeida’s slogan “Here, nobody surrenders,” became the watchword. Cuba achieved massive improvements for its own people in health care, education, housing, women’s rights, racial justice, and other issues.
Until the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialist states between 1989 and 1991, Cuba received major support from that quarter. This, and the strong sense of social justice and firm will of the Cuban leadership and people, made it possible for Cuba to engage in major solidarity activities with struggling peoples around the world. Cuba played a decisive role in the defense of Angola and Namibia against attacks by the fascist, apartheid regime of South Africa. By doing so, Cuba contributed mightily to the fall of apartheid and the rise of a democratic government in South Africa itself.
After the 1991 collapse of Eastern European socialism, Cuba found itself hard pressed in a very difficult “special period.” Whether the Cuban Revolution could survive, or would become another wistful memory of a failed, though noble, attempt to “storm the heavens,” was in serious doubt. But the Cubans did not forget Almeida’s battle cry: “Here, nobody surrenders.” At home, Cuba worked hard to adapt to the material privation, and in the process, made signal advances in sustainable, eco-friendly agriculture.
Internationally, Cuba worked diligently to thwart imperialist efforts to isolate it, vastly expanding its medical and other face-to-face solidarity activities in other poor countries. In fact the U.S., by its relentless attacks on Cuba, ended up isolating itself: This past year, in the United Nations General Assembly, 188 of the nations voting supported the annual motion to condemn U.S. economic policy toward Cuba, with only two nations voting “no” (the U.S. and Israel).
There is far more support worldwide for Cuba than for U.S. attempts to strangle the Cuban Revolution, and all indications are that opposition to the U.S. blockade of Cuba is now the opinion of the majority in the U.S., including major sectors of the Cuban-American population.
Now comes the joint announcement on a radical readjustment of U.S.-Cuba relations, made simultaneously by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on Dec. 17. All is changed, although there are many tough struggles ahead in both countries.
So the whole world salutes Cuba today, this January of the year 2015, the 56th of the Revolution, and thanks Cuba for the example it has shown, including to all who fight for social justice here in the U.S.A.
¡Viva la Revolución cubana!
¡Hasta la victoria siempre!
Photo: A Havana street mural honors the Cuban Revolution. (José Porras/Wikimedia)