The following is an edited version of Cuban President Fidel Castro Ruz’s Jan. 29 speech to the International Conference for World Balance, held in Havana in honor of the 150th anniversary of the birth of José Martí.
In addition to saluting the life and contributions of Martí to the struggles of the Cuban people, Castro used the occasion to speak of growing opposition to war with Iraq, especially among the people in the United States who, he said, were “friend and potential ally” in the battle for peace and social justice.
“We saw this during the war in Vietnam and in their support for the struggles of the Reverend Martin Luther King. We saw it in WTO protests in Seattle and Quebec City where they fought alongside Canadians, Latin Americans and Europeans against neoliberal globalization. We see it again in their opposition to an unnecessary war,” Castro said, “and we will see it tomorrow,” Castro said.
What does Martí mean to Cubans?
When he was barely 18 years old, Martí wrote a document entitled “Political Prisons in Cuba,” after his own experience of being cruelly imprisoned, with his feet shackled, at the age of 16. In it, he declares, “God exists, however, in the idea of good, which watches over the birth of every being, and leaves in the soul that embodies it a pure tear. The good is God. The tear is the source of eternal feeling.”
For us Cubans, Martí is the idea of good that he described.
Those of us who resumed the fight for independence first initiated on October 10, 1868, on July 26, 1953, precisely 100 years after the birth of Martí, had learned from him, above all else, the ethical principles without which a revolution cannot even be conceived. From him we also learned his inspirational patriotism and a higher concept of honor and human dignity than anyone in history could have ever taught us.
He was a truly extraordinary and exceptional individual. The son of a military man, born into the home of a Spanish father and mother, he grew into a prophet and forger of the independence of the land of his birth; an intellectual and poet, still an adolescent when the first great battle broke out, he was later able to conquer the hearts, the following, the support and the respect of old and experienced military leaders who had covered themselves in glory in that first war.
A fervent lover of peace, unity and harmony among men, he did not waver in organizing and initiating the just and necessary war against colonialism, slavery and injustice. His blood was the first to be spilled and his life was the first to be offered up as an indelible symbol of altruism and self-sacrifice.
For many years, he remained forgotten and unknown to a large part of the people for whose independence he had fought. But his immortal ideas rose up from his ashes, like the Phoenix, so that almost half a century after his death, an entire people took up a colossal battle, confronting the most powerful enemy any large or small country had ever faced.
Today hundreds of brilliant thinkers and intellectuals from throughout the world have rendered him an emotional tribute with the profound recognition deserved by his life and work.
Beyond Cuba, what did he give to the world? An exceptional example of a creator and humanist worthy of being remembered throughout the centuries.
I wonder what thoughts would have flashed, at the speed of light, through the brilliant mind of a man like Martí, wounding him deep in his soul, had he been around to hear [the words of the president of the United States on unending war, the right of unilateral first strike, nuclear options, etc.] in a world now inhabited by over 6.4 billion human beings, all of whom, for one reason or another, from the super-rich to the super-poor, are facing a grave threat to their very survival.
The justification [for such policies]? The brutal terrorist attack of September 11, which cost the lives of thousands of people in the United States. The entire world joined in solidarity with the U.S. people and indignantly condemned the attack. With the unanimous support of world opinion, the scourge of terrorism could be confronted from every angle and all political and religious currents.
The battle, as Cuba maintained, had to be fundamentally political and ethical, in the interests and with the support of all of the peoples of the world. Nobody could conceive of the idea of confronting absurd, discredited and unpopular terrorist strategies that hurt innocent people, implemented by individuals, groups, organizations, and even some states or governments, by fighting back with brutal state terrorism on a global scale, with one superpower claiming the right to the possible extermination of entire nations, and perhaps even resorting to the use of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction.
The vast majority of world opinion is opposed to this announced war. But what is most important is that according to recent surveys, up to 65 percent of Americans oppose an attack without the approval of the Security Council.
[On] Jan. 28, the president of the United States declared to the U.S. Congress:
”The United States will ask the UN Security Council to convene on February 5 to consider the facts of Iraq’s ongoing defiance of the world.”
“We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.”
He does not say a word about prior approval by the Security Council.
If we move away for the moment from the terrible consequences of a war in that region, which the world’s sole superpower could impose at its will, the imbalance suffered by the world today in economic terms is an equally enormous tragedy.
Differences related to the rich and poor countries, both between them and within them, have grown and deepened; in other words, there is an ever wider gap in the distribution of wealth, the greatest scourge of our era, resulting in poverty, hunger, ignorance, disease and unbearable pain and suffering for countless human beings.
Why do we not dare to declare that there can be no democracy, free choice or real freedom in the midst of such horrific inequalities, ignorance, total or functional illiteracy, poor education and overwhelming lack of political, economic, scientific and artistic knowledge, accessible only for a tiny minority, even in developed countries, while the world is inundated with a trillion dollars worth of commercial advertising, pushing consumption and poisoning the masses with frustrated desires of unattainable dreams and aspirations, creating waste, alienation, and the implacable destruction of the natural conditions essential for human life? In barely a century and a half from now we will have used up all of the available energy resources and the known and potential reserves that it took nature 300 million years to create, without a viable substitute anywhere in sight.
What do the masses know about the complex economic problems facing the world today? Who has taught them what the International Monetary Fund is, or the World Bank, the WTO, and other similar institutions? Who has explained to them the economic crises, their causes and consequences? Who has told them that … free enterprise and free competition barely even exist anymore, and that 500 big transnational companies control 80 percent of world production and trade?
Who has taught them about the stock market, the growing speculation with the commodities that the Third World countries depend on, and the buying and selling of currencies, totaling trillions of dollars daily? Who has informed them that the Third World currencies are pieces of paper that constantly decrease in value, while their reserves of real or almost real money flee inexorably to the wealthiest countries, like Newton’s law of gravitation. And who has told them of the terrible material and social consequences of this reality? Or why we owe trillions of dollars that can never be paid or collected, while tens of millions of people, including children between the ages of 0 and 5, die of hunger and curable diseases every year?
How many know that the sovereignty of states hardly even exists anymore, thanks to treaties that are drafted with absolutely no participation by the Third World countries, and yet are used to keep us ever more exploited and subjugated? How many are aware that our national cultures are being increasingly destroyed?
The economic order imposed on humanity by our powerful neighbor to the north is unsustainable and unendurable. The most sophisticated weapons can do nothing to impede the course of history.
Those who for centuries have supplied and continue to supply surplus value and cheap labor now number in the billions. They cannot be exterminated like flies. They are becoming increasingly aware of the injustices inflicted on them, through the hunger, suffering and humiliation they endure as human beings, rather than through the schools and education denied to them, and despite the worn-out lies with which the monopolistic mass media attempts to maintain them in eternal and impossible submission.
Let no one believe that individuals make history. Subjective factors have an influence, and historical processes can be speeded up when individuals have the right ideas, or set back when they are wrong, but they do not determine the final outcome. Not even a man as brilliant as Martí –or we could also mention Bolívar, Sucre, Juárez, Lincoln, and many other admirable men like them– would be remembered by history if he had been born, for example, 30 years earlier or later.
That is why I firmly believe that the great battle will be fought on the battleground of ideas, not of weapons, but without renouncing their use in cases like that of our country or others in similar circumstances if a war is forced upon us, because every force, every weapon, every strategy and every tactic has its antithesis borne of the inexhaustible intelligence and awareness of those who fight for a just cause.
In the people of the United States themselves, whom we have never viewed as our enemy, or blamed for the threats and aggression we have suffered for more than 40 years, we can see a friend and potential ally of the just causes of humanity, based on their ethical roots. We saw this already during the war in Viet Nam. We saw it in something that touched us as closely as the kidnapping of little Elián González. We saw it in their support for the struggle of Reverend Martin Luther King. We saw it in Seattle and Quebec City, where they fought alongside Canadians, Latin Americans and Europeans against neoliberal globalization. We have begun to see it again in their opposition to an unnecessary war, without at least the approval of the Security Council. We will see it tomorrow, as they join with the other peoples of the world to defend the only path that can save the human species from the insanity of human beings themselves.
In the face of the sophisticated and destructive weapons with which they seek to intimidate and subject us to an unjust, irrational and unsustainable social and economic world order: Sow ideas! Sow ideas! And sow ideas! Build awareness! Build awareness! And build awareness!