Category Archives: Fidel Castro

XXV Sao Paulo Forum Demonstrates that Venezuela is not Alone!

Photo by Alicia Jrapko

From July 25-28 the XXV Sao Paulo Forum took place in Caracas, Venezuela, with the participation of 190 organizations, political parties, social movements, workers’ movements, parliamentarians and intellectuals from Latin America, the Caribbean and several continents.

The date chosen for this historic meeting had a symbolic character to it. During those four days a number of coinciding historical events were celebrated such as the birth of the Liberator Simón Bolívar, the assault on the Moncada Barracks that marked the beginning of the Cuban revolution and the 65th anniversary of the birth of Commander Hugo Chávez.

The Forum of Sao Paulo is the oldest continuing event of progressive unity in Latin America.  The first Forum was held in the city of Sao Paulo Brazil in 1990 as an initiative of the historic leader of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz and the then leader of the Workers’ Party of Brazil (PT), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The two put out a call to political parties and organizations from Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss alternatives to neoliberal policies. Since then the Forum adopted the name of the city where it was born. Twenty-six countries from Latin America and the Caribbean make up the member countries of the Forum.

Today, the scenario of all Latin America is very different from previous forums. Of the two leaders who brought the idea of the Sao Paulo Forum to life, one is no longer physically present and the other one is serving an unjust sentence in a Brazilian prison for having had the audacity to lift 30 million Brazilians out of poverty. The triumph of the Bolivarian revolution in 1998, with the popular election of Hugo Chavez, opened the door to a new continental stage where progressive projects sprouted up in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and El Salvador.  The current situation is very different than it was then.  The integration of Latin America is now in jeopardy, and a number of countries in the region are led by puppet governments subordinate to the designs of the U.S. government. Venezuela has held on but it is in the cross hairs of the empire to bring about regime change at all costs. This reality made the Forum to be held in Venezuela all that more important.  Never before in the 29 years since its inception, has the host country been more besieged and blockaded than Venezuela today and it is here where the destiny of the Great Homeland lays in the balance.

Despite the difficult situation in this South American nation, whose only crime in the eyes of US imperialism has been to divert their vast natural resources for the betterment of those who had been poor and dispossessed, approximately 700 people merged with hundreds of Venezuelans in this critical 4 day meeting to discuss the burning questions of Latin America and also to reinvigorate the same spirit of regional integration sown by those who founded the Forum. Overall those in attendance came to show the world that Venezuela is not alone.

For those delegates coming from the United States they had to go through a series of added hurdles just to get there. After the suspension of diplomatic relations in January 2019 traveling to Venezuela has become more difficult with no direct flights from the US and no consulates to grant visas.  Nevertheless, activists were creative and found the way to be present including representatives of the Collective for the Protection of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington DC who occupied and protected the embassy for 37 days.

During the opening ceremony of the Forum, the First Vice-President of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and president of the National Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, set the tone when he told the enthusiastic audience:

No one will be able to do it alone, it is the unity of the people that is necessary. The more they insist, the more we are going to solve our problems; here in Venezuela the right wing will not be able to govern. The right likes elections when they win, when the people win they don’t like it, the right doesn’t respect the process. They can’t, their nature doesn’t allow them. The right-wing is the same everywhere, we feel the support of the people but those people also need our support. We resisted and marched with the conviction that we are going to win. The people here don’t get depressed because with Chavez they learned to have a voice. We have even been threatened with everything including a military invasion, but we are willing to defend the Bolivarian revolution, which is a revolution for the peoples, not just for Venezuela. No one can do it alone.

Other speakers included Monica Valente, of the Brazilian Workers’ Party, and the Executive Secretary of the Sao Paulo Forum and the Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to Cuba, Adan Chávez. Also Julio Muriente Pérez, member of the National Hostosian Independence Movement of Puerto Rico. Muriente talked about the popular victory that just took place in Puerto Rico. “Thousands of Puerto Ricans raised the flag of dignity forcing the corrupt governor Ricardo Rosello to resign.” he said, as the audience stood up cheering, “It wasn’t that he resigned, the people took him out.”

It is important to note that this was not just a talking conference but a meeting of activists who on Saturday went out to the street along with thousands of Venezuelans to call for the US hands off Venezuela and all of Latin America. In all meetings inside and the rally outside, participants expressed their support to the only president of Venezuela elected by popular will — Nicolas Maduro Moros.

During the last day of the Sao Paulo Forum, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro reiterated his gratitude to the members of the Protection Collective of Venezuela’s Embassy in Washington. “Their performance reflects high morals for the defense of the dignity and sovereignty of the Venezuelan people,” the president said. He presented the activists with a replica of Simon Bolivar’s sword.

The closing ceremony took place after a walk to the Cuartel de la Montaña, in the 23 de Enero neighborhood, where the remains of Hugo Chávez rest. Present at the closing were Presidents Nicolas Maduro, President of Cuba Miguel Díaz-Canel, Diosdado Cabello, and Mónica Valente.

A Final Declaration of support for Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and other progressive governments under attack by US imperialism, and a demand for the freedom of Lula and other left-wing leaders imprisoned for political reasons was issued.

What the XXV Sao Paulo Forum demonstrated most was the essential and immeasurable examples, inherited from Fidel, to guide the revolutionaries of Latin America and the Caribbean; that is the unity of the left progressive forces and the practice of internationalism.

On July 26, Cuba Has a Lot to Be Proud Of

Young social workers marching in the plaza of the revolution on May Day

Today marks the 66th anniversary of the simultaneous assaults on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba and the military garrison in Bayamo led by Fidel Castro and less than 200 combatants in what is known as the impossible storming of the heavens against the brutal U.S. puppet dictator Fulgencio Bautista, who in the 7 years before the Revolution, carried out a reign of misery and poverty punctuated by torturing and executing 20,000 Cubans.

The attacks marked a new stage of Cuba’s quest for independence and sovereignty that is deeply ingrained in all Cubans. Fidel, however, made it clear that July 26 was not the beginning of the revolution; that was born in 1868 when Manuel Cespedes freed his slaves marking the beginning of the Wars of Independence against Spain. Heroic Moncada, which today serves as a middle school, was a dramatic reawakening of a flame that the Imperial powers could never extinguish.

For the Cuban people July 26 is a day of great pride for all the gains they have made through determination and sacrifice against all the nonstop attacks and a unilateral blockade by the United States that has remained in place throughout the last 12 presidents.

The ideals and principles of July 26 remain vibrant in Cuba and can be seen in the legacy of a people whose example has raised the bar of human conduct between each other and nations too. While insistent and determined in maintaining their sovereignty Cuba is the first to make and promote respectful agreements based on what is mutually beneficial with other nations while constantly promoting world peace as a goal.

Cuba opens it arms to the world not to profit off it but to make it a better place. Fidel Castro was the first world leader to sound an alarm about the global climate crisis back in the 1980’s. When it comes to health and education Cuba is not just interested in that for their own country but for others too. Cuba is rightfully proud to export teachers to help combat illiteracy and has medical brigades working in 66 developing countries.

Just this past week Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) graduated another 500 doctors from 84 countries most of whom received full scholarships. Brought into existence in 1999 by the Cuban government, ELAM has graduated nearly 30,000 doctors from 115 countries in those 20 years including 170 from the United States, whose only cost was a moral one to go back and work in a community of need. This is not a token public relations program but one that has become the largest medical school in the world and a project that the Cuban people have given to the world.

The World Health Organization has reported that Cuba has 9 doctors per thousand inhabitants where the United States has 2.3 doctors per thousand. And the Cuban Ministry of Health has just announced that Cuba, a country of 11 million, has over 2,000 of its citizens who are right now over 100 years old. This is not a fluke but rather the priority of a society that never discards people even after they are no longer productive, or are living with a disability. All Cubans at all levels and capacity have access to health, education, culture, sports etc. to keep them fully engaged their entire life.

A Save Our Children report has ranked Cuba as the safest country in Latin America to be a child or adolescent (not to mention visit). And UNICEF has declared that Cuba, despite the blockade, has no malnutrition. Cuba has eliminated Malaria through its preventative health model, Cuba has eliminated mother to child HIV transmission, Cuba has invented a new drug that arrests lung cancer, Cuba’s infant mortality rate per 1000 is 4, Cuba’s life expectancy is close to 80, social indicators better than many developed countries including the US; and on and on.

So let’s ask the question once again, why is it there is so much sustained hatred coming from consecutive US administrations? Well, it is because Cuba provides an inconvenient good example of what collectively striving for a better world looks like. An example that was catapulted onto the world stage with the attack on the Moncada Barracks, July 26, 1953.

Can Maduro Emulate Castro and Assad to Keep NATO’s Imperialist Hands Off Venezuela?

(Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Luther L. Boothe Jr., Task Force Currahee Public Affairs Office)

Imperial logic I: External crises distract from internal ones

Empires with internal problems tend to create external crises to distract the public opinion and unite their political and economical ruling class in a fictitious nationalistic fervor. The current United States policy of overt regime change in Venezuela, backed entirely by its NATO vassals, follows an evergreen imperial playbook of creating new crises to obscure failures and divisions.

In addition to the administration’s overall incompetence, the legal investigations through the Mueller inquiry, and the failure to deliver to its MAGA sycophants their big wall, it has passed unnoticed, and it will never be admitted by US officials or media that the US imperial wars in Afghanistan and Syria are, in fact, lost. Assad will remain in power, and the US administration has publicly admitted that it was negotiating with the Taliban. The temptation for the empire’s ideologues is too strong not to follow the precept: when you have lost a war, you declare victory and you leave. And next time around, you try to pick a weaker target.

Archive of Jakob Reimann

Imperial logic II: A state of war must be permanent

A prime example of this in recent history was the way the events of September 11, 2001 were used internally to justify the emergence of a police state, using far-reaching legislation like the Patriot Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

Externally, 911 was successfully used by the US to trigger, almost immediately, an invasion of Afghanistan with the entire NATO membership under the hospice of the military alliance’s Article 5, which stipulates that an attack on one member is an attack on all. This was the very first time, since the creation of NATO in 1949, that Article 5 was put into force.

With the US public opinion still largely revengeful, misinformed by media manipulations, and eager to wage war, two years later, in 2003, it was fairly simple for the Bush administration and its neocons to sell the invasion of Iraq as a war of necessity, and not for what it truly was: a war of choice, for oil and greater control of the Middle East. Cynically, the aftermath of 9/11/2001 gave the empire and its powerful military-industrial complex two wars for the price of one.

Archive of Dawei Ding

Imperial logic III: People are collateral damage of realpolitiks

Great moral principles of altruistic universal humanitarian concerns are almost never at stake in these instances. They are mainly smoke screens to hide the board of a cold, Machiavellian, and complex chess game where innocent bystanders often perish by the millions. They are the acceptable collateral damage of realpolitik’s grand strategists. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the true guiding principle of US imperial realpolitik, and all US foreign policy decisions that derived from it, was to stop the so-called communist domino effect.

Communist domino effect: three simple words for a game that killed millions of innocent people worldwide, first in Korea in the early 1950s, then in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s, and later, under the tutelage of some of the very same criminal architects, in Central and South American countries like Chile. Now in their golden years, most of these murderous policymakers, like Henry Kissinger, enjoy an active retirement with honors, respect and, unlike their colleague Robert McNamara, not a hint of remorse.

One of these policymakers, a veteran of US imperialism in Central America and also one of the staunchest advocates of Iraq’s invasion in 2003, has made a come back. He is neocon extraordinaire Elliot Abrams. Abrams has been rewarded for his actions in the Iran-Contra affair, El Salvador, and Nicaragua with a nomination as Special Envoy of the Trump administration for Venezuela. In other words, Abrams is in charge of the US-sponsored coup task force against Venezuela’s legitimately elected President Nicolas Maduro.

Archive of Lezumbalaberenjena

Defeating imperial logic: The Cuban and Syrian lessons

There are many others examples in history where in a David versus Goliath fight, the little guy who, on paper, did not stand a chance eventually through sheer determination, organization and vast popular support, won on the battlefield. Vietnam is obviously a special case in this regard, as the Vietcong of Ho Chi Minh managed to defeat, almost back to back, the old colonial masters of the French empire in the 1950s, and, of course. soon thereafter, the US empire.

In the early 1960s, during the Cuban missile crisis, Castro’s days seemed to be numbered. More recently, in Syria, all the lips of the NATO coalition, Israel and Gulf State allies were chanting in unison that as a precondition for resolving the Syrian crisis, “Assad must go!” By 2017, however, some coalition members such as Qatar, France and Germany were not so adamant about the “Assad must go” mantra. Not only did Bashar al-Assad not go, but also, as matter of fact, he is regaining control of his entire country, on his own terms.

AFP PHOTO/www.cubadebate.cu/

Castro outsmarted the empire’s CIA hitmen 600 times

Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, had in Fidel Castro a source of inspiration and the guidance of a father figure. Chavez, like other neo-Marxists, looked up to Fidel for leading a successful revolution, through military action, which had toppled the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista. This regime was not only a docile servant of the US government but was also directly associated with the Mafia’s criminal activities in Cuba in the era of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. With Batista’s complicity, American gangsters had turned Cuba into a gambling and prostitution paradise where the US’ unscrupulous rich went to play. Castro shut down the bordello that had become Cuba and proudly rebuilt his island, and he consciously set out to transform Cuba slowly and steadily into a socialist country.

Needless to say, the shutdown of their depraved and lucrative tropical paradise was unacceptable for the US empire’s ruling elites. Against all odds, the Cuban communist leader managed to defy one US administration after another, and without compromise remained at the helm of the Cuban revolution. It was not for a lack of trying either to invade Cuba, as in the Bay of Pigs botched invasion episode, or to cook up countless assassination attempts on Castro’s person. Starting almost immediately after he took power in 1959, Castro was the target of CIA assassination attempts. From the Kennedy era all the way to the Clinton administrations, Fidel Castro survived more than 600 plots to kill him. Some of the attempts involved collaborations of the Mafia with the CIA. Castro once said, “if surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal!” It has to be added that, at least so far, Fidel Castro has also won a posthumous gold medal for ensuring the legacy of the Cuban revolution.

Damascus, Syria. 15th March 2012 — Loyalties to President Bashar al-Assad attend the rally at the Umayyad Square and hold the Syrian flag and a picture of Bashar al-Assad.

Assad: military might and striking the right alliances

Almost eight years ago, some people in quiet mansions, regal palaces or discrete offices in Washington, Riyadh, Doha, London, Paris, and Tel Aviv or undisclosed locations came up with what appeared to be an excellent plan. They would hijack some of the genuine energy of the Arab Spring then quickly sponsor it with a huge arsenal, while hiring some supposed good Djihadists soldiers-of-fortune as the main muscle to get rid of the uncooperative Bashar al-Assad. In what I called in May 2013, an “unholy alliance to wreck and exploit,” the Western and Gulf States coalition to topple Assad was born. In the US, the late Senator John McCain was one of the cheerleaders of the so-called Free Syrian Army.

Eight years later, with Syria in ruins, 350,000 people dead, around 4.5 million refugees still scattered principally in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, Assad has prevailed in a bittersweet victory, considering that his country has been wrecked as a battleground for proxy wars. Bashar al-Assad did not win on his own. He managed to retain complete loyalty from the Syrian army during the past eight gruesome years. Assad also could count on the military involvement of dependable allies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran and, of course, a critical impact of Russia once Putin’s administration decided to commit military assets and troops.

Maduro can keep Uncle Sam’s hands off Venezuela

One can only hope that Venezuela’s US-sponsored coup attempt using the subterfuge of a phony revolution does not follow the track of Syria in terms of the mayhem. However, the analogies are numerous between Maduro’s situation today and that of Assad in 2011. First, Maduro has at his disposal a reasonably well-equipped military as well as the Chavista militia. To defeat the unfolding coup attempt, the loyalty of the armed forces has to be ironclad. Second, just as Assad has done, Maduro must work to cultivate, in pragmatic ways, both regional and worldwide alliances.

Cuba will do a lot to help and might turn out to be Maduro’s Hezbollah. But will Mexico, Bolivia, and Uruguay go beyond diplomatic posturing in their solidarity with Maduro against NATO’s imperialism? How involved and how far, either economically or, in a worse-case scenario, militarily are Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran willing to go? In geopolitics, unlike diplomacy, only actions talk. Venezuela has a massive bargaining chip in the form of the mostly untapped biggest oil reserve in the world. This is Maduro’s ultimate ace in this game, and it should be used shrewdly. In realpolitiks, friends might be temporary, and they always want something. This is not an altruistic environment.

Cuba: “The Equilibrium of the World” and Economy of Resistance

The Forth International Conference for “The Equilibrium of the World” took place in Havana., Cuba from 28 to 31 January 2019. The Conference, organized by the José Marti Project of International Solidarity, was sponsored by UNESCO and a number of local and international organisms and NGOs. It coincided with the 60th Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution and as such was also a celebration of that successful demonstration to the world that socialism, solidarity and love for life can actually survive against all odds and, yes, Cuba, has faced more hardship than any other country in recent history, through boycotts, embargoes and all sorts of economic sanctions, heinous military infiltrations and assassination attempts, initiated by the United States and followed, largely under threats from Washington, by most of the western world.

Viva Cuba!  A celebration well deserved and in the name of José Marti, who was born 166 years ago, but whose thoughts and spiritual thinking for a new world are as valid today as they were then. They may perhaps best be summarized as love, solidarity, justice, living well for all and in peace. These principles were taken over by Fidel and Raul Castro, Che and Hugo Chávez. They transcend current generations and reach far beyond Latin America.

The conference had many highlights; brilliant speakers; a torch march was organized at the University of Havana in honor of José Marti; and the organizers offered the participants an extraordinary music and modern ballet performance at the National Theater.

From my point of view some of the important messages came from the representative of China, who talked about the New Silk Road, or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), of building bridges and connecting countries and people, whereas the west was building walls. A Russian speaker sadly admitted that it took his government a long time and relentless trying to build alliances with the west, until they realized, relatively recently, that the west could not be trusted. Professor Adan Chavez Frias Chavez, Hugo’s brother, described an invasive history over the past 100 years by the United States of Latin America and called upon the brother nations of the Americas and the world to bond together in solidarity to resist the empire’s infringement and steady attempts to subjugate sovereign nations with a vision towards a multipolar world of equals, of sovereign nations living together in peaceful relations.

*****

My own presentation focused on Economy of Resistance. And what a better place than Cuba to talk about economy of resistance! Impossible. Cuba has a 60-year history of successful resistance against a massive embargo, ordered by Washington and followed by almost the entire western world, thus demonstrating that the west has been reduced to a US colony. This was true already during the Cold War, but became even clearer when the Soviet Union “fell”. Here too, the west, led by Washington, was instrumental in the collapse of the USSR – but that’s another story – and the US grabbed the opportunity to become the emperor of a unipolar world. Cuban troops also resisted and conquered the attempted US Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) invasion launched by President Kennedy in 1961, and not least, Fidel Castro survived more than 600 CIA initiated assassination attempts.

The principles of Economy of Resistance cover a vast domain of topics with many ramifications. This presentation focused on four key areas:

  • Food, medical and education sovereignty
  • Economic and financial sovereignty
  • The Fifth Column; and,
  • Water Resources: A human right and a vital resource for survival.

On food, health and education sovereignty – Cuba is 100% autonomous, as far health and education go.

However, Cuba imports more than 70% of the food her citizens consume and that, at present, mostly from the European Union. Cuba has the capacity and agricultural potential to become not only fully self-sufficient, but to develop and process agricultural produce into an agricultural industry and become a net exporter of agricultural goods.

This process might be addressed as a priority policy issue. However, it will take some time to fully implement. Meanwhile, it may be wise to diversify imports from other parts of the world than the EU – i.e. Russia, China, Central Asia, friendly ALBA countries – because Europe is not trustworthy. They tell you today, they will always honor your purchasing contracts, but if the empire strikes down with sanctions, as they did recently for anyone doing business with Iran, Cuba may be “cooked”.

Spineless Europe will bend to the orders of Washington. They have demonstrated this time and again, not least with Iran, despite the fact that they signed the so-called Nuclear Deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, on 14 July 2015 (the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, UK, Russia, France, and China—plus Germany and the EU – and Iran), after which Obama lifted all sanctions with Iran only to have Trump break the agreement and reimpose the most draconian sanctions on Iran and on enterprises doing business with Iran. The US government, and by association Europe, does not adhere to any agreement, or any international law, for that matter, when it doesn’t suit them. There are plenty of indications – Venezuela today, to be followed by Nicaragua and Cuba. These should be valid signals for Cuba to diversify her food imports until full self-sufficiency is achieved.

Already in 2014, Mr. Putin said the ‘sanctions’ were the best thing that could have happened to Russia. It forced her to revamp her agriculture and rebuild her industrial parks with the latest technology – to become fully independent from imports. Today, sanctions are a mere propaganda tool of the west, but they have hardly an impact on Russia. Russia has become the largest wheat exporter in the world. – Cuba could do likewise. She has the agricultural potential to become fully food-autonomous.

On Economic and financial sovereignty four facets are being addressed. The first one, foreign investments, Cuba may want to focus on (i) technology; (ii) assuring that a majority of the investment shares remain Cuban; (iii) using to the extent possible Cuba’s own capital (reserves) for investments. Foreign capital is bound to certain conditionalities imposed by foreign investors, thus, it bears exchange rate and other risks, to the point where potential profits from foreign assets are usually discounted by between 10% and 20%; and (iv) last but not least, Cuba ought to decide on the sectors for foreign investors – NOT the foreign investor.

Following scenario, as propagated by opposition lawyer and economist, Pablo de Cuba, in Miami, should be avoided:

Cuba cedes a piece of her conditions of sovereignty and negotiates with foreign investors; puts a certain amount of discounted debt at the creditors’ disposal, so as to attract more investments in sectors that they, the investors choose, for the internal development of Cuba.

As the hegemony of the US dollar is used to strangle any country that refuses to bend to the empire, a progressive dedollarization is of the order, meaning, in addition to the US dollar itself, move progressively away from all currencies that are intimately linked to the US dollar; i.e., Canadian and Australian dollars, Euro, Yen, Pound Sterling and more. This is a strategy to be pursued in the short- and medium term, for the protection against more sanctions dished out by the US and its spineless allies.

Simultaneously, a rapprochement towards other monetary systems, for example, in the east, especially based on the Chinese gold-convertible Petro-Yuan, may be seriously considered. Russia and China, and, in fact, the entire SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), have already designed a monetary transfer system circumventing the western SWIFT system, which has every transaction channeled through and controlled by a US bank. This is the key motive for economic and financial sanctions. There is no reason why Cuba could not (gradually but pointedly) join such an alternative system, to move out of the western claws of embargo. The SCO members today encompass about half of the world population and control one third of the globe’s GDP.

Drawbacks would be that the import markets would have to be revisited and diversified, unless western suppliers would accept to be paid in CUC, or Yuan through a system different from SWIFT. Moving away from the western monetary transfer system may also impact remittances from Cubans living in the US and elsewhere in the west (about US$ 3.4 billion – 2017 – less than 4% of GDP). It would mean departing from monetary transactions in the Euro and European monetary zones.

Be aware – the future is in the East. The West is committing slowly but steadily suicide.

Another crucial advice is – stay away from IMF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), World Trade Organization (WTO) – and the like. They are so-called international financial and trade organizations, all controlled by the US and her western “allies” and tend to enslave their clients with debt.

Case in Point, Mexico: President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), a leftist, has little margin to maneuver Mexico’s economy, inherited from his neoliberal predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto. Mexico’s finances are shackled by the international banking system, led by the IMF, FED, WB and by association, the globalized Wall Street system. For example, AMLO intended to revive PEMEX, the petroleum state enterprise. The IMF told him that he first had to “financially sanitize” PEMEX, meaning putting PEMEX through a severe austerity program. The banking community agreed. In case AMLO wouldn’t follow their “advice”, they might strangle his country.

CUC versus the Peso, a dual monetary system (CUC 1 = CuP 25.75), has also been used by China up to the mid-80s and by Germany after WWI, to develop export / import markets. However, there comes a time when the system could divide the population between those who have access to foreign currencies (CUC-convertible), and those who have no such access.

Also, the convertibility of the CUC with the Euro, Swiss franc, Pound Sterling and Yen, make the CUC, de facto, convertible with the dollar – hence, the CUC is dollarized. This is what Washington likes, to keep Cuba’s economy, despite the embargo, in the orbit of the dollar hegemony which will be used in an attempt to gradually integrate Cuba into the western, capitalist economy.  However, Washington will not succeed. Cuba is alert and has been resisting for the last 60 years.

The Fifth Column refers to clandestine and / or overt infiltration of opposing and enemy elements into the government. They come in the form of NGOs, US-CIA trained local or foreigners to destabilize a country – and especially a country’s economy – from inside.

There are ever more countries that do not bend to the dictate of the empire and are targets for Fifth Columns – Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Pakistan and more – and Cuba.

The term, “Fifth Column” is attributed to General Emilio Mola, who during the Spanish civil war in 1936, informed his homologue, General Francisco Franco, that he has four columns of troops marching towards Madrid, and that they would be backed by a “fifth column”, hidden inside the city. With the support of this fifth column he expected to finish with (the legitimate) Republican government.

The process of “infiltration” is becoming ever more sophisticated, bolder and acting with total impunity. Perhaps the most (in)famous organization to foment Fifth Columns around the world, among many others, is the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the extended arm of the CIA. It goes as a so-called NGO, or ‘foreign policy thinktank’ which receives hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department to subvert non-obedient countries’ governments, bringing about regime change through infiltration of foreign trained, funded and armed disruptive forces, sowing social unrest and even “civil wars”. Cases in point are Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Libya – and more – and now they attempt to topple Venezuela’s legitimate, democratically elected Government of Nicolás Maduro.

They work through national and international NGOs and even universities in the countries to be ‘regime changed’. Part of this ‘Infiltration” is a massive propaganda campaign and intimidation on so-called allies, or client states. The process to reach regime change may take years and billions of dollars. In the case of Ukraine, it took at least 5 years and 5 billion dollars. In Venezuela, the process towards regime change started some 20 years ago, as soon as Hugo Chavez was elected President in 1998. It brought about a failed coup in 2002 and was followed by ever increasing economic sanctions and physical military threats. Earlier this year, Washington was able to intimidate almost all of Europe and a large proportion of Latin America into accepting a US-trained implant, a Trump puppet, Juan Guaidó, as the interim president, attempting to push the true legitimate Maduro Government aside.

To put impunity to its crest, the Trump Government blocked 12 billion dollars of Venezuela’s foreign reserves in NY bank accounts and transferred the authority of access to the money to the illegitimate self-appointed interim president, Juan Guaidó. Along the same lines, the UK refused to return 1.2 billion dollars-worth of Venezuelan gold to Caracas. All these criminal acts would not be possible without the inside help, i.e. the “Fifth Column”, the members of which are often not readily identifiable.

It is not known, how often the empire attempted ‘regime change’ in Cuba. However, none of these attempts were successful. The Cuban Revolution will not be broken.

Water resources is a Human Right and a vital component of an economy of resistance.

Water resources will be more precious in the future than petrol. The twin satellites GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) discovered the systematic depletion of groundwater resources throughout the world, due to over-exploitation and massive contamination from agriculture and industrial waste. Examples, among many, are the northern Punjab region in India with massive, inefficient irrigation; and in Peru the Pacific coastal region, due to inefficient irrigation, unretained runoff rain- and river water into the Pacific Ocean, and destruction of entire watersheds through mining.

Privatization of water resources, not only of drinking water and water for irrigation, but of entire aquifers, is becoming an increasing calamity for the peoples of our planet. Again, with impunity, giant water corporations, led by France, the UK and the US are gradually and quietly encroaching on the diminishing fresh water resources, by privatizing them, so as to make water a commodity to be sold at “market prices”, manipulated by the water giants, hence, depriving ready access to drinking water to an ever-growing mass of increasingly impoverished populations, victims of globalized neoliberal economies. For example, Nestlé and Coca Cola have negotiated with former Brazilian President Temer, and now with Bolsonaro, a 100-year concession over the Guaraní aquiver, the largest known, renewable freshwater underground resource, 74% of which is under Brazil. Bolsonaro has already said he would open up the Amazon area for private investors. That could mean privatization of the world’s largest pool of fresh water – the Amazon basin.

Economic Resistance means water is a human right and is part of a country’s sovereignty; water should NEVER be privatized.

For Cuba rainwater – on average about 1,300 mm / year – is the only resource of fresh water. Cuba, like most islands, is vulnerable to rainwater runoff, estimated at up to 80%. There are already water shortages during certain times of the year, resulting in droughts in specific regions. Small retention walls may help infiltrate rainwater into the ground, and at the same time regulate irrigation, provide drinking water and possibly generate electricity for local use through small hydroelectric plants.

The National Water Resources Institute (INRH – Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidráulicos), is aware of this issue and is formulating a forward-looking water strategy and planning the construction of infrastructure works to secure a countrywide water balance.

Other challenges include the hygienic reuse and evacuation of waste water, as well as in the medium to long run an island-wide Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

In Conclusion, Economic Resistance might be summarized as follows:

  • Self-sufficiency in food, health services and education. Cuba has achieved the latter two and is now aiming at achieving 100% agricultural autonomy – and in the meantime is advised diversifying food import markets.
  • Economic and financial sovereignty, including progressive dedollarization, deglobalizing monetary economy and creating internal monetary harmony.
  • The “Fifth Column” – always be aware of its existence and with perseverance keep going on the path of past successes, preventing the Fifth Column’s destabilizing actions.
  • Water resources autonomy – achieving countrywide Integrated Water Resources Management, with focus on protection, conservation and efficient water use.

The Illusion of the Rich: an Island of Prosperity surrounded by Misery and Suffering

Frei Betto spoke with the author at the Dominican convent in São Paulo, Brazil.

Frei Betto (Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo) was born in 1944 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He began his political engagement as Catholic student and was imprisoned by the military regime that seized power in 1964 and ruled until 1985. I interviewed him first in 1986 after the publication of his book of interviews Fidel and Religion. This is the first of two interviews given in December after the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.1

*****

Dr. T.P. Wilkinson: When we met in 1986, the Brazilian military regime was considered at an end and elected government was to be restored. 32 years later a man has been elected who claims allegiance to the military regime. He is quoted saying the military should have tortured less and killed more. You were imprisoned under that regime. Could you briefly sketch the developments in Brazil since 1986 as you saw them? Has Brazil returned to military-style rule, if not actual dictatorship?

Frei Betto: The Brazilian military dictatorship began in 1964 and ended in 1985. The civil society of our country has made important accomplishments since then: a new constitution approved in 1988, called the “Civilian Constitution”; social movements of national scale, like the CUT (Unique Workers Central), the MST (Landless Workers Movement), the CMP (Popular Movements Central) and the MTST (Homeless Movement Workers).

We elect five and a half presidential terms, led by progressive politicians: Fernando Henrique Cardoso (two terms, 1995-1998 and 1999-2002), Lula (2003-2006 and 2007-2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2014 and 2015-2016, when it was ended in a leadership coup by vice president Michel Temer). In this period, from 1995 until 2016, Brazil made significant advances in the social sphere, with a reduction of inequality and the inclusion of thousands of families that previously lived in misery and poverty. Only under the Lula government, 36 million people found social inclusion.

TPW: In the 1980s there were several prominent people in the Church who were identified with democratic ideals, peace and justice, for example, Cardinal Arns in Sao Paulo — and as whom I met later Archbishop Dennis Hurley in Durban. There were also ecumenical movements pursuing justice in Brazil and South Africa. However, it seems that once the military dictatorship was ended and the apartheid government replaced by the ANC, the Church lost its profile and many of those people associated with the struggles left the stage. Is there still an active Church-based movement in Brazil and where is it now? What challenges does it face?

FB:  It is necessary to understand that the end of the dictatorship in Brazil coincided with the election of John Paul II, followed by Benedict XVI. There were 34 years of conservative pontificates that did not support the line of the CEB (basic church communities) and the theology of liberation. This opened space for the evangelical churches with their conservative profile.

There still exists at the base a church that is alive and combative, but without prominent figures like Cardinal Arns and Dom Pedro Casaldáliga. Fortunately with Pope Francis this progressive pastoral work resumes. The canonisation of Monsignor Oscar Romero was very important for the recognition of the Church of liberation and the poor. And it is very active in Brazil and Latin America with feminist theology, indigenous theology, black theology and eco-theology.

TPW:  In 1986, there was still a Soviet Union, a GDR, and “competition” in Europe to demonstrate the “best” social-economic system for the majority of citizens. By 1990, all that was gone. Two years ago Fidel Castro died. It is putting it mildly to say the world has changed since 1986. It has been argued that the Soviet Union actually contributed little to social-economic justice in the rest of the world, despite claims to the contrary. However, since its demise there appears to be no limit to the expansion and aggressivity of the “Western” system. Unrestricted capitalism has “won”. It would appear that there is no longer a vision of what a just world could look like capable of providing orientation, especially on a global scale. You are certainly critical but not a pessimist. Where do you see the potential for social justice in future? What obstacles do you consider most important to overcome?

FB: Socialism had the merit of forcing the rich world to concede more rights to workers. Without the communist “threat”, there would have been no welfare state in Western Europe. Now, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, capitalism no longer needs rings because it does not lose its fingers… It has changed its productive phase for one of speculation and, as Piketty demonstrates, concentrates ever more profits into fewer hands.2

This gaping inequality has a limit, which is the desperation of the poor, like the waves of refugees flooding into the world of the rich and the demonstrations in France, the yellow vests. It is an illusion of the rich to think that they can have an island of prosperity surrounded by misery and suffering.

Seven centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaíah already preached that peace can only exist with the fruits of justice. And we can add today: there will never be peace as a simple balance of weapons.

TPW: Your interviews with Castro revealed a remarkable man quite different from the personality depicted or caricatured since the Cuban Revolution succeeded in 1959. Anyone who followed his writing and speeches, even after retirement, could see that your portrait was accurate and sincere. The survival of the Cuban Revolution after the fall of the Soviet Union could be seen as proof that it was not a “Soviet creation” but a genuinely Cuban phenomenon, like Castro himself. In fact, Cuba managed, despite US policy, to support social-economic change in Latin America, especially in cooperation with Chavez in Venezuela. How do you see Cuba today, especially in relation to its Latin American neighbours?

FB: Cuba resists despite all pressure from the White House. Today, all Latin American countries support Cuban sovereignty and vote in the UN, with the support of more than 170 countries, for the suspension of the blockade. For Cuba’s economy, so damaged by the isolation the country has been condemned to, relations with the progressive governments of Latin America and the world are very important. However, Venezuela faces a serious economic crisis. And Brazil—starting in January—will be governed by a fascist party allied with the US policy of preserving the blockade. Fortunately Mexico now has a progressive government that can strengthen ties of solidarity with Cuba, especially by absorbing Cuban doctors who have been expelled from Brazil.3

TPW: Venezuela has been under a kind of siege since Chavez became president that is at least as challenging as the US embargo of Cuba. Now Brazil has a president who has announced a very aggressive attitude toward the government in Caracas. Venezuela is not as radical as Cuba was. Chavez and Castro were sometimes presented as if they were a pair, both with very personalistic leadership styles. Have you formed a view of the situation in Venezuela, a direct neighbour of Brazil? Sometime around 1962 the US initiated activities that culminated in the 1964 military coup in Brazil under the pretext that Goulart would align Brazil with Cuba and the Soviet Union — something to prevent. Do you see an international context to the recent presidential election results — especially given the vitriolic statements made about Venezuela by the new president and the intense conflict between the US and both Russia and China — part of the so-called BRICS group?

FB:  I think tensions between US and both China and Russia will worsen. The Cold War is back. And Latin America is the target of this conflict. The countries of the Continent know that they cannot go on without the import of their products by China. And they fear Trump’s protectionist measures. So my assessment is that this reheating of the Cold War will be favorable to the Latin American economy.

TPW:  You are described among other places on the website of the Dominican Order in Germany as a “political activist“. One could say that the Dominican order, the OP, was founded as an “activist” order. Not everyone would agree that the order’s history of activism has been very positive — especially those familiar with the history of the Inquisition. Did your activism grow out of your vocation or do you believe your choice to become a Dominican was shaped by an at least latent desire to “preach”, to be an activist? How do you see your activism as a Dominican and the contradictions of the order’s role in history?

FB:  The Dominican Order, like our families, has its side of light and its side of darkness. There is no chemically pure institution. In 800 years of history, the Order had the sad page of the Inquisition, but is also proud to have had among its friars Thomas Aquinas, Savonarola, Giordano Bruno, Fra Angelico, Master Eckhart, Vitoria, Tomaso de Campanella, Bartolomé de las Casas and Father Lebret.

I entered the Dominicans because of my admiration for their presence in Brazil, along with the indigenous movement, the student movement and popular movements. I did not know that I am inscribed in the annals of the German Dominicans as a “political activist.” This honors me very much, because it puts me next to another political activist, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus did not die of hepatitis in bed, but like so many political prisoners in Latin America: he was arrested, tortured, tried by two political powers and sentenced to death on the cross. I thank God for being a disciple of this political prisoner who, within Caesar’s reign, announced another possible kingdom, that of God.

  1. Translation assisted by Prof Dr Francisco Topa, Universidade de Porto.
  2. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013).
  3. In the wake of his election, Jair Bolsonaro demanded that several thousand Cuban physicians employed in parts of the Brazil with little or no medical care would have to leave the country if the Cuban government did not comply with his demands that full wages be paid in Brazil and that families be permitted to move to Brazil with the seconded medical personnel. The Cuban government rejected this attempt by Brazil to extract Cuban medical professionals and deprive Cuba of the income agreed under the Dilmar (PT) government in return for Cuba’s medical mission. See “Cuba to pull doctors out of Brazil after President-elect Bolsonaro comments”, The Guardian, 14 November 2018.

Cuba’s First Military Doctors (Part 2)

[Part 1 of this article addressed the need for Cuba’s participation in conflicts in Zaire, the Congo and Guinea-Bissau during the 1960s to remain concealed for over three decades. It covered the background to the struggles, what Cubans found in Africa, the role of race relations in Cuba’s campaigns, and the recruitment of doctors. Part 2 explores the working conditions of revolutionary military doctors, physical and emotional consequences on participating physicians, interactions with African civilians, Cuba’s first large medical scholarship program, the first mass vaccination effort in Africa, and how Cuba’s military and medical efforts affected Africa.]

Military Doctors at Work

Physicians found working conditions to be quite different from Cuban polyclinics.  It was very clear to Virgilio Camacho that “although I was a doctor, I was armed because at any moment I might have to participate in combat.”1 The Cuban doctors practiced in small groups.  In the Congo, the group of Rodrigo Álvarez included a surgeon, an orthopedic, and two pediatricians.  Later, they were joined by an anesthesiologist nurse and dentists.2 In 1966, Domingo Díaz traveled toward Guinea-Bissau as 1 of 9 physicians.  Once there, he was assigned to Saará in the northern region where there were “the only three doctors and there were no Cuban nurses.”  They worked closely with several young Guineans and trained them as nurses.3

Since the Cuban staff rotated and PAIGC policy was to understate the extent of their involvement, some writers are not aware of the more than 40 Cuban doctors who served in Guinea-Bissau between 1966 and 1974 as historian Piero Gleijeses carefully documents.4

The physicians were forced to minimize their use of modest resources.  When Amado Alfonso Delgado reached his assigned eastern front in Guinea-Bissau he found the hospital grounds consisted of “four huts: one for the wounded; one was a kitchen; one for supplies; and one, a little further away, for the doctor.”5

Juan Antonio Sánchez “was in Tanzania for a military mission from 1969 to 1970.  I was a medical internist at Pemba Island.  Cuba had permission from Tanzanian government as long as their presence was secret.  There were no Cuban troops, only three doctors.”  Their “operating room had been a garage.”6

The priority for Cuban doctors was always the health of combatants.  They were treated for bullet wounds, fractures and health issues such as hernias and tropical diseases.  There were many surgeries including the one in which Héctor Vera participated:

Four men who had been injured by a grenade arrived.  The one who was seriously injured was operated on at night and survived.  We put him on a table; Che held a lantern; Oliva gave him anesthesia; Tabito operated; Lagomasino worked as an assistant; and I observed.7

Virgilio Camacho was in the southern front of Guinea-Bissau where the Portuguese frequently ambushed civilians who helped supply the military.  Several Cubans died or were injured in these attacks.8 Amado Alfonso Delgado illustrates the difficulties of surgery during combat:

We operated whenever there were battles. Small reconnaissance planes passed overhead frequently, and when they returned multiple times we moved the camp because an attack was almost certain to follow.  The hospital was burned four times.  Every time a plane flew overhead two times they attacked us … We were between two rivers.  Planes and boats kept coming by and destroyed almost all the canoes we could use to flee … Most of the time we operated in places where we could set up a tiny hospital.  They brought us people who had stepped on a mine or were wounded in an ambush.  Almost always the wounded arrived at night and we had to operate by the light of bundles of grass.  I did about 50 operations like this including several amputations.  We cut dry grass, folded it over, and tied it with straw, and used it as a candle.  Sometimes we couldn’t see what we were operating on, even with 8 or 10 wicks like this.9

Other than Military Medicine

Cubans felt obligated to treat civilians injured in attacks which meant that there was an overlap between military and non-military medicine.  Amado Alfonso Delgado became acutely aware that a lack of specialists had its costs.  He describes an event in Guinea-Bissau:

…a bomb fell very close to a woman and injured her in the abdomen.  Since I didn’t have my assistant with me, I had to read from a booklet to find out how to apply anesthesia.  I had to open her abdomen to see if she had peritonitis.  I gave her a local anesthetic, and just as I was about to give the general, a plane dropped a bomb very close to us.  The woman jumped up with her wound half open and ran away.  I never saw her again.  Later I learned that she had been found dead four kilometers from the tiny hospital.10

Domingo Díaz had a more positive experience in the northern front:

One day in Saará they brought us a boy about four years old named Kumba who had a large wound in his left leg.  His good spirit impressed us; he didn’t have a tear or expression of pain.  A few hours before the Portuguese attacked a nearby village that had no combatants and no protection.  Luckily, they were able to bring this little boy to our small rural hospital.  We cleaned the very dirty wound and partially sutured it because we didn’t want future complications such as gangrene.   During all the treatment without anesthesia, Kumba continued as before, without a tear or expression of pain.11

Cuban officials knew that the behavior of doctors toward civilians was as important for diplomatic relationships as troop discipline was for military advances.  When Cuban physicians first went to Algeria in 1963, Raúl Castro issued a strict code of conduct that included a prohibition of alcohol and intimate relations with women, and demanded absolute respect for Algerian traditions.  Che spoke to physicians in Zaire of the moral aspect of their mission: “I don’t want any scandal.  Anyone who is undisciplined will have to be counseled or sent back to Cuba.”  A couple of years later, the Cuban command in Guinea-Bissau replaced a doctor accused of not showing respect for local customs.12

The importance of this respect grew as contact between Cubans and Africans became closer.  Unlike Catholic and Protestant missionary doctors who stayed at fixed locations and required Africans to come to them, Cubans went on long walks to isolated villages to provide care.  As Zaireans learned of the arrival of Cuban doctors, “peasants from the surrounding area flocked in.”  Before the Cubans arrived, only nine doctors had provided care for 850,000 Congolese.  Hugo Spadafora, a Panamanian who was the only foreign doctor with the PAIGC, wrote that when the Cuban physicians arrived with medicine and equipment, “the quality of the hospital’s care increase exponentially.”13

The guidelines laid out by Raúl and Che served Cuban efforts well.  While their military allies in Zaire were often accused of mistreating local people, there were “no reports of the Cubans perpetrating any crimes or acts of violence against the population.”14

Instead, the Cubans won people’s trust by doing countless simple procedures.  These included tooth extractions, operations for hernias and cataracts, and treatments for high fever, diarrhea, confusion and stomach and shoulder pain.  In Tanzania, Justo Piñero recalled that “most patients were civilian and a few were military.  The most frequent problems were malnutrition, malaria, pneumonia and parasites.”15

Amado Alfonso Delgado learned to treat parasitic diseases he had never seen in Cuba:

I saw whole villages with trachoma, an infection of the eyes and eyelids that leaves people blind.  I visited villages where almost everyone was blind.  I saw people with advanced leprosy without fingers. There was a sickness, miasis, produced by a fly bite that causes an abscess from which worms grow.  Another produces boils on the body, called oncocerciasis, that is a type of filaria.  This disease has a special treatment.  There is a worm that gets under the skin and the Guineans use a little stick to which they fasten a palm thread and put it in the boil and roll it around until they pull out an enormous worm called ‘the worm of Guinea.’  There are many parasites and harmful insects such as the jigger flea (nigua), that gets under people’s skin in dry weather and causes a boil.  You have to extract the parasite, which looks like a tick.16

Perhaps the most unexpected tragedy was a Cuban soldier dying from eating a strawberry.  They had no idea of how acidic the fruit could be and he had a perforated ulcer.  “By the time he reached me” Domingo Díaz remembers, “he was in agony.  We did all we could to stop the bleeding, and since we didn’t have surgical instruments, we tried to move him to the small hospital in Boké.  But he died on the road.”17

Though the Cubans tried to attend to civilian medical needs, operations had to be authorized by the PAIGC zone director due to shortage of materials.  This required creative searches for alternative materials, such as using coconut water (which is sterile) in intravenous fluids.  On multiple occasions, Dr. Camacho “had to suture patients with domestic sewing thread,” which led to deal-making with local thread vendors.18

Truly International Medicine

The riches of Africa were being drained out as its people lay crippled or dying from totally curable diseases which did not peak the interest of wealthy Western investors.  This was the case with polio.  When Rodrigo Álvarez arrived in the Congo, he saw that:

Many suffered from polio.  I visited an asylum attended by a single nun which was full of children with this disease.  The children were crawling across the floor in very bare surroundings.  The nun didn’t have supplies or staff to deal with them.  I operated on dozens of these children … The French had left nothing of the infrastructure; there were no lawyers or engineers; and only two native doctors.2

Rodolfo Puente was the manager and one of the principle advocates for a polio vaccination campaign.  He ran into two Soviet medical staff who were vaccinating as one of their duties.  He asked for 5000 doses, which they happily gave him, and made arrangements with the mayor to vaccinate students.   Realizing the seriousness of the situation and knowing that Cuba had recently conducted its own polio vaccination campaign, Dr. Puente called MINSAP in Havana for permission to take on a similar endeavor.  MINSAP director Machado approved and assigned Dr. Helenio Ferrer, Cuba’s Director of Epidemiology, to fly to Moscow for the vaccines.  The Soviets agreed to provide 200,000 doses to the Congo for about $4000.  Following appeals by the Cubans, they agreed to donate the vaccines, which arrived in June 1966.19

There were too few doctors and nurses to administer the vaccines; but, since they were in a caramel, it was possible to train others to distribute them.  In cooperation with the Congolese government, its militia, the Federation of Women, and Cuban troops, Dr. Ferrer coordinated the vaccination of over 61,000 children in the first such campaign in Africa.20

However, the attempted coup of June 27 blocked administration of the second dose.  Since accounts tend to be vague regarding whether this would prevent the first dose from being effective, I asked that question directly to Dr. Justo Piñero, who was in the Congo from September 1966 to November 1967.  He explained that, “as a result of not getting the second dose, there would be the same rate of polio.”  He returned to the Congo in May 1969 and witnessed the Congolese Ministry of Public Health administering both doses, which were provided by the Soviets.  He strongly believed that the earlier joint experience with the Cubans was critical in making the 1969 effort successful.21

In Guinea-Bissau, Domingo Díaz’ group found themselves with no Cuban nurses, so they trained several local youth.  They were so impressed with the work of the Guineans that they obtained permission from Cabral to bring four back to attend Cuban nursing school, from which they graduated.3

A much larger venture happened earlier in the Congo when Cuban doctors noticed dedicated young people studying at night under street lights.  They asked the Congolese government about sending some of them to Cuba to study.  It agreed, and, on January 24, 1966, 254 youth boarded a ship for Havana.  This was the first time a significant number of foreign scholarship students went to Cuba.  Nevertheless, there were problems.  Rather than choosing students strictly on the basis of academic performance, many were selected according to personal connections or bribes.  By late 1967 more than 100 had returned home, at the request of themselves or Cuba.  Despite this, by 1978, 25 had Cuban medical degrees and others graduated as lab technicians or engineers.22

Cuban authorities soon decided that its military forces would leave Africa.  Yet medical personnel would continue with replacement teams of “pediatricians, orthopedics, surgeons, and ear-nose-throat specialists who would be civilians rather than military doctors.”23

Physicians, Heal Each Other

Cuban doctors provided preventive care and treatment not only to troops and civilians but also to themselves.  The most famous example was Che.  With him in Zaire, Rafaél Zerquera remembered the day Che’s malaria was complicated by an asthma attack.  Zerquera worried “How can I tell Fidel that I let Che die here?”  Che was not an exception.  Amado Alfonso Delgado, for example, treated himself three times for malaria.24

Virgilio Camacho spoke about how, soon after his arrival, acute jaundice caused another doctor, Jesús Pérez, to return to Cuba, leaving him with only one other doctor at their medical post.  A year later he was transferred to head the military hospital in Guinea-Bissau’s southern front because a doctor there was ill.25

The long walks and physical exhaustion of battlefield medicine took their toll.  When Domingo Díaz arrived in Guinea-Bissau he weighed 180 pounds.  He left 20 months later weighing 100 pounds.  He had experienced the unusual danger of disappearing shoes.

I returned to the base after it was completely destroyed, and I could not find any of my belongings, not even my tennis shoes.  This type of footwear was the best in the circumstances, since we had to cross many rivers, and they dried out much more rapidly than boots and were a lot lighter … during the first long walks, I lost all of my toenails…my feet were constantly wet and the hiking was forever…and in Cuba I had the habit of walking five kilometers every day.26

Some of their most unpleasant surprises awaited doctors upon completion of their African assignment.  Amado Alfonso Delgado recounted

The year that we returned almost all of us tested positive for filaria in the blood.  In the subtype Loa loa, it goes from vital organs to the eyes, leaving the person blind.  This was precisely the type we had.  Reading about it scared me a bit because it was said at that time, that there was not a guaranteed cure.  We were treated in a hospital for two months.27

Virgilio Camacho was also more than a little nervous:

I had filaria, which doesn’t exist in Cuba, and I had no idea until passing through the check point.  It required a double treatment: both for the adult and larva of the parasite.  They didn’t have the medicine in Conakry and had to look elsewhere.  Finally, I had both the intravenous injections and pills…We arrived in Cuba in January 1968.28

Impact, Reflection, Unanswered

By the end of the 1960s, when the Cuban revolutionary government had been in power for only 10 years, doctors had been through four different scenarios in Africa:

  1. In Algeria, they treated only civilians.
  2. In Zaire, the rebels showed little enthusiasm for victory.
  3. In the Congo, the militancy of the government proved to be empty rhetoric.
  4. In Guinea-Bissau, there was a successful military uprising with a strong commander and dedicated troops.

Cuba knew that US could invade at any time.  As a result of African expeditions and experience gained by military doctors, a new generation of physicians would be trained by those who had been through war and could teach others how to treat combat victims.

Perhaps the most lamentable irony of Cuba’s forays into Africa was that its most capable leader, Che Guevara, led guerrillas into the least promising front, Zaire.  Since no Cuban leader had been to sub-Saharan Africa for more than one day, the strategy of going to Zaire was based on misinformation, solidarity with Cuba’s own black population, and the defense of its revolution.  When Che ventured into his last battleground of Bolivia the following year, it was because he and Fidel agreed that Latin America must again occupy the foreground of Cuba’s participation in armed struggles.29

There had been very little connection between upheavals in the approach to medicine practiced on the island and what its doctors did overseas.30 Experiences of the polio campaign in Cuba were adopted in the campaign in the Congo.  The exposure to medical problems in Africa was invaluable for developing Cuban understanding of tropical and infectious diseases.  Nevertheless, nothing like Cuban polyclinics appeared in the battle conditions of Africa, where the necessity to provide emergency care was all-encompassing.

Cuban engagements in Africa left profound impacts, both on the host countries and on the Cubans who went.  Cuba learned that if students were to travel to the island for education, they must be screened for academic potential.  The Congo became prepared to complete its own vaccination campaign.  Guinea-Bissau recognized its debt to Cubans for its successful struggle for independence. “Many of our comrades are alive today only because of the Cuban medical assistance,” noted PAIGC official Francisco Pereira. “The Cuban doctors really performed a miracle.  I am eternally grateful to them: not only did they save lives, but they put their own lives at risk.  They were truly selfless.”31

White doctors who experienced the stressful conditions and parasitic diseases of Africa witnessed even greater sacrifice by black troops.  One reason that so many volunteered to serve in Africa was a feeling of urgency to spread the revolution.  Later, Olvaldo Cárdenas told Piero Gleijeses:

… we believed that at any moment they [the US] were going to strike us … and for us it was better to wage war abroad than in our own country.  This was the strategy of ‘Two or Three Vietnams;’ that is, distracting and dividing the enemy’s forces.  I never imagined then that I would be sitting here [in a living room in Havana] talking about it now—we all assumed that we were going to die young.32

When the volunteers returned to Cuba, they did not march in parades or receive any type of public praise.  There were no medals, decorations or material rewards.  Bound to secrecy, decades passed before they could share their stories.33 Yet the insights obtained by what they endured were essential for designing Cuban strategy, which is why Fidel grilled so many upon their quiet homecomings.

Before 1959, dedication to revolutionary medicine was expressed by students and doctors demanding full treatment for Cubans in poor urban and rural areas.  This became the foundation for doctors volunteering for international missions during the 1960s.  With the dawning of the 1970s, the question remained: Would sacrifices by the first doctors going to Africa come to fruition by medical staff playing a key role in toppling a major racist government on that continent?

A version of this article first appeared in Monthly Review.  The author thanks Rebecca Fitz for interview translation and John Kirk, Linda M. Whiteford and Steve Brouwer for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of the article.

• Read Part 1 here

  1. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, Historias Secretas, 158.
  2. López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 78.
  3. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 123.
  4. Gleijeses, (2002), 202.
  5. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 142.
  6. Author’s interview with Dr. Juan Antonio Sánchez, Havana, Cuba, February 9, 2016.
  7. López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 52.
  8. López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, 161.
  9. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 142-148.
  10. Ibid, 148.
  11. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 127.
  12. Gleijeses, (2002), 44, 201; López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 29.
  13. López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 48; Gleijeses, (2002), 44, 168, 201.
  14. Gleijeses, (2002), 151.
  15. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 123; López’ interview with Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco, 90; Author’s interview with Dr. Justo Piñero Fernández,
  16. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 149-150.
  17. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 131-132.
  18. López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, 160.
  19. López’ interview with Dr. Rodolfo Puente Ferro, 99. 102-103. 105; Gleijeses, (2002), 168.
  20. Gleijeses, (2002), 169; López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 84.
  21. López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 84; Author’s interview with Dr. Justo Piñero Fernández.
  22. Gleijeses, (2002), 168, López’ interview with Dr. Rodolfo Puente Ferro, 104-105.
  23. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco, Historias Secretas, 93.
  24. López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 33-34; Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 150.
  25. López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, 158.
  26. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 130-133.
  27. López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, 150.
  28. López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, 162.
  29. Gleijeses, (2002), 216.
  30. Don Fitz, “The Birth of Cuban Polyclinics,” Monthly Review, in press.
  31. Gleijeses, (2002), 203.
  32. Gleijeses, (2002), 203.
  33. Ibid.

Cuba’s First Military Doctors (Part 1)

[Part 1 of this two-part series addresses the need for Cuba’s participation in conflicts in Zaire, the Congo and Guinea-Bissau during the 1960s to remain concealed for over three decades. It covers the background to the struggles, what Cubans found in Africa, the role of race relations in Cuba’s campaigns, and the recruitment of doctors. Part 2 will explore the working conditions of revolutionary military doctors, physical and emotional consequences for participating physicians, interactions with African civilians, Cuba’s first large medical scholarship program, the first mass vaccination effort in Africa, and how Cuba’s military and medical efforts affected Africa.]

*****

Cuba’s deployment of military doctors to Africa in the 1960s was secret, known only at the highest level of government.  Accounts of these hidden efforts were not published until the beginning of the 21st century.

Multiple forces during that decade pulled Cuba toward struggles in sub-Saharan Africa.  First was the mushrooming of popular movements across the globe.  The US civil rights movement was joined by millions opposing the war on Viet Nam.  Zaire won independence from Belgium in June 1960 and the popular Patrice Lumumba became its first prime minister.  After leading the National Liberation Front to victory over French domination in 1962, Ahmed Ben Bella was elected as the first president of Algeria.  In August, 1966 Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to thwart the growth of capitalism in China.  May 1968 saw a huge left upsurge in France going beyond the Communist Party.

A second force pushing Cuba’s foreign policy came from the US.  Its continuous violence gave a clear message that the best defense for the island would be an international offense.  Two decades earlier, the US had experimented with nuclear extermination in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  During the previous decade, the US had slaughtered roughly 20% of the population of North Korea and the CIA engineered the overthrow of the progressive Jacobo Arbenz government in Guatemala.  Fresh on the mind of Cubans was the connivance of John and Bobby Kennedy in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1962 missile crisis.  The US began its series of efforts to kill Fidel Castro about the same time the CIA contemplated how to poison Lumumba.1 Asserting dominion over Latin America, Lyndon Johnson invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965.

In the meantime, the Soviet Union was not acting like a reliable ally.  The USSR had not sent troops to fight in Korea and did not do so in Viet Nam, even after the massive US build-up following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident.  Nikita Khrushchev had settled the missile crisis without bothering to consult Fidel.  His successor, Leonid Brezhnev, was clear that Cuba should accept the subordinate status of sugar producer for the Soviet bloc.

Furthermore, Latin American Communist Parties (CPs) did not take kindly to Cuba’s “foco theory” of revolution.  Those CPs centered on urban working class movements while the Cuban leadership looked to a dedicated vanguard in the countryside, garnering support through armed struggle.  As Che Guevara wrote:

A small group of men who are determined, supported by the people, and not afraid of death…can overcome a regular army.  This was the lesson of the Cuban revolution.2

Unlike countries in Latin America, those in Africa did not have established Communist Parties hostile to guerrilla efforts.3   With at least a third of Cubans being of African heritage, Cuban leaders felt beckoned from across the Atlantic.

Hope Meets Reality in Africa

Despite efforts by the US to isolate Cuba, by 1964 it had embassies in the African countries of Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Morocco and Tanzania.  Lumumba had been murdered in January 1961 by allies of Moise Tshombe.  The Simbas (lions), admirers of Lumumba, began a guerrilla struggle, routed government forces in 1964, and seemed to have strong revolutionary potential.4

In December 1964 Che began a three month trek to Algeria, Ghana, the Congo, Guinea, Mali, Benin, Tanzania, and Egypt.  Planning to lead an African initiative himself, Che went to develop strategies and agreements with liberation movements.  During his January 1965 meeting with leaders in Tanzania, Che emphasized the Simba upsurge and proposed Zaire as the location for centralized training.  They disagreed with him, each wanting training camps in their own country.5

The more Che came to know the heads of several organizations, the more skeptical he became.  He observed that they “live comfortably in hotels and have turned rebellion into a profession, at time lucrative…”6 Once on the battlefield, his doubts were confirmed:

Che had been told that he would find several thousand well-armed Simbas, eager to fight.  There were, in fact, some 1000 to 1500 widely dispersed rebels, who had no idea of how to maintain their modern weapons … they lacked a unified command.

The scouting teams … brought back grim reports from the fronts: idle rebels who … did not know how to use their firearms and showed no inclination to attack or to prepare to defend themselves. Everywhere chaos, disorganization, and lack of discipline.7

Cuban leaders, soldiers and doctors wrote of their frustration in Zaire.  In November 1965, after a governmental coup, a Simba leader notified Che that they wanted to end the war.  Che returned to Cuba with part of the unit he commanded, while others went to different African locations.8

The neighboring Congo was headed by Alphonse Massamba-Débat, whose socialist views were similar to those of the Chinese Communist Party.9 In August 1965, Fidel dispatched a unit to the Congo which joined the 50 or so Cubans already there.  The group was headed by Jorge Risquet, who was “the descendant of an African slave, her white master, a Chinese indentured servant, and a Spanish immigrant.”10

In the Congo the Cubans discovered that the rhetoric of the country’s leaders did not match their politics, which were based on opportunism and personal feuds.  Since Fidel had charged Risquet with defending the Congo, when an attempted coup broke out on June 27, 1966, the Cubans came to the defense of the government.  Wanting to resolve the dispute diplomatically rather than with force, Risquet appointed a doctor to lead the maneuvers. The rebels backed down when confronted by the determination of the smaller number of Cubans.  On July 6, the revolt ended with only one Congolese death.11

It soon appeared to the Cubans that their major task in the Congo was protecting one faction from another.  Risquet persuaded Havana that the best thing for them to do was to leave, which they soon did.  Two years later, a successful coup overthrew Massamba-Débat’s government.12

The uprising against the Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau stood in sharp contrast.  Even US intelligence reports described it as having “Africa’s most successful liberation movement.”13 During his 1965 journey through Africa, Che spoke with Amílcar Cabral, who was head of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC, for its acronym in Portuguese).14

Fidel recognized the importance of the Non-Aligned Movement, which coalesced third world countries breaking from the yoke of imperialism.  He persuaded those organizing the Tricontinental Congress to meet in Havana on January 3, 1966 and invited Latin American groups dedicated to armed struggle.  It was there that Fidel and Amílcar Cabral first met and spoke extensively.  Fidel promised Cabral doctors, military instructors, and mechanics.15 Both made impressive speeches to the delegates and Fidel emerged as a champion of revolutionary movements.

For a critical year, Victor Dreke headed Cuba’s military undertaking in Guinea-Bissau.  Dreke was a black Commander who received extremely high praise from Che for his efforts in Zaire.  Dreke was impressed by the discipline of the PAIGC.  When he returned to Cuba in late 1968, Cabral’s forces had strengthened their position.  The Portuguese lost ground even while increasing their troops from 20,000 to 25,000.16

Cuba never had more than 60 soldiers in Guinea-Bissau.  This was one way Cabral kept the PAIGC in command, the other being the restriction of foreign military aid only to Cubans.  Yet, the Cubans’ roles as military advisers and teachers proved invaluable.  When Castro went to Africa in 1972, the PAIGC was the only force on the continent successfully fighting against a white regime.17

Cuba also played minor roles in Angola, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and possibly other countries.18 However, this article concentrates on Zaire, the Congo, and Guinea-Bissau, which were, by far, its major arenas.19 Much of the information regarding experiences of Cuban physicians in Africa is from extensive interviews with military doctors deployed in the three countries, as well as Tanzania.

White Doctors, Black Soldiers

Cuban doctors going to Africa were almost all white while its troops were almost all black.  It was very rare for black people to become doctors before the revolution.  But they rose quickly to high positions in the revolutionary military.  Race was critical in every aspect of the African conflicts.

The US had strong advantages over Cuba in its influence of Africa: it could offer vastly more economic aid and wield the political power of its European allies, accrued by their history of conquest and ongoing domination.  But throughout the 1960s, the US was increasingly tied up in Viet Nam and its ongoing racism repulsed people around the globe.

Racism in the white regimes of Africa was blatant and horrific.  The London Observer reported that mercenaries paid to put down the Simba rebellion “not only shoot and hang prisoners after torturing them, but use them for target practice and gamble over the number of shots to kill them.”  One mercenary wrote in his memoirs of the “the White Giants—‘tall, vigorous Boers from South Africa; long-legged, slim and muscular Englishmen from Rhodesia’—who would restore, in Zaire, the white man to his proper place.”20

African resistance leaders realized that they could use the inability of racists to tell one group of black people from another to their advantage.  The revolutionaries in Zaire requested that the Cubans sent to their aid be black so they could pass undetected by US and Europe spies.  Cabral asked Cuban officials to send technicians who were “black or dark mulattoes so that they would blend in with his people.”  This fell into place with the PAIGC’s policy of denying that they involved any foreigners.21

When Fidel asked Dreke to select troops who would serve with Che in Zaire, he specified that he had to “choose a platoon of men who have shown their mettle, who are all volunteers and who are dark-skinned blacks.”  Both Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras and Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco did not know that Africa was their destination until they saw that almost all the combatants in training camps were black.22

This meant very different experiences for those traveling by ship to Africa.  Dr. Álvarez remembers Pavlovian conditioning when traveling aboard the Soviet ship Félix Dzerzhinsky:

Since the doctors were all white, there were no problems with anyone seeing us.  But the troops were all black, and, in order to make sure that none of the passengers or US spy planes would guess the purpose of the mission, they had to stay in the lower deck of the ship, which was hot and had poor ventilation.  Occasionally, they could come out for brief times at night.

Since the Russian food was very strong with disagreeable odors, the comrades who had to stay below without fresh air would get nauseated and vomit when they smelled it.  The captain had a gong that he hit in front of a microphone in order to announce that it was time to eat.  Some of the comrades started vomiting when they heard the gong.

At that point, I told Risquet that he had to tell the ship’s captain to stop banging the gong.  He replied that it was me, as a doctor, who had to have the conversation with the captain.  When I did so, that robust Russian failed to understand the situation and argued that it was a tradition that he could not violate.23

Though the white doctors could lean over the side of the ship to vomit, it must have been profoundly unpleasant for black troops confined to the lower deck.  In response, and to the outrage of the Russian captain, the Cubans stole the gong and heaved it into the Atlantic.24

How successful was the strategy of recruiting black troops?  It significantly slowed the ability of Western powers to detect Cuban involvement.  A British adviser in Zaire observed US agents looked “for whites and their eyes … passed over Cuban blacks or mulattoes.”  The same was true for the Congo, where bewildered officials from the US, France, West Germany and England “…were unable to ascertain how many Cubans were in the Congo.”  A Belgian ambassador could not tell if there were 100 or 800 Cubans since “they are difficult to pick out because they are all colored.”25 It was likely a serious affront to the dignity of white supremacists to see black Cubans so successfully bamboozling them.

Recruiting Doctors

Western observers could only be successfully confused about Cuban involvement if Cuba’s own recruits were in the dark concerning their destination.  Rodolfo Puente was the only one of nine physicians interviewed by Hedelberto López who was openly told where he was going (the Congo).26 Others were led to believe that they were going to Algeria, Viet Nam, or “other lands,” or that they should tell their families that they would be studying in the Soviet Union.27

The physicians were accustomed to disruption in their careers.  Of the 9 interviewed by López Blanch, 2 had to delay when they began medical school because Batista had closed it at the end of 1956.  The other seven started school before the 1956 closing but had to halt their studies and resume them after the 1959 revolution.

Waiting to discover exactly where they would be serving was only one indication of the vital importance of their mission.  Every one of the nine physicians interviewed in Historias Secretas met some combination of Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, Che Guevara, MINSAP (the Cuban Health Department) head José Ramón Machado, Commander Jorge Risquet, Commander Victor Dreke, and Amílcar Cabral either before, during, and/or after their trip to Africa.

Preparing to leave for Zaire, Rafaél Zerquera recalled that “April 10, 1965 was the happiest day of my life when I was interviewed by Fidel Castro.”28 Shortly after arriving in Zaire, Diego Lagomasino “gave Che a suitcase with asthma medicine and bullets for a M-1 gun. Meeting someone like Che had a big impact on [him].”29 Héctor Vera spoke with Fidel upon returning from Zaire: “Fidel asked about sicknesses, malaria, how we were able to diagnose, and what treatments we used.  After chatting, he told us that we could not divulge anything about the mission.”30

Before departing for the Congo, Rodrigo Álvarez described having breakfast with Fidel.

[He] spoke to us of Africa in general without specifying the country.  He asked if we had pistols, and I said, yes, a P-38.  He told his assistant to find a better weapon and he brought a Stich of 20 shots.  Fidel saw that I wasn’t wearing a watch and told me that it was important for a doctor going to war to have one.  He took off one of the two watches he was wearing, a Longines, and gave it to me.”31

When Diego Lagomasino did his post graduate Rural Medical Service (RMS) in Santo Tomás, he worked alone and “had to be the doctor, nurse, distribute medications, and look for supplies.”32  This multi-tasking helped prepare him for Africa.  Rafaél Zerquera’s RMS was used as a screening to see if he was suitable for Zaire.  He explained that …

When I graduated, a document circulated asking where we would like to do our RMS and I wrote ‘wherever the revolution needs me.’  José Ramón Machado of MINSAP, called me to his office and said that there was a conflict zone in the Sierra Maestra, where a group had burned the medical post and killed the doctor.  He asked me if I was still disposed to going.33

Zerquera replied that he would go where Machado assigned him.  After a short stint in the Sierra Maestra, Machado called him back to let him know that an important but highly risky international mission awaited him and Zerquera was soon on his way to Zaire.

Once they learned of their destinations, the doctors still had little idea of what was in store for them. Luís Peraza recalled that all he “knew about Africa was the Tarzan movies.”  Impressions of their experiences differed sharply according to country, with Zaire being the gloomiest.  As the curtain was drawing to a close in Zaire, Che called a meeting of Communist Party members and asked who still thought that they could win.  Only 2 military leaders and 2 doctors raised their hands and Che concluded that they might have been showing him personal support.  Che then asked who would be willing to fight until death and all the hands went up.34

Rafaél Zerquera recollected that the Simbas did not seem interested in preparing for a guerrilla struggle.  “It was an experience but it wasn’t pleasant.  If it had been a sacrifice with a reward, I would have felt satisfied.  But it was not rewarding.”35

Justo Piñero had different feelings about the Congo.

The population identified with us.  We bought things from them.  We went to the same places and knew the local people from seeing them on the street.36

By far, the most positive memories were of Guinea-Bissau.  Domingo Díaz knew “many brave Guinean officers and soldiers who would have given their lives to prevent a Cuban from falling into the hands of the enemy.”37 Dr. Milton Hechevarría emphasized that when he got back to Cuba, he “couldn’t forget Guinea-Bissau.”38

Whatever country they went to, Cuban doctors faced a combination of stressful conditions that they were unlikely to have experienced at home: incredibly rough terrain, enemy fire, and unpleasant and dangerous animals.  Diego Lagomasino described arriving in Zaire: “We had to go to the base camp that was on the top of a high ridge.  We left at 6 in the morning and at 7 in the evening we were still climbing.  Never in my life had I seen a ridge that tall.  I thought I was going to die.”39

Looking back on the same walk, Héctor Vera felt like he could not bear the weight of his pistol, ammunition, medical supplies and personal belongings in his knapsack.  He was saved by a Zairean boy who motioned that he would carry it for him.40

In Guinea-Bissau, Domingo Díaz went on strenuous walks for 7 or 8 days, walks with deep holes that could not be seen after it rained. “In this region, we didn’t measure time with a watch,” Díaz recounted.  Instead, time was measured “with distance, which is to say one day’s walk, half a day walk.”  He concluded that the terrain was so rough that “in Cuba there was no possibility of training for this type of event.”41

The land intensified military dangers.  To avoid detection by the enemy, Héctor Vera’s group crossed Lake Tanganika with several Simbas who began lighting matches to see where they were going.  The Cubans in the boat told them not to because there was a gasoline motor that could catch on fire.  However, they replied that there was no other way to see and continued with the matches.  Upon arriving in Zaire, they had not gone 50 meters before they had to fall to the ground as enemy planes flew overhead.42

In Guinea-Bissau, the Portuguese attacked Amado Alfonso Delgado’s group with napalm while 15 helicopters landed to hunt them.  They survived by running from 7 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon.43

The doctors encountered insects, reptiles and other creatures they had never seen before.  In an emergency military undertaking in the Congo, Rodrigo Álvarez saw anthills so tall that they prevented their plane from landing.44 Fleeing from the Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau, Amado Alfonso Delgado bumped into an enormous beehive.

I had over 300 stings.  Only 10 are dangerous and can send a person into shock.  But I was under so much tension that my body was producing steroids, which is exactly the treatment used.  None of the stings became inflamed and the other six with me had the same luck.”45

While none of Cuba’s snakes are poisonous, many are in the Congo, where Julián Álvarez thought he ran across them everywhere.46

Waters in Guinea-Bissau were often inhospitable.  Domingo Díaz described walking through a lake for hours with water up to their chests.  “It was full of leeches and they advised me to tie my pants tight and walk with my arms up so they could not get in.  When we got out we were attacked by mosquitoes that bit through my coat.”  Another day, they found that:

The Corubal and Gaba Rivers met where they emptied into the sea.  It was like an arm of the sea where there were sharks, hippopotamuses, and crocodiles.  As we crossed in canoes made from tree trunks they told me to be careful because a man had recently fallen in and never reappeared.47

• A version of this article first appeared in Monthly Review. The author thanks Rebecca Fitz for interview translation and John Kirk, Linda M. Whiteford and Steve Brouwer for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of the article.

  1. Piero Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 61.
  2. Ibid, 22.
  3. Peter G. Bourne, Fidel: A Biography of Fidel Castro (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1986), 255.
  4. Gleijeses, pp. 30, 60, 61.
  5. Bourne, 260; Gleijeses, 80, 85.
  6. Gleijeses, 87.
  7. Gleijeses, 111,114.
  8. Bourne, 261.
  9. Bourne, 260.
  10. Piero Gleijeses, (2006), Risquet, Jorge. Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Cited in Helen Yaffe,
  11. Gleijeses, (2002) 161, 163, 170,171.
  12. Ibid, 183.
  13. Ibid, 185.
  14. Hedelberto López Blanch, Historias Secretas de Médicos Cubanos (Centro Cultural de la Torriente Brau: La Habana, Cuba, 2005), 113,114.
  15. Gleijeses, (2002), 187.
  16. Ibid, 190-191.
  17. Ibid, 191, 208.
  18. Ibid, 183-184, Author’s interview with Dr. Juan Antonio Sánchez, Havana, Cuba, February 9, 2016.
  19. Two Congos had revolutionary movements.  The “Belgian Congo” was sometimes referred to as Congo Leopoldville from the name of its capital city.  Upon independence in 1960, it took the name Kinshasa, became Zaire in 1971 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997.  The current article refers to it as Zaire.  The “French Congo” was sometimes referred to as Congo Brazzaville from the name of its capital, or the Congo. After independence in 1960 it became the Republic of the Congo, the People’s Republic of the Congo in 1969 and, after 1991 the Republic of the Congo again.  The current article refers to it as the Congo.
  20. Gleijeses, (2002), 71, 73.
  21. Ibid, 89, 188, 208.
  22. López, Historias Secretas, 67, 89.
  23. Ibid, 76-77.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Gleijeses, (2002), 136, 166.
  26. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Rodolfo Puente Ferro, Historias Secretas, 101.
  27. Gleijeses, (2002); 199, Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, Historias Secretas, 115.
  28. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, Historias Secretas, 25.
  29. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Diego Lagomasino Comesaña, Historias Secretas, 60.
  30. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, Historias Secretas, 53.
  31. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, Historias Secretas, 75.
  32. López’ interview with Dr. Diego Lagomasino Comesaña, 56-57.
  33. López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 22-23.
  34. Gleijeses, (2002), 154, 200.
  35. López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 36-37.
  36. Author’s interview with Dr. Justo Piñero Fernández, Havana, Cuba, February 9, 2016.
  37. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 132.
  38. Gleijeses, (2002), 213.
  39. López’ interview with Dr. Diego Lagomasino Comesaña, 59-60.
  40. López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 43.
  41. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 120.
  42. López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 42.
  43. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 144-6.
  44. López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 80.
  45. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 144.
  46. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco, Historias Secretas, 90.
  47. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 140.

L’Antidiplomatico Interview with Andre Vltchek

Alessandro Bianchi: Let’s start from today’s crisis in the Sea of Azov. The European Union and NATO have given full support to Ukraine after the violation of Russian sovereignty by two Ukrainian vessels. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gave his full support to Poroshenko, who declared martial law. What does a country like Italy risk in continuing its accession to NATO?
Interview

Andre Vltchek: Russia intercepted three Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait. The ships had, even according to Ukrainian authorities, several intelligence officers on board, as well as a number of light arms and machine guns. It was clear provocation, as the ships refused to inform Russian authorities about their intentions, and behaved in an aggressive manner. They were passing through Russian territorial waters. Ukrainian intelligence officers were obviously in charge of the entire operation. So, what is really so ‘alarming’ for the West? The ships were stopped, some crew members detained, and there is a serious investigation underway.

The ‘incident’ took place just days before the G20 meeting in Argentina, where Presidents Trump and Putin were supposed to meet. Also, it is only 4 months before the Ukrainian Presidential elections (March 2019), and Poroshenko is trailing behind the two leading candidates with only 8% of support. Ukraine under his leadership is so messed up that many flats in the capital city of Kiev will not be heated during this winter. Logically, Poroshenko provoked the crises, so he could pose as a strongman, hoping to at least gain some popularity. He has imposed martial law for 30 days although originally, he wanted it to last for 2 months. What does it mean? The press will be censored and criticism of the government, limited. Good for the grotesquely unpopular president? Definitely.

Also, it is obvious that the West, particularly the EU and NATO, are behind this new wave of dangerous madness.

Italy is part of both EU and NATO. As I am writing in my new essay, it is a nonsense to believe that “Europeans are brainwashed; that they do not know what the West is doing all over the world”. They know, or they at least suspect – most of them. But they pretend that they don’t know. In Europe, there is a shadowy deal between the government, corporations and the people. People want more benefits, and they do not care that the benefits come from plundering the world. If they get their benefits, they shut up. If they think they are getting too little, they protest, like recently in Paris. But do they care if tens of millions of ‘un-people’ die for those benefits? Of course not!

The same when it comes to Russia, China or Iran. Europeans in general and Italians in particular, know that there is some sort of vicious propaganda against those countries that refuse to yield to the Western diktat. But they will do nothing to stop it. It is sweet, isn’t it, to feel superior, ‘democratic’, and ‘free’. And it is horrible to admit that one lives in a place that is spreading terror to all corners of the world, robbing even the poor of all they have. These six weeks vacations could turn sour, if Italians were to decide to see who is really paying for them. So, they shut up, and will shut up, until it is ‘too late’.

Remember, countries like Russia and China have their own ‘democracies’ (rule of the people). It is not the Western system. Rulers and the masses communicate and interact in a direct way, in a very distinctive manner. And in both Russia and China, the people have ‘had enough’ of being bullied and brutalized by the West, for decades and centuries. Just a little bit more, and things will explode. If pushed further, Russia and China will respond. If provoked militarily, they will defend themselves. The same goes for Iran. Being part of the grouping that is terrorizing the world, Italy will have to pay the price, too.

AB: Russian Minister Sergei Lavrov asked the Western allies in Kiev to “intervene” and “calm down” the Ukrainian authorities, warning about the potential crossing of a “point of no return” between Russia and the West. Is the risk of war real even in light of the great gathering of NATO troops at the border?

AV: Yes, of course, it is real. Just turn the tables around: if Iran or China or Russia or Venezuela or Syria or Cuba did to the West what West is doing to them, would there be real risk of war?

This impunity and racist belief in total superiority, which is so prevalent in the West, has to stop. And soon it will stop. As they say in Chile: ‘By reason or by force’.

AB: You were recently in Syria, a country that thanks to the Russian intervention and the resistance of the Syrian people supported by the regional allies – Iran and Hezbollah above all – is slowly trying to return to normal. What country did you find?

AV: I found a beautiful, confident and proud country. I am also writing a long report about my visit there.

I met many victims, common people, but also a General, and a Minister of Education, who is also an accomplished novelist. His motto is: “Ministry of Education is like Ministry of Defense”. Correct: education without ideology and passion is just a waste of time.

Syria won. And there, the entire Arab world won together with it. Arabs were, for decades, thoroughly humiliated – by the West, by Israel, by their own leaders who were put on the throne by London, Paris and Washington.

As I have written many times, Aleppo is the Stalingrad of the Middle East. The losses were terrible, all over Syria. But the victory is tremendous, too. Pan-Arabism will blossom again. People in all countries of the region are watching and now they know: it is possible to defeat Western imperialism and its spooks, its terrorist implants.

Russia stood by its Arab sister with determination, but also very wisely. It used diplomacy whenever it could, and it used force only when there was no other way. In Syria, the Russians won people’s hearts. ‘Thank you, Russia!’, is everywhere, even engraved on traditional wooden boxes. The Russian language being my native tongue, opened so many doors, as it opened thousands of doors to me in Afghanistan (I never expected it there).

Syria has to finalize its victory, soon. And I will be back to cover events there. At the front if needed.

It is tremendously optimistic and beautiful to be in a country which did not prostitute itself; a country that stood tall, fought hard, for its own people and for the entire region. There is great confidence and kindness on the faces of people. Celebration is not loud, because, after all, so many people died. But people are out, till the morning, men and women, boys and girls. Cafes are packed; the streets of Damascus are bustling. But even in Homs and the destroyed suburbs of Damascus, life is defiantly returning to normal.

What a nation! Yes, they say ‘Thank you Russia!”. As an internationalist, I say: “Thank you Syria!”

AB: The chemical attack by the “rebels” in Aleppo yesterday unmasks the lies in the mainstream of these years. What role did the media play in allowing the terrorist gangs supported and funded by the West and Gulf allies to destroy Syria?

AV: A tremendous role. In Syria, the Western mass media finally ceased to exist. It became a prostitution force for the Empire, nothing else. But we all know that both the media and education are basically used for indoctrinating people, at least in the West and in its ‘client’ states.

There was so much provocation. The Gulf and the Western broadcasting companies were literally igniting the conflict, spreading lies, pushing people into rebellion against the government. They have blood on their hands, the same as Pashtun Service of the BBC has blood on their hands, as the VOA, Radio Free Europe and ‘free whatever’ have blood up to their armpits.

AB: Before Syria you did two important reports in Argentina and Mexico telling about the mutations under way in Latin America. Bolsonaro has won in Brazil, while in the next few days Lopez Obrador is preparing to settle in a Mexico that has turned left. At what stage is the dispute in Latin America, and what are the prospects for the left in the continent?

AV: Well, I worked for three weeks all over Mexico, before going to Syria. My big work in both Argentina and Brazil, had been done earlier.

Look, Ale, you and I know; are very well familiar with Latin America. I used to live in Mexico, Chile, Peru (during the so-called Dirty War) and Costa Rica. I have worked all over the continent.

What happened in Mexico is great, although one could say ‘overdue’. Now let us hope that President-Elect Obrador will be able to turn his magnificent country around, towards socialism. It will not be easy. There is plenty of terrible inertia. There are horrible ‘elites’ of European stock. And there is the United States, right next door, always ready to ‘intervene’. But I think he can do it. I trust him. I travelled all over this huge country, I spoke to people. It was all summarized by a gangster in Tijuana, a man who became a criminal out of desperation. He said, and I paraphrase: “I think it is close to impossible for Obrador to change things, but if he will do what he is promising, I will drop everything, and support him. This is the last chance for Mexico to change things peacefully. If he fails, we will take up the arms.”

Brazil, this is so difficult to explain. But essentially, there, in Latin America, more than anywhere else, the mass media which is in the hands of the right-wing, played an extremely significant and thoroughly destructive role. When I visited Amazonia, around Manaus and Belem, or Salvador Bahia, people would tell me: “Our life improved significantly. Now we have this and this and that. But Dilma has to go!” My God, I thought, am I dreaming? No, I was not. Basically, somehow, the elites hammered into people’s brains that if they are better off now, then it is because of their own personal success. But if some things are not going too well, it is the fault of the government.

“Corruption” is always used in the combat against left-wing governments in Latin America. Microscopes are used, to encounter any wrongdoing. It was used against Kristina Kirschner, against Lula, even against poor Dilma who was not corrupt at all, but suffered from the right-wing and West-backed ‘constitutional’ coup. But just imagine that stupidity, that absurdity: right-wing dictatorships in the Southern Cone but also in Brazil used dogs to rape women; they tortured prisoners, killed, ‘disappeared’ people, robbing everything they could put their hands on. And that is not ‘corruption’, right? Then some company offers to renovate an apartment of Lula’s, and he is in prison! Suddenly those fascists are playing the moral card. Do you know what Bolsonaro will do now? He will screw the entire Amazonia; do it almost ‘Indonesia-style’. He will allow that horrid deal with the Western corporations, the privatization of the aquifer shared with Paraguay, to go through. The third biggest passenger airplane manufacturer on earth – Embraer – will be sold to Boeing, for petty cash. Brazil will lose its rainforest, its industry, and its poor will lose their lifeline – government support. And this is not called corruption! Argentina under Macri is allowing the US to operate in Tierra de Fuego. The entire country is screaming from pain: electricity prices have gone up, the famous film industry is losing support, and the middle class is again going down the drain.

But I am optimistic. Latin American people have a great desire for socialist, in some places, communist societies. Whenever they are left alone, they fight for it, or vote for it. Then they get smashed. The West has overthrown, basically, all the truly left-wing governments of the continent, from the Dominican Republic, to Chile. But the process never stops. It begins all over again.

I only hope that one thing changes: you know, the West was very successful in implanting the idea in the heads of Latin Americans, that after all that has happened, Europe and even the US are somehow superior nations. And so, people look down on the truly great nations like China and Russia, in places like Brazil. It appalls me. I speak the language, and I clearly see what is happening. In Argentina, there is not much of a real left: the intellectuals there are connected to those defunct theories in Europe and North America, like ‘anarcho-syndicalism’. And there is nothing really revolutionary about those ideas. There are too many Westerners influencing Latin American revolutionary movements. They lost at home, became irrelevant, but still they insist on judging the world from a Western perspective. Still, somehow, many of them are admired in Latin America. And it always backfires: Westerners dilute revolutionary spirit. They also kidnap the South-South narrative. I would love to see Russian, Chinese, Venezuelan, Cuban, Syrian, Iranian or South African comrades running the state media in countries where the true left is winning. It would make a great difference!

AB: Argentina continues to sink under the weight of Mauricio Macri’s neoliberal austerity but the mainstream media are silent. Meanwhile, Evo Morales’ Bolivia continues, to the contrary, to record the highest growth rates in the region in a climate of stability. So, socialism works contrary to what they try to make us believe?

AV: Yes, of course, socialism works, Ale. If left alone, if it is not bathed in pus and blood, it prospers. Unfortunately, so far, whenever any country decides to go socialist, the West unleashes its campaign of terror, lies and economic banditry. Socialism is not some extreme utopia, but the most logical goal. The majority of people want to live in an egalitarian society, where they feel secure and safe, and where when sick they get treated, when they are thirsty for knowledge, they get educated for free. They want the state to work for them, not against them. They want their government to control companies, instead of companies controlling their governments.

AB: Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the economic, psychological and media war goes on. Will the Bolivarian government succeed in resisting this unprecedented attack?

AV: Yes, it will. But again, look how fragmented Latin America has become. People in Chile or Argentina watch CNN and FOX and they know much more about Miami or Paris, than about Caracas. The Brazilian President-Elect said that he would murder Maduro – still, people voted for him.

Latin America is mostly run by European elites. They robbed the continent, turned it into the part of the world with the greatest disparities. For any revolution to succeed here, it has to be radical and decisive. Democracy should be direct, not that multi-party idiotism implanted from the West – that is so easy to pervert and divert from outside, or with the use of social and mass media. Latin America cannot try to ape Europe and hope that it will prosper. Europe is based on the plunder of other parts of the world. Latin American countries do not have colonies, and the plunder is internal – the rich of European stock are plundering both the land and the native people.

AB: In one of his last articles Fidel wrote how “The alliance between Russia and China is a powerful peace shield able to guarantee the survival of the human race”. What is the legacy of Fidel Castro today two years after his death?

AV: Just tremendous! Even when the entire Latin America betrayed Cuba, Fidel and his people never surrendered. This is the spirit I admire. Cuba has a big heart – it fought for the independence of several African nations, it helps so many places on earth with their doctors, teachers, and rescue teams during natural disasters. Cuban art is some of the greatest on the planet. That is why Cuba has had a tremendous impact on me personally, and on my work as well. I proudly call myself a ‘Cuban-style internationalist’. I am endlessly grateful to Fidel, to the Cuban revolution and to Cuban people. In many ways, it is perhaps the greatest country in the world. A country I would never hesitate to fight for, or even to die for.

*****

• Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism, a revolutionary novel “Aurora” and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter.

Cuba and America: A Primer on History and Politics

The relationship between Cuba and the United States is a relationship of history and politics. It is a relationship which shows the nature of Capitalism and Imperialism. It is a relationship which also shows the nature of the struggle for Socialism and Socialist Revolution. Cuba, the first revolutionary Socialist state in Latin America, has managed to survive as a revolutionary Socialist state despite that relationship — a relationship forced upon Cuba by the most powerful Capitalist state in the history of the World — the United States. In many ways the relationship between Cuba and the United States defines part of the nineteenth-century, the twentieth-century and the present-day — between Revolution and Counter-Revolution. In history and politics the old struggle and old relationship between Cuba and the U.S. defines much of the history and politics surrounding us today.

The history and politics between Cuba and the United States began in the nineteenth-century. The modern relationship between Cuba and the United States is a product of the nineteenth-century, and the twentieth-century; a product of Imperialism, Capitalism, Revolution, Rebellion, Class Struggle, and War. In the nineteenth-century, the United States effectively took Cuba from the Spanish Empire and fought a war with Spain in 1898 over the issue of American power in Cuba. In the twentieth-century, the United States effectively controlled Cuba and Cuban politics — before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

The political relationship between Cuba and the United States has been defined by the Cuban Revolution. The modern relationship between Cuba and the United States is also the product of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 — the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro, the Cuban Revolution of 1953-1959, the Cuban Revolution of 1959-1962. The Revolution changed the relationship between Cuba and the United States by making Cuba both independent of the power of the United States and in conflict with the United States. The conflict which has persisted between Cuba and the United States, since then, has been a fundamental reality of the Cuban Revolution — as an anti-Imperialist Revolution and one determined to see Cuba retain its Independence from foreign domination, specifically that of the United States.

Since 1959, to the present, the United States has sought to undermine the Cuban Revolution and the Revolution in Cuba. This struggle against Cuba and the Cuban Revolution has defined Cuba since 1959. This struggle, from the American and Cuban sides, has also helped to define both States during and since the Cold War. In the United States it has shown the persistence of the U.S. Government to overcome the Cuban Revolution. In Cuba it highlights the success and strength of the Revolution of 1959, both politically and socially. For the rest of South America and Central America the Cuban Revolution still represents the possibility of social progress and revolution. In the terms of the history of South America and Central America, the Cuba Revolution represented the ability of a State, Society and Nation in the American hemisphere to break from the United States and to chart its own social development and economic development. That the Revolution in Cuba survived the twentieth-century, and still survives to this day, is a testament not simply to Cuba, the Cuban State, the Cuban Communist Party or the Cuban Revolutionaries of 1959, but to the Cuban people themselves.

The political and historical relationship between Cuba and the United States cannot be seen in isolation from the history of American Imperialism in the rest of South America and Central America.1 From the nineteenth-century, through the terrors of the twentieth-century, the United States has acted to maintain its own power and its own Imperialism in both South America and Central America — preventing both social progress there and social revolution. The history of American relations in South America and Central America is the history of U.S. support for dictatorships, oppression, exploitation, coups and military occupation. It is a history which continues in the politics of today — in U.S. Imperialism and U.S. policy.

The Spanish-American War of 1898 began and defined the relationship between Cuba and the United States – a war in which Cuba traded Spanish Imperialism and Spanish Domination, for American Imperialism and American Domination. In 1898, the United States formally invaded Cuba as part of its War against Spain, beginning an occupation which would last until formal Cuban independence in 1902. In political terms and economic terms this merely transferred Cuba from Spain to the United States, despite American promises that Cuba would be allowed to be both free and independent as an independent republic. Much of this period of Cuban history, from 1898 to 1959, can formally be called the ‘American Period’ — in which Cuba was both formally and informally part of the American sphere, American power and American interests. At the same time, besides political subservience to the United States, Cuba became economically dependent and economically subservient to the United States, beginning a process of economic domination which would not end until the Revolution of 1959. After 1898, Cuba was nominally independent, but would remain an American puppet and an American satellite, through various interventions, coups and counter-revolutions, until the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The period of 1898 to 1959, the first period of Cuban history in modern history, was one where Cuba was prevented from both political independence and economic independence — again a period which lasted as part of Cuba’s history until the triumph of the Revolution of 1959.

American interest in Cuba began long before 1898. Before 1898, in the nineteenth-century, the United States had taken an interest in Spanish Cuba — as part of the emerging U.S. doctrine of American interests in Latin America and the Monroe doctrine. As part of the process of emerging American Imperialism, in both the nineteenth-century and the twentieth-century, Cuba was part of American visions and American designs for American power in Central America — of American power and American Imperialism outside of the United States.

This Imperialist interest in Cuba, by the United States, as with all American interests in South America and Central America, has defined the history and politics of the United States in Cuba. A history and politics from the 1820s, through the 1860s and 1890s, through the twentieth-century, through the Revolution of 1959, to the present day.

Cuban politics, on the Left, understood the nature of American Imperialism and American exploitation in Cuba. This formed the basis of Cuban revolutionary politics in the twentieth-century and the Cuban Revolution of 1959, alongside the need to free Cuba from the Batista dictatorship of 1952 to 1959.

José Marti, the great hero of Cuban Independence and Cuban Freedom, in the nineteenth-century, always noted the danger of American intervention and American Imperialism in Cuba. Like many in Cuba, from the 1890s to the present, from Marti to Castro, from 1898 to 1959, Marti worried and feared the power of the United States in distorting Cuban independence and Cuban freedom. For Marti, the hope of the American Revolution of 1776 had turned quickly into the reality of American Imperialism.

Fidel Castro, as leader of the Cuban Revolution, based his Revolution on opposing U.S. Imperialism in Cuba and Latin America. Castro, as leader of the 26th July Movement of 1953, leader of the revolt of 1953, leader of the revolutionary war of 1956-1959, leader of the Cuban Revolution of 1959, and leader of the Cuban Revolution in general, understood this history and this politics in the relationship between Cuba and the United States. Even in the immediate aftermath of the victory of the Revolution of 1959, when relations between Cuba and the United States might have travelled in another direction, Castro and the Revolutionaries of 1959 seem to have been cautious about American intentions, and most of them understood the history and politics of America’s history and America’s politics in Cuba.

The Revolution of 1959 in Cuba is the decisive event in the history of Cuba — and the history of Cuban-American relations since 1898. The victory of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 changed the relationship between the United States and Cuba. Just as the wars of independence in the nineteenth-century, the 1895 war for Cuban Independence and the Spanish-American War of 1898 all changed Cuba’s relationship with Imperial Spain, so too did the Cuban Revolution change America’s power in Cuba. In political terms and economic terms the Revolution of 1959 destroyed America’s power in Cuba. The Revolution, effectively, ended one period and replaced it with another — with the victory of the Revolution itself. With the downfall of the Batista regime and the victory of the Revolutionaries, Cuba became free from American influence and American dominance — in both political terms and economic terms. This change in the relationship between Cuba and the United States, was one that the United States could not accept – given the reality of American power in South America and Central America in all the centuries since the nineteenth-century. With the victory of the Revolution the United States resolved to recapture Cuba and restore American influence to Cuba — a policy which has continued to this day, in differing terms and differing wording. With the victory of the Revolution, Cuba became a target for further American aggression and American Imperialism — as the United States attempted to overthrow the revolutionary government for its own political and economic interests. In terms of the relationship the victory of the Revolution of 1959 was the single most important event — as it ended the old relationship and started a new one. Cuba gained its own political independence in the event of the Revolution of 1959.

The Cuban Revolution, due to Cuban politics and American politics, has had to face many foes. The Cuban Revolution, due to the dynamics of having to face both a national foe (the Batista Government, the Batista Dictatorship, Cuban Capitalism) and an international foe (the United States of America, American Capitalism and International Capitalism), has had to settle accounts with both national enemies and international enemies. This dynamic within the Cuban Revolution, while not unique in the history of Revolutions, has certainly affected the Politics of the Cuban Revolution. Instead of simply facing a national bourgeoisie or a national dictatorship the Cuban Revolution had to face down the external threat of a Capitalist Superpower, while also trying to make a Social Revolution and a Political Revolution.

The political relationship between Cuba and the United States, after 1959, was structured by the nature of the Cuban Revolution itself. In order to free Cuba from the social reality of its oppression and exploitation, the Cuban Revolutionaries had to struggle against more than simply the National Capitalist Class of Cuba, or even the Batista dictatorship, they had to struggle against the USA itself. This fact became apparent after the events of 1960-1962, from the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

The historical relationship between Cuba and the United States was also defined by the necessities and realities of the Cold War. At the height of the Cuban drama with the United States, the events of 1959-1963, from the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, it was impossible for Cuba to avoid the wider struggle of the Cold War — between the USA and the USSR. This aspect of the struggle between Cuba and the United States furthered the social context and international context of the Cuban Revolution; both for the better and for the worse; that it was a Revolution in the American sphere; that it was a Revolution in Uncle Sam’s backyard. This heightened the potential of the Cuban Revolution, in the 1950S and the 1960s, but also left it isolated — and even more vulnerable to the wrath of the United States. Cuba, in the age of the Cold War, could not be allowed to provide a model of a successful Revolution or a successful Society. The result was the reality of U.S. Policy towards Cuba — one of confrontation, aggression, threats, blockade, sabotage, terrorism, and threatened invasions. This U.S. Policy, a relationship of antagonism and U.S. Threat, has survived even the Cold War itself — surviving into the 1990s, the 2000s and the present. Despite this Cuba managed to survive and achieve its own form of Social Progress and Social Revolution.

One further reality of the U.S. and Cuban relationship is the reality that the Cuban Revolution turned into a major Revolution of the twentieth-century. That Cuba attempted to re-assert its independence in 1959 was something which already upset the United States — and provoked U.S. Reaction. That Cuba declared its willingness to a make a Socialist Revolution in Cuba, and a Revolutionary Society in Cuba, was something which the United States would not accept and could not accept. Both a Social Revolution and a Political Revolution, indeed a Socialist Revolution, in Cuba, were all events which the United States could not accept from Cuba or from Latin America. This is the reason why the United States pushed for reaction and counter-revolution in Cuba and did all it could, for decades, to undermine both Cuba and the Cuban Revolution. That the Cuban Revolution of 1959 turned from a Nationalist Revolution into a Socialist Revolution was part of both Cuban politics and Cold War politics, but it also reinforced the revolutionary threat that Cuba posed to the United States — that it threatened the strength of U.S. hegemony in the Western Hemisphere and in Latin America. If Cuba could free itself from foreign and U.S. domination then other states in Latin America, in both South America and Central America could do the same. The United States feared this wave of revolutions that Cuba’s experience and Cuba’s example could inspire. This reality of the Cuban Revolution, as a Revolution which inspired International Revolution, throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Third World, was what made the Cuban Revolution a danger to the United States — and was what provoked the reaction of the United States. The Cuban Revolution, even today, still inspires with is powerful international example of Social progress and Social Revolution — across Asia, Africa, Central America and South America. But the key fact of why the United States spent so much of the Cold War fearing a Revolution which emerged from such a small island was the reality that the Cuban Revolution was an inspiration, both in Cuba and the rest of the World. The Cuban Revolution showed that American Imperialism could be confronted and defeated — a lesson which still remains today in the struggle for Social Revolution and Socialist Revolution in Latin America.

The Cuban Revolution is also part of a wider political history in Latin America — between Latin America and the United States. The history and the politics of the Cuban Revolution cannot be understood without reference to the wider history of Latin America — specifically the relationship between Latin America and the United States.2 In basic terms the history and politics of Cuba’s relationship with the United States is similar, almost exactly the same, as the relationship between Latin America and the United States.3 In terms of understanding the traditional and historical conflict of the peoples and states of Latin America to the United States the reality of American Imperialism and American support for the Right in Latin America is vital. The history of Latin America and the United States is a history of Imperialism of the latter against the former. This is what makes the Cuban Revolution, and the history of Cuba, so important in both political and historical terms. Cuba’s history with the United States, and the trajectory of the Cuban Revolution, marches what has occurred in Latin America across two long centuries of American Imperialism and American Empire. In terms of the politics of Latin America, and Cuba, today, that relationship still haunts the politics of the region. Only a further Social Revolution, and Socialist Revolution, in the region, can hope to break that history — and with it the dominance of the United States. The victory of the Latin American Revolution is vital for the hopes for a Revolution in the United States.

The relationship between Cuba and America is the product of history and politics. The political future of the political relationship between Cuba and the United States will probably be over-determined by the history and past of that relationship.4 It will be determined by the old struggle between revolution and counter-revolution. If the Cuban Revolution is to survive the early decades of the twenty-first century, the present-day, it must remember the reality of its previous relationship and current relationship with the United States — one in which the United States sought to overthrow the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban State and to return Cuba to the status of being a economic colony dominated by the United States. Indeed a better relationship between Cuba and the United States would be preferable — a softening and opening up of relations between the two based on equality and mutual respect, as almost happened in the 2010s — but that does not seem to be the ideal of the United States or its Government. Indeed the majority of American Presidents have seen the Cuban Revolution as a threat and American governments have remained the impassable foe of the Cuban Revolution and Cuba itself. In the context of the wider struggle for social change, social revolution and socialist revolution in South America, in Central America, in Latin America, it seems that the United States will remain a foe of that progress, until the day that major social and political change occurs in the United States itself. For Latin America the relationship between the United States and the Cuban Revolution is their relationship with the United States in microcosm. Cuba, despite its real problems in the twentieth-century, has managed to survive against U.S. Imperialism. The survival of the Cuban Revolution is a victory for the Latin American Revolution.

  1. American Imperialism began in Central America and South America. The history and politics of U.S. Imperialism, from the nineteenth-century, found their origins in American foreign policy in Central America and South America, from the earliest days of the United States.
  2. See the work of Richard Gott, Cuba: A new history (2004).
  3. See the work of Hugh Thomas, Cuba: A History (2010).
  4. The history of Cuban politics and Cuban society really cannot be understood, from 1898, from 1959, without the impact of U.S. Imperialism; both in terms of Cuban political ideas and Cuban political concerns.

55 Years After: Political Legacies of the Cuban Missile Crisis

The last two weeks of October 1962, 55 years ago, was the closest the world has come so far to a widespread nuclear exchange in what has become known as the “Cuban Missile Crisis.” 

The First Use of Nuclear Weapons

In August 1945, the United States government, having, at that moment, a monopoly on the “atom bomb,” unilaterally dropped nuclear explosives, successively, on the civilian inhabitants of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the time of this clear war crime, Japanese imperialism’s conquests and vast expansion in China, the Pacific Rim, and Southeast Asia, that began in the 1930s, had shrunk sharply. The Japanese rulers were utterly alone and isolated politically; their German Nazi ally was defeated, smashed, and under occupation. Japanese imperialism was in headlong retreat under intense attack from, on the one hand, rival colonial powers and imperialists fighting to get their colonial territories back, and indigenous independence forces in the remaining lands they occupied on the other. The latter was a mass upsurge for national independence and included resistance to Japanese aggression in parts of Manchuria in China, as well as Korea, Vietnam, and the “Dutch East Indies,” now Indonesia.

At the time the decision to explode the nukes on Japanese cities was made, the Japanese navy was incapable of any operations and the Japanese merchant fleet was destroyed. The Japanese government had begun to send out “peace feelers,” fully aware of its hopeless situation. Washington’s utterly ruthless action – rationalized as necessary to prevent mass casualties for US soldiers in a ground invasion of Japan – finalized the defeat and prostration of the Japanese Empire in the Asian-Pacific “theater” of World War II…and sent an unmistakable shock and signal to the world for all time.

Cuba In the Eye of the Storm

The young leaders of the Cuban Revolution, now holding governmental power, were in the very eye of the storm during those last two October weeks of 1962. In the end the diffusing and resolution of the Missile Crisis – in the sense of reversing and ending the momentum toward imminent nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union – came when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave way to US President John Kennedy’s demands and agreed to halt further naval shipments of nuclear missiles to Cuba and withdraw those already in Cuban territory. Khrushchev further agreed to the removal of Soviet medium-range conventional bombers, very useful to the Cubans for defending their coastlines, and a near-complete withdrawal of Soviet combat brigades.

For his part, Kennedy made a semi-public conditional formulation that the US government would not invade Cuba (this was not legally binding or attached to any signed legal or written document). Kennedy also agreed, in a secret protocol, to withdraw US nuclear missiles from Turkey that bordered the Soviet Union.

The Cuban government, which had, at great political risk, acceded to the Soviet proposal to deploy Soviet nuclear missiles on the island, was not consulted, or even informed, by the Soviet government, at any stage of the unfolding crisis, of the unfolding US-Soviet negotiations. With Cuban representatives completely excluded, the five points Cuba wanted to see addressed and included in any overall agreement coming out of the crisis were ignored altogether under US insistence and Soviet acquiescence. The entire experience was both politically shocking and eye-opening for the Cuban revolutionaries. They came out of it acutely conscious of their vulnerability and angered over their exclusion.1

Washington Plans Direct Invasion

By April 20, 1961, the revolutionary Cuban armed forces, led by Fidel Castro, was victoriously mopping up on the coastal battlefields and detaining survivors from the routed counter-revolutionary Cuban exile “army.” An army was organized by the US government and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron to the Cubans). This major operation to overthrow the “Castro” government and destroy the Cuban Revolution had been devised by the Dwight Eisenhower White House and carried out by the new Kennedy Administration in its third month after taking office.

At the time of their April 1961 victory at the Bay of Pigs over the counter-revolutionary exiles, Fidel Castro declared that the Cuban Revolution was a socialist revolution and that he was a “Marxist-Leninist.” Castro’s declaration corresponded to the social and economic deeds and policies being implemented by the revolutionary government (and to the profound internationalism of the Cuban leadership team). By 1962 the major domestic and foreign privately-owned major means of production in utilities, transportation, heavy and light industry, manufacturing, mining, and oil refining had been nationalized (mostly with fair compensation) by the workers and farmers government.2

Concurrent with this, the revolutionary government established a state monopoly of foreign trade and the first shoots of central economic planning began which would supersede the old neo-colonial capitalist market. With all its flaws and contradictions, pressures and counter-pressures, a qualitative class transformation of the Cuban state had been realized in a dynamic way. Certainly, bipartisan Washington and the entire bourgeois political spectrum in the US from left to right had no illusions in this regard. The hostility of the US Democratic and Republican parties to “Castro’s Revolution” was monolithic and poised for aggression at that time.

Playa Giron was as humiliating and unacceptable for Washington as it had built confidence and was invigorating for the Cuban revolutionaries. It was certainly no secret to anyone paying the slightest attention that not even a nanosecond passed between Washington’s debacle at the Bay of Pigs and the planning for a new invasion. But this time it would be directly by US forces without the proxy agency of the mercenary “troops” of the former ruling classes of Cuba, who were by then ensconced in southern Florida. Since October 1961 the Pentagon officers assigned to prepare for the US invasion of Cuba had been revising, updating, and “polishing” the concrete details. These “operational plans” were continually reviewed with President Kennedy.

Cuba faced an imminent, violent one-two punch: intensive aerial bombardment followed by large-scale invasion on multiple fronts. It was less than ten years since the last major US war in Korea, a former Japanese colony artificially divided in the aftermath of World War II. The impact of US bombing on the northern Korean state and its capital of Pyongyang, could not have been encouraging to the Cuban leadership. Virtually the entire city was flattened by US carpet bombings. According to the Australian journalist and eyewitness to the carnage Wilfred Burchett, “There were only two buildings left standing in Pyongyang.”

Pyongyang, Korea in 1953. US saturation bombing flattened 18 of North Korea’s 22 cities, an unequaled level of destruction in modern wars.

All in all Washington dropped some 635,000 tons of bombs (plus over 30,000 tons of napalm) on northern Korea. This compares to 503,000 tons of bombs dropped in the entire Pacific Theater during World War II by all sides.

While the numbers of civilian deaths from the US bombing assaults in Korea are inexact, well over 1 million Koreans in the north died, some 12-15% of the total population by conservative estimates. If you add injuries and missing the figure reaches 3 million. (For a comprehensive, classic account of the origins and development of the Korean War see The Hidden History of the Korean War by legendary US journalist I.F. Stone first published by Monthly Review Press in 1952. It can also be downloaded at the Amazon Kindle Store.)

The 2017 Kennedy Assassination Files

At the end of October 2017, amid some hoopla, the Donald Trump White House allowed the release of nearly 2900 previously “classified” US government files and documents pertinent to the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy. Other files and documents were held back for now.

A number of these documents reference US violent plots against Cuba, including assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and other revolutionary leaders by the Kennedy Administration. These reconfirm what has long been known on the massive military force Washington was planning to employ to invade and occupy Cuba and crush the revolutionary government after the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961.

One document, a memo from August 8, 1962 – over two months before the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuban territory – states, “In order to seize control of key strategic areas in Cuba within 10-15 days with minimum casualties to both sides [an absurd throwaway line regarding what could only have been horrific slaughter and massive dead and wounded] about 261,000 US military personnel would participate in the operation.” The memo was addressed to a “Special Group” within the Kennedy White House that was coordinating intensifying US efforts to eliminate the revolutionary government led by Fidel Castro. The October 30, 2017 USA Today writes:

While this and other documents had nothing to do with the actual assassination, it was included in the files because of the connection between Kennedy’s desire to remove Castro from power, his support of Cuban exiles to help him, and the affinity of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald for the Castro government.

The “operational plans” for the US invasion of Cuba were to involve the initial dispatching of 90,000 troops and was projected to reach the 261,000 figure. This for a country of six million people. (For comparison, the population of Vietnam was around 40 million during the years of the US war in the 1960s and early 1970s. US troop levels reached over 500,000. Massive US military operations, in the air and on the ground, killed millions of Vietnamese, perhaps 10% of the Vietnamese population).

There is no question that once “the dogs of war” were unleashed against Cuba, with the accompanying propaganda onslaught, Washington would wage a war of annihilation under the rote cover of “democratic” and even “humanitarian” verbiage. Cuban resistance would be fierce. Mounting US casualties would, in the initial period, feed war fever and US aggression. In short: Cuba faced unheard of death and destruction…and the clock was ticking.

Operation Mongoose

By this time President Kennedy’s “Operation Mongoose” was in effect. “Mongoose” was essentially a large-scale terrorist campaign and US intervention inside Cuba employing sabotage, bombings, murder, and so-called “psychological warfare.” Kennedy’s cynical purpose was to undertake and carry out any means deemed necessary to disrupt and demoralize Cuban society through constant, incessant violent attacks and economic sabotage to the point where the social and political conditions would be created for a full-scale US invasion.

But Kennedy and his civilian and military “advisors” continued to underestimate both the caliber of the revolutionary leadership and the capacities of the Cuban working people and youth they were terrorizing, as well as the Revolution’s determination and competence to organize their defenses.

Above all, the US rulers were not used to facing such a politically savvy enemy. The young Cuban revolutionary government, with the indefatigable Fidel Castro as its main spokesperson, was adept and quick on its feet in effectively exposing to world public opinion Washington’s anti-Cuba campaign through a vigorous, public, and factually accurate counter-offensive based on telling the truth about what the Revolution was actually doing and what the US government was actually doing.

The logic behind “Operation Mongoose” was bluntly laid out in an internal memorandum of April 6, 1960 by L.D. Mallory, a US State Department senior official:

The majority of Cubans support Castro … the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. … every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba.

Mallory proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government.”

On July 26, 1961 – the national holiday declared by the revolutionary government commemorating the July 26, 1953 attack led by Fidel Castro and Abel Santamaria on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba – the CIA attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and Che Guevara during the celebrations. The CIA plan was, if the murders were “successful,” to stage a provocation against the US base at Guantanamo and make it appear to be Cuban revenge for the murder of their top leaders. This would then be the pretext for a full-scale US invasion. Here on full display is the cynical mendacity operating at the top of the US government in the drive to bring back the power of the landowners, rich playboys, segregationists, gangsters, and pimps – the full flower of “democracy” to the benighted Cuban masses suffering under literacy drives, free medical care, desegregated public facilities, and the crushing of the US Mafia.

Raul Castro and Che Guevara

During the next month of August 1961, the CIA organized one of its most pernicious campaigns against the revolutionary government. Its agents spread lies through a built-up rumor bill that there was a Cuban government policy to take all children away from their parents by force and raise them in “state institutions.” Some 15,000 Cuban families, overwhelmingly from middle- and upper classes full of prejudice and hostility to the Revolution, panicked and sent their children mostly to the US in response to a Big Lie, under the CIA’s infamous “Operation Peter Pan.”

CIA-hatched “Operation Peter Pan.”

The Revolution Advances Its Social Program

So, while all this criminal activity was going on, the Cuban Revolution advanced its program of social justice and human liberation for the oppressed and exploited majority as the most effective counter-force to the Yanqui aggression. On February 26, 1962 Cuba’s now fully legal and rejuvenated labor unions provided the people power for the campaign of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Health to carry out a nationwide drive for vaccination against polio. By the end of the year the disease was completely wiped out on the island. It took the United Nation’s World Health Organization, then far more subject to pressure from Washington than now, 43 years to finally recognize that Cuba was the first nation in the Americas to accomplish this.

Things like this, and the full array of revolutionary advances taking place in the face of Washington’s mounting terrorist campaign, convinced General Maxwell Taylor, who oversaw Operation Mongoose with Attorney General Robert Kennedy at the White House, that the terrorist operation “mak[ing] maximum use of indigenous resources,” could not and would not do the job of overthrowing the revolutionary government. “Final success,” Taylor explained in a March 1962 report to President Kennedy, “will require decisive US military intervention.” US spies inside Cuba, at most, could help “prepare and justify this intervention and thereafter facilitate and support it.” With the Bay of Pigs debacle still fresh in his mind, and without some of the blinders of more gung-ho invasion advocates, Kennedy hesitated to give a green light to the invasion plans he himself had ordered up. It remained yellow-lighted, however, and Kennedy directed that Mongoose terrorism continue and step up.

The terrorist anti-Cuba campaign was not limited to Cuban territory. On April 28, 1962 the New York offices of the Cuban Press Agency Prensa Latina was attacked in New York, injuring three staff members.

More seriously, from May 8-18, 1962 a “practice run” for the US invasion of Cuba took place. The full-scale “military exercise” was code named “Operation Whip Lash” and sent an unmistakable signal of intimidation from the US military colossus to the six million people of Cuba.

All this mounting imperialist intervention had only one possible ending point – short of a Cuban surrender, which would never come. Events were coming to a head in Washington, Moscow, and Havana. Events that ineluctably posed and placed the nuclear question in the equation.

While the Cuban government and overwhelming popular majority were mobilized, armed to the teeth, and prepared to fight to the death, they wanted to live in peace and to enjoy the fruits of building a new society after a hard-fought revolutionary triumph. The Cuban leadership fully understood that a US invasion would kill many hundreds of thousands and destroy the Cuban infrastructure and economy. How to stop the coming US invasion was the burning question for the revolutionary government.

Khrushchev Rolls the Dice

Meanwhile in the Soviet Union, the Soviet leadership was facing a decidedly negative nuclear relationship of forces vis-à-vis Washington. This position of inequality (in the framework of the aptly acronymed Mutually Assured Destruction – aka MAD – nuclear doctrine) was perceived in Moscow as an impediment to carrying out political negotiations and maneuvering with Washington and the NATO powers, and defending Soviet interests in the “geopolitical” Cold War arena.

By April 1962 fifteen US Jupiter nuclear missiles had been installed and were “operational” in Turkey on the border of the Soviet Union. “Operational” meant ready to launch at any moment. Each missile was armed with a 1.45 megaton warhead, with ninety-seven times the firepower of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The official estimate of the “fatality projection” for each missile was one million Soviet civilians.

The Jupiter deployment in Turkey added to the overwhelming US superiority in quantity and quality in the “nuclear arms race” between Washington and Moscow. According to Anatoly Gribkov of the Red Army General Staff (cited in the television program DEFCON-2 shown on the US Military Channel), “The United States had about 5000 [nuclear] warheads, the Soviet Union 300. And of those [300] only two or three dozen that could hit the United States.” Khrushchev decided to alleviate this “imbalance” by placing missiles on the Cuban island if he succeeded in selling the idea to the Cuban leadership.3

Sometime in the spring (April-May) of 1962 the Khrushchev government of the Soviet Union proposed to the Cuban government that Cuba receive nuclear-tipped missiles on Cuban territory.  In no other country (including none of its “Warsaw Pact” allies, who were all politically subordinate to the Soviet government) had the Soviet government located nuclear missiles outside of Soviet territory.

Washington, by contrast, had openly placed nuclear missiles in numerous western European countries as well as Turkey and secretly in Okinawa, Japan, aimed at China. (The United Kingdom and France, both US allies, also had nuclear arsenals by that time. China detonated its first nuclear bomb in an October 1964 “test.”) Additionally, US “strategic” nuclear armed aircraft were in the air ready for attack orders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. US nuclear submarines were in similar mode, and even more difficult to detect.

While Soviet capabilities undoubtedly lagged behind the US, it was not so much so as to preclude inevitable reciprocal attack in response to any US “first strike.” Soviet missiles in Cuba would theoretically be a further deterrent to any US “first strike” threat. Placing the missiles in Cuba was clearly seen by the Soviet government as a bargaining piece to advance Soviet strategic interests in the nuclear chessboard that animated US-Soviet “diplomatic” maneuvers and intrigue and political objectives on both sides.

Khrushchev evidently presumed that, faced with a fait accompli, Washington would redress the imbalance to the benefit of the Soviet Union. The Soviet missiles, upon being fully operational, would be able to strike major population centers and whole geographic regions of the US, roughly equivalent to the potential death-dealing capacity Washington had through its missiles in Europe surrounding and targeted on the Soviet Union. Of course, the big “if” in all of this reasoning was getting to the accompli. Given US technical proficiency this was a fantasy.

Cuba Accepts the Soviet Proposal

At the end of May 1962 the first direct presentation of the Soviet proposal was delivered to Fidel Castro and Raul Castro in Cuba by a Soviet delegation led by an alternate member of the Soviet Presidium (an executive decision-making body). The Soviet officials revealed to the Cuban leaders that their “intelligence” told them conclusively that a US invasion was being seriously prepared, to be implemented at any time over the next months. Of course, the Soviets were not telling the Cubans anything they did not already know in general, but there were new specific facts and details. The now-concrete proposal that measures to fortify Cuban defenses would include the deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles on the island naturally led to intense consultations within the top Cuban leadership. The chief government ministers involved were Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, Osvaldo Dorticos, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, and Blas Roca. The day after the proposal was received the Cuban leadership told the Soviet delegation that the nuclear deployment was acceptable in principle.

In extensive discussions with European journalist Ignacio Ramonet (which became the book My Life: A Spoken Autobiography by Fidel Castro, published in 2006 by Scribner) Fidel Castro referred to the discussions within the Cuban central leadership. He said that besides Khrushchev and the Soviet leadership’s “sincere desire to prevent an attack against Cuba…they were hoping to improve the balance of strategic forces…I added that it would be inconsistent of us to expect the maximum support from the USSR and the rest of the Socialist camp should we be attacked by the United States and yet refuse to face the political risks and the possible damage to our reputation when they needed us. That ethical and revolutionary point of view was accepted unanimously.”

In a speech many years earlier in 1992 Fidel Castro had said:

We really didn’t like the missiles. If it had been a matter only of our own defense, we would not have accepted the deployment of the missiles. But not because we were afraid of the dangers that might follow the deployment of the missiles here; rather, it was because this would damage the image of the revolution, and we were very zealous in protecting the image of the revolution in the rest of Latin America. The presence of the missiles would in fact turn us into a Soviet military base, and that entailed a high political cost for the image of our country, an image we so highly valued.4

Legality, Secrecy, and Lies: Losing the Moral High Ground

Having agreed in principle, Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and Che Guevara, repeatedly argued with the Soviet leadership that the deployment should be open and public. The fact was that there was nothing in the Soviet-Cuban agreement to deploy the missiles that contravened any existing international law. In any case, the Cuban leaders were certain that it would be virtually impossible for the shipment, site construction, and land deployment to remain concealed from the highly sophisticated US surveillance technology. Furthermore, that, on the face of it, given the US missiles in Turkey and Italy surrounding the Soviet Union, and with practically open US plans to invade Cuba, open and transparent was the way to go politically and morally. All of this was rejected out of hand by the Khrushchev leadership. The Cuban leaders chose not to push the point and deferred.

In the book with Ramonet, Fidel Castro speaks of the “strange, Byzantine discussion” over whether Soviet arms shipments to Cuba were offensive or defensive.

Khrushchev, in fact, insisted they were defensive, not on any technical grounds, but rather because of the defensive purposes for which they’d been installed in Cuba… [We felt there was] no need to go into those explanations. What Cuba and the USSR were doing was perfectly legal and in strict conformity with international law.

Castro continued:

We didn’t like the course the public debate was taking. I sent Che…to explain my view of the situation to Khrushchev, including the need to immediately publish the military agreement [on deploying the nuclear missiles in Cuba] the USSR and Cuba had signed. But I couldn’t manage to persuade him…For us, for the Cuban leaders, the USSR was a powerful, experienced government. We had no other arguments to use to persuade them that their strategy for managing the situation should be changed, so we had no alternative but to trust them.

For the Cuban revolutionaries, the economic, military, and political ties forged with the Soviet Union had been a decisive, irreplaceable factor in their survival from the period after the January 1959 triumph of the Revolution through the April 1961 Playa Giron defeat of the US-organized mercenary invasion. Nevertheless, the unfolding of the Missile Crisis, and its ultimate resolution, left the Cuban leadership feeling vulnerable, bypassed, and insulted by the perceived highhanded behavior of the Soviet government led by Nikita Khrushchev.

Fidel Castro’s Secret Speech

In a major speech over two days to a closed meeting of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) on January 25-26, 1968 Fidel Castro reviewed the entire Missile Crisis.5  Combining great emotion with sharp, cool logic Castro detailed how the “Missile Crisis” unfolded and how Cuba’s relations with the Soviet Union emerged out of the crisis different from what they had been before.

Castro stated that Cuba’s revolutionary leadership looked to the Soviet Union for, “…measures that would guarantee the country’s safety. In that period, we had tremendous faith in the Soviet Union. I think perhaps too much.” Furthermore, “I am sincerely convinced that the Soviet Party bears great responsibility in what happened and acted in a totally disloyal manner in its relations with us.” Referring to the continuing terrorist attacks against Cuba that never stopped after Soviet missiles, planes, and combat troops were removed from Cuba at the “end” of the October Crisis, Castro stated:

Together with the pirate attacks and the U-2 flights, incidents began to flare up at the Guantanamo base. [The US military base on Guantanamo Bay was ceded to the US government in the notorious neo-colonial Platt Amendment of 1901 passed by the US Congress and has been maintained to this day against the demands for its return to Cuban sovereignty.] The same Guantanamo base which, we are certain, would have been dismantled had there been a modicum of serenity and firmness during the October crisis. Had they had the presence of mind to have posed and demand correctly from a principled standpoint, had they said that they would withdraw the missiles if satisfactory guarantees were given to Cuba, had they let Cuba negotiate, the crisis might even have turned into a political victory…All the rest are euphemisms of different kinds: Cuba was saved, Cuba lives. But Cuba had been alive and Cuba had been living, and Cuba did not want to live at the expense of humiliation or surrender; for that you do not have to be a revolutionary. Revolutionaries are not just concerned with living, but how one lives, living most of all with dignity, living with a cause, living for a cause…Cuba did not agree with the way the issue was handled; it stated the need to approach the problem from different, more drastic, more revolutionary and even more legal positions; and it totally disagreed with the way in which the situation was terminated.

“[Around July] we saw that the United States was creating an atmosphere of hysteria and aggression,” Castro bluntly spoke, “and it was a campaign that was being carried out with all impunity. In the light of this we thought the correct thing to do was to adopt a different position, not to get into that policy of lies: ‘we are sending Cuba defensive weapons.’ And in response to the imperialist’s position, the second weakness (or the first weakness) was not to stand up and respond that Cuba had every right to own whatever weapons it saw fit…but rather to adopt a policy of concessions, claiming that the weapons were defensive. In other words, to lie, to resort to lies which in effect meant to wave a basic right and principle.”

Decades later, in the Ramonet book, Castro returned to this crucial political approach, which is much more powerful than the usual technical cast of events when things had reached the stage of the actual nuclear standoff:

There was nothing illegal about our agreement with the Soviets, given that the Americans had missiles in Turkey and in Italy, too, and no one ever threatened to bomb or invade those countries. The problem wasn’t the legality of the agreement – everything was absolutely legal – but rather Khrushchev’s mistaken political handling of the situation, when even though both Cuba and the USSR had the legitimate right, he started spinning theories about offensive and non-offensive weapons. In a political battle, you can’t afford to lose the high moral ground by employing ruses and lies and half-truths.

The missile transport was the largest sea-borne operation in Soviet history. By the time of the detection of the missiles, and Khrushchev’s decision to remove them under US pressure, there were already 134 nuclear warheads in place and on the ground in Cuba. All three of the SS-4 missile regiments were operational even as Soviet ships stopped moving towards Cuba.

The January 25-26, 1968 speech went into scathing detail on how shocking, given the Soviet insistence on secrecy, the lack of discretion on the Soviet side was in the actual deployment of the missiles, crossing into outright recklessness.

“Uncontrolled Forces”

At the height of the crisis, the central Cuban leadership was certain that a full-scale invasion of the island was imminent. As the latest batch of 2017 declassified Kennedy assassination-related documents reconfirm, preparations – “contingency plans” – for such an invasion had been in place for many months prior to the secret installation of the Soviet missiles. This was the only conceivable basis for Khrushchev to make the missile proposal to the Cuban leaders and expect their agreement. In fact, a US invasion of Cuba was on the hair-trigger of being ordered at several concrete conjunctures in the course of the crisis.

The decision to actually carry out a direct, large-scale US military assault was being furiously debated within the Kennedy Administration and the narrow circle of bipartisan Congressional leadership that was privy to the deliberations at the top. As President and Commander-in-Chief, Kennedy had to choose whether to give the order to invade – again, everything was already in place for the execution of an invasion – the island where many nuclear warheads were already in place, targeting US territory and where Cuban armed resistance to the invading troops was certain to be massive, highly motivated, well-led, and creative.  For the immense majority of the Cuban population, having just experienced a profound social revolution, drawing millions into revolutionary struggle and consciousness, Cuba would be fighting from their own territory against a foreign invasion force and massive bombing assaults. Thousands of Cuban civilians would have been instantly killed in these air strikes.

The political consequences of this carnage – against a sovereign people with the gall to make a Revolution, throw out a venal dictator, institute land reform, literacy campaigns, rent reduction, abolishing Jim Crow-segregation, etc. etc. – would certainly have been devastating for Washington even if nuclear warheads were never launched on either side, a dubious prospect at best. Washington would lose the “moral high ground,” so crucial in concrete questions of world politics. Cuba would regain what had been eroded by the secretive, clumsy adventurism of Khrushchev’s “initiative” and its incompetent implementation.

The question of the nuclear weapons that were already on the island and the more that were en route would likely have been rendered secondary and the question of Cuba’s right to self-determination would have again risen to the fore. Kennedy was politically savvy enough to realize all of this and finally rebuffed the advocates of launching an invasion.

Uppermost in Kennedy’s considerations were the physical presence of thousands of Soviet combat troops and military personnel (there were some 40,000 Soviet mechanized combat divisions in Cuba, although the Kennedy Administration seems to have counted less than half the actual number). This fact posed the question that Soviet casualties would be inevitable, further sharply posing the question of questions…would the US invasion inexorably lead to nuclear exchanges? Who actually would – in a hair-trigger political atmosphere – fire first becomes almost a moot, secondary question in the framework of such a political confrontation.

US “intelligence” estimates were that 18,500 US casualties would take place in the first period after a US invasion, according to declassified material obtained by the National Security Archive. The presence of Soviet nuclear warheads and large numbers of Soviet military personnel, fighter jets, anti-aircraft gun emplacements, and so on, was another major factor leading Kennedy to repeatedly postpone the invasion plans and opt for a naval blockade (labeled a “quarantine” for legalistic purposes) surrounding Cuba, and the drama of a relatively slow showdown unfolding over days in the Atlantic while negotiations between Washington and Moscow intensified, negotiations that excluded the Cuban government…as if Cuba had nothing to do with what was happening.

As is always the case when war and combat is actually joined, the “law of unintended consequences” comes into dynamic play. Or, as the historic revolutionary leader of the working-class movement, Frederick Engels, put it, “Those who unleash controlled forces, also unleash uncontrolled forces.”

The Letters

On October 26, 1962 Fidel Castro – at the most intense, dangerous point of the entire crisis – wrote a letter to Nikita Khrushchev, which stated:

Given the analysis of the situation and the reports which have reached us, [I] consider an attack to be almost imminent–within the next 24 to 72 hours. There are two possible variants: the first and most probable one is an air attack against certain objectives with the limited aim of destroying them; the second, and though less probable, still possible, is a full invasion. This would require a large force and is the most repugnant form of aggression, which might restrain them.

You can be sure that we will resist with determination, whatever the case. The Cuban people’s morale is extremely high and the people will confront aggression heroically.

I would like to briefly express my own personal opinion. If the second variant takes place and the imperialists invade Cuba with the aim of occupying it, the dangers of their aggressive policy are so great that after such an invasion the Soviet Union must never allow circumstances in which the imperialists could carry out a nuclear first strike against it.

I tell you this because I believe that the imperialists’ aggressiveness makes them extremely dangerous, and that if they manage to carry out an invasion of Cuba–a brutal act in violation of universal and moral law–then that would be the moment to eliminate this danger forever, in an act of the most legitimate self-defense. However harsh and terrible the solution, there would be no other.

Khrushchev responded, in a second round of letters with Castro that:

In your cable of October 27 you proposed that we be the first to carry out a nuclear strike against the enemy’s territory. Naturally you understand where that would lead us. It would not be a simple strike, but the start of a thermonuclear world war.

Dear Comrade Fidel Castro, I find your proposal to be wrong, even though I understand your reasons.

… As far as Cuba is concerned, it would be difficult to say even in general terms what this would have meant for them. In the first place, Cuba would have been burned in the fire of war….

Now, as a result of the measures taken, we reached the goal sought when we agreed with you to send the missiles to Cuba. We have wrested from the United States the commitment not to invade Cuba and not to permit their Latin American allies to do so. We have we wrested all this from them without a nuclear strike.

We consider that we must take advantage of all the possibilities to defend Cuba, strengthen its independence and sovereignty, defeat military aggression and prevent a nuclear world war in our time. And we have accomplished that.

Of course, we made concessions, accepted a commitment, action according to the principle that a concession on one side is answered by a concession on the other side. The United States also made a concession. It made the commitment before all the world not to attack Cuba.

That’s why when we compare aggression on the part of the United States and thermonuclear war with the commitment of a concession in exchange for concession, the upholding of the inviolability of the Republic of Cuba and the prevention of a world war, I think that the total outcome of this reckoning, of this comparison, is perfectly clear.

Castro then responded:

I realized when I wrote them that the words contained in my letter could be misinterpreted by you and that was what happened, perhaps because you didn’t read them carefully, perhaps because of the translation, perhaps because I meant to say so much in too few lines. However, I didn’t hesitate to do it…

We knew, and do not presume that we ignored it, that we would have been annihilated, as you insinuate in your letter, in the event of nuclear war. However, that didn’t prompt us to ask you to withdraw the missiles, that didn’t prompt us to ask you to yield. Do you believe that we wanted that war? But how could we prevent it if the invasion finally took place? The fact is that this event was possible, that imperialism was obstructing every solution and that its demands were, from our point of view, impossible for the USSR and Cuba to accept.

And if war had broken out, what could we do with the insane people who unleashed the war? You yourself have said that under current conditions such a war would inevitably have escalated quickly into a nuclear war. I understand that once aggression is unleashed, one shouldn’t concede to the aggressor the privilege of deciding, moreover, when to use nuclear weapons. The destructive power of this weaponry is so great and the speed of its delivery so great that the aggressor would have a considerable initial advantage.

And I did not suggest to you, Comrade Khrushchev, that the USSR should be the aggressor, because that would be more than incorrect, it would be immoral and contemptible on my part. But from the instant the imperialists attack Cuba and while there are Soviet armed forces stationed in Cuba to help in our defense in case of an attack from abroad, the imperialists would by this act become aggressors against Cuba and against the USSR, and we would respond with a strike that would annihilate them.

Everyone has his own opinions and I maintain mine about the dangerousness of the aggressive circles in the Pentagon and their preference for a preventive strike. I did not suggest, Comrade Khrushchev, that in the midst of this crisis the Soviet Union should attack, which is what your letter seems to say; rather, that following an imperialist attack, the USSR should act without vacillation and should never make the mistake of allowing circumstances to develop in which the enemy makes the first nuclear strike against the USSR. And in this sense, Comrade Khrushchev, I maintain my point of view, because I understand it to be a true and just evaluation of a specific situation. You may be able to convince me that I am wrong, but you can’t tell me that I am wrong without convincing me.

Fidel Castro’s exchange of letters with Khrushchev assumes that given the forces in play and in motion – 300,000 Cuban combatants with 40,000 Soviet military personnel, the bulk in mechanized combat brigades, on the ground in Cuba on one side, confronting a US invasion force projected to quickly reach hundreds of thousands, all coming head-to-head while massive US air strikes and countering Cuban-Soviet anti-aircraft fire are unleashed, with enormous naval forces, many armed with nuclear weapons, including torpedoes in combat action – that the US invasion, which he considered inevitable and imminent, would inexorably go nuclear. Following this undoubtedly correct assumption, Fidel Castro’s logic and formulations in his initial letters became necessarily more abstract and algebraic. He presents, in the rush and incredible heat and speed of events, a post-invasion scenario where Soviet forces could strike, in a limited “tactical” use (although those terms are not specifically used), the US forces before the US could strike the Soviet forces. The same technical, military logic of “pre-emption” would, of course, dominate the US side which had a clear superiority in both quantity and quality of nuclear weapons deliverance at that point, the full extent of which the Cuban leadership was not likely aware of the extent of.

The M.A.D. doctrine was based on each side’s nuclear arsenal countermanding the others. The seemingly absurd stockpiling of nuclear warheads and delivery system locations had the “rational” kernel of logic that after a “first strike” or pre-emptive launch of warheads the “other side” would still have enough of an atomic arsenal left to deliver a crushing response. The idea, developed by “Dr. Strangelove” US theorists like Herman Kahn, and accepted by their Soviet equivalents, was to build up and protect a “second strike” capacity in order to obviate a “first strike.” Of course, Washington continued – and continues to this day – to develop a “decisive” first-strike capability, largely through anti-ballistic and “Star Wars” systems to intercept and eliminate the other sides “second strike” (or first, or any strike) giving the US a credible “first strike.”

The fact of a US invasion – that is, its actual occurrence – of Cuba would have set in motion a dynamic that would have rendered moot, useless, and even ridiculous the question of who would “fire” the “first” nuclear weapon, if that could even be determined after the event (if indeed the word after would have any content). Dozens and dozens of ships, planes, and launch sites on the ground, under the control of dozens and dozens of military officers subject to “orders” in what would have been  unimaginable chaos and breakdown inevitable in the first nuclear exchange in world history. Would anyone have even known who struck first? The key point – the only determinant fact – in whether nuclear holocaust would be unleashed to an unknown degree was whether the US would invade Cuba.

New Facts

What is now known about the Missile Crisis is that a situation existed where, at the height of the confrontation, from October 25-28, literally dozens and dozens of military officers well below the executive political “decision makers” in a theoretical chain of command, on both the Soviet and US side, had the capacity and even the authority to push the nuclear button and pull the nuclear trigger.

We certainly know this to be true in the first-hand accounts by Soviet and US military officers and personnel on the ground, on the oceans, and in the air that have become public and from “classified” government documents on both sides.6

The author Michael Dobbs in an October 18, 2012 New York Times op-ed piece (“The Price of a 50-Year Old Myth”) wrote:

While the risk of war in October 1962 was very high (Kennedy estimated it variously at between 1 in 5 and 1 in 2), it was not caused by a clash of wills. The real dangers arose from “the fog of war.” As the two superpowers geared up for a nuclear war, the chances of something going terribly wrong increased exponentially…By Saturday, October 27, the two leaders were no longer in full control of their gigantic military machines, which were moving forward under their own momentum. Soviet troops on Cuba targeted Guantánamo with tactical nuclear weapons and shot down an American U-2 spy plane. Another U-2, on a “routine” air sampling mission to the North Pole, got lost over the Soviet Union. The Soviets sent MiG fighters into the air to try to shoot down the American intruder, and in response, Alaska Air Defense Command scrambled F-102 interceptors armed with tactical nuclear missiles. In the Caribbean, a frazzled Soviet submarine commander was dissuaded by his subordinates from using his nuclear torpedo against American destroyers that were trying to force him to the surface.

In his Guardian piece cited above Noam Chomsky, referring to the October 26, 1962 letter of Fidel Castro, writes:

As this was happening and Washington was debating and Kennedy was poised to decide on a US invasion, Fidel Castro wrote a letter to Nikita Khrushchev which has been interpreted, over Castro’s sharp objection, as advocating a Soviet nuclear attack – a so-called ‘first strike’ against US territory if the US invasion were to actually occur. Khrushchev himself took the necessarily and purposely algebraic and highly cautious words of Castro as such a call, and used Castro’s wording as practically a cover to carry out the retreat and concessions to Kennedy that diffused the crisis and reverse the momentum towards purposeful or accidental nuclear exchanges.

An Extraordinary Gathering

The special January 24-26, 1968 meeting of the PCC Central Committee meeting where Fidel Castro gave his extraordinary speech was in no way fortuitous. It took place at what was perhaps the nadir of the downward spiral of Cuban-Soviet relations set in motion by the October Crisis of 1962. It was held just 107 days after the death of Ernesto Che Guevara and the defeat of his guerrilla forces based in Bolivia.

This on-the-ground fact was a real blow to the Cuban revolutionaries and the perspective of building a continental revolutionary army to take on and overturn the military regimes backed by the ruling oligarchies. These regimes of the Latin American ruling classes were themselves allied with, dependent on, and conjoined with the dominant US power in the Hemisphere. This new objective reality necessarily raised many challenges in the development and direction of Cuba’s revolutionary foreign policy.

Fidel Castro and the Cuban leadership placed an important part of the responsibility for the defeat of Che’s guerrilla on the top leadership of the Bolivian Communist Party which supported the program and perspective of the Soviet leadership in Latin America and opposed the armed-struggle campaign under Che Guevara’s leadership in Bolivia (which was seen as the initial base for a multi-front continental revolutionary movement against the military dictatorships and oligarchies) reneging on previously given commitments. The Cuban revolutionary line in Latin America was opposed – with varying degrees of vehemence – by virtually all of the Latin American Communist Parties that looked to the Soviet Union for political direction and orientation. What the Cuban revolutionary leadership considered betrayal in Bolivia, disrupted and undermined the formation and development of urban resistance forces crucial to supplement the rural-based guerrilla struggle under Che’s command, leaving the guerrillas exposed, vulnerable, and politically isolated.7

The Escalante Affair

Prior to Fidel Castro’s speech, the Central Committee gathering had heard an extensive presentation by Raul Castro, then Chairman of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the President of the Cuban Council of State since 2006. The report was a damning indictment of a secret faction inside the PCC led by Anibal Escalante. Escalante’s faction, which was composed of former leaders, like himself, and cadres of the Popular Socialist Party (PSP).((In 1968 the Cuban publisher Instituto Del Libro, Ediciones Politicas, printed a 160-page book, “Information from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba on Microfaction Activities,”which includes Raul Castro’s report and other important documents. It is an exceedingly important document, which illuminates that historical and political period and gives great insight into the caliber and character of the Cuban revolutionary leadership.)) Before the Revolution the PSP, which had a base in the industrial working class and trade unions, was connected to the dominant currents in the “world Communist movement” and Latin American Communist Parties that looked to the Soviet Union for political direction and program.8

The PSP initially opposed the July 26th Movement (M-26-J) led by Fidel Castro, but by early 1958 they had endorsed the anti-Batista struggle and M-26-J leadership. Joint political and military collaboration was carried out in the last period before the revolutionary triumph. Over the next few years the majority of PSP cadres were successfully integrated into what became the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in 1965. In 1962 Escalante, who had been the top functionary of the Integrated Revolutionary Organization, an initial formation bringing together the currents supporting the Revolution, had come under fierce public criticism by Fidel Castro for “sectarianism” and “bureaucratism” in March 1962.

Soviet-Cuban tensions escalated in this mid-1960s period, although never to the point of a public break. Nevertheless, sharp, concrete political and theoretical differences were registered between the Soviet and Cuban leaderships in this period over the US escalation in Vietnam and serious political divergence in Latin America. In several speeches in 1966 and 1967 Fidel Castro publicly excoriated the Soviet government for its economic and political relations with Latin American repressive and reactionary regimes.

The betrayal and execution of Che in 1967 sharpened the existing tensions and was followed by the Escalante intrigue and covert plotting against the revolutionary government. In terms of the economic relations and exchange between Cuba and the Soviet Union during these clashes, there was limited but noticeable Soviet measures affecting the struggling Cuban economy which was being whipped by the US economic blockade, particularly in the Americas. In this period, the first decade of the Cuban Revolution, Cuba struggled with diplomatic isolation in the Western Hemisphere under US pressure, with only Canada and Mexico maintaining formal diplomatic ties.

In the decade following Che’s defeat in Bolivia, all other allied Latin American guerrilla movements into the early 1970s had been crushed, most notably Argentina and Uruguay. At the same time there was a revival of mass urban and rural working-class and popular struggles in a number of Latin American countries, including Bolivia, which pushed open some democratic and political space, including for revolutionaries. In Chile, in 1970, in a byproduct of mounting class and popular struggles, the Popular Unity electoral coalition by two mass workers parties, the Socialist Party and Communist Party, won a plurality of the vote and Salvador Allende, head of the Socialist Party became President. Diplomatic relations were soon reestablished between Chile and Cuba.

The September 11, 1973 US-backed bloody military coup against the Popular Unity government pulverized all democratic rights and political space for many years and was extended by the mid-1970s as military rule was consolidated in Argentina (1976) and in Uruguay after 1973.

Aftermath

The Cuban Missile Crisis was hugely traumatic in world public opinion. Its resolution led to increased propaganda for “peace” and “reconciliation” in both Moscow and Washington, with accompanying worldwide diplomatic maneuvering. This culminated in the actual signing by the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (formally the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, which was strongly welcomed in world public opinion when it went into effect in October 1963, one year to the month from the political drama and trauma of the Missile Crisis. (The treaty did not ban “underground” nuclear tests which could also lead to radioactive releases into the atmosphere as well ground water.  The treaty put no limits on the production of nuclear warheads and their fitting onto missiles.) All of this took place as Washington steadily and sharply escalated its military intervention and aggression in Vietnam.

John Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963 and Nikita Khrushchev’s leadership in the Soviet Communist Party and Soviet state came to an ignominious end in October 1964 as he was pensioned off and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev and Alexi Kosygin. The new Lyndon Johnson White House abided by Kennedy’s verbal “pledge” and invasion plans were put in mothballs, although covert action, terrorism, and containment continued. Primary focus and attention shifted to Indochina where Johnson maintained continuity with Kennedy’s intervention and deepened it.

Formal and definite improvements in Cuba’s relations with the Soviet Union began after 1968 (despite tensions over the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and other questions), particularly in economic exchange, through the 1970s and 1980s until the soviet government collapsed in 1991, setting off a huge economic depression and crisis in Cuba. In this period fundamental contradictions and sharp policy differences emerged over Soviet policies in Africa, military tactics in Angola, and the soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which Cuba opposed.

The immediate threat of US-Soviet nuclear exchange and war receded on October 28, 1962 with the announcement that Soviet ships had stopped advancing and that Soviet missiles would be withdrawn. But for Cuba the crisis and the pressure intensified.

Not even two weeks after the supposed resolution of the crisis the world’s “sigh of relief, 400 Cuban workers were killed when a Cuban exile counter-revolutionary sabotage team, dispatched from the US, blew up a Cuban industrial facility. Right up until his assassination Kennedy was approving terrorist attacks against Cuba. US intervention by proxy never stopped and became systematic. US armed and trained counter-revolutionaries were finally defeated in the Escambray mountains in central Cuba in a campaign from 1963-65.

After a pause and renewal in the late 1960s, Cuba’s revolutionary internationalist foreign policy – in the spirit of Che – reached glorious new internationalist achievements in southern Africa after the great acceleration of events ushered in after the overturn of the hollowed-out Salazarist dictatorship in Portugal in 1974 and the final collapse of the Portuguese Empire in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bassau, and the Cape Verde Islands. Cuban troops stopped the apartheid South African invasion at the gates of the capital Luanda in November 1975 aiming to topple the newly independent Angolan government. Cuba’s revolutionary action and solidarity over the next nearly two decades was decisive in defending the independence of Angola, winning the independence of Namibia, and in the retreat and unraveling of the South African apartheid state.9

Fidel’s Last Thoughts

On October 22, 2012 Fidel Castro addressed the Missile Crisis on its 50th Anniversary:

A few days ago, very close to the 50th anniversary of the October Crisis, news agencies pointed to three guilty parties: Kennedy, having recently become the leader of the empire, Khrushchev and Castro. Cuba did not have anything to do with nuclear weapons, nor with the unnecessary slaughter of Hiroshima and Nagasaki perpetrated by the president of the United States, Harry S. Truman, thus establishing the tyranny of nuclear weapons. Cuba was defending its right to independence and social justice.

When we accepted Soviet aid in weapons, oil, foodstuffs and other resources, it was to defend ourselves from yanqui plans to invade our homeland, subjected to a dirty and bloody war which that capitalist country imposed on us from the very first months, which left thousands of Cubans dead and maimed.

When Khrushchev proposed the installation here of medium range missiles similar to those the United States had in Turkey – far closer to the USSR than Cuba to the United States – as a solidarity necessity, Cuba did not hesitate to agree to such a risk. Our conduct was ethically irreproachable. We will never apologize to anyone for what we did. The fact is that half a century has gone by, and here we still are with our heads held high.

  1. In a public statement on October 28, presenting the five points, Fidel Castro said, “With relation to the pronouncement made by the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, in a letter sent to the premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, to the effect that the United States would agree, after the establishment of adequate arrangements through the United Nations, to eliminate the measures of blockade in existence and give guarantees against any invasion of Cuba, and in relation to the decision announced by Premier Khrushchev of withdrawing the installation of arms of strategic defense from Cuba territory, the revolutionary government of Cuba declares that the guarantees of which President Kennedy speaks–that there will be no aggression against Cuba–will not exist unless, in addition to the elimination of the naval blockade he promises, the following measures among others are to be adopted: 1) Cessation of the economic blockade and all the measures of commercial and economic pressure which the United States exercises in all parts of the world against our country; 2) Cessation of all subversive activities, launching and landing of arms and explosives by air and sea, the organization of mercenary invasions, infiltration of spies and saboteurs, all of which actions are carried out from the territory of the United States and some other accomplice countries; 3) Cessation of the pirate attacks which are being carried out from bases existing in the United States and Puerto Rico; 4) Cessation of all the violations of our air and naval space by North American war planes and ships; and 5) Withdrawal of naval base of Guantanamo and the return of the Cuban territory by the United States.”.
  2. The private owners of nationalized foreign enterprises in Cuba, with their governments, negotiated satisfactory compensation with the revolutionary Cuban government, in accordance with international law. The US government, at the time, was already planning and organizing for the overthrow of the “Castro” government and was therefore in contemptuous rejection of any negotiations for compensation to US owners of Cuban assets being nationalized. This was a large swath of the Cuban economy, which was dominated by US capital.
  3. In the 1960 Presidential election, the liberal Democrat John Kennedy shamelessly promoted as an important campaign issue a supposed “missile gap” – in the Soviet Union’s favor – between Washington and Moscow, a conscious fabrication. Kennedy also postured to the right of his Republican opponent, Eisenhower’s Vice-President Richard Nixon, on “getting tough with Castro.” On this, Nixon had the disadvantage, as Kennedy was no doubt aware, of being unable to publicly tout the Eisenhower White House’s already advanced plans for the mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs, which Kennedy carried out three months after his Inauguration.
  4. Cited in October 1962 The ‘Missile’ Crisis As Seen From Cuba by Tomas Diez Acosta, Pathfinder Press.
  5. The entire speech, previously unpublished in any public medium, was printed in 2002 with an official Cuban Council of State English translation, in the book Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba’s Struggle with the Superpowers after the Missile Crisis by James Blight and Philip Brenner published by Bowman and Littlefield Publishers.
  6. See Noam Chomsky’s “Cuban Missile Crisis: How the US Played Russian Roulette with Nuclear War” in the October 15 Guardian newspaper, which cites several harrowing moments of near disaster.
  7. See Fidel Castro’s “A Necessary Introduction” in Bolivian Diary by Ernesto Che Guevara, Pathfinder Press, 1994 for Fidel’s description of the factor of betrayal in the defeat of Che’s guerrilla forces.
  8. Some thirty-five members of the so-called “microfaction” were expelled from the PCC and received prison sentences from two to fifteen years. The most serious charges involved secret activity aimed at forging ties between the “microfaction” and government officials and Communist Party leaders in the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and Czechoslovakia in their common opposition to the revolutionary line of the PCC, and the large majority of PCC members, in Latin America and on Cuba’s domestic and foreign policies in general. This went as far as to urge Soviet economic pressure on Cuba, for which they were charged with treason. Escalante’s grouping never argued for their political positions openly within the structures and procedures of the PCC, which was their right. In their secret functioning inside Cuba and intrigues with Soviet and Eastern European officials and diplomats, the portrayed Che Guevara as a “Trotskyite adventurer” and the Castro leadership as “petty bourgeois elements” that seized control of the Revolution and who held the working class in contempt. Moreover, the Cuban revolutionary leadership was “anti-Soviet”and did not support Soviet “hegemony.”
  9. See the amazing history of Cuba’s internationalist foreign policies in Africa and southern Africa in the two volumes of the great scholar Piero Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions and Visions of Freedom, University of North Carolina Press.