FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

A Modest Proposal: President Obama, While in Cuba, Check in on Julio Antonio Mella

Mr. President, please think about this: pay your respects to Julio Antonio Mella. Your doing so would be a courtesy to President Raul Castro, your host. Julio Antonio was a founder of the Cuban Communist Party and at the time was a mere student. In Cuba, he is a hero. And his birthday, March 25, coincides with your visit, almost.

I am assuming you and your advisors want to know all you can about the political orientation of leaders in places you visit. Julio Antonio contributed greatly to the outlook of Cuba’s leaders now, so let me explain.

Mella’s political activity in the 1920s became a reference point for rebellion in Cuba well into the 1930s. He is the symbolic link between revolutionaries led by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and José Martí in the 19th century and those who’ve guided Cuba since January 1, 1959. Mella adapted the teachings of José Martí to the 20th century and beyond. He emphasized the revolutionary potential of working people and those who’ve been left out.

Mella thus shows us that the course of revolution in Cuba has been long. Many of our compatriots mistakenly think that the Cuban revolution only began about the time your host was a young man.

A look at Mella and what he did might enable North Americans like us to get rid of another fixed idea, the one about all communist parties being alike — that they copy the Soviet party led by Stalin. You undoubtedly know that the Cuban Communist Party has gone its own way, having been re-founded in 1965 and being well known for its pragmatism. The politically independent Julio Antonio Mella had something to do with that.

I would point out also that Mella was representative of Latin American communists whose ideas often differed from those of their European and U. S. counterparts. That’s the opinion of former Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, whose list of such ideas includes:

“True personal bond with the struggle of the masses; Recapture of the indigenous and campesinos’ cause; Independent and creative ideology; Rescue of Marti’s ideology; Fusion of the Agrarian Reform and Social Revolution; Real incorporation of the revolutionary students’ movement; … and Relationship between national liberation and social emancipation.” Mr. President, you’ll realize that this last one is about us.

What I am saying, Mr. President, is that Julio Antonio Mella is someone you would do well to look up when you are in Cuba. Yes, he did die in Mexico in 1929 when he was 25 years old, killed by thugs obeying the Cuban dictator Machado. But even so he may still be around.

Mr. Alarcon recalled that, “One generation after another, meetings of the University Student Federation began by taking a roll call. When the name Julio Antonio was called out, the unanimous response given by those present was never rhetorical but represented a simple truth felt by all.”

A firsthand impression of the devotion Cuban young people and workers had for Mella may serve to show why he is remembered even now. The revolutionary journalist Pablo de la Torriente Brau was describing a procession September 18, 1933, in Havana.(1) The dictator Machado had been deposed and students were carrying Mella’s ashes, returned from Mexico, to a final resting place.

“The shouts of the immense, tumultuous crowd stir the air. Red flags wave, and there are revolutionary songs.” This was for Mella, the “precursor, hero, and martyr who knew how to insult the slobbering, senile monster Machado with word and action. This incomparable dynamo of human energy, with his iron profile, is today our symbol, the symbol of ardent youth striding toward the future. His simple name [is] united by a pool of blood to a universal idea, that of sacrifice for the ‘poor of the world.’”

Pablo sees someone in uniform looking on: “The insolent Marine, one of the Yankees whom Mella had fought against so forcefully, was astonished.”

He recalls Mella’s modification of “a fearsome phrase of St. Just, comrade of Robespierre [in the French Revolution], which says: There’s no rest for the revolutionary other than the tomb. But Mella pointed out that, “Revolutionaries are useful even after death; our body serves as a trench for combat for those who follow.”

Mr. President, allow me to put off for another day the whole story of Julio Antonio Mella. I only suggest that you and he could be friends. You have things in common.

You each had parents from another country and as young children you each went to schools in different countries. Julio Antonio’s father had roots in the Dominican Republic, and his mother was born in Ireland. He attended school in New Orleans, and of course in Cuba.

However, you have another link that Julio Antonio would not appreciate. Calvin Coolidge preceded you in 1928 as a U.S. president who visited Cuba while in office. He arrived in a battleship – a little excessive, don’t you think? – and hobnobbed with the dictator Machado, who promised that in his Cuba no strike would last more than 24 hours. You’ll remember that Machado was the one who had Mella killed. Mella’s friend Rubén Martínez Villena called him a “jackass with claws.”

And here’s a connection involving Mella himself. Mr. Coolidge grew up in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, and is buried in a cemetery there. Well – wouldn’t you know? – Julio Antonio’s own mother Cecilia McParland is buried in the East Clarendon, Vermont, Cemetery, just down the road. And I myself grew up in that state, a bit farther away.

So it turns out to be a small world. And that’s why you are surely doing the right thing stopping by in Cuba – if I may say so.

Note.

1 Pablo’s article appeared in “Linea,” a student publication. It is included in “The Journalist Pablo” (“El Periodista Pablo”), selection, notes and prologue by Victor Caseus, Letras Cubanas, Havana, 1898, pp.150-153.

More articles by:

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 25, 2019
Rannie Amiri
Instigators of a Persian Gulf Crisis
Patrick Cockburn
Trump May Already be in Too Deep to Avoid War With Iran
Paul Tritschler
Hopeful Things
John Feffer
Deep Fakes: Will AI Swing the 2020 Election?
Binoy Kampmark
Bill Clinton in Kosovo
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Japanese Conjuncture
Edward Hunt
Is Mexico Winding Down or Winding up the Drug War?
Manuel E. Yepe
Trump’s Return to Full-Spectrum Dominance
Steve Kelly
Greed and Politics Should Not Drive Forest Policy
Stephen Carpa
Protecting the Great Burn
Colin Todhunter
‘Modified’: A Film About GMOs and the Corruption of the Food Supply for Profit
Martin Billheimer
The Gothic and the Idea of a ‘Real Elite’
Elliot Sperber
Send ICE to Hanford
June 24, 2019
Jim Kavanagh
Eve of Destruction: Iran Strikes Back
Nino Pagliccia
Sorting Out Reality From Fiction About Venezuela
Jeff Sher
Pickin’ and Choosin’ the Winners and Losers of Climate Change
Howard Lisnoff
“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran”
Robert Fisk
The West’s Disgraceful Silence on the Death of Morsi
Dean Baker
The Old Japan Disaster Horror Story
David Mattson
The Gallatin Forest Partnership and the Tyranny of Ego
George Wuerthner
How Mountain Bikes Threaten Wilderness
Christopher Ketcham
The Journalist as Hemorrhoid
Manuel E. Yepe
Yankee Worship of Bombings and Endless Wars
Mel Gurtov
Iran—Who and Where is The Threat?
Wim Laven
Revisiting Morality in the Age of Dishonesty
Thomas Knapp
Facebook’s Libra Isn’t a “Cryptocurrency”
Weekend Edition
June 21, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Brett Wilkins
A Brief History of US Concentration Camps
Rob Urie
Race, Identity and the Political Economy of Hate
Rev. William Alberts
America’s Respectable War Criminals
Paul Street
“So Happy”: The Trump “Boom,” the Nation’s Despair, and the Decline of Joe Biden
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ask Your Local Death Squad
Dr. Vandana Shiva
Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food
Eric Draitser
The Art of Trade War: Is Trump Winning His Trade War against China?
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s Russian Problem
Jonathan Cook
Forget Trump’s Deal of the Century: Israel Was Always on Course to Annexation
Andrew Levine
The Biden Question
Stanley L. Cohen
From Tel Aviv to Tallahassee
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Collapses 70 Years Early
Kenn Orphan
Normalizing Atrocity
Ajamu Baraka
No Dare Call It Austerity
Ron Jacobs
The Redemptive Essence of History
David Rosen
Is Socialism Possible in America?
Dave Lindorff
The US as Rogue Nation Number 1
Joseph Natoli
The Mad King in His Time
David Thorstad
Why I’m Skipping Stonewall 50
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail