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This is our first year without Fidel. At least the first 365-day cycle that will end in November, without the physical presence of the historic leader of the Revolution – without a piece of advice or timely warning, like that he offered in the 7th Party Congress on the super-human effort required to govern any people in times of crisis.
But Fidel leaves us a guiding body of thought, a way of understanding the world through his ideas, which will never lose their relevance. Just as philosophers continue to read Aristotle, revolutionaries of today and tomorrow will reach for the guerilla of the Sierra Maestra, for the statesman who put a small Caribbean archipelago on the map.
Dispersed among thousands of speeches, reflections, and interviews, there are answers to some of the questions we ask ourselves in 2017. They are also questions that remain unanswered in a society that prefers ignorance: How can we feed millions of people without access to water or basic natural resources? What can be done to close the ever-increasing gap between developed and poor nations? Who will pay for environmental destruction? What use are nuclear weapons in a world ravaged by poverty and hunger?
We share with our readers some of the Comandante en Jefe’s reflections and ideas on issues which impact the world today.
THE THREAT OF MILITARISM
Fidel is a symbol of revolutionary struggle, but he always called for attention to the “historic moment” and respect for conditions in a given country. If the use of arms is justified in Fidel’s thinking – with the strict adherence to ethical principles and against oppression – militarism and the threats to world peace of great powers were a constant source of concern for him.
Fidel faced threats of all types over more than half a century of confrontation with the greatest military power in history, located just 90 miles away from our shores. His experience in this field is vast.
In his last public speech during the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, held last year, he addressed this issue: “Perhaps, the greatest danger closing in on the globe is the destructive power of modern weaponry, which obstructs peace on the planet and could make human life on the earth’s surface impossible.”
As a statesman of universal dimensions, Fidel explained to Cubans the origin and consequences of dozens of armed conflicts and social struggles that occurred around the world during recent decades.
Instability on the Korean Peninsula, which is once again filling headlines, was addressed in a reflection of Fidel’s, written in April of 2013 and entitled “The duty to avoid war in Korea.”
He criticized “the seriousness of such an incredible and absurd act like the situation created in the Korean Peninsula, in a geographical area where almost five of the seven billion persons on the planet live at this time.
“This is one of the most serious threats of nuclear war since the October Crisis of 1962 around Cuba, 50 years ago. In the Korean Peninsula, General Douglas MacArthur wanted to use atomic weapons against the Democratic Republic of Korea. Not even Harry Truman would allow it,” he added.
“As has been stated, the People’s Republic of China lost a million valiant soldiers to stop an enemy army from installing itself along the border with its homeland. The USSR, for its part, supplied arms, aerial support, and technological and economic aid.
“If a war were to break out there, the people in both parts of the peninsula will be terribly sacrificed, to the benefit of neither one of them. The Democratic Republic of Korea has always been friendly toward Cuba, as Cuba has always been, and will be, with her.”
Regarding Syria, another conflict that has continued for more than five years as a result of the intervention of western powers supporting armed groups, the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution foresaw the endurance of this Arab people.
“This is not simply about the cruise missiles pointed toward Syrian military targets, but rather the fact that this brave Arab country, located amidst a billion Muslims, whose fighting spirit is proverbial, has declared that it will resist any attack on the country until the last breath,” he wrote in a reflection called, “The costly lie” of August, 2013.
“Everyone knows that Bashar al Assad was not a politician. He studied medicine. He graduated in 1988 and specialized in ophthalmology. He took on a political role when his father, Hafez al Assad, died in 2000 and after the accidental death of a brother, before taking on that task,” he said, referring to the Syrian leader who has weathered western attacks.
CUBA-UNITED STATES RELATIONS
“Was Fidel Castro an obstacle to the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba?” asked Cuban researcher and historian Elier Ramírez Cañedo, in a recent article. The question is related to the myth promoted by the right wing intelligentsia to blame Cuba for the continuing existence of the blockade.
His answer was categorical: no. In the article, he quotes a recent book by former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari revealing the role he and Gabriel García Márquez played as mediators between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Fidel.
The book contains a letter – previously unpublished – from Fidel to Salinas, dated September 22, 1994.
The mediation of Salinas and Gabo bore fruit, and the two countries sat down to negotiate a solution to the migratory crisis of 1994 and an agreement was signed. Fidel made clear that the negotiation and establishment of a relationship was needed, to resolve other issues between the United States and Cuba, which were the real cause of the migratory crisis.
Over these months, and those that followed, Clinton’s verbal commitment to discuss other issues never materialized.
Nevertheless, as the letter to Salinas demonstrated, the leader of the Cuban Revolution maintained his longstanding position in favor of negotiation and dialogue with the United States, and if possible, moving toward the normalization of relations between the two countries, on the basis of absolute respect for Cuba’s sovereignty.
“The normalization of relations between the two countries is the only alternative; a naval blockade will not resolve anything, nor will an atomic bomb, to speak figuratively. Making our country explode, as has been attempted and is still being attempted, does not benefit the interests of the United States in any way. This would only make it ungovernable for a 100 years, and the struggle would never end. Only a Revolution can make progress and the future viable for this country,” Fidel wrote in his message to Salinas.
This past June 16, the new U.S. President, Donald Trump, announced a change in the country’s policy toward Cuba and measures to reinforce the blockade. Thus he aligned himself with the interests of an anti-Cuban minority in Florida, and distanced himself from the line taken by his Democratic predecessor, seeking to improve relations between the two countries.
Half a century ago, January 1, 1961, the Eisenhower administration broke relations with Cuba and took steps that would lead to the blockade, which has been maintained to this day.
January 20, 1961, before a crowd of militia members returning from the fight to meet in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, Fidel addressed the future of ties with the northern neighbor.
“The President has just taken office,” Fidel said referring to John F. Kennedy, “He spoke of a new beginning. Good. For our part, we also say: We’re going to start over. Our attitude will be one of waiting, waiting for actions, because actions are always more eloquent than words. Our attitude will not be one of resentment. Our attitude is not, and never will be, one of fear; we do not fear absolutely anything. Our attitude will always be a disinterested attitude; we will never expect absolutely anything from imperialism! Our attitude will be the attitude of all other governments and peoples of the world: an attitude of waiting for action; no unwarranted attacks will be launched on our part; we will take no hostile action gratuitously.
“We do not expect any favors from Washington, or any economic aid,” he continued.
“We know and have learned that any endeavor we propose for ourselves, we can take on; we know that for our people nothing is impossible; we know our people are capable of taking on the most extraordinary goals; thus we are confident in ourselves, and we expect everything from ourselves.”
In March of 2016, after President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba, Fidel used practically the same words in his article entitled Brother Obama, saying, “No one should have any illusions that the people of this honorable and self-sacrificing country will renounce the glory, the rights, or the spiritual wealth which they have achieved with the development of education, science, and culture.
“I also forewarn that we are capable of producing all the food and the material wealth we need with the effort and intelligence of our people. We don’t need the empire to give us absolutely anything.
“Our efforts will be legal and peaceful, because we are committed to peace and the fraternity of all human beings living on this planet.”
WALLS AND MIGRATION
“I do not believe that it is an example for the world, that it is a good example, in my opinion, that a wall be built between Latin America and the United States, there on the border with Mexico, where Mexicans attempt to cross over from part of their territory to the part of their territory taken from them one hundred and some years ago, in that famous war, which we know was a war of expansion.”
This statement of Fidel’s is not about Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the southern U.S. border, but rather goes back some 20 years to a speech given during a solidarity event for the 4th U.S-Cuba Friendship Caravan, held September 19, 1996, at Havana’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.
“The wall they want to build is really 300 times bigger than that in Berlin, more sophisticated, and everyday people die there trying to get over this wall.
“Everyday there are more means and more technique in this wall, while poverty, unemployment, and misery grow in all of the rest of Latin America. These are the situations that drive emigration. They become economic emigrants, they are people who have no way to resolve their problems, and they emigrate,” Fidel concluded.
THE BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION
The 1999 Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chávez opened a new chapter in the history of Latin America. Beyond the unquestionable impact of the Bolivarian Comandante on the international level, his relationship with Fidel became one of father and son.
After the death of Chávez in March of 2013, Fidel called him “The best friend the Cuban people have had,” in recognition of the solidarity he showed under all circumstances.
“We have the honor of sharing with the Bolivarian leader the same ideals of social justice and support of the exploited. The poor are the poor in any part of the world,” he added.
In innumerable other texts, the leader of the Cuban Revolution refers to threats made against Bolivarian Venezuela. Today with the new right wing offensive against the government of Nicolás Maduro, Fidel’s statements and fears are confirmed.
“A great battle has been unleashed in Venezuela. Internal and external enemies of the Revolution prefer chaos, as Chávez states, as opposed to the just, ordered, peaceful development of the country,” he said in his reflection entitled “The brilliance of Chávez,” in January of 2012.
“Promoting a profound Revolution is no easy task in Venezuela, a country with a glorious history, but enormously rich in resources of vital necessity to imperialist powers, which have set and still set guidelines for the world,” he wrote.
“Given its extraordinary educational, cultural, and social development, and its vast natural and energy resources, Venezuela is called upon to become a revolutionary model for the world,” he added in another text, “The two Venezuelas,” published in October of 2011.
In a message to President Nicolás Maduro in March of 2015, Fidel noted that he had been able to “observe the attitude not only of the heroic people of Bolívar and Chávez, but also a special feature: the exemplary discipline and spirit of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces.
“Whatever U.S. imperialism may do, it will never be able to count on them to do what they did for so many years. Venezuela today has the best equipped soldiers and officers in Latin America. When you met with officers recently, one could note that they were ready to give even their last drop of blood for the homeland.”
THE LEFT AND LATIN AMERICAN UNITY
Perhaps one of the Comandante en Jefe’s most important speeches on the future of the left and the importance of unity in Latin America was delivered during the closing session of the fourth meeting of the São Paulo Forum, held in Havana’s International Conference Center, July 24, 1993.
The very creation of the Forum was an idea of his and Brazilian leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, after the collapse of the socialist camp and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The first gathering, held in the Brazilian city which gave the group its name, served to chart a course for the struggle for justice under new conditions, and erase the defeatism that permeated a part of the left at that time.
The conference in Havana took on special value, since it was held in the only country upholding the banner of socialism in the region.
Fidel’s ideas and his call for unity despite differences were a premonition of what would happen years later after the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
“The greatness of Bolívar must be admired, when so early on he proposed the union of the peoples of Latin America, in an era when aviation did not exist, or automobiles, or locomotives, or the telegraph, or the telephone, or radio, or television. Today in a matter of seconds, one can contact anyone from Mexico to
Buenos Aires, and the news is disseminated simultaneously in all parts of the world; today in a matter of hours, one can travel thousands and thousands of kilometers; today there are fabulous means of communication. And Bolívar talked about the necessity of unifying Latin America, when none of this existed. Perhaps it might have been impossible at that time. Later, Martí was one of the most fervent defenders of Latin American unity, 80 years later, in another era, and he proposed it as a vital necessity for our peoples.
“Europe, that spent five centuries warring amongst themselves, would like to have the things that we Latin Americans and Caribbeans have in common. It is however working for integration, working for unity, and knows that it cannot compete with Japan if it does not integrate; it knows it cannot compete with the United States if it does not integrate; it knows it cannot play any role in the world if it does not integrate.
“How can we do less ourselves, and how can the left in Latin America do less that create consciousness in favor of unity? This must be inscribed on the banners of the left. With or without socialism. Those who think socialism is a possibility and want to struggle for socialism, but also those who do not conceive of socialism, even in capitalist countries, we have no future without unity, without integration.”
THE ENVIRONMENT AND SURVIVAL OF THE SPECIES
The decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement made by the White House comes at a time when scientists are making an increasingly urgent call to recognize the impact of human activity on the climate. Adopted by 159 countries in December of 2015, the agreement has as its objective the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.
It specifically seeks to keep the increase in world temperatures below two degrees Celsius, as compared to pre-industrial era levels, while continuing to adopt measures to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees.
The departure of the United States, one of the world’s biggest polluters, puts the achievement of this objective at risk.
In a reflection written in January of 2011, entitled, “It’s time to do something now,” Fidel addressed the cynicism of great powers, writing, “At this time, humanity is confronting serious, unprecedented problems.
“The worst is that solutions will depend, in large part, on the richest developed countries, which will reach a situation that they are truly not in a position to confront without the destruction of the world, that they have been attempting to shape to favor their selfish interests, and inevitably leads to disaster,” the leader of the Cuban Revolution wrote.
“I refer to the food crisis caused by economic acts and climate changes that are already apparently irreversible as a consequence of human activity, but which, in any event, human minds are obliged to confront hastily.
“For years, which in reality was time lost, the issue has been discussed. But the greatest emitter of contaminating gases, the United States, regularly refuses to take world opinion into account.
It was also Fidel who in Río de Janeiro, in 1992, stated, “An important biological species is in danger of disappearing as a result of the rapid, progressive deterioration of its natural conditions: man.”
This warning, 25 years later in 2017, is more relevant that ever.
Sergio Alejandro Gómez writes for Granma.
This article originally appeared in Granma International.