During Obama’s historic visit to Cuba on March 20–23, 2016, I was commentating on the event with Cuban colleagues for the Caracas-based TeleSUR television network. On the Cuban side, the event was overshadowed by Cuban diplomacy skillfully led, in a complex situation, by President Raúl Castro and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
From the Obama administration’s perspective, the trip also consisted of diplomacy. However, it was tainted by a heavy dose of speeches and talks that promoted U.S. Cuba policy, which is very self-serving. The resistance in Cuba by Cubans and some foreigners, including myself, to this U.S. cultural, political and ideological assault seemed to have taken a backseat. However, on March 27, only a few days after Obama’s departure from Cuba, Fidel Castro shared his reflections, ironically titled “Brother Obama.” It hit Cuba and the world like a bomb. We will soon analyze it.
Allow me for the moment to share with you my immediate reaction. When I read “Brother Obama,” my first thought was, “Fidel Castro remains the guerrilla he always was.” A guerrilla such as Fidel leading his Sierra Maestra comrades is mobile and waits for the appropriate moment to go on the offensive. In hiding, the revolutionaries allow the enemy to wonder where the July 26 Movement is camped out. Gathering ammunition and forces among the population, the counteroffensive is mapped out and prepared in detail. No stone is left unturned. Not too early, and not a moment too late. However, all of these preparations are worked out in harmony with the people, taking into account their needs and level of preparation, including their strengths and weaknesses.
The key ingredient is also the unwavering courage of the leaders, such as Fidel, who are ready to lay their lives on the line to achieve victory. Fidel the guerrilla leads by example. Taking into account all the above-mentioned ingredients, this is how, among other factors, the July 26 Movement led all the other revolutionary forces in Cuba to the Triumph of the Revolution on January 1, 1959. This watershed in Cuban and Latin American history was carried out against the overwhelmingly superior forces of the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship.
This is the Fidel, the eternal guerrilla, whom I recognized on March 27, 2016, when he wrote “Brother Obama,” using his pen as his arm for a surprise counterattack at the moment it was most needed, in order to respond to the needs of the Cuban resistance to the U.S. offensive. He thus contributed to the depth and expansion of the growing intransigence by the majority of Cubans.
It took enormous daring to challenge the international imperial tide that was seeking to engulf Cuba with the notion of the U.S. as the saviour of Cuba. The Empire immediately threw up its hands in despair and disappointment. They erroneously thought that the U.S. Cuba policy had “wrapped things” up in Cuba and internationally. Thus, once again the U.S. and the Western establishment zeroed in on Fidel as they have done without let-up since the 1950s, but this time as a spoiler in the new situation.
In preparing for this panel for today, I decided to re-read all that Fidel had written since the historic joint announcement by Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama on December 17, 2014. I concentrated on those texts that touched on, even as a secondary theme, foreign affairs and especially Cuba–U.S. relations. There are six such texts. In reading them again, this time with the hindsight of “Brother Obama,” I saw in them as well the guerilla’s firmly stamped mark. This perspective was something that I had not detected at the time of their publications, and is thus the reason for my choice of title for this presentation: “Fidel the Guerrilla in 2015–16 and Beyond.” How and why beyond? We will see. I would like to begin by sharing with you my experience in reviewing these texts.
The first of Fidel’s texts after December 17, 2014 occurred on January 26, 2015, about five weeks later. Fidel sent a message to the Federation of University Students on the occasion of an event commemorating the 70th anniversary of his admission to the University of Havana.
Aside from other issues he addressed, the Cuban leader wrote:
“A personal greeting between the Presidents of Cuba and the United States took place at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, the distinguished, exemplary combatant against apartheid who had become friendly with Obama.
It is enough to indicate that, at that time, several years had passed since Cuban troops had decisively defeated the racist South African army, directed by the wealthy bourgeoisie, which had vast economic resources.”
Out of respect to both Obama and Mandela, Fidel, in his own unique, diplomatic manner, which has become his trademark, reminds the world and Obama not to not forget that it was Cuba’s heroic effort that definitively contributed to the defeat of the apartheid regime, which everyone celebrated at the Mandela funeral. We must also recall that U.S. intelligence forces provided the tip that led to Mandela’s imprisonment.
In that same letter to the students, Fidel wrote the first direct reference to the Cuba–U.S. thaw, as it is often called:
“I do not trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged one word with them, though this does not in any way signify a rejection of a peaceful solution to conflicts or threats of war. Defending peace is the duty of all. Any negotiated, peaceful solution to the problems between the United States and peoples, or any people of Latin America, which does not imply force or the use of force, must be addressed in accordance with international principles and norms.
We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all of the world’s peoples, and with those of our political adversaries. This is what we are demanding for all.
The President of Cuba has taken pertinent steps in accordance with his prerogatives and faculties conceded by the National Assembly and the Communist Party of Cuba.”
Fidel stepped out of his hideaway, as though from a mountain hideout, to provide the very first salvo against illusions about U.S. imperialism. However, this is coupled with the expressed desire for a peaceful solution of the decades of conflict between the two neighbours, which is worth repeating: “I do not trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged one word with them, though this does not in any way signify a rejection of a peaceful solution to conflicts or threats of war.”
There is a dialectic relationship between, on the one hand, not having any faith in U.S. imperialism regarding its permanent long-term objectives, and, on the other hand, the attempt to resolve relations between the two countries in a peaceful manner, as is being done by the Cuban government. Fidel is a master in dialectics. This approach to the currently evolving U.S.–Cuba relationship manifests itself boldly throughout his texts. And it is a crucial approach, as it would be fatal to eclectically place the peaceful diplomatic negotiations on a pedestal, to the detriment of the need for the ongoing ideological and political struggle against the U.S. oligarchy and its media. Since 1959, Fidel and the Cuban Revolution’s opposition to the U.S. has been to the ruling oligarchy, and never to the American people, for whom the island demonstrates a great deal of respect and solidarity.
The second text, on May 8, 2015, was dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War waged by the U.S.S.R. against fascism during World War II. At a time when the U.S. and its allies are hoping to extinguish the flame of the Cuban Revolution’s ideological basis as the key ingredient for making inroads into Cuba’s socialist culture, Fidel comes out fighting, by hitting at the adversary without even mentioning the U.S. He does so on at least two occasions. First, he recalls that “Lenin was a brilliant revolutionary strategist who did not hesitate in assuming the ideas of Marx and implementing them.” Fidel goes on the write that
“The 27 million Soviets who died in the Great Patriotic War also did so for humanity and the right to think and be socialists, to be Marxist-Leninists, communists, and leave the dark ages behind.”
Cuba also has every right to continue to think and be Marxist-Leninist, thus the title of this reflection “Our Right to Be Marxist-Leninists,” as the ideological bulwark against Washington’s incursions.
He likewise fires another bullet, by highlighting a growing international alliance. This tendency is a thorn in the side of the U.S. However, it is very valuable for Cuba, which is developing its economic and political ties with this trend at the heart of a multi-polar world. Fidel wrote:
“Today we are seeing the solid alliance between the people of the Russian Federation and the State with the fastest growing economy in the world: The People’s Republic of China; both countries, with their close cooperation, modern science and powerful armies and brave soldiers constitute a powerful shield of world peace and security, so that the life of our species may be preserved.”
In the third text being considered, dated August 13, 2015, following the anniversary of the explosion of the atomic bombs that pulverized Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Fidel wrote in his reflection entitled “Reality and Dreams”:
“When those bombs were dropped, after the war unleashed by the attack on the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Empire had already been defeated. The United States, whose territory and industries remained removed from the war, became the country with the greatest wealth and the best weaponry on Earth, in a world torn apart, full of death, the wounded and hungry.”
At a time when people of the world earlier this month also recalled these horrendous events, let us recall that Obama visited Hiroshima this year. He feigned sympathy for the victims, their families and the population, saying without shame that “death fell from the sky.” He omitted the harsh reality that U.S. bombs hit Japan under the circumstances that Fidel points out. In addition, the Obama Administration has started a one trillion dollar upgrade of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Irrespective of imperialism’s new face in the form of Obama’s deceptive personality, imperialism remains imperialism in its goal of world domination by any means necessary. Cuba–U.S. negotiations have been taking place in this context.
The fourth writing took the form of a December 10, 2015 letter addressed to President Nicolás Maduro after the Bolivarian Revolution lost the legislative elections to the pro-U.S. forces in Venezuela. After congratulating Maduro for his valiant speech as soon as the election’s outcome was announced, Fidel the Guerrilla’s pen emerges from the mountains to engage the U.S. cultural aggression in battle. Among other points, he wrote:
“In world history, the highest level of political glory which a revolutionary can reach, is that of the illustrious Venezuelan combatant, Liberator of America, Simón Bolívar, whose name now belongs not only to this sister country, but to all peoples of Latin America…. Cuban revolutionaries – just a few miles from the United States, which always dreamed of taking possession of Cuba to make it a hybrid casino-brothel, as a way of life for the children of José Martí – will never renounce their full independence or respect for their dignity.”
We now arrive at the fifth text, the March 27, 2016 reflection “Brother Obama,” written soon after the U.S. President’s visit to Havana. It was this one that sparked in my mind, and heart, those iconic images of Fidel in the Sierra Maestra, his rifle casually slung over his shoulder. Often these photos show his face looking toward the sky, piercing over the brush and mountains as if expressing optimism in the outcome of the revolution despite adverse conditions.
His opening salvo in this reflection, in fact the very first sentence, contributed toward immediately bringing home the reality. His ironical “Brother Obama” seemed to carry in these two words the need to view dialectically the need to never let one’s guard down regarding U.S. imperialism versus to maintain peaceful and diplomatic relations, as he did in the very first text produced after December 17, 2014. After all, Obama was responsible for the valiant act of going to Cuba following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations after more than five decades of open hostility. His reflection, which in my view is one of the most important he has written since his official retirement began:
“The kings of Spain brought us the conquistadores and masters, whose footprints remained in the circular land grants assigned to those searching for gold in the sands of rivers, an abusive and shameful form of exploitation, traces of which can be noted from the air in many places around the country.”
On the offensive now, as if he had imagined in his mind that the adversary had been wounded, he goes on to write, invoking the example of José Martí:
“I even ask myself if he [José Martí] needed to die or not in Dos Ríos, when he said, ‘For me, it’s time,’ and charged the Spanish forces entrenched in a solid line of firepower. He did not want to return to the United States, and there was no one who could make him ‘Whoever attempts to appropriate Cuba will reap only the dust of its soil drenched in blood, if he does not perish in the struggle,’ stated the glorious black leader Antonio Maceo.”
He introduces another point, perhaps the most decisive, as follows: “Obama was born in August of 1961, as he himself explained. More than half a century has transpired since that time.”
He then writes an important passage that is worth citing in full:
“Let us see, however, how our illustrious guest thinks today:
‘I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,’ followed by a deluge of concepts entirely novel for the majority of us:
‘We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans, the U.S. President continued, ‘Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa. Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave-owners.’
The native populations don’t exist at all in Obama’s mind. Nor does he say that the Revolution swept away racial discrimination, or that pensions and salaries for all Cubans were decreed by it before Mr. Barack Obama was 10 years old. The hateful, racist bourgeois custom of hiring strongmen to expel black citizens from recreational centres was swept away by the Cuban Revolution – that which would go down in history for the battle against apartheid that liberated Angola, putting an end to the presence of nuclear weapons on a continent of more than a billion inhabitants. This was not the objective of our solidarity, but rather to help the peoples of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and others under the fascist colonial domination of Portugal.
In 1961, just one year and three months after the triumph of the Revolution, a mercenary force with armored artillery and infantry, backed by aircraft, trained and accompanied by U.S. warships and aircraft carriers, attacked our country by surprise. Nothing can justify that perfidious attack which cost our country hundreds of losses, including deaths and injuries.
As for the pro-Yankee assault brigade, no evidence exists anywhere that it was possible to evacuate a single mercenary. Yankee combat planes were presented before the United Nations as the equipment of a Cuban uprising.”
There are many important features in what myself and many of my Cuban colleagues refer to as the U.S. ideological/political/cultural war against Cuba. I think that Fidel touched on the most important one, or at least the foundation of all the other aspects, namely a nation’s history. He writes:
“Obama made a speech in which he uses the most sweetened words to express: ‘It is time, now, to forget the past, leave the past behind, let us look to the future together, a future of hope. And it won’t be easy, there will be challenges and we must give it time; but my stay here gives me more hope in what we can do together as friends, as family, as neighbours, together.’
I suppose all of us were at risk of a heart attack upon hearing these words from the President of the United States. After a ruthless blockade that has lasted almost 60 years, and what about those who have died in the mercenary attacks on Cuban ships and ports, an airliner full of passengers blown up in midair, mercenary invasions, multiple acts of violence and coercion.
Nobody should be under the illusion that the people of this dignified and selfless country will renounce the glory, the rights, or the spiritual wealth they have gained with the development of education, science and culture.”
He reiterated the dual notion of awareness about the U.S. ruling circles’ objectives, as expressed above, and the need to pursue negotiations in this way: “Our efforts will be legal and peaceful, as this is our commitment to peace and fraternity among all human beings who live on this planet.”
Furthermore, he has the last word as he concludes:
“I also warn that we are capable of producing the food and material riches we need with the efforts and intelligence of our people. We do not need the empire to give us anything.”
Fidel’s declaration that “we do not need the empire to give us anything” is contrary to the spin created immediately afterwards by much of the foreign establishment media, namely that he is being an ingrate and thus inserting a roadblock against what they see as “benevolent” U.S. Cuba policy. His one-sentence blockbuster is in fact a yes to negotiation, but a staunch no to begging.
For those interested in the full text of “Brother Obama,” it is available online in many languages.
The sixth and last text under examination is his April 19, 2016 speech presented to the closing session of the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. This appearance constituted one more heroic act by the guerrilla fighter, coming to the stage at the huge Convention Hall in front of an audience of more than 1,000 people despite his visible frail physical condition. His mind, however, was and is as sharp as ever. He congratulated all the communist party delegates “and, firstly, compañero Raúl Castro, for his magnificent effort.” Perhaps the most impacting statement was the following: “To our brothers in Latin America and the world, we must convey that the Cuban people will overcome.” The title that was soon endowed to those memorable remarks was “The Cuban People Will Overcome.” It was the main banner at the May 1 march in Havana, less than two weeks later. The vast majority of Cubans will never forget this, as it indicates that the U.S. should have no illusions as to the determination of the Cuban people to continue on its path of socialism, independence and national dignity.
In conclusion, these lessons from 2015 and 2016 stretch beyond this period. Fidel’s dialectical thinking on tactics and goals with regards to Cuba–U.S. relations and his exemplary self-sacrificing courage will be a necessary guide for years to come, well into this century. In the coming decades, there will be a Cuba fighting to improve and defend its socialism and independence. Cuba will, of course, always be situated in the Caribbean. There will also be a United States. This country and land mass, too, will, of course, not change its geographical location. Thus, both geographically and historically, Cuba and the U.S. are and will be forever linked. The evolving relations between the two countries in this century are bound to face challenges while striving for more victories. In this context and looking to the future, the work of the perennial guerilla Fidel Castro is an indispensable guide.
(Presentation by Arnold August on the panel “A Tribute to Fidel Castro on His 90th Birthday” World Social Forum Montreal 2016, August 12, 2016)