Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Declaration of the participants in the 5th International Colloquium

Declaration of the participants in the 5th International Colloquium
“For the Release of the Cuban Five heroes and against Terrorism”

To all women and men in the world, justice lovers,
To the people of the United States,
Five courageous Cubans: Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René have been unjustly imprisoned in US jails for more than eleven years; their only crime has been to fight against terrorism and to defend their people’s right to live in peace.
While fighting against terrorism, and defending the fairest causes of humane dignity and liberty, these Five Heroes harbor their entire people’s decorum, as well as that of the progressive mankind.
As a result of the delayed and politicized process, the most outrageous physical and mental tortures have been committed against them and their relatives. This is a flagrant violation of the most basic principles of international law, of the established procedures with regards to due process, and of the regulations on the treatment to detainees.
The United States government maintains a double standard in its policy to fight against terrorism; harbors, protects and supports US-based terrorist organizations that operate with impunity, causing victims not only among the Cuban people, but also in other countries.

Bearing in mind the above-mentioned statement:
The participants in the 5th International Colloquium “For the Release of the Cuban Five heroes and against Terrorism”, social fighters, trade unionists, parliament members, pacifists, party leaders, intellectuals and religious leaders, students, have agreed to issue the following Declaration:

1)    We demand the United States government:
§  To respect its own laws and act abiding to the rules of International Law.
§  To IMMEDIATELY cease the systematic and repeated violations of human rights against the Cuban Five and their relatives, particularly the violation of the right to be visited by the wives Olga Salanueva and Adriana Pérez; as well as to grant the reclaimed visas to both of them.
§  To put an end to the logistic and financial support provided to terrorist organizations based in that country, and to bring the notorious terrorist Luis Posada Carriles to justice for the blowing up of a Cuban airliner in which 73 civilians were killed.
2)    We demand President Barack Obama and the Government of the United States of America to free RIGHT AWAY the Cuban Five because they are innocent.
3)    We call upon all honest people in our planet, and especially the noble US people, to work intensely to disseminate the fair cause for which the Cuban Five are fighting and to demand their liberation as a way of paying tribute to decency and truth.
4)    We ratify to the Cuban Five and to everyone fighting for their freedom that we will not relent in our efforts denouncing this injustice, and that we will continue to fight until they return to their homeland.


Action Plan approved by delegates at the 5th International Colloquium
“For the Release of the Cuban Five and against Terrorism”
Holguin, November 21st, 2009

The 5th Colloquium held in Holguin is especially relevant after the rejection by the US Supreme Court to review the case of the Cuban Five in June, 2009; the resentencing process of Antonio on October 13th resulting in the unjust condemnation to 21 years and 10 months, the next resentencing of Fernando and Ramon scheduled for December 8th; and the unaltered sentences of Rene and Gerardo, the latter being the most difficult case, and the permanent rejection to grant visas to Adriana and Olga.

This has always been a political case, but now more than ever we are in the need of making feel the worldwide denunciation and solidarity before the Obama Administration which has the legal and constitutional power to bring to a completion this injustice.
All our efforts being made in the struggle for the release of the Five are intended to influence the United States, where the big media continues to snub the case of the Five. The work of more than 300 committees in over 100 countries has begun to bear some fruit. This is a fact acknowledged by the prosecution itself in Miami on the eve of the resentencing of Tony: "The case of the Cuban Five has caused quite a noise worldwide, and it is necessary to better up the image of the US system of justice."
On this matter, we need to clear up our aims and strengthen our endeavours so we can work harder.

Main proposals made by participants to attain the release of the Five

1)    Widen our working scopes
§  Continue spreading the case and demand solidarity among all social movements and broaden the political spectrum of sectors to which we convey our message, mainly governments, parliaments, religious organizations, celebrities, legal organizations, human rights organizations, labour unions.
§  Promoting the participation of activists for the freedom of the Cuban Five in the 2010 US Social Forum.
§  Continue to denounce firmly the double standards of the US government that keeps five innocent people in jail and shelters, protects and releases self-confessed terrorist like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch.
2)    Working with Parliamentarians
§  Link the parliamentarians’ plea from every country to US Congressmen.
§  Bolster the visit of activists for the freedom of the Five to US Congressmen and Nancy Pelosi herself, Chairwoman of the US House of Representatives.
§  Bring about the visit of foreign parliamentarians to the Cuban Five in the penitentiaries where they remain imprisoned.
3)    Working with Labour Unions
§  Ensure that the activities being planned or associated with the labour unions have an impact on US trade union counterparts.
§  Target the upcoming May 1st as a day of action for the Five, specially by holding banners and portraits with the images of the Five, during the demonstrations to take place in each country.
4)    Expand the use of new ICT’s (Information and Communication Technologies)
§  Use Internet opportunities like YouTube to upload small videos of personalities who can make an impact in the US.
§  Improve our websites, newsletters and messages; take benefit from spaces such as Blogs, Facebook and Twitter.
§  Achieve a greater presence in the mass media, including the publication of a page on a US national newspaper.
§  Promote the use of and websites as reference centres on the case of the Five.
5)    Cultural Resources
§  Make people aware worldwide of the intellectual production and artistic sensibility of the Five.
§  Exploit every sort of cultural event, from concerts to exhibitions; involve renowned personalities in such events; and continue to strive for bigger media coverage of the Cuban Five case.
§  Call on new filmmakers and other audiovisual media producers to continue to depict and recreate materials on the case of the Five.
6)    Solidarity
§  Thousands of people in the world are involved in the campaign to halt the genocide blockade against Cuba. Not all of them are also part of the struggle to free the Cuban Five. We have to engage them all in this struggle, since working for the release of the Cuban Five is also working for the right of Cuba to sovereignty and live in peace.
7)    Nobel Peace Prize for the Cuban Five
8)    Insist that the US government should grant humanitarian visas to Adriana Pérez and Olga Salanueva
§  Take account of any support coming from the International Commission for the Right of Family Visits, whose members in 27 countries have world renown.
§  Carry out actions for the demand of visas in every country with members of this Commission; and persuade other personalities of the countries who are not integrated yet. Pleas should aim at Barack Obama and other US high-ranking government officials.
§  Use important dates for families and women: Christmas and New Year, February 14th, March 8th.
9)    Maintain support to the legal struggle on the Case
§  Report regularly on the case developments.
§  Publish fully in every means the content of Amicus addressed to the Court and other public legal documents.
§  Summon new persons of the legal sector to engage in the struggle for the release of the Five.
10) Working with governments
§  Engage heads of state and high-ranking government officials in giving a public statement on the Cuban Five case.
§  Engage heads of state in asking Obama to commute the sentences of the Cuban Five.
11) Working with the youth
§  Encourage teachers to promote the cause of the Five.
§  Use the literary work of the Cuban Five in the learning process at early ages and in the strengthening of ethical and human values.
§  Produce literature and other teaching-learning means with appropriate language for children as potential audiences.
§  Implement the subject of the Cuban Five as part of community projects.

Important dates to consider in the upcoming six months:
§  December 8th: Fernando and Ramon’s resentencing
§  December 10th: International Day for Human Rights
§  December 24th and 25th: Christmas Eve and Christmas
§  December 31st and Jan 1st: New Year and 51st Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution
§  February 14th: Saint Valentine’s Day (of Love and Friendship)
§  March 8th: International Women's Day
§  May 1st: International Workers’ Day
§  2nd Sunday in May: Mother's Day
§  June 17th: Anniversary of the Open Letter to the US people

Participants in the 5th International Colloquium
“For the Release of the Cuban Five and against Terrorism”
Holguín, November 21st, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

'What Freedom Charter are they reading?' asks Irvin Jim

MATUMA LETSOALO - Nov 20 2009 10:03

New faces of militancy in Cosatu have emerged following the expulsion of Willie Madisha from Cosatu, the quiet retreat of its general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi from the forefront, and the changing nature of the relationship between trade union federation and Cosatu.

Irvin Jim is one of these faces. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa's (Numsa) general secretary is a hardcore communist who took over as Numsa boss last year.

Jim has been a driving force in pushing for radical policy changes in the ANC, something that has earned him respect among his peers in the labour movement; while some ANC leaders see him as a thorn in the side of the alliance.

But, unlike his predecessor Silumko Nondwangu, who was more amenable to the ANC, Jim is proving a hard nut to crack.

Under Thabo Mbeki's leadership, many in the ANC and government saw Numsa as one of the more pliable trade unions within Cosatu.

Not long after he took over, Jim launched a scathing attack on Planning Commission Minister Trevor Manuel and former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni for their conservative economic policies.

And earlier this month, Numsa stepped up its campaign for policy changes when it called for the nationalisation of the personal wealth of ANC BEE tycoons Tokyo Sexwale and Patrice Motsepe.

In a similar vein of defiance, when Cosatu as a federation supported former Eskom chairperson Bobby Godsell over former CEO Jacob Maroga, Numsa as an affiliate dissented and weighed in on Maroga side.

Speaking to the
Mail & Guardian recently, Jim lashed out at senior ANC leaders, including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, ANC secretary general and treasurer general Gwede Mantashe and Mathews Phosa for saying nationalisation was not ANC policy.

"I don't know what Freedom Charter people are reading and which conference of the ANC has changed it," he said. "The Freedom Charter we know says the people shall share in the country's wealth. The national wealth, the heritage of our country shall be restored to our people. The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industries shall be transferred to the hands of the people. All other industries and trade shall be transferred to assist the wellbeing of our people.

"In a country where unemployment is so high, you must tamper with the current macroeconomic policies. The government must ensure that the Freedom Charter is executed," argues Jim.

He says unless the government puts nationalisation at the centre of its policy, service delivery will remain a pipe dream for the poor.

"We support service delivery, but we think we are setting the movement for failure with absolutely no vibrant programme, especially in conditions of inequality.

"Political power without economic power is a shell. There must be a sense of urgency and political will to begin to say something has to be done to change the structure of accumulation in South Africa, which benefit a tiny minority and maybe few black individuals who are part of that particular discourse."

This week, Jim slammed newly appointed Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus after her decision to keep interest rates unchanged.

"This conservative interest rates policy stance constitutes a wrong premise for [Marcus] particularly when in its own statement the [South African Reserve Bank's monetary policy committee] stated that economic growth is expected to remain below potential for some time."

Jim said Numsa would lobby the government to cut interest rates by 5% and to weaken the currency to boost struggling sectors and economic growth in the country.
"If you go to the United States, you will see interest rates are almost zero percent. We are a developing country, but we continue to have high interest rates."

Read Matuma Letsoalo's interview with ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.
Source: Mail & Guardian Online
Web Address:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Graça Machel returns by L. Muthoni Wanyeki

Graça Machel arrives in Kenya this weekend. Not, this time, in her capacity as a member of the mediation team, but as a member of the Panel of Eminent Persons overseeing the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) responsible for that process in Kenya.

The APRM is the voluntary peer-review process associated with the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). It assesses member states’ progress in four areas, including democratic governance, economic governance, corporate governance and socio-economic development. Kenya submitted to the APRM and, after a lengthy and rigorous self-assessment, its first full report was discussed by African heads of state and government in 2006. Kenya was praised at that time for the candidness of the self-assessment. And questions posed to our then head of state President Mwai Kibaki focused on, among other things, issues of discrimination and inequality on the basis of ethnicity.

With the benefit of hindsight it is always easy, of course, to pinpoint what we could and should have done to avert what happened in 2007–08. We could and should have addressed the imperial presidency through comprehensive constitutional reforms. We could and should have addressed the electoral system – and the governance and management of the same. We could and should have addressed the pressing needs around land – both in terms of recognising and dealing with historical claims to land as well as with illegal allocations of public land. We could and should have addressed discrimination and inequality – on ethnic and other grounds.

We knew what we needed to do. Kenya’s APRM report – and the plan of action that came out of it – spelt out the imperatives clearly. And the APRM report and plan of action merely reiterated what many different pieces of analysis from many different quarters – internally – had said before, in as many words. I am thinking, for example, of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Society for International Development’s scenarios for Kenya, which forecast ultimate doom and gloom unless we pursued the scenario involving both constitutional reform and economic recovery. We knew what we needed to do. But we did not do it.

And so, many of the issues flagged before found themselves reiterated, with new urgency, in the mediation agreements. There is nothing new in any of the four agenda items that make up the mediation agreements, just as there is unlikely to be anything new in the new APRM assessment that is about to begin – that is, to focus exclusively on democratic governance and to follow quite closely the priorities spelt out in the mediation agreements.

Which is not at all, however, to suggest that we should disengage ourselves from this APRM assessment. For it offers us an opportunity to flag, once again, to both our own executive and public service – as well as, ultimately, the AU – that Kenya is by no means out of the woods. The word for us in conflict-speak is ‘fragile’. Many Kenyans are worried, whether they know about that classification or not. Many Africans – particularly our closest neighbours – are worried. And the rest of the world is also worried – which is what lies behind the latest flurry of diplomatic pressure.

The question is whether or not our own political leadership is worried. My sense is that they are – but not necessarily about the same things. The latest series in the Daily Nation on land distribution in the immediate post-independence period is shocking in its confirmation of what we’ve always anecdotally known. The abuse of power and the public interest by those entrusted with leadership of the state for personal self-enrichment shows clearly just how far back the personal economic and political interests that have always impeded real transformation go.

We have become used to window-dressing those personal, economic and political interests with terms such as ‘lack of political will’. The truth is that there is plenty of political will, to protect those interests, to get a piece of the same, to ensure there will never be any accountability for the same, to concede a bone to the hungry public while the feast on public goods and resources remains unchecked.

What we need to do while Machel is here is make the point yet again. The bone that is new laws, new policies, new institutions – or new processes establishing the same (of which there certainly are aplenty) will ultimately mean nothing to the public unless they really truly do effect a drawing of a line in the sand. It stops here. The plunder of the state (which is plunder of us, the public) stops here. The casual contempt of the impoverished stops here. Impunity for that plunder stops here. Impunity for the daily abuses and assaults of the impoverished also stops here.

Our government spokesperson recently gave the executive and public service a high grade for implementation of the mediation agreements. Our police spokesperson, although quiet recently, has continually denied the abuses and assaults on the impoverished. We can be sure that the executive and the public service will trot out the same list of supposed achievements and denials for inspection by Machel’s team. It is for us to say to Machel’s team that motion is not movement. It is for us to say what human rights violations persist – despite the impressive sounding list of laws, policies, institutions and processes to which so many of us have earnestly contributed. It is for us to name the personal, political and economic interests that hide under the cover of a ‘lack of political will’ while continuing to threaten every necessary and possible fundamental step forward – beginning with our new constitution and land reform. We have to move forward and we cannot let 200 or so people stop us – all 40 million or so of us – from doing so.


* L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).
* Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi, Omar Khadar, And Barack Obama: A Dreadful Tale Of What America Has Become

By John Chuckman
16 November, 2009
During his trip to Asia, President Obama called for the government of Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi, a noted dissident who has spent years under house arrest.
It made headlines, a fact which tells us more about the role of media as an outlet for government press releases than in communicating genuine news.
Obama’s was hardly a brave or innovative act when you consider that it is a universally-condemned military junta keeping Aung San Suu Kyi penned up.
But when you appreciate the full context of Obama’s call, you may agree with me that it was more a cowardly act than anything else.
A year ago, after eight years of mind-numbing stupidity, countless public lies and bloody war crimes, Obama’s arrival on the American political scene thrilled the world. His intelligence, his grace, and his sense of decency were striking. His like as an American politician, quite apart from his race, had not been seen in the lifetime of many.
But the hopes raised by Obama, like so many flickering little candles in a fierce wind, already are largely extinguished. This polished, educated, liberal-minded and decent man, after only one year in office, has been overwhelmed by America’s military-industrial complex, a terrible machine which grinds on night and day, chewing people in its gears, no matter who is elected ostensibly to be in charge of it.
Much as I resent Burma’s treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi, it shines as genuinely humane compared to America’s treatment of Omar Khadr.
The key facts in the case of this young man, a prisoner at Guantanamo, are easily told.
Omar Khadr was born to a fundamentalist Muslim, highly political family whose father knew and died fighting for Osama bin Laden. In an era whose ruling myths are a clash of civilizations and a war on terror, Omar would seem to have been doomed from birth.
Under intense pressure from his family, fifteen-year old Omar went to fight in Afghanistan when America invaded it. In doing that, he was doing nothing that tens of thousands of Americans hadn’t done, both as idealists for causes and as soldiers of fortune in countless wars from the Spanish Civil War to the Cuban Revolution or the turmoil of the Congo.
Omar’s experience reminded me a little of American Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July, a story where the need for maternal approval helped drive his destructive participation in America’s Vietnam holocaust (three million Vietnamese slaughtered, many hideously with napalm, and the legacy of soil saturated with Agent Orange and littered with millions of landmines more than justifies that term).
The American claim against Omar is that he shot an American soldier, a medic no less, a fact seemingly almost designed to increase his infamy.
The story, as I heard it in an interview a few years ago with an American soldier, a friend of the dead medic’s, was that after a small firefight, Omar hid himself, then leapt up, heartlessly killing the medic whose only interest was the wounded. Omar was then captured and eventually sent to Guantanamo.
Even were that story true, and it is not, there would still be no excuse for sending a fifteen-year old child to Guantanamo. That act violated all international conventions on the treatment of child soldiers, but then almost everything America has done over the last eight years has violated international conventions, international laws, common decency, and the spirit of its own Bill of Rights.
For years, Omar, like hundreds of inmates at Guantanamo, was held incommunicado: he was allowed no contact with his family, he was allowed no visits from the International Red Cross (again in contravention to international conventions) and he was allowed no legal counsel. Omar was allowed no rights of any kind: being kept shackled in a secret prison ninety miles offshore was considered adequate to efface the entire spirit and meaning of America’s own rights and laws.
We now know that the soldiers who captured Omar, in fact, shot him twice in the back as the frightened boy tried to run. Despite life-threatening wounds and his young age, Omar was consigned to years of imprisonment and torture at Guantanamo. Indeed, his worst torturer, a soldier with a reputation at Guantanamo as perhaps its most vicious interrogator, deliberately contrived his sessions with Omar so that the boy had to sit in a position which pulled at his slowly-healing and painful wounds.
We also know now, evidence having just been published in Canadian newspapers, that Omar could not possibly have killed the medic: Omar was photographed hiding under a pile of rubble as the soldiers passed.
So who killed the medic? One perhaps should recall the case of Pat Tillman, an American football player killed by his own forces in Afghanistan, a case at first covered up the military, but even now full of unanswered questions.
And why did the Americans shoot Omar, twice, in the back? One simply cannot avoid the suggestion that the American soldiers involved acted with cowardice and savagery.
Some readers may object that American soldiers are incapable of such behaviour, but let’s go back to that time in Afghanistan, reviewing some things we now know as facts, and think about what they suggest about the ethos prevailing there when a fifteen-year old was shot in the back and sent to be tortured.
America’s carpet bombing in Afghanistan was destructive beyond anything Americans have ever been told. Just as was the case in the First Gulf War when uncounted tens of thousands of poor Iraqi recruits were bulldozed into the desert after having been literally pulped into tailing ponds of human bits and fluids by B-52s, the true horror of what massive bombing did in Afghanistan was understandably not well advertised..
The public has been led to believe that, compared to the horrors inflicted upon Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan was almost bloodless. But I learned recently from an expert journalist – an American no less - with many years of experience in that country that a great deal of blood was shed. In Kabul alone, fifty to sixty thousand Afghans died in America’s brutal bombing and artillery cover for its Northern Alliance proxy army, itself a gang of thugs many of whom are not one wit more ethical or civilized than the Taleban.
We knew too, those who cared to search, of the brutal tactics of American special forces in the mountains after the initial “victory”: tales of heavily-armed goons marching into remote towns, throwing stun grenades, breaking down the doors of homes, holding women and children at gunpoint while their male family members were marched away with no explanation. The men were often kept for considerable periods to be “questioned.”
At the least suspicion, air strikes were called in, and in dozens and dozens of cases, those air strikes wiped out whole families or groups of villagers who had done nothing to oppose Americans. They were the victims, thousands of them, of young Americans filled with irrational resentments over 9/11, anxious to prove how good they were with their high-tech killing machines, and let loose on someone else’s country.
And we knew, at least again those who cared to search, the story of America’s hideous treatment of Taleban prisoners in the early days of occupation, of Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld’s Nazi-like public demand that all prisoners should be killed or walled away forever. One of America’s ghastly allies of the Northern Alliance, General Dostum, took Rumsfeld in deadly earnest: he had his men round up three thousand prisoners, seal them in vans and drive them out onto the desert to suffocate in the heat. The bodies were then buried in shallow mass graves. All this was watched by American soldiers who somehow failed to act the way Jimmy Stewart did in war movies. Instead they picked their noses or smoked cigarettes as they gawked.
We also knew of the terrible tales of boys being raped while American troops never lifted a finger to help them. In a strict fundamentalist country like Afghanistan, where young women are kept guarded and almost hidden, the sexual behaviour of men often takes on the character of that common in prisons everywhere: that is, young and vulnerable men are brutally raped and often treated as “bitches” by older, tougher prisoners.
Only recently, I heard the horrible stories of a Canadian soldier with post traumatic stress who told of seeing a boy with blood running down his legs as two Afghan allies raped him. The soldier could do nothing and was told later only to buck it up. He told too of a translator, a hired Afghan, gleefully relating to him about the way he liked to use a knife on boys he raped.
We all saw the ghastly pictures from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Only now we know far uglier pictures and recordings have been suppressed, images and sounds of young Iraqis being raped and sodomized by American soldiers at the prison.
Those facts give us some realistic sense of the atmosphere in Afghanistan when American soldiers shot Omar in the back, falsely accused him of killing a medic, and sent a fifteen-year old boy off to years of torture.
Omar remains a prisoner in Guantanamo, although the torture mercifully has stopped, but it was announced only a couple of days ago that he would be among those who would stand trial in New York.
Trial for what? For trumped-up charges of murder? Trial for acts in war? Trial for being an abused child soldier? Trial under American laws which never applied to Afghanistan? A trial where every scrap of government evidence is tainted with years of torture and human-rights abuse? Where the government doing the trying itself has acted against countless laws and treaties in invading and occupying two countries?
If there were one breath of decency left in America’s establishment, Omar and the other abused prisoners would all be released and allowed to live the rest of their lives in peace. They are no threat to anyone, most did nothing deserving imprisonment, and those who may have committed something we would regard as a crime have been viciously punished already.
Only days ago, Obama’s White House Counsel Greg Craig was let go. Craig, an old friend of the President’s, had promised to make his administration the most transparent in history. Craig was the main force behind the Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo in one year.
Well, there is no sign Guantanamo is to be closed any time soon, and the policy’s chief advocate is gone. But more importantly, when we speak of American torture chambers, it is easy to forget that Guantanamo is only the most publicized of many. What horrors go on at places like America’s secret base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean or at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, or in a number of other locations, all part of the CIA’s vast international torture gulag, is anybody’s guess.
Obama has not uttered a whimper about the CIA’s euphemistically-named extreme rendition, a practice whereby thousands of people have been kidnapped off streets and sent bound to some of the world’s hell-holes for months of torture. Afterwards, having been discovered innocent of anything, they find themselves dumped in some obscure place like Bosnia without so much as an apology for their treatment.
Obama told people repeatedly during his campaign that American forces in Iraq would be withdrawn promptly, saying “you can bank on it,” and people believed him because Obama did not vote in the Senate for that illegal war, but most of America’s soldiers remain there still.
Obama appointed a commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who has a background swirling with suggestions of black operations and dirty business, and now that ghastly man has said he needs forty-thousand more troops.
American Predator drones, guided by buzz-cut, faceless men with computer screens in locked rooms in America, now frequently invade Pakistan’s airspace. One can just imagine them hooting and pumping their arms like young men playing a computer game when one of their terrible Hellfire missiles strikes its target, the home of someone not legally charged with anything, killing everyone who happens to be nearby.
No, I only wish the ugly stain on America’s flag was keeping a dissident under house arrest.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Che Guevara: Until victory always! by Fidel Castro

On 18 October 1967, 10 days after Che Guevara’s death, the details of the revolutionary hero’s last moments finally emerged. Before a nation in mourning, Fidel Castro gave this speech. In this emotive text brought to you by Pambazuka News, ‘El Lider Máximo’ revisits the journey of his comrade-in-arms, revealing Che’s human side, his military prowess, his philosophy and his great revolutionary pedigree.

It was a day in July or August of 1955 when we first met El Che. On that night, as he himself recounts, he became part of the future Granma expedition. Although up to this point, the expedition had neither ships, weapons, nor troops. This is how El Che, together with Raul, became one of the first two names on the Granma list.

Twelve years have since gone by: Twelve years full of war and history, during which the cruel hand of death has taken many valuable and irreplaceable lives. But during this time, we have also seen the rise of extraordinary people in this our revolution. During this period, we have seen bonds of affection and friendship form between these men of the revolution and the ordinary people that defy description.

So tonight we come together, you and I, to attempt to put into words the feelings we hold towards this man, one of the best known, most loved and admired, and undoubtedly the most extraordinary of revolutionary comrades. To convey to him and to those who fought and fell beside him, and wrote and glorious and indelible page in the annals of history.

Che was the kind of man who drew the affection of others, by virtue of his simplicity, his character, his nature, his personality and authenticity, not to mention his other extraordinary qualities.

At the offset, he was just our troop doctor. However, little by little, bonds and shared feelings began to develop. He appeared to us to be consumed by a burning hatred for imperialism. Not only had his political consciousness grown significantly at this point, but he had also witnessed first-hand the case of Guatemala, where foreign imperialist mercenaries had destroyed the revolution. For him there was no need for convoluted arguments. He knew that Cuba was in the exact same situation. He knew that there were men willing to fight this situation, that these men were inspired by patriotism and a fierce revolutionary spirit. This was enough for him.

Thus, he embarked with us on the journey to Cuba towards the end of November 1956. I recall that the journey was particularly arduous for him; the circumstances of our departure had not allowed him to take along the medications he depended on. He endured the voyage in the grip of a terrible attack of asthma, with neither respite nor a word of complaint.

We landed and began our first advance on foot. We suffered our first defeat and retreat, only to regroup – as you are well aware – as the small remaining band of the Granma expedition. El Che was our doctor.

Then came our first victory, and El Che became a soldier, all the while continuing in his role as troop doctor. By our second victory, Che was not just a soldier, but also one of the most courageous, displaying for the first time the remarkable individual prowess that would henceforth define him.

Our force continued to grow and soon we were faced with a decisive and crucial battle in our campaign. It was a difficult one. We had unreliable intelligence, and had to attack a well-defended position on the coast, in broad daylight, with our rearguard under constant attack. At this tenuous point, a Herculean effort was required: Comrade Juan Almeida in the fore was faced with an impossible task. One of our flanks was completely exposed and neutralised and risked compromising the entire operation. Suddenly, there was El Che, still just a doctor, assembling three or four men, only one of whom was armed with a carbine, and launching a support attack from that flank.

On that occasion, he both fought and treated the injured with equal valour. He attended to wounded comrades, as well as to the enemy combatants, where necessary. And when we were forced to retreat, leaving behind all our arms, we embarked on a long march, harassed by different enemy forces. At this point we had to leave someone behind to care for the injured. Che stayed behind, with a small group of soldiers, treated the injured and saved their lives before they all later rejoined the column.

Next came the battle of Uverro, which was much the same. There was another occasion, also in the earlier days, that has never been discussed. Our little troop was betrayed and came under heavy aerial attack. We were retreating from the bombs, when I remembered that some weapons had remained in the hands of a few peasant fighters who had earlier fought alongside us and subsequently asked to rejoin their families. There wasn’t, at that point, sufficient discipline within our ranks. And in that moment I believed that those weapons were gone for good. I had hardly verbalised the dilemma when Che offered to go and recover the weapons. While bombs rained down on us, Che sped off on his mission.

This was one of Che’s enduring qualities; an immediate willingness to undertake the most dangerous of missions. This no doubt gained him admiration, and in double measure, since he was a man who fought alongside us and yet he was a foreigner. He was a profound man, whose spirit overflowed with dreams of battles all over the continent. He was a man who consistently showed a spirit of altruism and abandon: Always ready to take on the most difficult task and risk his life.

He earned the rank of commander and leader of the second column that was based in Sierra Maestra. Here he grew in stature and earned a reputation as a brilliant soldier in a war that would take him to even greater heights.

Che was a peerless soldier and peerless leader. From a military point of view, he was extraordinarily capable, courageous, and aggressive. His only weakness as a soldier was his excessive taste for attack and obliviousness to danger.

Our enemies can draw whatever conclusions regarding his demise, but Che was a lord of war! A master guerrilla! And he had limitless faith. He showed this on two specific occasions: The first was when he traversed an entire island at the head of his column, not knowing where he was going and achieving, Like Camilo Cienfuegos, a remarkable military feat. Again during the incredible campaign in the province of Las Villas, he mounted an audacious attack, and infiltrated a town defended by heavy artillery, tanks and several thousand infantry… with barely three hundred men. These two campaigns cemented his status as a unique leader, an exponent of revolutionary war craft.

There are those who, in his heroic and glorious death, try to debunk the truth and validity of his ideas on guerrilla warfare. A true exponent can die in his craft, especially one as dangerous as revolutionary war. But what will never die is the craft to which he dedicated his life and mind. What is so strange about an artist dying in his work? To tell the truth, it is surprising that he did not die earlier, on the numerous occasions when he risked his life for our revolution. And how many times did we prevent him from risking his life on minor skirmishes?

And so it happens, that in one of the many battles he waged, he lost his life. We do not know enough to understand the circumstances of this last battle, to judge whether he acted with excessive courage. But yes, we reassert that as a guerrilla, his Achilles heel was precisely his excessive audacity and disregard for danger. It is on this score that I differed with him, because for me, his life, his experience, his leadership qualities, his prestige, and all that he embodied alive, were worth much more than he considered himself.

What shaped his character most profoundly however, was the idea that men possess a value that is relative to history, the idea that causes are not defeated when those who champion them fall, that the inexorable march of victory continues, and will not stop because the leaders die. This is a fact: Who can dispute it? This is evidenced by his faith in people, in ideas, in leading by example. More so, as I said a few days ago, how we wish it was him who was victorious, to see him lead the victorious march, under his command. There are too few men with his experience, his vision and unique capabilities. All the same, we know how to appreciate his example and we cherish absolute conviction that his example will be followed and will inspire similar men to lead the people.

It is not easy to find as many qualities in one person as Che possessed. It is not easy for one to develop into a man such as him. I must say he was a difficult man to measure up to, and impossible to surpass. But I will say that men like him have an ability to inspire similar qualities in others.

In Che we admire not only the accomplished fighter. We admire the fact that he was able to, with just a handful of men, fight against an entire oligarchic army under the control of Yankee imperialism and supported by neighbouring oligarchies.

Searching the pages of history, one would probably not encounter another example of one who stood with so few against such mighty forces. This demonstrates Che’s self-belief, belief in others and their ability to fight for what’s right. Our enemies believe they debunked his general concept of the guerrilla, by having defeated his ideas on revolutionary armed struggle. All they succeeded in doing, with a stroke of luck, was to end his life. We do not know to what extent even this stroke of luck was aided by Che’s excessive enthusiasm that I have spoken of, and was evident even during our own liberation struggle!

In the battle of Dos Rios, the apostle of our liberation Jose Marti was killed. In the battle of Punta Brava, Antonio Macco, veteran of a hundred battles, was felled. In this nature of struggle, many patriots die, but this has never signalled an end to the Cuban cause. The death of Che, as I have said, is a hard blow, a terrible blow for the revolutionary movement. Through his death we have lost our most experienced and capable leader. But those who believe that we have lost his tactical genius, his ideas on guerrilla warfare, are wrong. The fallen mortal, who was always at the mercy of bullets, was a soldier, a leader a thousand times more capable and worthy than those who, by a stroke of luck, killed him.

How then shall the revolutionaries face this blow? How do they face this loss? What would Che say if he could speak about this loss? Speaking at the Latino-American Solidarity conference, he said, ‘If somewhere in the world death comes unexpectedly upon me, I shall welcome her, as long as my war cry is heard by another ear, and another hand takes up a weapon.’ The war cry will not be heard by one ear, but by a million willing ones. And it is not one, but a million hands inspired by his example that will reach out and take up arms! New leaders will emerge. Eager men with attentive ears and ready hands will need leaders. Those leaders will emerge from among the people like they have done in all revolutions. Admittedly, they will never see as gifted and experienced a leader as Che. Nonetheless, these new leaders will be formed and hardened in battle and emerged from amongst the millions of keen ears and willing hands that will reach out to take up arms.

We do not seek to imply that Che’s death will have an immediate effect on the revolutionary struggle. Not even Che envisioned an immediate victory from his battles against oligarchies and imperialism. His revolutionary spirit was prepared for a long struggle – five, ten, fifteen, twenty years, if necessary. It is within this perspective that we must understand the invincible force of his legacy.

Those who rejoice in Che’s death seek in vain to deny his successes and leadership qualities. Che was an extraordinary military leader. But as we remember Che, when I think of Che, it is not essentially of his military qualities. No. War is a means and not an end. War is an instrument in the hands of the revolutionary. Revolution is the goal. It is in the realm of ideas, feelings and virtues, and acute vision that the loss of Che hits us hardest.

Che embodied a rare range of virtues within him. He was a man of absolute integrity, of unfailing loyalty, of total sincerity, a stoic and Spartan man, a man of blameless conduct. When a man dies, there is a tendency to give speeches extolling his qualities. Rarely, however, can we extol them as truthfully as we do here with Che. He was a true example of revolutionary virtue. But he had another quality, besides his intelligence, willingness, experience – his heart. He was extraordinarily human and sensitive. For this reason, I reflect on his life and conclude that Che was indeed a rare man. He brought together the revolutionary virtues, sensitivity, and iron character, a will of steel and incredible tenacity.

To future generations he bequeaths a heritage of experience both on the battlefield and in the intellectual domain. He wrote with classic virtuosity, and his accounts of battle know no equal. His intellectual depth was impressive. He wrote with gravitas, and I have no doubt that some of his writings will live on as classics in revolutionary thought. His vigorous mind leaves us with a multitude of mementos, accounts of events that would otherwise have been forgotten.

As a tireless worker for the fatherland, he never took a day off. He took on numerous responsibilities: Head of the central bank, head of the planning commission, minister for industry, head of the military divisions, leader of political, economic and social delegations. His versatile mind allowed him to tackle any task. He ably represented the country at numerous international conferences, in the same evocative way he spoke to his troops under enemy fire. It was with the same assiduous approach that he served as a model worker at the head of every organisation where he was deployed. For him, there were no days off, no moments of respite: Passing by his office, I would see lights burning late into the night. He was always working or studying, or both. He was a tireless reader of everything.

His thirst for learning about the human condition was insatiable. He sacrificed sleep to study, and on statutory holidays he threw himself into voluntary work. He was the inspiration for, and the leading example of volunteerism, which is today shared by thousands across the country and continues to grow.

As a true revolutionary communist, he had an infinite faith in moral values and conscience. For sure, he believed that moral resources are the leaven of communism in human society.

He thought, debated and wrote prodigiously. On a day such as this we must acknowledge one fact: The writings of Che will have a perpetual place in the history of the Cuban revolution and of Latin American. The value of his ideals as a man of action, as a thinker, as a moral beacon, as a man of spotless moral virtue and conduct has universal value.

The imperialists sing songs of triumph over the death of Che the guerrilla; the imperialists celebrate the stroke of luck that handed them this redoubtable soldier. Perhaps they forget – or pretend to forget – that the soldier was only one facet of this great man. And when we speak of the pain of loss, this pain is for the loss of not only a soldier but a man of virtue and exquisite humanity. Our pain is of a lost intellect, and this is our greatest loss. It hurts us that he was only 39 when he died, and yet there was so much more that we would have reaped from him.

I know well the extent of the loss to the revolution, but this is also the weakness of the imperialist enemy; they believe that by eliminating the man they have also killed his ideas, virtues and his example. And they believe it so firmly that they shout it out loud, as if it was the most natural thing to kill him after wounding him in battle. They see nothing repugnant in their actions and admit it openly. As if it was their right as oligarchs and mercenaries to kill a captured enemy combatant. Worse yet, they explain why they did it – that bringing Che to trial would have caused undue attention, and that it would have been impossible the contain the presence of such a revolutionary in court. And worst of all, they hid his remains.

Whether or not it is true, they announced the incineration of his remains, showing their fear, their lack of conviction that by killing the man they killed his ideas as well.

Che perished championing the cause of the oppressed and exploited of the continent: Che died for the humble of the earth. The commitment with which he waged this battle is beyond the question, even for the most callous of his enemies.

Those who follow and live by his example, and fight for the downtrodden arise each day among the people. The enemy has realised this: It will not be long before they realise that Che’s death was a seed from which many of his kind shall sprout. I am convinced that the revolutionary cause on the continent will sprout from his death: That the revolutionary cause in Latin America will survive this blow.

From a revolutionary perspective, from our perspective, how can we learn from Che’s example? Maybe we believe we have lost him? It is true that we shall no more read new fruits of his pen, neither shall we hear his voice. But Che left the world a heritage, a rich heritage, and as the children of this country, we are the most privileged heirs. He left us his revolutionary ideals, his character, his will, his tenacity and his love of work. In one word, he left us his example. Che’s example must serve as an ideal for our people!

What should our revolutionary soldiers, our men conform to? No question, they should be like Che! What should the men of our future generations conform to? Like Che! How should our sons be educated? They must be educated in the spirit of Che! If we seek the model of the future man in every sense, this model must be Che! And with all our revolutionary vigour we wish that our children become like Che!

Che has become the ideal man, not just for our people but also for the whole of Latin America. Che exemplified revolutionary stoicism, sacrifice, tenacity and work ethic in the purest form. He practised Marxist-Leninism in its freshest, purest and most revolutionary form. Nobody has, to this point championed the internationalist cause of the proletariat better. This, above all else, is the example of Che!

In his heart and mind, Che had no veils, no prejudices no egotism or chauvinism: He was ready to shed blood for all peoples. He shed blood on Cuban soil when he was wounded in combat, fighting for the freedom of the exploited and oppressed. He shed blood in Bolivia for the downtrodden. He shed blood for all the people of America. He shed blood in solidarity with the Vietnamese by combating the oligarchies of Bolivia. It is for this reason, Comrades, that we must look to the future with resolve, decisiveness and optimism. We will always look to Che’s example for inspiration in battle, in tenacity and resolve in the face of the enemy, and inspiration in the spirit of internationalism.

Tonight, through this massive display of recognition, incredible in size, in discipline, and in devotion, we show our people’s ability to honour our fallen comrades, we honour those who have served us, we show our solidarity with the revolutionary struggle. We show that we will forever hold aloft the banner and the principles of the revolution. Today, in this memorable moment, we lift our spirits to Che with absolute optimism in the definitive victory of the people. We say to him and all those who have fallen by his side, ‘Until victory, always!’


* Fidel Castro Ruiz was the leader of the Cuban Revolution. This speech was his first official homage to Che Guevara, at the official announcement of his death. This text is an extract from ‘Eulogy for Che Guevara by Fidel Castro’ (Eric Losfeld, 1968).
* Translated from French by Josh Ogada.
* Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.