Few political leaders have been able to fully understand the humanistic essence of the principles of solidarity and internationalism, and put them into practice as Fidel Castro did.
On July 26, 1978, when assessing the significance for Cuba of the international aid it has received throughout history, Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro stated: “… Internationalism is the most beautiful essence of Marxism-Leninism and its ideals of solidarity and fraternity among peoples. Without internationalism the Cuban Revolution would not even exist. Being internationalists means paying off our own debt to humanity. "
His statement was based on the deep knowledge of the history of Cuba that young Fidel had acquired since his early childhood and on his extraordinary and exciting experiences of solidarity he gained while heading the Revolution.
As a child, he must have heard from Haitian and Jamaican labourers in the bunkhouses, of the stories about the participation of natives from those neighbouring islands in the struggles against slavery and for the independence of Cuba.
As an insatiable reader, he knew from books about the attempts of Bolívar and the government of Mexico, at the beginning of the 19th century, to prepare expeditions to liberate Cuba from Spanish colonialism; about hundreds of foreigners that fought for independence on the island’s battlefields; about the luminous example of Máximo Gómez and the solidarity ideology of Céspedes, Maceo and Martí.
He also learned that Cuban heroes dreamed of the Confederation of the Antilles, as a common homeland and a safe shield against the United States’ expansionist policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean, and that they never left Puerto Rico out of their libertarian projects. He internalized the universal humanism of José Martí, his inspiring compass, and he highly valued the noble gesture of more than a thousand Cubans who fought for the Republic in Spain, and of those who fought fascism during World War II.
Also known are his work in defense of the sovereignty of the Dominican Republic, his participation in the frustrated Cayo Confites expedition, his activism in favour of the independence of Puerto Rico, and his role as a student combatant in the streets of Bogotá, Colombia, during the Bogotazo. Those years forged the ideas that would make him a champion of human solidarity.
Popular support in Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, the United States, among other nations, showed the legitimacy of the revolutionary cause that triumphed on January 1, 1959.
Since then, allusions to what he indistinctly called human solidarity, revolutionary solidarity, solidarity aid, internationalist sentiments, internationalist vocation, internationalist duty, internationalist awareness, internationalist spirit, were constantly present in Fidel's political discourse ... The debt of gratitude of the nascent revolution, could only be paid for by building a solid and exemplary country, ready to lend a hand to those in need.
On 23 January 1959, when he arrived in Caracas, Venezuela, on his first trip abroad after the triumph of the Revolution, he expressed: “… I come, on behalf of the people who today ask for help and solidarity, to tell Venezuelans that they can also count on our help and our unconditional solidarity, and in any way, when they need it… (…) I just need to tell my Venezuelan brothers that Cuba will always be in debt with them for this gesture of solidarity, that Cuba will always be in debt with them for this formidable, enormous moral support that the people of Venezuela have given it today, and that I will never, ever have words to express my gratefulness to the people of Venezuela for the encouragement I have received here. "
That same day, at the Central University of the Venezuelan capital, he declared the political commitment of the nascent revolution to all peoples of the globe: "... rest assured that we are men aware of our responsibility to our country, our responsibility to the oppressed peoples and of our inescapable duty of solidarity with all the peoples of the American continent…”
During his trip to the United States, on April 24 of that year, at a rally in New York's Central Park, in the very bowels of the empire, he clearly stated what would be the international stance of the Cuban Revolution: “… From here we say that Cuba and the people of Cuba and Cubans, wherever we are, will be in solidarity with the desire for liberation of our oppressed brothers… ”
From the United States, he went to Canada, Trinidad Tobago and visited Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Again, the theme of solidarity was the main idea of his speech. On May 5, in the municipal esplanade of Montevideo, he would publicly make a declaration of faith, of his solidarity and internationalist vocation:
“… We cannot sacrifice the hope that Cuba gives today to the peoples of America. Cuba —and I don’t say it out of pride, because for us that means nothing but our responsibility— is today like a little light that shines on America, like a little light that can point a way; Cuba, a small country, that emerges without any ambitions of dominion, that come into being with its Revolution without personal ambitions of any kind; Cuba, which is today, in its Revolution, all disinterest, all generosity, Cuba is like a light that no one can question, that cannot be viewed with suspicion, because the only thing evident about Cuba is that it gives itself to the other brother peoples, that it is in solidarity with the other brother peoples ”
On September 2, 1960, Fidel summoned the people in what was then known as the Plaza de la República, the José Martí Revolution Square today, to answer OAS´s offenses at their meeting in Costa Rica. Before a million people gathered in a great Popular Assembly - known as the First Declaration of Havana -, in its seventh article, he would highlight the irrevocable internationalist vocation of the Revolution:
“… The National Assembly of the People’s Power of Cuba postulates: (…); the duty of the oppressed nations to fight for their liberation; the duty of each people to be in solidarity with all the oppressed, colonized, attacked peoples (APPLAUSE), regardless of where in the world they are and the geographical distance that separates them. All the peoples of the world are brothers! … ”
The strategic help that the Soviet Union provided to Cuba after the breakdown of relations between the United States and the island and after the empire’s offensive to overthrow the Revolution, was decisive for its survival. In all respects, the friendly Soviet hand and those of specialists from the socialist block, contributed to the consolidation of the revolutionary project. Armed with Soviet weapons, Cubans - led by Fidel - defeated the US mercenary invasion at Playa Girón, faced the October Crisis, and accomplished glorious internationalist missions in Angola and Ethiopia.
The year 1966 was crucial in defining the international project of the Revolution. Attacked, isolated from the international scene by the United States government’s pressure, Cuba became the world capital of the National Liberation movements and the fight against imperialism and colonialism in any corner of the globe. The resistance of the Vietnamese people was a source of revolutionary inspiration. Solidarity was the passionate premise of the Cuban people. That year, in fact, was officially named the "Year of Solidarity."
On January 15, 1966, the First Solidarity Conference of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America (Tricontinental Conference) was held in Havana. A year later, in August 1967, the First Conference of the Latin American Solidarity Organization (LASO) was held. That same year, Commander Ernesto “Che” Guevara was killed in Bolivia, as the leader of his internationalist army. On October 18, at the solemn evening in his memory in Havana's Revolution Square, Fidel expressed: "... No man like him in these times has taken the proletarian internationalist spirit to its highest level! ..."
Considered internationalism a pillar of the political and civic culture of Cubans, Fidel prioritized helping other countries of the world not only via armed means, but also in case of disaster situations such as the earthquakes in Chile and Peru.
On December 8, 1972, four Caribbean countries that had recently gained their independence (Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago) established diplomatic relations with Cuba. It was a brave, supportive and dignified gesture that broke the isolation to which the United States wanted to condemn Cuba after the triumph of the Revolution. Since then, Cuba's relations with its Caribbean neighbours have strengthened.
Today Cuba has diplomatic missions in the 14 member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and, in turn, they are equally represented in Havana. Despite great challenges, pressures and threats from the enemies of the Cuban Revolution, the Caribbean countries have remained firm in their support for the Cuban people's struggle for the lifting of the blockade imposed by the United States.
After establishing diplomatic relations, Jamaica and Cuba began a beautiful tradition of cooperation that continues to this day. Many Jamaicans proudly speak about they having taken studies at the Jose Marti Technical High School, the Garvey-Maceo High School, the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sport or the Fidel Castro Campus of Anchovy High School – educational facilities donated by the people and government of Cuba to the people and government of Jamaica–. Almost a thousand Jamaicans have graduated from higher education in Cuba in various specialties.
It is estimated that more than half the Jamaican population has been attended at least once by a Cuban doctor and right now - perhaps while you are reading this article - some 100 Cuban teachers, members of the Cuban Education Brigade in Jamaica, are teaching lessons in the most remote places of the Jamaican geography, and more than 400 professionals from the Cuban Medical Mission in Jamaica, fight Covid-19 in Jamaica’s public hospitals, side by side with local colleagues.
Although Fidel is no longer physically among us, his legacy and presence are felt in all these events.
In June 1975, in a mass ceremony held in Santiago de Cuba in memory of the then Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Sweden, Oloff Palme, Fidel said:
“… Internationalism is one of our most sacred flags, and we develop our internationalist awareness by practicing internationalism (APPLAUSE). And also, by modestly honouring, to the best of our ability, the commitment of cooperating with and fighting for other peoples. […] This internationalist spirit is the essence of our revolutionary ideals… ”
That same year, Operation "Carlota" began - last November 5, precisely, it turned to its 45th anniversary-. In this operation the Cuban people, under the leadership of Fidel, wrote one of the most beautiful pages of altruism and humanism in history. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans, civilians and soldiers, helped the Angolan people to consolidate their independence and build a dignified and sovereign homeland. This action contributed to the Independence of Namibia and the collapse of the shameful Apartheid regime in South Africa.
In an interview with the Granma newspaper in June 2015, the Italian historian Piero Gleijeses said: “… There is no other example in the modern era in which a small and underdeveloped country from a distant region has changed the course of history. The internationalism of Cubans is a fully valid political and moral lesson… ”
Cuba’s militant internationalism had reached or would also reach Algeria, Syria, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Nicaragua ...
Between 1989 and 1991 the socialist block collapsed. Cuba lost 85% of its foreign trade. The special period began. Not even under these conditions did the Revolution led by Fidel stop being in solidarity. The provision of healthcare to the victims of the Chernobyl accident is the most vivid example of it.
International organizations such as the UN, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance or the Non-Aligned Movement, among others, have been scenarios where Cubans have waged solidarity battles for the poor of the Earth. Fidel turned the podium at a UN session into a solidarity platform in defense of life and noble causes.
Along with the scholarship programme for third world students in the Isle of Youth, the Latin American School of Medicine and the "Henry Reeve" International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics (which today has 42 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize 2021), Cuba has created and develops the "Ernesto Che Guevara" and "Augusto César Sandino" brigades of internationalist teachers, who made knowledge available for the peoples of Africa and Latin America. Through these programmes, Fidel made the dreams of Céspedes, Martí, Gómez and Maceo come true.
The authors: René González Barrios. is a historian and member of the work team for the creation of the Fidel Castro Ruz Centre, while Ricardo Calvo Águila is a Counsellor at the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba in Jamaica.
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