Based on a talk by Gloria La Riva at the Dec. 6-7 conference on socialism in New York.
Almost 45 years ago, a relatively small number of revolutionary fighters, after several years of struggle, overthrew the U.S.-installed dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Cuba at that time was overwhelmingly the property of U.S. imperialism. It was typical of every Latin American or Caribbean country: poor and degraded socially by a corrupt, bankrupt ruling class that played a servile role to the U.S. rulers.
For the rich, life was good. Havana had more mansions than any other Latin American capital. For the poor there was homelessness, vast hunger, parasites in 90 percent of children in rural Cuba, and no electricity in almost the whole countryside.
What hope did the Cuban masses have for change? What hope did 400,000 sugar cane cutters have when, for four months of the year, they did backbreaking work cutting cane but for eight months they starved because there was no work?
There were always the elections, modeled after the U.S. elections in so many ways, with a gaggle of political parties, and one president after another, chosen every four years, just like here.
But even we who live in the richest capitalist country in the world know elections won’t make life better.
Cuba, with the victory of the guerrilla movement on Jan. 1, 1959, led by Fidel Castro, made earthshaking, revolutionary history. Not only did the Cubans overthrow the dictatorship, they transformed society by eliminating private property in the means of production and placing all the wealth of society literally in the hands of those who produce it.
In the process of the revolutionary struggles over the years, a whole people of millions learned of their power, their ability to run society without individual owners.
Certainly the material and historical conditions existed in Cuba to make revolution. But a leadership that didn’t compromise its principles was the essential ingredient, a leadership that understood that anything less than socialism was still capitalist exploitation. This is perhaps one of the most important lessons for any struggle we examine in any part of the world.
Look at Latin America. The people of Latin America are fighting for and demanding change, from Bolivian miners to the peasant farmers of Mexico to the 80 percent living in oil-rich Venezuela who are poor but today are inspired by what is known as the “Bolivarian Revolution.”
There have been recent electoral victories of liberal candidates, even progressives, in Latin America. There have been inspiring revolts. But what is clear in Latin America and the rest of the world is the need for revolution, for a decisive battle that puts the workers in power.
That doesn’t mean we don’t defend all those popular struggles. But long gone is that short period of time in history, around the world, when reforms were won in people’s struggles, allowing for some limited national economic development.
Cuba, a small, blockaded country that began its revolution at a disadvantage economically, underdeveloped by imperialism, has done what no capitalist country has been able to do.
Just look at a few facts: In the U.S., we just saw Congress pretend to provide drug coverage for seniors. But in reality it just worked out a great way to keep the pharmaceuticals rolling in multi-billion-dollar profits. There are 45 million people without healthcare here in the U.S.
In Cuba, every man, woman and child has a doctor and medical staff. They can walk into a clinic or hospital for free treatment. They don’t have to reach in their pockets to pay a doctor or insurance company.
Yet, look at the 70,000 grocery workers in California on strike for eight weeks, losing thousands of dollars in income, just to assure health benefits for their next three- or four-year contract.
Cuban scientists just announced the development of a synthetically produced vaccine for prevention of bacterial meningitis—a disease that kills 400,000 to 600,000 people in the world every year, mostly children. That vaccine exists in the U.S., but it is much more expensive than the medicine Cuba will produce.
In the U.S., we have the latest “reality” and “survivor” shows, and our television screens are filled with so many sensationalist trials and crimes and alleged crimes that there’s a serious scheduling problem on CNN. The real crimes—the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S.-Israeli massacres of Palestinians—hardly get covered.
In Cuba, a third television station was added called the “University for All.” Its programming includes English, French and Spanish lessons, mathematics, geography, history and culture. It is revolutionary mass media at work, educating and spreading culture that inspires solidarity, not cutthroat competition and demeaning behavior.
You will never see a Jerry Springer or Cristina show on Cuban television. Or a commercial, for that matter. That alone proves socialism’s superiority over capitalism.
Cuba provides the essentials of life for every citizen of its country. It’s a country free of landlords; imagine not having a landlord breathing down your neck. That’s real freedom, that’s workers’ democracy.
And Cuba has extended its revolutionary gains beyond its borders, with 60,000 doctors who have served for free, providing care in almost every oppressed country.
Cuba played the key role of smashing South African apartheid invaders; 300,000 Cuban volunteers fought alongside their Angolan brothers to drive South Africa out of Angola.
This has all been accomplished while Cuba was under siege, under blockade, economic sabotage and terrorist attack from the U.S. Every time Cuba makes an economic trade agreement with a company or country, the U.S. tries to overturn it.
Every athlete, scientist and artist, who have achieved so much through Cuba’s revolution, is offered standing bribes to “defect” and come to America. Through the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act, every Cuban is guaranteed special immigration privileges as inducement to come illegally to this country.
There are a thousand daggers aimed at Cuba. And yet the U.S. has been predicting its demise every year for 44 years.
Cuba is doing its part. What we need to do, sisters and brothers, is to defend Cuba, to support Cuba and extend our solidarity whenever we can.
Defend the Cuban Five
And one of the most urgent ways is to fight for the freedom, the release of the five Cuban heroes whom we have come to know as the Cuban Five. They are five Cuban revolutionaries who were working in the early 1990s in Miami to defend their country from anti-Cuba right-wing terrorists, terrorists funded and backed by the CIA against Cuba.
The five heroes are in separate U.S. prisons, and at a critical stage. Their appeals are presently before the 11th Circuit.
If Cuba could carry out a revolution right next to the most dangerous imperialist power in the world, we who live in this country must do no less than stand side-by-side with Cuba.