by Hassan Reyes (of Barrio Nuevo) Basics Issue #12 (Jan/Feb 2009)
If revolution is a thing of the past, then the people of Cuba didn’t get the memo. On January 1st, Cuba celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the victory of the popular movements to overthrow US-backed military dictator Fulgencio Batista.
On July 26th, 1953, the Castro brothers and others attacked the Moncada Police Barracks hoping to spark a revolt. Castro was one of a few who survived the unsuccessful attack and then went into exile in Mexico, where he organized and trained a small guerrilla army while the mass movement inside Cuba recruited members and organized urban resistance.
In 1957, Fidel, his brother Raul, and a young Argentine doctor named Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara were among the 88 who set out to cross the Caribbean in a shoddy boat built to carry up to 25 purchased in Texas. Upon landing in Cuba, only 12 managed to evade capture or execution. Incredibly, within about two years the guerrilla forces and popular movements forced the dictator and his cronies to leave the country. On January 1st, 1959, the rebel forces from the July 26th Movement (named after the day in 1953 where the Castro brothers and others launched their rebellion) marched into Havana to be greeted by tens of thousands of jubilant Cubans.
Cuba has been under a constant barrage from their northern neighbour, the United States, which has never forgiven Cuba for taking its destiny in its own hands and for showing the world that a society based on solidarity is possible. Not only has the US funded and orchestrated numerous terrorist attacks against Cuban civilians, it also coordinated the failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 and has attempted to kill ex-President Fidel Castro more than 600 times. This says nothing of the inhuman trade embargo imposed over the tiny island and its population, which by the US State department’s own numbers has cost Cuba between $84 million to $167 million a year – between $4 billion and $8 billion since the embargo was imposed. The American Association on World Health described the embargo as violating “the most basic international charters and conventions governing human rights.”Despite these monumental obstacles and colossal enemies, what Cuba has been able to accomplish is nothing short of astounding given the few domestic resources at its disposal. The World Health Organization reports that Cuban males have a life expectancy at birth of 75 years and females 79 years, which equals that of developed nations including the US. In infant mortality, Cuba boasts a lower rate than the US, with 5 deaths per thousand in Cuba versus 7 per thousand in the US. Cuba also has 6 doctors to every 1000 people – more than double the amount in the US!
In the area of educational achievements, Cuba was recognized as the first country in the hemisphere to eradicate illiteracy following a massive literacy campaign in 1961. Before the revolution, literacy rates were at best 60%.
Cuba was instrumental in bringing down the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, by sending soldiers to assist Angolan freedom fighters against South Africa and their colonial allies. Cuba also sends thousands of doctors and educators all over the world in areas affected by disaster or poverty to assist those populations, including in Haiti, Bolivia and even Pakistan.
Due to the severe hurricanes that caused over $9 Billion in damages in August 2008, festivities on the island were relegated to concerts in major cities and a humble celebration in the birthplace of the revolution, Santiago de Cuba. Nonetheless, it was evident all over the island that Cubans remain proud of their achievements and are determined to not let them be reversed.
People all over the world should be proud of our Cuban brothers and sisters and work tirelessly to catch up with them in building a just society.