Friends of Latin America India

On 19th February,2017 FRIENDS OF LATIN AMERICA-India organized a Seminar at Sahid  Surya Sen Bhaban, Kolkata. Topic of the seminar was “FIDEL’S LEGACY FOR CUBA, LATIN AMERICA AND THE WORLD

Secretary of Friends of America – India, Suman Putatunda, started the programme discussing how Comrade Fidel Castro, the leader of Revolutionary Cuba, had transformed his country and latter rest of South America as a symbol of resistance and social justice to the oppressed millions of this planet.Fidel himself and the Cuban Revolution have indeed become the symbol and inspiration of mass social movement of resistance to injustice around the world. After secretary’s introduction, Cuban and Latin American songs and recitation set mood of the programme. Prof. Amiya Bagchi, president of the organization chaired the seminar and started the discussion.

The first speaker Prof. Prabhat Patnaik, the eminent economist and Marxist ideologue, spoke on the genesis of the Cuban Revolution. He explained how the first attack on Moncada barracks, led by the young and fiery Fidel Castro Ruz, were carried out by the handful (120 to be precise) of revolutionaries, whose example can only be found in fairy tales, on July 26, 1953.  The attempt failed, 70 of the rebels were assassinated after being captured and 26 of the survivors including Fidel handed out long-term jail sentences. However, the spirit did not die. Sacrifice of the young revolutionaries in fact became inspiration of the oppressed Cubans and became famous as July 26 Movement. Fidel defended himself by saying "history will absolve me", which has now become a historical. After Fidel and Raul being freed, they headed to Mexico. After sometime they returned to Cuba with Che and 80 fighters on a small boat named Granma and started a guerrilla war from the Sierra Maestro mountains that culminated in the final victory. Che entered Havana on January 1, 1959. Dictator Batista fled the country. Fidel with 9,000 triumphant fighters entered six days later with Cuban people cheering for their liberator.

Fidel, in association with the opposition Orthodox ( Cuban People's) Party, had come across Marxist literature during his University days and made use of his readings in consolidating and broadening the revolutionary spirit, but would not call himself a Marxist till he was confronted with stringent conditional ties by the IMF during his visit to the USA after the revolution. This is when he realized that the one who is really concerned about the people, has to be a Marxist. He turned to the Soviet Union for aid. The USA responded with economic blockade and an invasion of the island by Cuban exiles in 1961 - the Bay of Pigs disaster. Fidel, with as many as 638 documented attempts on his life by the CIA, steered Cuba out of the blockade and constant military threat/political pressure from the northern Goliath. Soviet Union’s collapse latter was a body blow not only for socialism across the world but for the Cuban revolution too. The severe economic woes inflicted by break-up of the Soviet Union and collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe had to be taken care of. Despite these tremendous odds, Fidel, true to his Marxist ideals, courageously carried out international revolutionary obligations that he felt Cuba should undertake.

One such example of his internationalist traits Fidel sent Che with a handful of Cuban forces, as early as in 1961, to Congo for training guerrilla forces fighting the West-backed strongman Mobutu Sese Seko. The Che-led revolutionary expedition to Bolivia two years later is now history. Following the fall of the Portuguese dictatorship, the civil war in Angola among guerrilla factions MPLA, UNITA and FNLA intensified. In October, 1975, the white-ruled apartheid regime of South Africa invaded Angola at the behest of the USA to crush the left-wing MPLA and put a puppet government in the neighborhood. Fidel sent the Cuban legion, in a "remarkable act of internationalism", fought shoulder to shoulder with the MPLA, inflicted defeat on the mighty imperialist backed opponent (South Africa, of course before Mandela regime), which changed the course of that country and reverberated across Africa. Angola not only preserved its own revolution, it played the role as a base for armed resistance groups fighting for liberation from white racist regimes in neighboring Rhodesia, Mozambique and Namibia occupied by South Africa for 60 years. The Cuban intervention and arms-training hastened legalization of African National Congress and South African Communist Party. Mandela became free and all the racist regimes fell in quick succession. Prof Patnaik then recounted his experience of visiting Cuba way back, still with gas-guzzling old taxis. He recalled those moments the hosting students of medicine gave him. He also underlined his memorable moments while meeting Fidel, the towering world leader from a tiny island, which shook the mighty USA.

The next speaker, Prof Mihir Bhattacharyya, started his speech by mentioning Liberation theologist Camilo Torres’s famous quote “If Jesus were alive today, He would be a guerrilla”. While speaking on "Religion" in Cuban context, elaborated on the deep Catholic faith that pervades entire Latin America, Cuba no exception. Besides, some of the black population there practiced a faith named Santeria, inherited from their ancestors brought as slaves from Africa by the white settlers. Fidel himself, like many of his comrades in the revolution, grew up in a Catholic environment, but that did not come in the way of achieving their mission along with Marxist comrades like Raul Castro. In fact, over the first few years after the revolution, the Catholic Christianity prevailed. As the leadership felt the need to strengthen the Marxist revolutionary spirit, the State turned atheist. The advent of Liberation Theology in the Latin America, the pro-poor, humane face of the Catholic faith that often came into conflict with the State and the Vatican, its role in Nicaragua and El Salvador forced Fidel and the Cuban leadership into lengthy deliberations in the wake of the stand taken by numerous Latin American religious communities in the framework of the economic, social, moral and political situation in the continent and Cuba in particular. It was observed that atheism of the State was alienating the faithful from the Communist Party and the administration.

Prof Amiya Bagchi dwelt on the various roles played by Fidel in his long political carrier. As the leader of the Cuban people, he was always interactive and inspiring, even after his retirement. He looked eye to eye to the USA all his life and infused courage among his people. He always said "Socialism or Death". He was instrumental in uniting the Latin American countries, mostly under military dictatorship or US' puppet regimes for most of the times. His leadership has seen countries free themselves from the yoke of imperialist backed puppets and dictators, and finally stand up to US imperialism. A great political thinker and teacher, Fidel could see things coming on the international arena years ahead. Perhaps his greatest achievement was to dedicate Cuba to internationalism. Cuba not only stands tall in healthcare, it has been sending doctors to the neighboring countries and providing medical education as well. Wherever people have been affected by disasters, Cuba has promptly stood by its side; from earthquake-ravaged Haiti and Pakistan to Ebola-affected Sierra Leon. To his own credit, Fidel, a leader of a tiny Caribbean island, became a towering figure in the international arena, a larger than life legend to be remembered forever.

The discussion was followed by a film show,”La Guerra Necesaria” by Santiago Alvarez, followed by an animated question-answer session in which a large section of young audience asked incisive questions on Fidel and Cuban revolution and Prof. Bagchi and other speakers did their best to elucidate the issues involved.

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