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News ::
19 Aug 2003


By Gloria La Riva
Santiago, Cuba
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Aug. 21, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper



By Gloria La Riva
Santiago, Cuba

Fifty years ago, on July 26, 1953, 26-year-old Fidel Castro launched the armed struggle against the U.S.-backed Batista regime with his nascent movement's courageous assault on the Moncada army garrison in this eastern Cuban city.

Although several rebel fighters were killed in battle and 54 more were
brutally tortured to death, the defeated attack signaled the beginning
of the end for Fulgencio Batista, and by extension, for U.S. neo-
colonial rule in Cuba.

The few survivors of the Moncada assault, including Fidel Castro, were
tried and convicted. In his stirring defense speech on Oct. 16, 1953,
Castro justified the revolutionary actions with a sweeping indictment of the oppressive conditions under which the Cuban masses were living.

He told the court what his July 26th Movement was fighting for: jobs,
healthcare, housing, food, peace and dignity for the Cuban masses. It
became known as the Moncada program and ended with his heroic and
prophetic words: "Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve

The speech, smuggled out of the courtroom and published for mass
distribution, became the rallying cry for the struggle.

Then five years, five months and five days after Moncada, on Jan. 1,
1959, the rebels and masses successfully brought down the old order and ushered in the process of rebuilding society through socialism.


On the 50th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada, 10,000 Santiago
residents and foreign delegations rallied in front of the former
garrison, which is now an elementary school. They honored the freedom
fighters who gave their lives and those who fought on until the
revolutionary triumph. They celebrated 50 years of people's perseverance in the face of the greatest threat to Cuba and all humanity, U.S. imperialism.

From the speech of fifth-grader Solanch Sanz Suárez, a girl member of
the Pioneers, to a message from Antonio Guerrero, one of the five Cuban political prisoners in the U.S., the talks reflected great pride in the revolution's achievements.

Assembled at the rally were women and men combatants of the clandestine urban struggle and guerrilla war against Batista. They proudly wore their revolutionary medals.

Sonia Somodevilla Bideaut served as a nurse to the rebel fighters. She
told this reporter, "We've always been by Fidel's side. Today we're
conserving our freedoms and helping other countries with what we have."


In the evening, President Fidel Castro stepped up to the front of the
Moncada building to thunderous cheers. He began with excerpts from his
1953 defense speech, at a time when Cuba's population was less than 6

He had said back then, "Six hundred thousand Cubans without work. Five
hundred thousand farm laborers who work four months of the year and
starve the rest. Four hundred thousand industrial workers and laborers
whose retirement funds have been embezzled, whose homes are wretched
quarters, whose salaries pass from the hands of the boss to those of the moneylender, whose life is endless work and whose only rest is the tomb.

"Two million eight hundred thousand of our rural and suburban population lack electricity. Ninety percent of the children in the countryside are sick with parasites."

President Castro explained the economic and social analysis of his 1953 speech. He spoke of the tactical issues he faced at the time, among them, winning the masses to the ideas of a new economic and social system amidst widespread prejudices against socialism.

Next he quoted what he now calls "perhaps the most important statement I made about the economic and social situation."

It was these words from his 1953 trial: "The nation's future, the
solution to its problems, cannot continue to depend on the selfish
interests of a dozen big businessmen nor on the cold calculations of
profits that 10 or 12 magnates draw up in their air-conditioned offices. The country cannot continue begging on its knees for miracles from a golden fleece, like the one mentioned in the Old Testament destroyed by the prophet's fury. States men whose statesmanship consist of preserving the status quo and mouthing phrases like 'absolute freedom of enterprise,' 'guarantees to investment capital' and 'law of supply and demand' will not solve these problems."

Looking back at what he had said then, Castro continued: "These
statements and ideas described a whole underlying thinking regarding the capitalist economic and social system that simply had to be eliminated. They expressed, in essence, the idea of a new political and social system for Cuba, although it may have been dangerous to propose such a thing in the midst of the sea of prejudices and ideological venom spread by the ruling classes, allied to the empire and imposed on a population where 90 percent of the people were illiterate or semi-literate, without even a sixth-grade education, discontented, combative and rebellious, yet unable to discern such an acute and profound problem.

"Since then, I have held the most solid and firm conviction that
ignorance has been the most powerful and fearsome weapon of the
exploiters through all of history."


The Cuban leader compared the social statistics of 1953 with 2003. The
illiteracy rate has dropped from 22.3 percent to 0.5 percent. Since
1953, those with a high school education have risen 41 times, from an
abysmal 3.2 percent of the population, or 139,984 people, to 5,733,243.

In a statistical survey that would be unheard of from a U.S. president, Castro reviewed housing, health and quality of life standards that surpass many developed countries.

All this, he noted, was accomplished by a country under siege. "I am
talking as if the country were an idyllic haven of peace, as if there
had not been over four decades of a rigorous blockade and economic war, aggressions of all kinds."

Castro devoted the rest of his address to a blistering denunciation of
the European Union's recent attacks on Cuba. U.S. imperialism is
pressuring its European allies into service as proxies in its dirty war against Cuba.

On July 21 the EU, led by reactionary Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, passed a resolution condemning Cuba for supposed human rights violations. It voted to eliminate humanitarian aid to Cuba and to pursue contacts with Cuban counter-revolutionaries for a "common purpose"--Cuba's destabilization.

Castro warned that the resolution adds to "the hostility, threats and
dangers posed for Cuba by the aggressive policy of the hegemonic

He characterized the EU's assistance to Cuba as miserly, exaggerated and unwelcome. In 2000 the so-called humanitarian aid received from the European Union was $3.6 million; in 2001 it was $8.5 million; in 2002, $0.6 million.

These countries only purchased an average of $571 million worth of
imports from Cuba annually.

On the other hand, Cuba's payments to the countries of the European
Union for goods imported over the last five years totaled some $7.5

"Who is actually helping whom economically?" Castro asked.

He contrasted Cuba's internationalism toward the Third World, in
particular African countries, with European imperialism's sordid role:

"Cuba, a small country, besieged and blockaded, has not only been able
to survive, but also to help many countries of the Third World,
exploited throughout centuries by the European colonial powers.

"In the course of 40 years, over 40,000 youths from more than 10 Third
World countries, including 30,000 from Africa, have graduated in Cuba as university-educated professionals and qualified technical workers, at no cost to them whatsoever, and our country has not attempted to steal a single one of them, as the countries of the European Union do with many of the brightest minds.

"These things that our country can do should serve as an example to the European Union, and make it feel ashamed of the measly and ineffective aid it offers these countries.

"While Cuban soldiers were shedding their blood fighting the forces of
apartheid, the countries of the European Union exchanged billions of
dollars worth of trade every year with the South African racists, and
through their investments, reaped the benefits of the cheap, semi-slave labor of the Africans."

He then declared that Cuba will refuse any type of assistance from
states of the European Union. The only aid it would accept is non-
governmental and from the solidarity movement.

"In the name of 50 years of resistance and relentless struggle in the
face of a force many times greater than theirs, and of the social and
human achievements attained by Cuba without any help whatsoever from the countries of the European Union, I invite them to reflect calmly on their errors, and to avoid being carried away by outbursts of anger or Euro-narcissistic inebriation.

"Neither Europe nor the United States will have the last word on the
future of humanity.

"I could repeat here something similar to what I said in the spurious
court where I was tried and sentenced for the struggle we initiated five decades ago today, but this time it will not be me who says it; it will be declared and foretold by a people that has carried out a profound, transcendental and historic Revolution, and has succeeded in defending it:

"Condemn me. It does not matter. The peoples will have the last word.

"Eternal glory to those who have fallen during 50 years of struggle.

"Eternal glory to the people that turned its dreams into a reality.


- END -

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