In Tepic, Nayarit, the Other Campaign Marks 39 Years Since the Death of “Che” Guevara
At the First Stop on Delegate Zero’s Restarted Tour, Adherents Proclaim Solidarity with the Cuban People Despite the Contradictions of the Revolution
By Simon Fitzgerald
October 9, 2006
TEPIC, MEXICO, October 8: the Other Campaign hit the road again today, officially restarting Delegate Zero’s tour of the entire Mexican nation that had been suspended this past May after a massive police attack against adherents of the Other Campaign in San Salvador Atenco.
Today’s conference, entitled “Latin America, From Below and to the Left,” commemorated the thirty-ninth anniversary Ernesto “Che” Guevara assassination in Bolivia. Images of Che were prominently featured, and each of the speakers called upon his life for inspiration.
The conference opened with examples of how “the Other Nayarit” has come together and strengthened its struggles because of the the Other Campaign’s visit last May. It closed with a letter from the People in Defense of the Land, the targets of the police attack in Atenco. Many political movements, both from above and from below, in various Latin American countries were discussed, including: the “Argentinazo” uprising of December 2001 following the economic collapse in Argentina, Lula’s Workers’ Party in Brazil, Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, and President Evo Morales and his Bolivian indigenous supporters. However, perhaps owed to the fact that Che Guevara was the primary icon of the event, the recurring theme was the Cuban revolution.
I have my own impressions of the Cuban revolution and my own relationship with “el pueblo cubano” (the Cuban people). I spent a year studying at the University of Havana, and that experience has been fundamental to my growth, both personally and politically. I have strong affection for the Cuban people and great respect for the Cuban experience. My feelings towards the Cuban government and the Cuban revolution are just as strong, but much more complicated.
The conference was called primarily by Mexican communist organizations, including the Party of Communists, the Francisco Villa Popular Front–INOPI, the Young Communists of Mexico, and Worker and Socialist Unity. Other than the representative from Atenco and Subcomandante Marcos from the EZLN, the speakers were representatives of these organizations.
One of these party representatives chose to focus solely on Cuba in his analysis. Specifically, he discussed the social gains of the Cuban revolution: the unprecedented literacy campaigns, the free healthcare and education, the large number of physicians in Cuba and the corresponding high quality of life, the high level of home ownership, and the role of Cuban professionals working around the world within Cuban government programs. The fact that these accomplishments persevere despite the United States’ escalating economic war against Cuba make them all the more impressive.
This particular speaker limited his criticism of the Cuban government to the state’s post-Soviet economic changes, which have created a new class stratification based on access to foreign currency and the comforts this money can buy.
While all of this is true, it is incomplete and idealized. When the speaker referred to the Cuban Communist Party, the one party of the state, as “the only one [the Cuban people] need,” he ignored the frequent negative experiences that Cubans have with the state party. When he said that the ultimate authority on the island was the elected popular assemblies, he contradicted the experience of the Cubans I trust most, who argue that power mostly trickles down from the very top of the Cuban Communist Party.
The Cuban government is certainly capable of changing in response to Cuban society. The expansion of the historically homophobic Revolution to include gay Cuban society after the release of the movie Fresa y Chocolate is just one example. The Cuban government also depends on the popular support of a significant and large percentage of Cuban society to stay in power. Indeed, Fidel Castro’s approval rating in Cuba is almost certainly higher than that of George W. Bush in the US. Nevertheless, the Cuban revolution and the Cuban government are full of contradictions such as bureaucracy, coercive party structures, corruption, and authoritarian tendencies that, along with economic hardship, could one day lead to the revolution’s downfall.
Delegate Zero, also known as Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, also focused on the importance of supporting the Cuban people and the Cuban revolution, relying on his characteristic poetry and allegorical stories. As a guerrilla warrior himself, Marcos said that Che’s death was the bravest way to die. He also mentioned the battle of Santa Clara, when Che’s forces “destroyed the spinal cord of the dictator Batista’s army,” as one of the most brilliant moments in the history of Latin American.
Marcos also referenced the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, which in addition to announcing the Other Campaign, announced the Zapatistas’ support for the struggle of the Cuban people, and the Zapatistas’ intention to send corn and gasoline to the Cuban embassy as material support “for their resistance against the North American blockade,” though the same document reconsidered that proposal because “Mexico City is so far, and maybe ‘Chompiras’ [the Zapatista truck in Oventic] will fall apart and the whole thing will end badly.”
He spoke of the deep feelings the Zapatistas’ have for the Cuban people, recounting a story of an encampment they had named after Che Guevara on the 1984 anniversary of Che’s death. There the guerrilla fighters used to listen to Radio Havana on a shortwave radio, valuing batteries more than sugar because of that radio and the Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes songs that it broadcast.
In that time, “Cuba was not a foreign country to the communities that would later become Zapatistas, but a people that rose up, that rises up… as only the people from below can. The Cuban people are brothers, sisters, and compañeros.... We don’t want to erase that humble bridge between the mountains of the Mexican southeast and that dignified Caribbean nation.
“The enemy of the Cuban people is the same enemy of the Zapatista indigenous communities and of the indigenous communities of all of the Americas. There are times when it seems to be in style… among Latin American governments and intellectuals supposedly worried about democracy behind stars and bars… to attack the Cuban revolution… but such styles do not exist in Zapatista communities…. To us, to say ‘Cuba’ is to point out a pain and a hope, the pain of the illegitimate and illegal blockade… and a hope as the only example after half of a century of existence, a simple and necessary example, of people that take control of their own destiny.
“To the people of the Americas, Cuba is a relief, but it is not the cure. We must all cure ourselves; we must heal our wounds and rise up to take our own dignity, our own liberty, and our own justice.
“We as Zapatista communities don’t only see our pain; we see its causes. One of them is greater than any other, the great metropolis north of the Rio Bravo [Rio Grande]. To ignore this is an error; to not say it is cowardice. We as Zapatistas cannot shut our mouths as if Cuba didn’t exist, as if there was no blockade, as if there was no US military base in Guantánamo, as if the whole island didn’t resist, as if their flag wasn’t one of dignity, as if (in the words of a Zapatista song) it wasn’t a challenge to the most powerful empire ever.
“It’s a shame we can only send corn or gas, and not something that could wholly represent all of the respect and admiration that we have for the Cuban people, but whatever, Fuck Rome.”
Marcos did not criticize the contradictions of the Cuban government as the vanguard of the Cuban revolution. In fact, he argued against verbally attacking Cuba while it suffers from so many of the empire’s attacks. More importantly, his words of deep admiration for the continuing struggle of Cuban revolution highlight the profound connections and deep bond that all struggles against empire share with Cuba. The Cuban struggle for survival is the same struggle for survival that the Zapatistas and all people in struggle face on a daily basis.
Unsettling contradictions certainly exist within Cuban society, as they must exist in the Zapatista communities and within any collective, organization, or community. It is important to recognize rather than idealize these contradictions. Indeed, it is the duty of every community, be they Cuban or Zapatista, to confront and overcome their own contractions. For outsiders to criticize the imperfections of a people who fight for their very survival is to provide ammunition to the enemy in a war against oblivion.
In short, it is ignorant to believe that Cuba exists in a vacuum and cowardice to pretend that it does. I hope that we can provide more real solidarity to the Cuban people in ways that help them overcome the contradictions of their government, rather than reinforce them or, even worse, further arm the repressive forces of empire.
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