Cuba’s Revolution: 50 Years of Resistance

‘A Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble.’ Speech by Raul Castro Ruz, president of the Council of Ministers of Cuba, at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, in Santiago de Cuba on January 1, 2009, “Year of the 50th Anniversary of the Revolutionary Triumph.”

Cuba: 50th Anniversary Poster

Men and women of Santiago, People of Oriente;

Combatants of the Rebel Army, of the underground struggle and of every battle in defense of the Revolution throughout these 50 years;

Fellow Cubans:

On a day like this, our first thoughts are for those who fell in this long struggle. They are a paradigm and a symbol of the effort and sacrifice of millions of Cubans. Together, armed with the powerful weapons of Fidel’s leadership, teachings and example, we learned from the struggle to transform our dreams into a reality; to keep our heads cool and our confidence in the face of dangers and threats; to overcome big setbacks; to turn every challenge into a victory and to overcome adversity, no matter how insurmountable it might seem.

Those who had the privilege of experiencing the intensity of this stage of our history are well aware of the truth of the warning Fidel gave us on January 8, 1959, in his first speech after entering the capital:

“The tyranny has been overthrown. Our joy is immense. However, much remains to be done. Let us not deceive ourselves into believing that in the future everything will be easier, because perhaps everything will be more difficult.”

For the first time, the Cuban people had attained political power. The mambises [pro-independence guerrillas] finally entered Santiago de Cuba, together with Fidel. Sixty years earlier, U.S. imperialism had revealed its real objective of absolute domination by preventing the Liberation Army from entering this city.

The U.S. intervention caused great confusion and enormous frustration but the Mambí Army, although formal dismantled, always preserved its fighting spirit and the ideas that led Céspedes, Agramonte, Gómez, Maceo and so many other heroes and independence fighters to take up arms.

We endured five decades of corrupt governments and new U.S. interventions, the Machado tyranny, and the failed revolution that overthrew him. Later, in 1952, a coup d’état supported by the U.S. administration reinstated the dictatorship, following the pattern it commonly applied in those years to ensure its dominance in Latin America.

Armed struggle was the only way

It was clear to us that the armed struggle was the only way. Again, the revolutionaries would have to face — as Martí did before us — the challenge of renewing the unavoidable war for the independence that was cut short in 1898.

Thus, the Rebel Army took up again the weapons of the mambises, and after the triumph, was forever transformed into the undefeated Revolutionary Armed Forces.

The Centennial Generation, which in 1953 stormed the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes barracks, was inspired by Marti’s vital legacy and by his humanistic global vision, which extended beyond the attainment of national liberation.

In historical terms, the lapse of time from the frustration of the mambises’ dreams to the triumph of the War of Liberation was short. Early in that period, Mella, a founding member of our first communist party and of the FEU (University Students Federation), was the legitimate heir and the bridge connecting Marti’s thoughts to the most advanced ideas.

Those were the years when the consciousness and activity of the workers and farmers matured, when a genuine, brave and patriotic intelligentsia was formed that has stood by their side to this day. Cuban teachers, a loyal repository of the fighting traditions of its predecessors, planted the seeds for the best of the new generations.

A cataclysm of social justice

Right after the triumph, it was clear to every man and woman that the Revolution was a cataclysm of social justice that touched every home, from the large palaces on the Quinta Avenida in the country’s capital, to the poorest shanty in the most remote farm or mountain.

The revolutionary laws not only fulfilled the program of Moncada, but surpassed it, as we followed the logical evolution of the process. At the same time, they set a precedent for the peoples of the Americas, who had been fighting for emancipation from colonialism for 200 years.

In Cuba the history of the Americas took a new turn. No moral virtue was absent from the whirlwind that — even before January 1, 1959 — started blowing away oppression and inequity. It opened the way for the enormous effort an entire people to control their own lives, to lift themselves up with their own sweat and blood.

Millions of Cubans, men and women, have been workers or students or soldiers, and sometimes all three when circumstances demanded.

Nicolas Guillén’s masterly verses synthesized what the January 1959 triumph brought to our people. “I have what I was meant to have,” he said in one of his poems, referring not to material wealth but to being the masters of our own destiny.

Constant attacks

This victory is twice as worthwhile, for it has been attained despite the hatred and vindictiveness of our powerful neighbor.

The promotion and support of sabotage and banditry; the Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs] invasion; the blockade and other forms of economic, political and diplomatic aggression; the permanent campaign of slander against the Cuban Revolution and its leaders; the October [Missile] Crisis; the hijackings of and attacks on civilian planes and boats; state terrorism that has left 3,478 dead and 2,099 maimed; the attempts on the life of Fidel and other leaders; the murders of Cuban workers, farmers, fishermen, students, diplomats and combatants — these and many other crimes bear witness to a stubborn determination to put out, at any cost, the beacon of justice and honor symbolized by January 1.

One way or another, with more or less aggressiveness, every U.S. administration has tried to impose regime change in Cuba. Resistance has been our slogan and our key to success in every one of our victories throughout this half century of continual fighting. Notwithstanding the extensive and decisive solidarity we have received, we have consistently acted on our own and taken our own risks

For many years, Cuban revolutionaries have abided by Martí’s call: “Freedom is most precious and one must either decide to live without it or resolve to pay its price.”

On the 30th anniversary of the victory, Fidel said in this square: “We are here because we have been able to resist.” Ten years later, in 1999, from this same balcony, he said that the Special Period was “the most extraordinary page of revolutionary and patriotic glory and firmness … when we were left absolutely alone in the West, only 90 miles away from the United States, and we decided to continue forward.” We repeat the same thing today.

Our resistance is based not on fanaticism but on sound convictions, and on the resolution of all of the people that the price of defending those convictions must be paid. Our glorious Five Heroes are a living example of that unshakable determination. (Applause, cheers)

Today we are not alone

Today, we are not alone on this side of the ocean facing the empire, as it was the case in the 1960s when in January 1962 the United States of America absurdly forced the OAS to expel Cuba. Only shortly before, Cuba had been the victim of an invasion that was organized by the U.S. administration and escorted to our coasts its warships. It has since been proven that the expulsion was supposed to be a prelude to direct military intervention. This was prevented only by the deployment of the Soviet nuclear missiles, leading to the October Crisis, known to the world as the Missile Crisis.

Today, the Revolution is stronger than ever; it has never failed to stand by its principles, not even in the most difficult circumstances. This truth cannot be changed in the least, even if some get tired or even renounce their history forgetting that life is in itself an eternal fight.

Does that mean there is less danger? No, it doesn’t. Let’s not entertain any illusions. As we commemorate this half century of victories, it is important to look to the future, to the next fifty years of permanent struggle.

A look at the current turbulence in the contemporary world tells us that the coming years will not be easier. This is simply the truth; I am not saying this to scare anyone.

We should also keep in mind what Fidel told us all, but especially the youth, at the University of Havana on November 17, 2005: “This country could destroy itself, this Revolution could destroy itself, but they [the enemy] cannot destroy it. We could destroy it ourselves, and it would only be our fault,” he argued.

In the face of this possibility, I ask myself: what would guarantee that such a horrible thing would not happen to our people? How can we avoid a blow that would take a long time to recover from?

I speak for all those who have been fighting from the moment the first shots were fired on the walls of the Moncada barracks 55 years ago and for those who carried out heroic internationalist missions.

We must never abandon our principles

And of course, I speak for those who fell in the wars of independence and more recently in the War of Liberation. I speak for them all, and for Abel and Jose Antonio, for Camilo and Che, when I say, in the first place that this requires that tomorrow’s leaders never forget that this is a Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble. (Applause) It requires that that they never be misled by the enemy’s siren songs and know that the enemy will never cease to be aggressive, treacherous and dominating. They must never distance themselves from our workers, our farmers and the people at large. It requires that the party members prevent the destruction of the [Communist] Party.

We must learn from history.

If tomorrow’s leaders act consistently, they will always have the support of the people, even if they make mistakes, so long as they do not abandon basic principles. But if their actions are inconsistent with those principles, they may be powerless to correct their mistakes, because they do not have the moral authority that the masses only grant to those who never back away from the struggle. They could end up powerless before internal and external dangers and unable to preserve the achievements that are the fruit of the blood and sacrifices of many generations of Cubans.

Let no one doubt that if that happened, our people will know how to fight, that today’s mambises will be in the frontline; that they will never be ideologically disarmed nor will they ever lay down their swords. (Applause, cheers)

It is the responsibility of the historic leadership of the Revolution to prepare the new generations to take up the enormous responsibility carrying the revolutionary process forward.

This heroic city of Santiago — and all of Cuba — was witness to the sacrifices of thousands of compatriots. It felt the accumulated rage that for so many lives cut short by crime, and the endless pain of our mothers, and the sublime courage of its sons and daughters.

This was the birthplace of a young revolutionary who was killed when he was only 22, a man who symbolizes willingness to make sacrifices; purity, courage and serenity; and the love for our people: Frank País García.

This eastern land was the birthplace of the Revolution. It was here that the call to duty was made in La Demajagua and on July 26; it was here that we landed in the Granma and started the struggle on the mountains and the plains, the struggle that extended later to the entire island. As Fidel said in History Will Absolve Me, “every day here looks like it will be again the day of Yara and Baire.” [the cities where the war of independence began.]

Never again shall poverty, humiliation, abuse and injustice return to our land!

Never again shall pain be felt in the hearts of our or shame return to the souls of every honest Cuban!

Such is the firm resolution of a nation that is prepared to fight, a nation that is aware of its duty and proud of its history. (Applause)

We are our own strongest critics

Our people are well aware of every shortcoming in the work they have built with their own hands and defended with their own lives. We, the revolutionaries, are our own strongest critics. We have never hesitated to publicly discuss our flaws and mistakes. There are plenty of examples, past and present.

Following October 10, 1868, disunity was the main cause of our defeats. After January 1st, 1959, the unity forged by Fidel has been the guarantee of our victories. Our people have been able to preserve that unity despite all of the difficulties and the attempts to divide us, and have rightly placed our common aspirations above our differences, crushing pettiness with the strength of collectivism and generosity.

Revolutions can only advance and endure when they are carried forward by the people. Full understanding of this truth and consistent and unshakable action to carry it forward has been decisive in the victory of the Cuban Revolution over its enemies, and over seemingly insurmountable difficulties and challenges.

As we complete the first half century of the victorious Revolution, let’s pay homage first to our wonderful people and to their exemplary decisiveness, courage, loyalty and spirit of internationalist solidarity; to their extraordinary will power, its willingness to sacrifice and their confidence in victory, in the Party, in their leader and, above all, in themselves. (Applause)

Homage to Fidel

I know that I am expressing the feelings of my compatriots and of many revolutionaries around the world, when I pay homage to the Commander in Chief of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz. (Applause, cheers)

One man alone doesn’t make history, but some men play an indispensable role in influencing the course of events. Fidel is one of them; nobody doubts it, not even his most bitter enemies.

Ever since his early youth he adopted as his own one of Martí’s thoughts: “All of the glory in the world fits in a kernel of corn.” This thought was his shield against everything superfluous or transient, his way of transforming praise and honors — even if well-deserved — into greater humility, honesty, fighting spirit and love for truth, which he has invariably placed above all else.

He made reference to these ideas 50 years ago in this same square. His words that night are absolutely valid today.

At this very special moment when we think of our past journey and particularly of the long way ahead, when we reiterate our commitment to the people and to our martyrs, allow me to conclude by recalling the alert and call to combat made by the Commander in Chief in this historic place on January 1, 1959, when he said:

“We do not believe that all of the problems can be easily solved; we know that the path is fraught with obstacles, but we are men of faith, we are used to facing great difficulties. Our people can be sure of one thing, and that is that we can make one or many mistakes, but we will never steal and we will never betray you.”

And he added:

“We shall never let ourselves be carried away by vanity or ambition, … there can be no greater reward or satisfaction than the fulfillment of our duty.”

On this day, full of significance and symbolism, let’s reflect on those ideas, which stand as a guidance for true revolutionaries. Let’s do so with the satisfaction of having fulfilled our duty and of having lived a life with dignity in the most intense and fruitful half century of our history. Let’s do so with the firm commitment that we will always be able to proudly claim in this land:

Glory to our heroes and martyrs! (Cheers)

Long live Fidel! (Cheers)

Long live the Revolution! (Cheers)

Long live Free Cuba! (Cheers)


Original Spanish text at Translated for Socialist Voice by Ian Angus. Subheads added by Socialist Voice.