By Barry Weisleder
Against the backdrop of fiery mass protests around the world, opponents of imperialism and social cuts gathered November 1-3 in Havana, Cuba. Over 1,300 delegates from 95 countries (including about 100 from the United States and 35 from Canada) assembled to celebrate a new rise of revolt, and potential revolution. The Anti-Imperialist Solidarity Conference, for Democracy and against Neoliberalism, the third of its kind since the demise of the USSR in the late 1980s, convened a diversity of radical parties, freedom campaigners, as well as bourgeois nationalist governments. Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution, admiration for its momentous achievements both within and far beyond the Caribbean island, is what drew them all together.
Passionate chanting, rhythmic clapping and energetic flag waving animated the plenary sessions, led by large contingents from Chile, Venezuela, Brazil and Puerto Rico. It was a poignant reminder that throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, people are rising up against right-wing, US-backed governments and their neoliberal austerity policies.
Currently in Chile, the government of billionaire Sebastian Piñera has deployed the army to crush nationwide demonstrations against inequality sparked by a subway fare hike.
In Ecuador, indigenous peoples, workers and students recently brought the country to a standstill during 11 days of protests against the gutting of fuel subsidies by President Lenin Moreno as part of an International Monetary Fund austerity package.
Similar mass actions have occurred in Haiti. In Puerto Rico, they toppled a racist, homophobic governor and his political partner. Revolts against narco-regimes, fraudulent elections and severe repression marked recent weeks in Honduras and Guatemala. The U.S./E.U./Canada backed far right has failed to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela, but the goods and services embargo orchestrated by the infamous Lima Group has taken a high toll there in lives and economic stability. Across north Africa, and in Lebanon and Iraq, social discontent is at a fever pitch, to say nothing of the untenable situations in north-east Syria for the Kurdish people, in Gaza and the West Bank for the utterly deprived and embattled Palestinians, and in India-occupied Kashmir.
The conference was largely a top-down affair. Lengthy orations by selected politicians and ‘experts’ began each session: Cuba’s Foreign Policy in the Regional Context – the fight against the Blockade; Challenges of the Left…before the imperialist offensive; Challenges for a solidarity articulation of our struggles. This arrangement left little time for comments and questions from the audience; and in the latter case, large reformist parties were repeatedly called upon by the chair instead of insurgent voices.
A wonderful street party, with music supplied by the Moncada Group, got delegates dancing with members of Committees for the Defense of the Revolution in a flag-bedecked Havana neighborhood square on Friday night.
Thematic commissions or workshops dominated proceedings on Saturday. Again, ‘experts’ provided ample information, and answered questions put to them, including by this writer on the topic of how the Cuban workers’ state facilitates the representation of different political currents in the working class,
within the framework of socialism and the new constitution. The answer was not on-point, but interesting.
The recurring message of the gathering emphasized how authoritarianism and violent force globally play an increasing role in capitalist rule. Neo-liberal cuts, de-regulation and privatization spark mass protest which quickly face brutal repression. The capitalist order, which presides over a ticking environmental time bomb, has little room for maneuver against indignant peoples who are being inhumanely squeezed by a failed system.
Conference participants received a Declaration, which included a Plan of Action that has 33 components. Space here allows reference only to a few: Actions to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba, to lift the sanctions against Venezuela, to stop the repression in Chile, to Free Lula (the unjustly imprisoned former Workers’ Party President of Brazil), to support the struggle for Puerto Rican independence, to support liberation movements from Palestine to Haiti to Catalonia, and to promote “anti-imperialist unity”. The latter point is interpreted in various ways. The Cuban leaders emphasize socialist revolution as the solution to the world crisis. The Stalinist and left social democratic parties present harp on the need for “a broad democratic front” that includes liberals and ‘patriotic’ capitalists — a rigid ‘stagist’ conception that history shows falls far short of the socialist transformation of society.
The broadest possible unity behind Cuba is a just and necessary priority. At the same time, the fight for a revolutionary strategy, embodied in a revolutionary workers’ international party, is an indispensable task that the Conference did not address.
The concluding session was unforgettable. When the presiding officials, with the surprise inclusion of the Presidents of Cuba and Venezuela, and Cuban army chief Raul Castro, took to the stage,
it is no exaggeration to say that the crowd went into a wild ecstasy. Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro invoked the spirit of Fidel Castro. He declared that within and beyond Latin America “a general uprising is occurring against neo-liberalism and capitalism.”
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said that his people will continue to confront the United States economic, commercial and financial blockade in all fields with work, creativity, resistance and without renouncing development. “Cuba’s most valuable resource is its people: imaginative, enterprising, brave and creative.”
The tightening of U.S. sanctions is an admission by Washington that the vast majority of Cubans support socialism, so the imperialists resort to fomenting economic dissatisfaction. “But Cuba will never surrender”, Diaz-Canel insisted. He quoted Jose Marti, 19th century founder of the Cuban independence movement: “Kindness and beauty cannot be bought.”
Cuba’s President summarized the weekend with these words: “Only the socialist project can achieve social justice. Youth are uprising. Cuba has diplomatic relations with 160 countries. We defeated the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas…. Cuba’s solidarity with Venezuela will remain “steadfast.”