Years of the Cuban Revolution
A million Cubans march against the governments of Spain and Italy and to commemorate the Rosenberg executions.
By Walter Lippmann, Reporting from Cuba June 20, 2003
for Change-Links newspaper, Los Angeles
HAVANA - On June 12, on less than twenty-four hours' notice, a million Cubans rallied in support of their government, to protest intervention in the island's affairs by the governments of Spain and Italy. Carrying posters caricaturing the Spanish Prime Minster as "Fuhrer-cito" (Little Fuhrer) and the Italian Prime Minister as "Benito Berlusconi", people here came out in droves.
There wasn't a single leaflet put out. No e-mail. No phone banks. No mailings. Nothing more than the call which went out in the papers and which was reported on the radio and television. It's amazing what you can do when you've got the full power of the government and media with you rather than against you!
Readers of Change-Links know what it takes to protest one injustice. How much more does it take to transform an entire society? We have some experiences with success and more with failure. We've seen numerous ideas, plans, schemes and stunts through the years. The Cuban Revolution, which began fifty years ago this month in complete violation of conventional wisdom, is still alive and well.
What is conventional wisdom? It's the idea that "you can't fight City Hall and win". It's the idea that ultimately nothing we do can change or affect the power of those already holding power in the world we live in. Cuba's continued defiance of such "conventional wisdom". You can say what you like about Cuba, and about Fidel Castro, but he and has compatriots refused to accept conventional wisdom and decided to change their society by any means necessary.
The Cuban Revolution, which took the island out of the control of the United States and back into Cuban hands, shows conventional wisdom can be overcome. A cynic would say that a stopped clock is right twice a day. The mainstream media have been predicting the collapse of this revolution for over four decades. Why have they been proven wrong over and over and over again? A look at recent events, which I've observed first-hand, helps explain the island's persistence and success.
People here put up with periodic power outages, difficulties with housing and transportation, and troubles buying food and clothing. Sometimes I think complaining is the Cuban national religion! When no other explanation works, Cubans simply say, no es facil ("it isn't easy") or estoy acostombrado ("I'm used to it") as they cope with daily life. Yet, when the island is under attack, and when its leaders call on people to respond, they have always done so. We saw it again June 12. Cuba shows that conventional wisdom isn't really very wise. Consider a few things:
Spain is the principal investment source of many of the largest tourist hotels. Italy is the source from which the national telephone company has received investment and technology which have sharply upgraded much of the nation's communications system. You wouldn't think that Cuba would hold demonstrations against precisely such countries. But that's what Cuba did. Indeed, a large billboard reproducing Picasso's Guernica has been put up facing the Spanish embassy here. Why would a supposedly desperate island, if we believed the media's description, choose such targets?
Because Fidel Castro, lead the island from being a poor neo-colony to playing a world role far out of proportion to its size. Having fought hard its independence, Cuba resists every effort to tell it what kind of society it can have. Cuba bit the bullet and took very unpopular measures, executing three armed hijackers and jailing oppositionists who had taken money and directions from the US Interests Section.
These measures, particularly the executions, were NOT popular. But after the US invasion of Iraq, its leadership must have worried that the US might be preparing to invade. The US has never forgiven the island for pulling out from under US domination.
Billboard in Havana, June 2003 Photo by: Walter Lippmann
Just five weeks before the attack on the Moncada Garrison, which launched the Cuban Revolution, the Washington executed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Jewish activists for peace and social justice, and supporters of the Communist Party, USA. In 1953 thousands of Cubans had protested the executions. Even the Pope had opposed the execution. Washington used it to build support for the Korean War, which before Vietnam had been the most unpopular war in US history. It wanted to build anti-Communist hysteria by convicting the Rosenbergs, not of actual espionage, but only of "conspiracy to commit espionage".
Cuba is the only country in the world which mourns the Rosenbergs. It's the only one with a monument to them, unveiled in 1983. There have been annual commemorations ever since. This year Cuba held a big commemoration featuring a military honor guard and wreath laying. They were recognized in the Second Declaration of Havana, an historic 1962 Cuban document. Supporting the Rosenbergs isn't new here, as their sons and grandchildren recognized in a militant message read out on Cuban television June 19th.
US film-maker Estela Bravo, whose FIDEL documentary has been playing in the US, and Eusebio Leal, Historian of the City of Havana and a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, evoked that period and analyzed its meaning for today in a large university program here. The Mesa Redonda, island's main public affairs program, focused on it June 19th. It was headlined on the evening news and also in the days' papers. The Rosenbergs are described here in Cuba as the first victims of American fascism.
Cubans see obvious parallels between then and now, as they struggle for the freedom of five Cuban men in the US. The Cuban Five were also convicted, just like the Rosenbergs, not of actual acts, but only of "conspiracy. Thus, Cuba sees close parallels between the Rosenberg cases and the Cuban Five cases, as well as the political periods in which they occurred. We can and should resist the retrograde tides in US life by supporting freedom for the Cuban Five.