By Arnold August,
Published on NCW, Jan 4, 2023:
Exclusive to NCW, we are delighted to publish an English translation of the piece Arnold August wrote in Spanish for his regular column in the official Cuban trade union outlet, Trabajadores, about the Jan 1 anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.
<<Leer versión original en español publicada en Trabajadores, 1 de enero de 2023>>
The July 26, 1953 attack led by Fidel Castro against the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes barracks was a setback. However, Fidel’s self-defence plea in the trial for the assaults, which became known as History Will Absolve Me, initiated on October 16, 1953, was an outstanding victory. Under very difficult conditions as a prisoner, the accused became the accuser. Fidel accused not only Batista’s US-backed military and state apparatus but also the entire political/economic/social system that then existed in Cuba as a US colony. And he offered a way out of the impasse.
That victory, antithetical to the setback of July 26, 1953, extended far beyond the walls of the Santiago de Cuba building that served as the courthouse. Through the July 26 Movement, which owes its name to the July 26 assault, it also became part of the conversion of setback into victory. Melba Hernández and Haydée Santamaría (two legendary women who participated in the failed assault), under Fidel’s leadership, managed to gather the papers of his defence and clandestinely printed 100,000 copies for distribution throughout the island. “History will absolve me” became part of the Cuban political scene forever, such was Fidel’s victory in court.
However, in December 1957, another setback had to be faced. The objective of the expedition of the improvised yacht Granma, which sailed from Mexico to eastern Cuba to begin the armed struggle to overthrow the Batista regime, ran into trouble. It landed in a swampy area far from the planned solid beachhead where reinforcements were waiting. In the first few days that it landed, it lost men and precious rifles and other armaments. It was a setback. However, Raúl Castro later revealed the story that emerged after the setback: “He [Fidel] gave me a hug and the first thing he did was ask me how many rifles I had, hence the famous phrase: ‘Five, plus two that I have, seven. Now we have won the war!’”
Well, the rest is history, since everyone knows that the Revolution triumphed on January 1, 1959. But was the conversion of the Granma setback into victory on January 1 really a saga of the past? Fidel did not seem to think so. He seemed to foresee that setbacks were going to put obstacles in the way of the Revolution even if it had conquered political power. He proclaimed on January 1: “The Revolution begins now, the Revolution will not be an easy task, the Revolution will be a hard undertaking full of dangers.”
The Cuban journalist who followed and wrote about Fidel’s 1953 defence speech, Marta Rojas (1928–2021), coined the phrase “Fidel, or turning setbacks into victory.” In other words, turning setbacks into victories was part of Fidel’s DNA.
The author of these lines has always maintained that Fidel’s thought and actions constitute valuable lessons for revolutionaries and communists all over the planet, not only for Cuba, and not the least of these lessons is Fidel’s immortal legacy of turning an impediment into a triumph. Where is there a revolutionary on the entire planet who does not have to face obstacles? Where is there a communist who cannot draw inspiration from Fidel or, as Marta Rojas wrote, from “the other name of Fidel,” that is, turning setbacks into victory?
Cuba enters 2023 having survived in 2022 the latest sanctions/blockade attacks by US imperialism and its allies, not to mention the ongoing pandemic, especially in the first half of 2022, the crippling Matanzas fire and Hurricane Ian. Taken together, these did not constitute for 2022 a setback on the same level as Moncada and the Granma landing, and they were also very different. However, Cuba did not fall to its knees and embrace the US, as Washington has been expecting. Cuba survived. Even more so, the Cuban Revolution has increased its respect and support from people around the world for its continued resistance to the US.
In writing about “turning setbacks into victory,” one cannot help but be reminded of the other giant of contemporary Latin American politics, Hugo Chávez. After the defeat of the civic-military rebellion of February 4, 1992, upon recognizing this setback, he declared “por ahora (for now),” that is, “we will return, and we will conquer.” And indeed, the incipient Bolivarian Revolution has returned and continues under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro. Moreover, the Venezuelan government did not give one inch to the US in its attempt to break Cuba–Venezuela solidarity and mutual aid. Nor did the Cuban Revolution yield to US pressure to abandon Venezuela.
Both Revolutions are founded on, among others, the same notion of faith in victory regardless of the obstacles.
By Arnold August, Contributing Editor of The Canada Files, Editorial Board Member of the International Manifesto Group and columnist for the official Cuban trade union outlet, Trabajadores.
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