Granma And Granpa

by Michael W. Stowell

February 3, 2003


For more than 43 years, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz has led the Cuban people in their struggle against the oppressive human avidity embodied in what we now call "Empire." Unlike most of his Marxist counterparts, Fidel is unwilling to resign himself to armchair conjecture and postulation. He moves people to action, those who follow and those who oppose, and creates his own path through history. Not only is he a man of eloquent words, he is a dynamic force that generates change at every level of human existence. Not only has he witnessed firsthand more human history than any world leader alive today, he has moved it, pushed it, and changed the course of it.

Love him or loathe him, you cannot ignore him.

Born to a prosperous Cuban landowner on August 13, 1926, Fidel Castro was educated at Belen College, a Jesuit High School in Havana, from 1941 to 1945. Of Christian theology Fidel has said, "Who knows, it may be so," and ever skeptical of organized religion, he was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Castro went on to attend the University of Havana Law School from 1946 to 1950 and then married into one of Cuba's wealthiest families. His law degree and social status presented opportunities for profligacy unique to those sharing colonialist rule, whether by politic or economy, but licentiousness did not appeal to him and he soon divorced the bourgeoisie.

As a young lawyer engaged in altruistic endeavors, Fidel tried to initiate reformation through Cuba's political system; he made plans to campaign for a parliamentary seat in 1952 and when General Batista overthrew President Socarras' government and cancelled the elections, Castro petitioned the courts charging the dictator with violating the constitution. With his petition rejected, he turned to "direct action" and organized an attack on the Moncada Military Barracks in Oriente province. It failed, nearly half of the 165 revolutionaries were slain, Fidel and his brother Raúl were captured and imprisoned.

It was in that Cuban prison that Fidel Castro's political ideology formed. He studied Marxism day and night for two years and upon his release in 1955, Fidel went on a fundraising tour of the United States and Mexico and met Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara. It was a match that Jean-Jacques Rousseau must have foreseen.

In Mexico City between June 24 and July 3, 1956, 28 Cuban revolutionaries and supporters were arrested. Fidel Castro was not released until July 24, and Che Guevara was released one week later. On November 25, aboard a 60-foot yacht named "Granma," 81 men, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, set sail for Cuba.

On November 30, in Santiago de Cuba, three hundred young men led by Frank País, wearing olive green uniforms and red and black armbands with the July 26 emblem, attacked police headquarters, the Customs House and the harbor headquarters.

On December 2, delayed by the rescue of a man who fell overboard and weather and logistical problems, including poor communications between the expeditionaries and the Cuban underground, the Granma landed in Las Coloradas, Oriente province. On December 5, the rebels were surprised by Batista's troops while resting on the edge of a cane field at Alegría de Pío, not far from the Sierra Maestra. The majority of the revolutionaries were killed or captured, but a few escaped to the Sierra Maestra, including the Castro brothers Fidel and Raúl, Che Guevara, Juan Almeida, Calixto García and a handful of others.

It was from those mountains that the Revolution began.

And as I sit here composing this piece, more than 40 years after the fact, I can recall my first exposure to this man, Fidel Castro, who is as big as life; I was a child sitting with my parents in front of a TV set in backwoods Wisconsin.

My father was a US military man who deplored Castro. The newsreel we were watching that night featured a robust, bearded man sitting in his living room with his young son, a boy about my age. A puppy ran into the room and jumped up onto the couch with Fidel and his son. It was a warm, loving, spirited scene of laughter and family fun. When the reporter conducting the interview asked the boy if it was his pup, Fidel's son replied that no, it was his papa's dog.

"See there," my father exclaimed, "he's so stingy, he won't even let his kid have a dog!" I was a bit frightened of my father's tone, and confused. It all seemed so warm and friendly; I almost envied the young boy and his "papa."

Nearly a year ago, I saw that same footage in a videotape of the documentary movie "Fidel." A good friend acquired the video while she was in Cuba expressing her solidarity with Pastors For Peace and preparing tours she arranges for Global Exchange. Thank you, Rachel.

The movie, "Fidel," is a documentary by an award-winning American producer, Estella Bravo. It is a compelling work worthy of Bravo and you must see it to appreciate its historical value and artistic creativity. I found it balanced and objective, revealing the humanity of Fidel Castro and of the Cuban people. El Commandante even admits to certain mistakes he made along the way, in particular, his 'too-closeness' to the Soviets. So, if you cannot visit Cuba and vacation with Fidel, see Ms. Bravo's magnificent documentary movie.

Remembering it now, a couple of issues come to mind that are quite prominent in the news concerning Cuban/American relations.

US President-select George W. Bush has stated that relations with the Cuban government will not change and the 42 year-old sanctions will remain in place until free elections reign in Cuba. That seems quite vociferous coming from a man who lost the popular vote and scarcely held on to an outdated electoral vote by way of the inanity of Al Gore and through GOP Supreme Court intervention. Nearly as ludicrous was neo-liberal Indonesian death-squad supporter Jimmy Carter when he returned from Havana with "serious concerns" about Cuban elections.

That Cuba does not have free elections is yet another myth conjured by "Yankee ingenuity."

The November 5, 2002 US House of Representatives election and the January 19, 2003 Cuba National Assembly election were both by secret ballot, both were voluntary, and both were open to all adults of the age of majority.

In the United States, there are multiple political parties though only two are able to effectively compete in state and national elections due to the prohibitive costs of funding visible campaigns. The world's largest financial interests fund the two parties that do compete, and the candidates elected represent the interests that put them in office. Local elections are somewhat more equitable, depending upon the amount of financial power and political influence at stake.

The Cuban electorate struggled with a multiparty system for long years in the first half of the last century. Shunning the exploitive opportunities availed by such devices, the Cubans have evolved a non-partisan form of representative government.

The Cuban Communist Party, comprised of about 15% of the adult population, is an advocacy group that promotes social reform and revolutionary goals but is restricted to educational activities and may have no part in the funding of candidates. In fact, there is no campaigning in Cuba. Candidates do not sell themselves or their political ideologies; money is not a dynamic.

Instead, anyone seeking local office must first submit his or her résumé for distribution and posting throughout his or her home district; residential districts do not change and therefore cannot be 'gerrymandered.' Residential election commissions check the accuracy of all résumés and ensure that constituents know candidates personally or by reputation. There are no career politicians in municipal offices, most have 'day-jobs,' and the 2-year term officeholders are obliged to host frequent "accountability sessions" with their constituents; they may be recalled at any time.

Up to 50% of the Cuban National Assembly is comprised of previously elected local officers. The rest are chosen by national candidate commissions that consult with organizations representing trade unions, small farmer's unions, the women's federation, the student federation, teachers, health care professionals and other such associations (the Cuban Communist Party is disqualified from participation), thereby acquiring representation that is a 'mirror of the nation'. All seats in the National Assembly must be contested each election, generally there are many candidates, and election of a candidate requires at least 51% of the vote. The National Assembly elects the members of the Council of State. The Council of State elects its own president, vice-president and secretary. The President of the Council of State is also the President of the Republic.

There are 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 100 in the U.S. Senate, and 601 seats in The Cuban National Assembly. The population of the United States of America is near 281 million people and the population of the Republic of Cuba is near 11 million people. In the most recent elections about 39% of eligible Americans went to the polls and more than 93% of the Cuban electorate voted.

The George W. Bush regime has also charged Cuba with propagating terrorism and he has stated, "If you harbor a terrorist, you are a terrorist."

In a recent interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell, President Fidel Castro addressed charges against Cuba and spoke at length about terrorism:

"We have been subjected to terrorism for almost 44 years. No other country in the world has been harassed or subjected to the sabotage or terrorist actions that have befallen Cuba for over 40 years. The price of all these actions is well known. Without making an estimate, I can say that we've lost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in economic damages.

"Many have suffered. Thousands handicapped. Much destruction. Much damage. However, I can say that not one single American lost their life as a consequence of Cuban actions against the United States... Never has a single brick in the United States been destroyed as a consequence of Cuban "terrorist" actions.

"Not only is it a lie but also it's cynical to include Cuba on the (State Department) list of terrorist countries because we are the Olympic Champions in having endured more than 40 years of terrorism without ever having engaged in terrorist actions. Nor will we ever. It would have been stupid for us to take revenge against any American. Tens of thousands of Americans know that Cuba is the country where they are respectfully welcomed. We have not sowed any hatred against the American people."

As any American who has visited Cuba can attest, Fidel is right about Cuban hospitality.

Andrea Mitchell: "I wanted to ask you about the war on terror. Does the attack on 9/11 justify the way the United States is pursuing the war on terror? Is there anything Cuba can do or has been able to do in terms of developing information that might be helpful to the United States about the spread of Al-Qaida?"

President Castro: "You have asked me three questions in one. The right to defend itself -- each country has the right to defend itself against terrorism. But, in practice, it seems that only the most powerful country has this right.

"I once read a wire story saying that the U.S. Congress had suggested invading the Netherlands if the International Court of Justice (in the Hague) ruled against an American soldier. And I said, 'Oh, good heavens, even a European industrialized country and a NATO member and U.S. ally isn't safe from a U.S. preemptive attack'.

"All countries have the right to defend themselves, including Cuba. But how can they defend themselves if the powerful countries can overrule every code, every rule. A small country like Cuba has to defend itself within its own territory, and to exercise every possible measure to neutralize (the enemy).

"A Cuban airliner was blown up in mid air, killing more than 70 young people aboard including Cuba's junior fencing team. Everybody knows this story. But Orlando Bosch, the mastermind of that terrorist action, lives very happily in Miami making public statements about that action. Cuba has protected itself by developing sources of information. This was all Cuba could do. Cuba didn't commit the stupidity of responding to those terrorist actions that were launched from U.S. territory."

Later in the interview, Andrea Mitchell: "I was asking about Osama bin Laden?"

President Castro: "You asked whether or not we had intelligence. All these questions are very delicate. But since day one, we declared publicly that our country would do its best to prevent our territory from being used [against] the U.S. people. And I can add that we will also do our best to prevent any harm to the American people from anywhere else. If we were to learn that someone planned to destroy an American city or commit an act of terrorism against the American people, we would do our best to prevent that.

"Terrorism is a complex problem. We have to fight it first from an ethical point of view. What sparked those actions? We carried out an armed struggle [against the Batista dictatorship in 1959] but we never used terrorist methods. We never resorted to methods that cost the lives of innocent people. Look at the newspapers of the time. Read the history of the revolution. We attacked a military fortress. We fought in the mountains. We fought against an army that outnumbered us. We won through a combination of armed struggle and of gaining popular support; Batista helped in that by committing crimes against the population, by torturing people. We used explosives against soldiers and enemy tanks. We used mines against troops during combat. No one can deny this.

"Sometimes we destroyed a bridge used by enemy soldiers but never at the cost of any human life. So, we have authority to speak on this topic. Honestly, we are opposed to any action that jeopardizes the lives of innocent people -- whomever they may be.

"Much has been said whether or not it was right to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Ask the Japanese. That bomb was dropped on the eve of Soviet march through Manchuria. From the military point of view, there was no need to bomb those two cities. They could have bombed military bases. It would have been more than enough. There were many other targets. I would call the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki colossal acts of terrorism.

"How many things have been done in history? How many Vietnamese died in air raids? Millions, Andrea. And they used chemicals that still cause damage. There's a generation of Vietnamese affected by Agent Orange that has caused many problems.

"Such events have happened in history. I don't believe there's any other way in this global world but to abide by ethical standards. There must be ethical reasons to struggle against terrorism. And I have said this to everybody including the revolutionary movement: 'We should condemn the use of methods that harm innocent people.' Terrorism breeds hatred and rejection. No revolutionary movement will ever triumph by using terrorism and killing innocent people."

I would love to see Fidel Castro and George W. Bush discussing ethical standards on a televised public debate.

How ethical are the American people who allow American leadership to kill innocent persons in a "war on terrorism" or a "war on drugs" or any "war" whatsoever? A weak and frightened society of remote-control bullies clothed in rapaciousness and apathy...and where is the "American Dream" taking them? In time, they will find themselves on a dead end road met with a poignant reward of poverty and ignorance and disease, terror and hatred and death.

From a beautiful Caribbean island, not so far away, a voice of reason speaks of justice, freedom, and dignity. It resonates through the sea of humanity and echoes in every heart that loves liberty. Will the chaotic world of human avarice hear that voice? Are there ears enough that hear? Perhaps those deafened by the clamor of hatred and war may not, but a day will dawn with a refrain so strong that all who are not deaf will awaken.

On that historic voyage aboard Granma, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz followed a dream. He was scared for the Cuban people, for his compañeros, and for himself, yet he knew in his heart that he could not fail. That is the mark of a revolutionary.

Thank you, Granpa.

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Global Exchange

Pastors For Peace

Fidel, a film by Estella Bravo

The Timetable History of Cuba

Fidel Castro History Archive

A Few Cuban Resources, compiled by Gilles d'Aymery

The Remarkable Mother of Invention, by Michael Stowell

Exploding Cigars and Dueling Presidents, by Deck Deckert

Seeing 3 C's in the Caribbean Sea: Castro, Cuba and Communism, by Philip Greenspan

Popes, Prostitutes and Prisoners, by Karen Wald, The Nova Scotia-Cuba Association, Nov. 1999

Andrea Mitchell interviews Fidel Castro (NBC News)

Democracy for Cubans and Americans, by Tom Crumpacker, Counterpunch, January 20, 2003


Michael W. Stowell is a local activist in Northern California.

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Published February 3, 2003
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