By Ron Ridenour –
Sixty years ago, on July 26, 1953, 160 Cuban rebels attacked the Moncada Barracks near Santiago de Cuba. Had the rebels been able to take the fort manned by 1,000 troops—a good possibility—it would have started a revolution that might well have defeated the dictatorial regime of Fulgencio Batista within a short time.
The main cause for failure was a vehicle with the rebels’ heavy weaponry that got lost in carnival traffic. Nevertheless the rebels were able to cause three times the number of casualties that they suffered. Nearly one-half of the rebels were killed; many died under torture.
After being held for 76 days in isolation without access to reading material, Fidel Castro, the 26-year old leader, came into a courtroom filled with 100 soldiers. He gave a rousing defence of the need for revolution to topple the dictator and change the corrupt and brutal socio-economic system so that all could be fed, obtain education and health care, so that farmers could own land and all have a voice.
In his five-hour speech, Fidel said, “The right of rebellion against tyranny, Honourable Judges, has been recognized from the most ancient times to the present day by men of all creeds, ideas and doctrines.”
Instead of asking for acquittal, he demanded to be with his brothers and sisters in prison.
“Condemn me, it does not matter, history will absolve me!”
Fidel Castro and Ernesto Guevara, who joined the Cuban rebels in 1956, were my main individual inspirations andCuba’s revolution was my greatest collective inspiration (along with the Vietnamese resistance fighters). Nicknamed Che, Ernesto lived and died as he preached. Che’s internationalist ideals, consequent actions and integrity have influenced my life all these decades.
What immediately attracted me to Che was his forthright manner of speaking and writing, and his bravery and fairness in battle. His dream was to liberate Latin America from the shackles of United Statesimperialism and its lackey national dictators and murderous straw men. This would be followed up by worldwide socialist revolution.
“I am Cuban and also Argentine…patriotic for Latin America…in the moment it might be necessary, I am disposed to offer my life for the liberation of whichever of the Latin American countries without asking anything of anyone.”
Those are his prophetic words printed on a calendar of photos, which I bought in the school room at La Higuera, Boliviawhere he was murdered. Che’s vision is important to me, as is Fidel’s moral displayed on Cuban billboards: “To be internationalist is to settle our own debt with humanity.”
As Fidel told Lee Lockwood in “Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel”:
“Those who are exploited are our compatriots all over the world; and the exploiters all over the world are our enemies…Our country is really the whole world, and all the revolutionaries of the world are our brothers.”
Fidel Castro considers ethics and morality to be essential for revolutions. In My Life: Fidel Castro, the 2006 interview book with Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel speaks of these highest principles on numerous occasions. He asserts that what he learned most from the national liberation hero, José Martí, is ethics.
My first demonstration occurred when the Yankees backed an immoral proxy invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. My picket sign read: “US OUT of CUBA”. We marched in front of the Federal Building in Los Angeles. It was April 19, 1961, and the US-backed forces were getting their asses kicked in Cuba!
After following liberated Cuba for half-a-century and having lived and worked there for their media for eight years (1988-96: Editorial José Martí and Prensa Latina), I learned that during its guerrilla struggle, from December 2, 1956 to January 1, 1959, the revolutionaries acted in a moral manner. Cuba’s revolutionary armed struggle was exceptional in this way. As Fidel told Ramonet, “We did not kill any prisoners”, “not even one blow” was dealt. That is “our principle”; “All revolutionary thought begins with a bit of ethics.”
I have come to view ethics in this way: Life shall not be abused or destroyed by our conscious hand without being attacked or oppressed beyond limits of toleration. A moral person, organization, political party or government acts in daily life and in the struggle for justice with that ethic in mind. These are my thoughts on morality:
1. We act so that no one person, no nationality, race or ethnic group is over or under another.
2. In combat against oppressors and invaders we do not kill non-combatant civilians nor forcefully recruit them, or use them as hostages.
3. We struggle to create equality for all.
4. We abolish all profit-making based upon the exploitation of labour or the oppression of any person, group of people, class or caste. Instead, we build an economy based upon principles of justice and equality, one in which no one goes hungry; we share equitably our resources and production.
5. We struggle to create a political system based upon participation where all have a voice in decision-making about vital matters with relation to local, national and international policies.
6. We struggle to eliminate alienation in each of us.
Ethics and Sri Lanka Tamils
True solidarity activists have no choice. We must stand by any people under attack by aggressors wherever in the world. That is what I see as our task as anti-war advocates wherever the US plus European neo-colonialist allies wage their aggressive wars, just as we did in the wars against Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia and South Africa.
Following this morality, solidarity activists and governments viewing themselves as progressive-socialist-communist-revolutionary must act to help preserve the very lives and rights of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka where nationalist Singhalese-led governments have systematically oppressed and repressed them for half-a-century. In fact, they subject Tamils to genocide.
As solidarity activists, we advocate the right to resist and the necessity to conduct armed struggle once peaceful means fail to change oppressive governments from terrorizing us. We must denounce all perpetrators of terrorism, no matter the party or cause, and demand of those we support that they change tactics to ones that are morally in accordance with our ideology embracing fellowship, justice and equality. When liberation fighters use terrorist actions, we solidarity activists must call them to account.
I find that most armed movements commit acts of atrocities, even acts of terror in the long course of warfare. This has sometimes been the case with the Colombian FARC and Palestinian’s PFLP, for instance. But they are up against much greater military and economic forces that practice state terror endemically. The guerrilla groups did not systematically use terrorist tactics but rather did so sporadically, and they corrected that in latter years. The ANC in their armed struggle for liberation also committed horrendous acts of terrorism.
Many of the dozens of Tamil groups that took up arms for liberation considered themselves Marxists, and many looked up to Che Guevara and Cuba’s revolution as an ideal. But they nearly all used terrorism against one another and against civilians in some of their actions. Here is what Che meant about using violence against those who do not adhere to the cause. (Speech “From somewhere in the world”)
“There are always laggards who remain behind but our function is not to liquidate them, to crush them and force them to bow to an armed vanguard, but to educate them by leading them forward and getting them to follow us because of our example or, as Fidel called it, ‘moral compulsion.’”
The Sri Lanka Tamil ‘story’ is a tragedy especially for the Tamils but also for the Singhalese, and humanity generally. Most people not directly involved, however, do not react because they don’t know what they can do. There are so many tragedies going on at the same time. Today, there is the tragedy ofLibya,Syria…and new imperialist encroachments intoAfrica. Cynical brutality is constantly unleashed by major capitalist enterprises and their governments in the ‘first’ world, much of the former ‘second’ world, as well as by national capitalists in the ‘third’ world. We live in the Permanent War Age, choking under its sickness, its surveillance control, theft of countries’ sovereignty and resources, sulphuring the hemisphere. Suffering is the norm.
By comparison, those countries where there emphasis on social welfare, where there is little brutality and no aggressive war-making—I speak here of the governments of Cuba and other ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America) countries—leaders put trust in the geo-political necessity of having political ties with some war criminal governments, such as Sri Lanka. I surmise that this leads them to ignore their moral solidarity principles and abandon the oppressed Tamils.
Summarizing contemporary history, the Tamil people were denied equal treatment for their religions and language from the beginning of the first independent government from Britain’s colonization in 1947. The Tamils are a minority in Sri Lanka. They are of Hindu, Muslim and Christian faith, while, in theory, the Singhalese majority adhere to the Buddhist peace-making thought. Yet the Buddhist Singhalese government acted immediately to deny Tamils who had been taken from Indiaby the British as hard-labourers several generations before the right to vote. All Tamils were and are discriminated against by law in acquiring equal access to advanced education and some jobs. Whenever Tamil people, both indigenous and forced immigrants, peacefully sought equal rights they were brutally crushed by the Singhalese-led governments of both the right and left. Buddhist monks also led pogroms, killing many thousands in the most brutal of ways. Homes, temples and business were burned. (See my 2011 book, “Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka”. http://www.ronridenour.com/books/tamil_nation_in_sri_lanka.htm )
After 30 years of such treatment, many Tamil youths took up arms to fight for an independent state. One of the dozens of guerrilla groups formed was the Tigers (Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam-LTTE). The Tigers, like other armed groups, fought the Singhalese government army, but they did commit some terrorist acts that caused civilian deaths of both Sinhalese and Tamils. Western governments placed them on their terrorist list. WhileCuba made no campaigns, it did consider the LTTE to be terrorists and offered political support to their Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) ally, the Sri Lankan Singhalese governments of all economic-political persuasions.
The Tigers fought hard and finally achieved a process of peace negotiations in 2002. The allegedly socialist-oriented Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) won the 2005 elections over the conservative capitalist United National Party, which had submitted to peace negotiations.
The US Bush government encouraged the Mahinda Rajapaksa-led government coalition, which includes so-called communist and trotskyist parties, to scrap plans for peace and to resume the war to crush the LTTE. Not only did the USand some NATO allies send weaponry and advisors to the SLFP-led army but so did its ace-in-the-hole Israel. In fact, Israelgave or sold more aid than did the USand Britain, even providing pilots and Mossad intelligence agents.(1)
In this complex world of globalized geo-political intrigue, China stepped into the Singhalese-Tamil fray with even greater military aid than did the West. In exchange, China got a commercial and naval re-fuelling and docking station at Hambantota harbour. On and off, India also aided Sri Lankan governments against the Tamils. After the cease-fire period, Iran and Pakistan provided great amounts of military aid as well.
No government supported the Tigers, other thanIndia during the early years of armed struggle. The Tigers captured most of their weapons or bought them on the international black market.
In late 2008, theSri Lankamilitary mercilessly shelled the No Fire Zone, after assuring some 300,000 Tamil civilians living in the area of the Tigers encampment that they should go to these zones where they were to be safe. The U.N. Panel of Experts onSri Lankareported that some 40,000 civilians were killed bySri Lanka’s military during the end of the war. The Catholic Bishop of Mannar, Joseph Rayappu, testified that over 140,000 civilians remain unaccounted for.
The same week that the civil war was over, the 47-nation members on the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) met in an extraordinary session to discuss if there had been war crimes committed during the last months of the Sri Lanka-Tamil civil war. The resolution thatSri Lankawanted adopted was introduced byCuba, then theNAMleader.Sri Lanka’s resolution praised itself for “the promotion and protection of human rights,” while condemning only the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam for terrorism.
The US-EU terrorist states alliance wanted to slapSri Lankaon the wrist by simply asking it to investigate itself. This posturing about protecting “human rights” was understandably seen by victims of the terrorist states terror war as pure hypocrisy, which they considered to be just more imperialist intervention. So, most of theNAMcountries, including the three members of ALBA on the council (Cuba,BoliviaandNicaragua) voted to praiseSri Lanka. Resolution S-11/1 was adopted by the majority: 29 members for, 12 against, 6 abstentions.
Yet by being silent aboutSri Lanka’s terrorism, Cuba-ALBA turned their backs on their own solidarity principles of standing beside all oppressed and exploited peoples.
Nevertheless, the Permanent People’s Tribunal, a prestigious anti-war grouping of intellectuals that have long condemned foreign military interventions since the Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia war, foundSri Lankaguilty of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in itsIrelandtribunal, in 2010. It is currently preparing a trial on the charge of genocide againstSri Lanka.
In the last two years, the majority of HRC nation members have reversed course and now declare thatSri Lanka’s warm criminal government ought to investigate itself for possible culpability of mistreatment of Tamils.NAMnations are now divided on the matter while ALBA stands steadfastly withSri Lanka.Cuba’s President Raul Castro even invited Rajapaksa toCubaas an honoured guest for a four-day tour.
Do what is right
On this 60th year of celebration of the start of Cuba’s humanitarian revolution, I call upon the Cuban government, as well as all members of the ALBA alliance, to return to the moral principles expressed by Fidel and Che and do the right thing by the Tamil people. Call for an independent international investigation into the war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government, and use your moral clout, your revolutionary record to demand an end to the genocide against this people.
We have wandered the deserts and the seas. We have been hungry and thirsty. We have been murdered and tortured. We are of the working class, of the castes; we are many colours and nationalities. We share a common vision: freedom and equality; shelter, bread and water for all. We must fight together, in order to live in peace and harmony.
If morality does not become integral to our struggles, I’m afraid we are headed for a worldwide moral collapse, which is already underway due to the intrinsic immorality of capitalism and its imperialism; the foundering of contemporary socialism; and the rise of fascism throughout much of the world. I am certain that if Che were around he would rant and rave, and that is what I ask all solidarity supporters of Cuba-ALBA to do!
(1) Upon victory over the Tamils, Sri Lankasent its chief-of-staff Donald Perera to Israelas its ambassador. He gave an interview to the largest Zionist medium, Yedioth Ahronoth, in which he applauded Israelfor its aid to Sri Lankain their mutual fight against terrorists, that is, the Tamils armed struggle guerrillas and the Palestinians fighting for their liberation.