The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.61/No.28           August 25, 1997 
12,000 Attend World Youth Festival  

HAVANA, Cuba - Tens of thousands of young people filled the Panamerican stadium here August 5 for the closing ceremony of the 14th World Festival of Youth and Students. Among them were most of the 12,335 delegates from 132 countries who participated in the international youth gathering. Festival attendance surpassed the expectations of the organizers, who were initially projecting that 5,000 delegates would take part.

Opposition to imperialist domination and plunder of the majority of the people's of the world was at the center of the deliberations of the conference, whose official theme was "anti-imperialist solidarity, peace, and friendship." This was reflected in the final declaration of the festival, read at the concluding event by Lehdia Mohamed Dafa, delegate from the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The document denounced the expansion of NATO into Eastern and Central Europe, led by Washington, and demanded the dissolution of the imperialist military alliance. It called on young people to support all struggles against colonialism, demand the cancellation of the foreign debt of third world countries, and campaign "for the lifting of the U.S. blockade against Cuba."

The Union of Young Communists (UJC), Federation of University Students, and other host organizations in Cuba dedicated the festival to Che Guevara, the Argentine-born revolutionary who became one of the central leaders of the Cuban revolution. Guevara was wounded and captured by Bolivian army forces in a CIA-organized operation on Oct. 8, 1967. He was murdered in cold blood the next day by Bolivian army officers in consultation with Washington.

While the festival's International Coordinating Committee did not endorse the dedication of the gathering to Guevara, the decision of the Cuban hosts put its stamp on the conference. Posters, T-shirts, flags, billboards, and other paraphernalia with the revolutionary's image were prevalent throughout the nine-day-long gathering. An exhibit of paintings of Guevara was held at Pavillon Cuba, in central Havana, during the festival. Over 2,000 delegates attended meetings where a number of Cubans spoke who knew Che and fought with him in Cuba's Sierra Maestra mountains during the 1956-58 revolutionary war that led to the overthrow of the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, and in subsequent internationalist missions. Hundreds of delegates also bought books by Che and his co-combatants.

The festival declared October 8 as an international day of activities by youth in solidarity with Cuba and related to the 30th anniversary of Guevara's death.

Composition of the gathering
The largest participation outside the 1,000-strong Cuban delegation came from the United States, with nearly 850 participants, followed by Argentina (650) and Mexico (630). About half of the delegates came from the Americas. Delegations of several hundred each came from France, Germany, and Spain. Sizable delegations came from most other countries in Western Europe.

Participation was lighter from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics. Among the largest delegations from the African continent was South Africa, with about 200 people. The largest delegations from Asia came from north Korea (500), India (176), Vietnam (129), and China (44). A few hundred came from Australia, New Zealand, and other countries in the Pacific.

Among the delegates from the United States, more than 450 traveled with the U.S. Organizing Committee for the World Youth Festival, a coalition endorsed by the National Network on Cuba, Global Exchange, a number of political parties and youth organizations - including All African Peoples' Revolutionary Party, Committees of Correspondence, Democratic Socialists of America Youth Section, Socialist Workers Party, Workers World, and Young Socialists - and dozens of local student and other youth groups.

The U.S. National Preparatory Committee - initiated by the Communist Party USA and the Young Communist League and endorsed by the United States Student Association, Student Environmental Action Coalition, Southern Christian Leadership Conference Youth Section, and other groups - brought 160 delegates.

About 140 delegates from the United States came with the Venceremos Brigade, which arrived in Cuba a week before the festival and participated in voluntary work projects. Similar brigades came from dozens of other countries prior to the festival. A couple of dozen U.S. delegates came with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

Washington and Seoul were the only two governments that tried to intimidate or prevent young people from attending. The U.S. government denied licenses to 50 people who applied for permission to travel to Cuba, which is severely restricted under government regulations. While several hundred youth who had applied to go to the festival decided not to participate after Washington's decision, most did so. "This was undemocratic and unconstitutional," said Chandra Bhatnagar, a delegate from New York. "We will be organizing to defend anyone the government harasses on the way back."

Addressing the anti-imperialist tribunal at the festival, Im Hil Jung, a delegate from the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth of north Korea, condemned "the south Korean government's decision to deny exit visas to members of the Council of University Students" in that country. She also said that Seoul successfully prevented south Korean students studying in other countries from traveling to Cuba for the festival. As a result, no one attended from south Korea.

Shifts reflected in the festival
In the majority of countries, the delegations were organized for the most part by youth groups affiliated to Communist Parties. A sprinkling of social democratic groups, such as the Socialist Youth League of Japan and the Socialist Party youth of Austria, also sent delegates. Smaller numbers were organized by some bourgeois parties in a few semicolonial countries, such as the Christian Democrats in Cyprus.

The Asian Students Association, based in Hong Kong, and the All China Youth Federation, affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, took part as well. In the early 1960s, the Chinese CP youth left the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY), the main sponsor of the youth festivals, and has not participated in the recent gatherings.

National liberation movements like the Palestine Liberation Organization and the front for independence of East Timor from Indonesia were represented.

Nearly 100 supporters of Quebec's independence came from Canada. The Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein also sent a delegation of two of its leaders for the first time. A few other groups that had not taken part in previous festivals, such as the Movement of Landless Rural Workers of Brazil, sent delegations as well.

WFDY, which initiated and organized the previous 13 world youth festivals, was formed in 1945 by youth groups affiliated to parties that looked to Moscow. After the crumbling of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that began in 1989, revolutionary minded and other forces within the federation succeeded in changing some the statutes of the organization. One change ended the former veto power each WFDY affiliate had in deciding whether any other group from their country could join the federation and, in practice, take part in the youth festivals.

The festival opened July 28 with a march of more than 5,000 delegates through the streets of central Havana that ended at the University of Havana for the inaugurating rally. UJC first secretary Victoria Velásquez, Cuban president Fidel Castro, and other government officials and leaders of mass organizations took part. That day delegates were assigned to neighborhoods in the city, where they stayed with Cuban families for the duration of the festival. A number of delegates said this was one of the most interesting aspects of the gathering.

"Staying with Cubans gave me an idea of what daily life is like here," said Brendan Cooper, a delegate from Chicago. "I could see the effects of the economic war by the U.S. government in the lack of certain medicines and other shortages. I also saw capitalist trends around the open markets with all kinds of people looking for ways to make a dollar. But I was surprised to see how many Cubans I met who are strong supporters of socialism despite the economic difficulties."

Impact of events in Eastern Europe
A frequent theme of the discussions was the impact on anti-imperialist youth organizations of the events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991. The big majority of those who spoke said the crumbling of many of the former ruling Communist Parties in that part of the world represented a major setback for the working-class movement and gave new openings to Washington and other capitalist powers for imperialist domination of those countries.

"With the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the return of capitalism in the Soviet Union, western imperialism is now able to direct its fire against any focal point of resistance against its wishes," said Iraklis Tsardaridis of the Communist Youth of Greece at the workshop on anti-imperialist struggle. "The plan to expand military alliances like NATO into Eastern Europe is but the beginning of the recolonization of these countries."

Brock Satter, a member of the United Steelworkers of America in New Jersey and a leader of the Young Socialists, was among a small minority who expressed a different view. "The return of Hong Kong to China, opposition by workers and farmers to the capitalist demands for `sacrificé in Argentina, the United States, France, and other capitalist countries, and resistance to the effects of `market reforms' from Albania to Yugoslavia and Russia are signs of the weakness of imperialism," Satter said, at the same workshop. "The U.S. government is using its military might because it lost the cold war. It could not defeat the Soviet Union the cold way and has not been able to reestablish capitalism there yet. Now workers in those countries are linking up more with their brothers and sisters in the capitalist world. Before any new sweep of fascist reaction and imperialist war, working people in a number of countries will have a chance to take power out of the hands of the warmakers and follow the road of the Bolsheviks and Cuban rebels - the road to socialism." Such exchanges of view were rare, however.

Cuban government officials and leaders of the Communist Party of Cuba attended and made presentations at many of these meetings. Ricardo Alarcón, president of the National Assembly, for example addressed the workshop on Democracy and Participation. Abel Prieto, minister of culture, spoke at the meeting on Culture and Social Communication. And foreign minister Roberto Robaina spoke on the panel on human rights.

Anti-imperialist tribunal
One of most popular events was the anti-imperialist tribunal, attended by 1,500 delegates. The two-day event was organized as a mock trial of Washington and other imperialist powers. The final verdict by the panel of five judges found these governments guilty "of all the crimes committed against youth, children, the peoples, and humanity." These included the U.S. embargoes against Cuba, Iraq, Iran, and Libya; continued use of colonialism and countless violations of the right to self-determination; the use of U.S. and other imperialist military bases around the world to terrorize oppressed nations; and flagrant violations of human rights.

Evidence was presented by 79 delegates and other witnesses. Rafael Daussa, Cuban foreign ministry specialist on North American Affairs, said that in the past six years Washington has adopted 61 measures with "extraterritorial reach," including the overtly hypocritical attempts to "certify" whether countries like Colombia and Mexico are doing enough to combat illegal drugs.

Other Cuban delegates detailed the impact on the Cuban people of the 38-year old economic war by the U.S. government. One of the presenters explained the recent attempts at biological warfare by Washington against Cuba and the bombings of two tourist hotels in Havana, where, according to the Cuban government, the explosives used and individuals involved came from the United States.

In the early morning of August 4 a third similar explosion took place at the hotel Meliá-Cohiba on Havana's waterfront. No injuries occurred this time, unlike the previous two bombings, and the damage was reportedly minimal.

Student María Esther Suárez from Puerto Rico talked about the practices Washington has used in its 99-year-old occupation of the Caribbean island to defeat the independence movement there. Hebe de Bonafini of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo spoke about the role of British and U.S. imperialism in supporting dictatorial regimes in Argentina responsible for the disappearance of tens of thousands, and Luis Gómez from Panama detailed the 135 direct and indirect U.S. interventions in Panama.

Gerry Kelly, a leader of Sinn Fein from Northern Ireland, described the recent advances by nationalists there that led to a new cease-fire by the Irish Republican Army and prospects for negotiations that will include Sinn Fein. "We are not naive people, though, and don't trust British imperialism," Kelly said. "Republicans will go to these talks fighting to get the British troops out." Anne Howie, a member of the Transport and General Workers Union and of the Communist League in Manchester, England, presented a rubber bullet used by British forces against Irish protesters as evidence to the tribunal.

After the tribunal concluded its deliberations on the evening of August 2, delegates stayed for an hour to hear presentations and ask questions from four generals of Cuba's revolutionary armed forces who fought with Che Guevara in the Sierra Maestra and during internationalist missions in the Congo and Bolivia. These were division general Ramon Pardo Guerra, and brigadier generals Harry Villegas Tamayo, Enrique Acevedo Glez, and Luis Alfonso Zayas.

Villegas had earlier addressed 50 people at the Middle East regional club about the relevance of the example Che set for young people today. On August 4, Villegas gave a similar forum at the club of the Americas, attended by about 250 people.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home