BY GAETAN WHISTON
MINNEAPOLIS - A conference featuring speakers from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines and marking 100 years of resistance against U.S. imperialism since the Spanish- American War was held here April 17-18. Félix Wilson, first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.; Juan Mari Bras, a longtime leader of the Puerto Rican independence struggle; and Addi Batica, a veteran Filipino activist, were among the featured speakers.
The two-day event included a wide range of workshops, talks, discussion, and music. Araxes Rawi, a 23-year-old University student here whose family is from Iraq, described it as an "eye opener."
Wanderleia Barreto, one of the students who helped to organize the conference, told the Militant, "Several friends who took part in it told me they were very impressed. Some of the issues they were already familiar with became clearer because of the great detail and explanations of the speakers."
At the main conference session on Saturday afternoon, a message was read from Orlando Borrego and Camilo Guevara from Cuba. Both had been invited to the conference as featured speakers, but were unable to attend. Both Borrego, who is a professor of economics, and Camilo Guevara, son of the Argentine-born Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara, lecture at the Ernesto Che Guevara Studies program at the University of Havana.
Seven academic departments at the University of Minnesota as well as the La Raza, Africana, and Asian- American Student Cultural Centers sponsored the gathering, which was entitled "One Hundred Years since the Spanish- American War: the Struggle for National Sovereignty in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines."
A committee of students, academics, and political activists united in the Minnesota Cuba Committee played an important role in helping to organize the conference. This committee included Cuba solidarity activists, Puerto Rican independence fighters, trade unionists, Native American activists, high school youth, students from nearby universities, and fighters against cop brutality.
Many groups set up displays and tables at the conference, including Pastors for Peace, Philippine Studies Group of Minnesota, National Committee for the Liberation of Puerto Rican Political Prisoners, Socialist Workers Party, Young Socialists, Northern Sun, and Socialist Action.
What can lead to national sovereignty?
The opening session of the conference Friday afternoon featured a presentation by Juan Mari Bras on the history of Puerto Rico's fight for independence. Some 50 people, most of them Puerto Rican youth, attended. Mari Bras has been a leader of the independence movement in Puerto Rico for four decades, and is currently a professor of law at the Eugenio María de Hostos School of Law in Puerto Rico.
A panel discussion on "The Origins and the Development of Resistance" to imperialism drew 150 people that evening. Three professors - David Roediger, chair of the American Studies Department, University of Minnesota; Denis Valdés, associate professor of Chicano Studies, University of Minnesota; and Gary Prevost, professor of Political Science, St. John's University -initiated a discussion that turned into a lively exchange of views among the panelists and audience on whether or not a socialist revolution is necessary to defeat imperialism.
Valdés expressed the view that there are many historical examples of anti-imperialist struggles that resulted in national sovereignty but had not taken a socialist course. During the discussion the same point was made emphatically by a Native American activist, Rene Sennegless, who stated that there was "no either-or," that is, "either capitalism or socialism," as alternatives for the oppressed countries and oppressed nationalities today. She argued that a return to the "spiritualism" of the original Native American communities that predated the advent of the Europeans was an alternative for them.
Prevost, whose topic was "How and Why the Cubans Made Their Revolution," presented a different viewpoint. He described the example of the Cuban revolution: how it started with significant immediate economic reforms like the lowering of rents and distributing land to the peasants and moved through successive measures that made deeper inroads into capitalist property relations and began charting a socialist course.
In the discussion another participant, Javier Aravena, pointed to the overthrow of the government of social democrat Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973 as an example of why only a socialist revolution like Cuba's can stand up to imperialism. Aravena, who had visited Argentina in 1997, related the social devastation there created by the belt- tightening measures aimed at working people demanded by imperialist investors, and explained that Argentina, like other countries in Latin America, still face a struggle for national independence.
A musical event and social sponsored by La Raza Student Cultural Center and featuring the band "Proyecto la Plena" ended the first day of the conference.
Broad range of workshops
Eleven workshops, including on the U.S. embargo against Cuba; Puerto Rican political prisoners in U.S. jails; youth activities in solidarity with Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines; women in colonial society; the Cuban revolution and the international struggle for Black liberation; and the Filipino struggle were held Saturday morning.
Gustavo Machín de Hoed, the Third Secretary of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C., presented the workshop on the U.S. embargo. He explained to 45 participants how the Cuban people have been able to resist the economic difficulties they face while holding onto the social gains of their revolution.
A workshop featuring the Philippine Study Group of Minnesota took up the call for a June 12 protest at the state capitol against a plaque honoring Minnesotans who fought in the Philippines. The Philippine activists are protesting the plaque as inaccurate and derogatory for the way it depicts the crushing of the Philippine independence struggle by U. S. troops at the turn of the century. Addi Batica, a full-time organizer for the Nationalist Youth in the Philippines from 1970-72, outlined the history of U.S. oppression of the Philippines. In 1973 Batica was arrested and imprisoned by the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
The main session on Saturday afternoon was devoted to "The Struggle for National Sovereignty Today." Félix Wilson, Juan Mari Bras, and Addi Batica appeared with Kathryn Sikkink, professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota, and Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press. That session also became a discussion among panelists and participants on whether the example of the Cuban revolution points the way forward in the struggle against imperialist domination.
Waters pointed to the deepening crisis of capitalism "that increasingly destabilizes the world financial structure of imperialism." She referred to the recent statement by Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, that the financial crisis shaking Asia - and shattering the lives and livelihoods of millions - is an "important milestone" in the "seemingly inexorable trend toward market capitalism." This, she told the 110 participants in this session, "is indeed a milestone. But not one that marks progress toward peace and prosperity. It marks the inexorable march of world capitalism toward social devastation. We are already witnessing the rise of new fascist movements," she noted, "and the opening guns of World War III have already been heard in Iraq and Bosnia."
Batica spoke of Washington's seizure of Puerto Rico and the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. He described how freedom fighters in the Philippines had established their own independent government following the 1896 defeat of Spain, only to have Washington wage a war to crush it and make the Philippines a colony of the United States, until independence was finally won in 1946. He said the Filipino war of resistance was Washington's "first Vietnam."
Mari Bras noted that Puerto Rico is the last colony left of the most powerful empire in the world, and argued the case for independence from U.S. rule. The Puerto Rican independentista also defended the Cuban revolution, which he hailed as "the seat of the revolution in Latin America." Mari Bras encouraged participants to attend demonstrations in Washington, D.C. and in Puerto Rico July 25 to demand freedom for independence fighters imprisoned in U.S. jails and for self-determination for Puerto Rico. A similar demonstration is also planned at the United Nations in New York that day.
How Cubans ended U.S. domination
Wilson explained that the Cuban people put an end to U.S. domination of their country through the triumph of the revolution in January 1959. He described the internationalist course Cuba has charted ever since. "We have sent thousands of people to Africa and Latin America to help Third World countries face the needs of their people," he said. Wilson described the determination of the Cuban people to resist the economic embargo and other pressures Washington imposes on the island.
Sikkink presented a paper arguing that national sovereignty does not supersede human rights. She pointed to the importance of networks of human rights activists around the world, and cited how recent dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, and El Salvador abused human rights and, in the name of national sovereignty, protested international efforts to aid victims of this abuse.
In the discussion, Sikkink sharply disagreed with Waters and Mari Bras that the Cuban revolution is an example to be emulated in today's world. She counterposed South Africa as the model for those fighting for human rights and democracy, pointing to its "inclusiveness."
A number of questions were directed to Juan Mari Bras. What are the immediate prospects ahead for the Puerto Rican independence struggle? What is the main division in the U.S. ruling circles between those who favor statehood and those who favor retaining the "commonwealth" status? What stands in the way of the U.S. rulers annexing Puerto Rico as a state?
Several questions were also asked of Addi Batica. Has the Philippine fight for national sovereignty been completed? What have been the effects on the people and the environment in the last two decades?
Félix Wilson and Mary-Alice Waters were asked many questions about the Cuban revolution in the world. Why does the U.S. persist in the economic embargo after 37 years? Is the course of Cuba with respect to tourism and joint capitalist ventures the same or the opposite from the course of Russia and the Eastern European countries?
The question and answer period was followed by summary remarks of the speakers. Both Mari Bras and Wilson pointed out that Cuba has been able to break out of the orbit of imperialist domination. Wilson stated, in addition, "Every country will have to find its own way. Each struggle will have its own characteristics."
Waters returned to the debate on human rights and Cuba's example. "Human rights is a class question," she stated. Waters pointing to the working-class struggle over the centuries to defend and advance human dignity and freedom, as opposed to the "human rights" pretensions of capitalist regimes the world over. "Cuba is not a model," Waters noted. "We don't need models. But it is an example for all of us." She pointed to Cuba's contribution to the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Waters reiterated a challenge she made in her initial presentation: for participants in the conference to act on the fact that serious mass struggles were on the agenda in the coming years in the oppressed countries and the imperialist countries alike.
In their summary remarks, all speakers called for the decolonization of Puerto Rico and an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba.
To wind up two days of activities, many conference participants stayed afterward to attend a meeting with Daniel Correia, a representative of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) in Brazil. He gave graphic descriptions about the land occupations in Brazil. Film footage about the attempts by the government and landlords to disrupt and destroy the landless movement in Brazil was shown. The meeting for Correia was organized by the university's Spanish-Portuguese Department and La Raza Student Cultural Center.
Gaetan Whiston is a member of the United Steelworkers of
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