Founded in 1994, the Association has more than 330,000 members who have taken part in revolutionary battles from the 1930s to today. These include the struggle to overthrow the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s that culminated in the 1959 revolutionary victory and the later internationalist missions in Angola, where, from 1975 to 1991, Cuban volunteers joined with Angolan forces to defeat the invading South African army of the apartheid regime.
Cubas minister of the Armed Forces, Raul Castro, called the ACRC a small organization, but powerful ideologically because of the rich history of its members.
The congress was preceded by several months of meetings and discussions in all the municipalities and regions of the country, on the basis of which 638 delegates were elected.
ACRC president Juan Almeida sent a letter to the Congress explaining he could not attend because of my heart, which together with my brain, has been responsible for all my revolutionary activities. His cardiologists had warned against excitement and, Almeida wrote, I would have to stop being the person I am in order not to feel strong emotions at a gathering like this.
The congress drew a balance sheet of the accomplishments and weaknesses of the organization in the five years since the last conference. It emphasized the increased stature of the Association among the Cuban people, and the role of the combatants in what is referred to here as the Battle of Ideas. This is a political offensive aimed at deepening the involvement of working people and youth in the revolution, central to which is broadening the educational and cultural opportunities available to the Cuban people. The goal is to counter the imperialist ideological drive promoting capitalism as the future and to address the social inequalities that have widened as Cuba has become more directly exposed to the capitalist world market since the collapse of preferential trade relations with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s.
Magalys Duarte Ledo, president of the ACRC in a Havana municipality, called the organizations work with young people a labor of love. She added, the students really like these meetings with the combatants, who tell them about their own experiences, explain how things used to be, tell them about the lives of the martyrs the kids schools are named after, and who also teach them to shoot. The delegates said some areas needed improvement, including keeping in touch with members who moved to new places and being more aggressive in taking on corruption and crime.
Delegates elected Juan Almeida as president for another five years. They also reelected retired general Harry Villegas, known by his nom de guerre, Pombo, as executive vice president, and Gen. Alvaro López Miera as vice president.
A few days after the Congress, Villegas met with a group of U.S. students at his home and explained that the ACRC is a voluntary organization, completely self-financed, and based on the principle of activism and on unconditional defense of the revolution. More than 300,000 of its members had served in overseas missions, mostly in Africa. For us, Pombo said, the word surrender doesnt exist.
What do we actually do day to day? he asked. We all play some part in defense. And we contribute to the Battle of Ideas by studying and teaching history and values. Villegas added that the combatientes taught marksmanship in the schools, starting with sixth graders. He said that members of the Association were studying the experiences of Yugoslavia and Kosovo, as well as the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and using their own experiences in battle to make suggestions about the strategy for defending Cuba in case of attack. Our role, he concluded, is simply to represent the morality of having been in combat for the revolution.
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