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On 1st January, we celebrate two very important anniversaries for the history of Internationalism and the one of the fight for freedom. The 1st January indeed marks both the victory of the Cuban revolution of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in 1959 and the start of the Zapatista uprising in Mexico in 1994. Those two events deeply influenced numerous revolutionaries of the world and are still today taken as references by many.
The revolution of Cuba is an incredible revolutionary, internationalist and socialist experience in a lot of matters. When the guerrilla army of Fidel and the Che were finally able to overthrow the corrupt dictatorship of Batista the 1st January 1959, a complete restructuring of the country started. Their new politics, although also touching many other subjects, concentrated on three pillars: health care, education and amateur sport. As history have shown, in all of these three topics, the revolutionary Cuba was successful. Let’s remember some of their greatest achievements.
To start with health care, Cuba was able to train the best and still well-known Cuban doctors who were then sent by thousands to developing countries of South-America, Africa and Asia. Those doctors were sent there on a humanist and long perspective view as they were staying for years and were teaching locals. Still today, Cuban doctors are sent outside their country as in Syria for this same purpose. Fidel and the Cuban revolutionaries also made health care accessible to everyone in Cuba in training doctors not only for towns but especially for the villages and the mountainous area of their country, ameliorating the life of all of their people.
General education was also one big challenge and success of the revolution, as before it, the illiteracy percentage in the country was as high as 60% to 80%. To counter this, just one year after the liberation, they launched the Cuban Literacy Campaign: 250’000 volunteers (more than half women) were organized in “literacy brigades” and were sent out into the countryside to construct schools, train new educators, and teach the predominantly illiterate peasant population to read and write. By the completion of this 8 months campaign, 707’212 adults were taught to read and write, raising the national literacy rate to 96%. Then, the efforts on education never stopped as Fidel illustrated in a discourse in 2001:
“Education is enormously important because it is the basis for everything else […]. It began with the literacy campaign carried out to benefit the large percentage of citizens who did not know how to read and write. We then went on to ensure that everyone had a sixth-grade education, then ninth-grade, then senior high school level. Now all children and teenagers are guaranteed primary, secondary and senior high school education, and many of them go on to study in the dozens of higher education centers also created by the Revolution.”
The third pillar, sport, is maybe the most well-known of the three pillars at the international level as many people heard about the Olympic Cuban legendary sport athletes as the boxers Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon, or the runner Ana Fidelia Quirot. Cuba’s success in sport was based on a very interesting approach: sport should not be played for money but for the love of your people. Therefore only amateur sport was allowed. Fidel once said: “We will have to fight against the vile and vulgar commercialization of sports.”.
Beside the incredible internal changes of Cuba, the country also played a very big role in the support of other national liberation fights. For example, between the 60’s and the 80’s, more than 500’000 Cuban volunteers and the Che traveled to African countries to help socialist insurgents as for example in Ghana, Yemen, Algeria or Angola. Medical aid, weapons, doctors and combatants were sent everywhere to support the fight for freedom. Indeed, it is not a coincidence if Mandela’s first trip outside his country after his liberation was to Cuba…
On this mostly unknown role of the Cuban revolutionaries, we recommend the very good documentary “Cuba: an African Odissey”.
The Zapatista indigenous uprising started the 1st January 1994 with the demand for “work, land, housing, food, health, education, independence, liberty, democracy, justice and peace”. Lead by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), their revolutionary movement is still going on today as they are in control of a substantial amount of territory in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico. Last year, they also announced their expansion to 11 more districts and reaffirmed their will to continue their struggle. To many revolutionaries in the world, the Zapatista movement represent one of the greatest source of inspiration still fighting today.
“We bring you our word. The same word as yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It is the word of resistance and rebellion.”
The Zapatista’s movement’s ideology is called Neozapatism in reference to Emiliano Zapata, one of the leader of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 (The latter was the leader of the peasant’s Liberation Army of the South and the initiator of series of land reform to give back the land to the peasants). In their statements, the Zapatistas call for the recognition of indigenous people’s right, push for a bottom up political system, ask for the defense of the mother nature and reject economic globalization. They constantly refer to the people they are governing for major decisions, strategies, and conceptual visions. In this sense the sub-commandant Galeano (known before as Marcos) said “my real commander is the people”.
Today Zapatista communities continue to practice horizontal autonomy in the regions they control and organized mutual aid by building and maintaining their own health, education, and sustainable agro-ecological systems, promoting equitable gender relations via Women’s Revolutionary Law, and building international solidarity through humble outreach and non-imposing political communication. In addition to their focus on building “a world where many worlds fit”, the Zapatistas continue to resist periodic attacks.
This last year 2019, the Zapatistas held their “Second International Meeting of Women who Fight” in the mountains of Chiapas. More than 3200 women from all over the world gathered their to participate to the event. They also published their announcement of expansion in a statement which concluded:
“We are rebellion and resistance. We are only one of the many sledgehammers that will tear down their walls, one of the many winds that will sweep this earth, and one of the many seeds that will give birth to other worlds.
We are the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.”
Find their statement there