veteran tours UK, Ireland (front page)
BY JONATHAN SILBERMAN
LONDON—“What we were defending at Playa Girón was the socialist character of the revolution. Those who fell died defending the socialist revolution,” declared Víctor Dreke, a Cuban revolutionary leader from the historic generation that overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and opened the socialist revolution in the Americas.
Dreke was speaking to 180 people at a public meeting at the headquarters of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) here April 12. The packed event, organized by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC), was called to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the victory of Cuba’s workers and farmers over the U.S.-organized mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs. The final battle was fought at Playa Girón (Girón beach) less than 72 hours after the mercenaries landed.
Dreke commanded two companies at Playa Girón, where he was wounded in battle. The following year, he headed special operations against U.S.-backed counterrevolutionary bands in the Escambray mountains. He was second in command to Ernesto Che Guevara in the Cuban internationalist mission aiding anti-imperialist forces in the Congo in 1965, and headed the Cuban combatants aiding the independence movement in Guinea-Bissau in 1966-68. Over the years he has held various diplomatic responsibilities in Africa and is today president of the Africa-Cuba Friendship Society
Other speakers were Cuban journalist Reinaldo Taladrid; Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of NUT; and Andrew Murray of Stop the War Coalition.
As CSC secretary Bernard Regan, who chaired the meeting, pointed out, the imperialist invasion was well prepared and conceived. What the mercenaries lacked was a just cause—they lost their will to fight before they ran out of bullets. Regan cited the social composition of the invaders: 194 ex-military personnel and henchmen, 100 owners of large landed estates, 24 large property owners, 67 landlords of buildings, 122 large merchants, 179 idle rich, 35 industrial capitalists, and 112 lumpens.
Regan welcomed participants, including Esther Armenteros, Cuban ambassador to the United Kingdom; María Aleida del Riego of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP); national presidents of the NUT and University and College Union; and the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Jeremy Dear.
Courtney encouraged people to get a copy of Dreke’s book From the Escambray to the Congo: In the Whirlwind of the Cuban Revolution to learn the story of his life and through it the story of the Cuban Revolution. “I bought it many years ago and have read it a number of times,” he said. (See excerpt from book on page 8.)
Dreke, Taladrid, and del Riego were also featured speakers at a “Girón 50” conference in Dublin, Ireland, April 16 at the headquarters of the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU). The event, which attracted 120 people, is one leg of a nine-city Ireland tour of the three Cubans organized by the Irish Friends of Cuba Coalition.
Taladrid pointed out that there had been many imperialist invasions in Latin America before. “This was the first invasion that was defeated,” he said.
“Our people had fought over many years and, led by Fidel Castro, finally triumphed on Jan. 1, 1959,” Dreke said. “Some 20,000 lost their lives at the hands of the Batista dictatorship, including sugar and agricultural workers, farmers, young people… . The victory allowed peasants to get land and opened a fight to end discrimination—against Blacks, against women, against people living in the countryside—and for rights for working people.”
Dreke talked about Fidel Castro’s speech given on the eve of the invasion at a mass funeral rally for seven Cubans who were killed in a U.S. bombing raid days earlier. It was there that Fidel Castro publicly proclaimed for the first time the socialist character of the revolution. “Many people didn’t know what socialism meant,” said Dreke. “So Fidel asked us, ‘Do you agree with this law or that enacted by the new government, like the nationalization of foreign businesses, like the ending of racial discrimination?’ Those are socialist measures, he explained. ‘We’ve made a socialist revolution right under the nose of imperialism. And we’re going to defend it, rifles in hand.’”
That’s why, Dreke continued, “the mobilization met with such a united mass response: newly trained pilots, young people who staffed the anti-aircraft batteries—we called them the artillery children—militia volunteers, the armed forces, and others who carried out whatever task they were responsible for.”
Pointing to Reinaldo Taladrid, born three months after the victory at Playa Girón, Dreke said, “His presence shows the continuity of the revolution. It took us to fight in the Congo, to aid the Lumumbist forces there. It took us to Angola to repel the South African invasion of that country. Today the spirit lives on in the voluntary international health, literacy, and other brigades. It’s the socialist revolution that we’ve been defending against the blockade, through the Special Period—the period of sharp economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union—and what our people are preparing ourselves for today, to resist and win.”
“What we have done in Cuba can’t be mechanically copied in other countries,” Dreke said. “But examples have no frontiers.”
“It was great to hear and meet Víctor Dreke,” Lucien Mambu Guillaume told the Militant. One of five workers from the McVities biscuit factory who attended the London event, Mambu arrived in the United Kingdom from the Congo a decade ago. “I knew nothing about the Cubans in the Congo,” he said. “Dreke has taught me about our common history.”
The Independent, a major London daily, interviewed Dreke and ran an extensive article about him in its April 17 edition. Dreke “is living Cuban history,” the paper said. “His belief in the socialist system remains resolute.” The article concluded by quoting Dreke: “Cuba will never go back to capitalism. The young people didn’t live it, but they know how it was, they have values.”