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26 July – ‘I come to offer my heart’

I have, let’s see,
that I have learned to read,
to count,
I have that I have learned to write,
and to think,
and to laugh.

– Nicolás Guillén

Australia-Cuba Friendship Society (Brisbane) commemorates 26 July

On my brother’s first birthday, the 26th July 1953, 160 young people, led by Fidel Castro launched an assault on the Moncada Garrison in Cuba’s second city, Santiago de Cuba. Their aim was to topple the ruthless Batista regime which was ruling Cuba at the time.

The attack was a failure, 9 of the attackers were killed in the attack and 56 were executed by the military in the following days. Fidel narrowly escaped death, was put on trial, and sentenced to imprisonment for 15 years.

Fidel’s defence in his court case was later published in the pamphlet ‘History will absolve me’. In his defence he outlined the terrible conditions suffered by the Cuban people, and the program for change demanded by the revolutionaries. He finished with his famous quote:

‘But I do not fear prison, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of 70 of my comrades. Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.’

Most viewers will be familiar with the subsequent history, the release of Fidel and the launch of the revolution after returning in a boat called the ‘Granma’.

In the decades that followed Cuba developed health and education programs that are now the envy of the world, and became a leader in the struggle against the legacy of colonialism and imperialism, in international forums, and through their famous medical brigades that have served around the world.

Today, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, Cuban medical teams (known as the Henry Reeve Brigade) have gone to around 30 countries to fight the suffering caused by the virus. Perhaps most notable is the team that went to Italy at the height of the pandemic. Now there is a move to have the Henry Reeve Brigade recognised with a Nobel Peace Prize, which is thoroughly deserved.

Cuba continues to challenge the existing world order, and for this they are subject to a cruel blockade imposed by the United States, one that is opposed by the overwhelming majority of member states of the United Nations. Australia has voted against the blockade since the early 1990s. But the current US administration has reinforced the blockade even preventing the shipment of materials required to fight the Coronavirus pandemic in Cuba.

Today we remember the bravery of those audacious youth who risked their lives in a quest for a better world.

Lachlan Hurse
26 July 2020

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