Way at the top of Havana's tallest building, one of the few neon signs in the city reads: The Free Havana. At night, you can see the turquoise sign from all over the city. And during the day, if you stand on the corner of 23rd and N St. and look up closely, you can still see, behind the word "libre," the scars of what was there eight years ago--"Hilton."
The Habana Libre looks like any other hotel. Its architecture is an unimaginative rectangular slab; the decor of its lobby is unmistakably the pesudo-modernism of the mid-fifties. Some things will probably never change, like the daiquiris, so cold they make your head ache if you sip them too fast.
But some things definitely have changed. Scores of arms hoisting rifles and machine guns sweep across the mural over the entrance to the hotel. The legend reads: "The Duty of Every Revolutionary is to Make Revolution."
On July 19 last summer, a small notice appeared in the Havana press, saying, "The Habana Libre will be closed to the public until further notice." Militia women, clad in green pants, blue shirts, and some in high heels and earrings, appeared, guns in hand, guarding the underground parking lot. At other entrances there were infantrymen lounging through the heat in their green fatigues.
More Than Scanty
This was OLAS, the first conference of the Organization of Latin American Solidarity. And it is likely that what went on in the Habana Libre hotel last summer will prove a good deal more important than the scanty notice the events received in the U.S. press.
The American newspapers wrote mainly about Stokely Carmichael, who was introduced to 400,000 people at the beginning of Fidel's 26th of July speech as "one of the most distinguished pro-civil rights leaders in the United States."
"They haven't got the message yet," quipped George Ware, SNCC's campus coordinator.
But Carmichael gave them the message, calmly, softly, as he worked out an internationalist justification for Black Power. He talked about the "young bloods" like himself who have moved beyond the civil rights movement:
"It is the 'young bloods' who contain especially the hatred Che Guevara speaks of when he says: 'Hatred is an element of the struggle, relentless hatred of the enemy that impels us over and beyond the natural limitations of man, and transforms us into effective, violent, selected and cold killing machines.'
"We are moving to control our African-American communities, as you are moving to wrest control of your countries, of the entire Latin continent, from the hands of foreign imperialist powers."
The speech was marked boldly and unmistakably with the thought of Franz Fanon, author of The Wretched of the Earth, as Carmichael propounded a sort of you-wear-them-down-from-the-outside--we'll-wear-them-down-from-the-inside tactical philosophy.
The Organization of Latin American Solidarity is dedicated to severing root and branch every trace of United States domination in the hemisphere--political, economic and cultural. The men who met in Havana last summer called it the liberation of Latin America from Yankee imperialism, and the program they finally wound up with was just as blunt and fiery as the language they used.
Bring A Gun?
The essential problem of the conference was: Do you bring a gun or don't you? How can you coordinate the work of the traditional Communist parties in Latin America with the work of guerrillas in overturning the social structure of these countries?