The OLAS conference defines revolution
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?
Fidel Castro, who had bitter experiences with the old Cuban Communist Party in the pre-1959 days and himself a guerrilla leader of some repute, did not play a disinterested role in this ideological battle over tactics. "The armed struggle," blared billboards everywhere on the island, "is the only road to the liberation of Latin America."
The message that the armed struggle is the only way was all too clear, and it did not sit well with some delegates from Latin American Communist Parties. After all, many of these men had spent their lives groveling their way through the political process, every now and then presenting candidates, every now and then going underground when events took a nasty turn.
"We are moving to control our African-American communnities, as you are moving to wrest control of your countries, of the entire Latin continent, from the hands of foreign imperialist powers."--Stokely Carmichael in Havana, 1967.
But Fidel Castro, who had screened the guest list, was able to announced when it was all over, that the conference had been "a great ideological victory." The "victory," however, was not easily won.
The conference ended four days late as major splits developed in the backroom ideological bickering. Traditional Communist Party delegations balked at resolutions denouncing the Venezuelan Communists, who have now agreed to run candidates for election; denouncing "some socialist states"--read Russia--for offering financial aid to Brazil and Colombia; pronouncing the armed struggle as the only road to liberation.
Nine delegations reportedly threatened a walk-out over the Venezuelan issue, but when the door was opened for them, they remembered that they were attending a solidarity conference, and stayed put. The resolution passed. So did the resolution condemning the USSR. But "la unica camina" was changed to read: "The armed struggle is the principal road to liberation of Latin America. All other forms of the struggle must be subordinate to it."
It is over the issue of armed struggle that Fidel has been carrying on a violent polemic with the Venezuelan Communist Party since last March. The PCV refused to attend the OLAS conference, charging Castro with arrogance in trying to guide and direct the Latin American revolution personally.
Castro replied that the PCV was a group of cowards, traitors, and counter-revolutionaries" for having abandoned the guerrilla movement, now fighting in the hills against the government.
In what Cuban and foreign observers both agreed was one of the best speeches he has ever made, Castro returned to the problem of the PCV as he closed the OLAS conference Aug. 10. Alternately pleading with his audience through a pity-me-hurt-little-boy argument, then pouring out a withering sarcasm and finally fulminating moral indignation, Fidel delivered a devastating attack on the Venezuelans. By some amazing feat of logic, he linked them to what he called the "International Mafia," which includes the full battery of demons--the American press, the CIA, the Israelis, and other assorted ghouls.
The speech was a tour de force in which Castro managed to touch on every single sore point of the solidarity conference. He delivered a stinging slap to the Soviets, denouncing their assistance to Brazil and Colombia. Capping it off, pounding on the lecturn and waving papers in the air, he said:
"And if internationalism exists, if solidarity is a word which merits pronouncing, the least we can expect of any state in the socialist camp is that it not lend financial aid, nor technical aid, nor any kind of aid to those governments, those governments which are aiding imperialism in the attempt to strangle the Cuban people by hunger!"
Practically the whole auditorium was on its feet, cheering wildly, beginning the chants of "Fi--del! Fi--del! Fi--del!" Except not everybody was cheering. Up on the stage, sitting in front of a massive portrait of Che Guevara, were the heads of the delegations, and it was one of those moments of total choice: you either cheer or you don't. Rodney Arismendi of Uruguay didn't. He had tried to play the role of chief peacemaker at the conference, and now he was defeated.
"This continent is pregnant with revolution," announced Fidel Castro at the closing of OLAS, and Fidel Castro is a man who is serious about seeing that revolution succeeds. "Latin America has said 'Enough!' and has started to move forward!" the signs say. But does a conference like the Organization of Latin American Solidarity really lend much effective aid to that struggle?
These are the years of experimentation for Latin American revolutionaries. The two main guerrilla theories now being tested are both essentially of Cuban origin: the first is the theory of roving bands rather than guerrilla base areas, as propounded by Regis Debray in his book Revolution in the Revolution? The second is the theory of the continental revolution as implied in the message of Che Guevara to the Organization of the Solidarity of the people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (OSPAAAL).
Regis Debray, the French intellectual who entered Bolivia under ambiguous circumstances (he says he was a journalist, but the Bolivian government is trying him for "treason, sedition, murder and other crimes") argues that the guerrilla bands form their own doctrine as they roam the countryside engaging the necessary loyalty of the peasantry as well as engaging government troops.
This theory, now regarded as the official Cuban "line" on strategy, differs fundamentally from the Chinese theory that the political party comes first and then sets out to organize a guerrilla force.
One of Debray's points is that U.S. military technology has reached such a high level of sophistication that permanent, fixed guerrilla base areas, such as the Communist Chinese develepode in their struggle, are now veloped in their struggle, are now inevitable.
Che, in his message to OSPAAAL, from which the now popular slogan, "To Create Two, Three, Many Vietnams is the Watchword" was drawn, reasons that since United States imperalism is the one kingpin propping up social structures in Latin American countries, what a revolutionary must seek to destroy first is the imperialist force.
Beneath the boring rhetoric of anti-imperialism emerges an interesting tactical strategy.
Implied in Che's message to the OSPAAAL is the doctrine that nascent revolutionary movements in Latin America must coordinate their efforts, that the revolution in Latin America must come on a continental scale, rather than on a local, nationalist scale, for, he argues, American imperialism will be able to crush uprisings only if they occur one at a time, in one country at a time.
What the political, economic, and military power of the United States will not be able to handle, he maintains, is a series of coordinated guerrilla insurrections in many countries at the same time. The rhetoric of "solidarity" thus takes on a profound practical significance.
If you look at a map of South America, Bolivia, sharing borders with Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, and Brazil, occupies a strategic position. In terms of Che's continental revolution, the continuing Bolivian rebellion aims at not only taking power in that country, but also slopping over into the surrounding countries.
Should this occur, the United States would find itself facing guerrilla problems spreading out from the original focal point in Bolivia, and would be forced to send special forces adviors to aid these governments in suppressing the rebellions--as it now has done in Bolivia.
This was the way Vietnam began, and Che argues that 'Two, Three, Many Vietnams" all over Latin America would place an unacceptable strain on U.S. resources and determination.
Last October 9 Che Guevara was sunmmarily shot by Bolivian authorities, but the apocalyptic vision he held of the Latin American revolution may yet be fulfilled. The men who gathered at the Habana Libre last August are taking up the work and the idea of the man who was trapped in an isolated canyon in southern Bolivia last month.
He was a man possessed by his vision, and he wrote in the OSPAAAL message:
"Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided that this, our battle cry, may have reached some receptive ear, and another hand may be extended to wield our weapons, and other men be ready to intone the funeral dirge with the staccato singing of the machineguns and new battle cries of war and victory.