But he is no ‘one battle’ hero trading on former glories. He is a veteran of numerous campaigns and is still as enthused today about the revolution he witnessed 52 years ago as he was then. Rejoicing in the equality that was achieved for everyone in socialist Cuba Dreke praised every aspect of a revolution made by the people for the people.
He is a living representative of Cuba’s selfless internationalism and determination to struggle to maintain the revolution and their independence. He spoke movingly of his rights as a black man – rights not given because of how much money he had – but because he had the human right to be treated the same as every other Cuban.
He talked about Cuba’s solidarity in the world - a vision of “sharing not what was left over but of sharing the little that they had”.
“Cuba will continue to struggle in this world for peace “he said “We created a socialist revolution under the noses of the empire and we will defend it. When Cubans go to other countries we are all volunteers. We don’t go to steal petrol or destroy a people’s dignity. We go in defence of dignity and the right to freedom and a better life” he said to thunderous applause.
After the triumph of the revolution then (vice president) Richard Nixon met Fidel Castro in New York in 1959 for a brief meeting - which lasted about 30 minutes - and in which Nixon treated Castro as dirt. Afterwards he sent a classified memorandum to then President. Eisenhower stating that Castro was just another Communist and that "we should get rid of him". And so began the war that continues to this day.
On April 17 1961, the day following air strikes by the US led mercenaries, a CIA trained invasion force consisting of more than 1500 men, landed on the southern coast of Cuba in Playa Giron in the Matanzas Region.
This area was chosen for the invasion for two strategic reasons: firstly, the area which is surrounded by swamps provided natural barriers and therefore protection against Cuban forces and secondly, this area with only limited access would give them an opportunity to defend themselves against attack.
The brigade consisted of members of Cuba's past ruling class and former Batista allies. In total the counter revolutionaries owned in pre revolution Cuba: 27 square miles, 10000 houses and buildings, 70 factories, 10 sugar refineries, 5 mines, 2 banks and 2 newspapers.
Dreke told of the Cuban plans made to ensure that if the invasion was successful the Cubans would resort again to guerrilla warfare having carefully deployed troops throughout the island. As it was, tactical superiority and the determination of the people and the armed forces ensured the invasion was immediately defeated and most of the rebels captured.
Kevin Courtney from the NUT drew on the inspiration of Dreke as a student leader in Cuba to praise our student demonstrators today and the need for all of us to build on the inspirational march on the 26th. Recognising the first thing the Cuban’s did as revolutionaries was to prioritise education as a means to achieve social justice, he reminded the audience that it is still their priority today and how important education professionals are viewed in socialist Cuba.
Andrew Murray from Stop the War coalition celebrated this landmark in history of anti imperialist struggle by relating it to the struggles today in the so called ‘war on terror’. The war on Libya is an ambitious attempt to rehabilitate the doctrine of liberal intervention – a strategy that has already seen millions killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Recognising this is not an international war but a neo-colonial war fought by neo colonial powers he ridiculed the lack of intervention in states like Bahrain and Yemen where western power interests are at one with the state.
Award winning journalist Reinaldo Taladrid Herrero, was born 3 months after the Bay of Pigs and represented yet another Cuban generation dedicated to the fight for social justice for the people. He spoke of the legacy of that victory both at home and abroad. “Even with the blockade imposed by the most powerful country in the world Cuba has always responded to disasters or health needs around the world – from the hills of Pakistan to the continent of Africa – the spirit of Playa Giron lives on to this day” “It represents not mission impossible but the building of something new” he said to applause “and if all you people here in London tonight can celebrate the victory of poor people against the empire then truly another world is possible”
The meeting ended with a call for everyone to support the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, demand justice for the Miami Five and continue to struggle for Cuba’s right to its own sovereignty and self determination.