At the tender age of 15, he began the revolutionary struggle, he took part in battles alongside figures such as Fidel Castro and Ernesto Guevara and shared their ideas, and he also experienced in his own flesh the discrimination and the corruption of a dictatorship that was controlled from abroad by US imperialism. While he was at José Marti High School in Sagua la Grande, he joined a group of people who were on strike against the 10th March military coup. This was one of his first experiences of political activity on the streets of Sagua where he sought to oppose the military coup lead by Fulgencio Batista in March 1952.
After the triumph of the Revolution, this Cuban who was born in Villa Clara became a Commander of the Cuban Revolutionary Forces and in April 1961 he took part in the fight against the Bay of Pigs invasion which is also known as Playa Girón (Girón Beach).
After a long spell in a military campaign in Congo, he retired from the Cuban army in the 1990s, and he combines his working as the President of the Asociación de Amistad Cuba-Africa (the Association of Afro-Cuban friendship) with that of being President of the Cuban Veterans Association.
Perhaps, for these reasons, this is the best person to help us better understand the past and present of the only country that until now, has managed not to succumb to capitalism.
Taking advantage of his visit to London, The Prisma spoke exclusively to Víctor Dreke Cruz who was brought to London by the Cuban Solidarity Campaign to speak at the 50th anniversary of the Cuban victory against US forces in 1961.
What stage of life were you at when you decided to join the 26 July movement?
I began the Revolutionary struggle on the 10th March 1952 when Fulgencio Batista staged a military coup in Cuba. I turned 15 on that very day and I decided to take to the street alongside a group of young students in order to protest against the dictator because we already had enough evidence to show that Batista’s government was filled with murderers who had severely mistreated the people. The 26 July movement was established exactly a year after that when the assault on the Moncada prison took place which was lead by the Commander Fidel Castro, in which his brother Raul and other comrades also took part. We were also members of that group because at that time we were heavily involved in the student and trade union struggle.
Would the Revolution have been possible with a different leader other than Fidel Castro?
In Cuba we had several leaders throughout the Revolutionary struggle, but at that moment it was Fidel who really managed to carry out a real revolution, and because of that, he became the movement’s figurehead. So maybe with another leader that wouldn’t have been possible as Fidel Castro had been a total exception in our history along with the Cuban Revolution itself that has been well established for the last 50 years in spite of the fact that it is only 90 miles from the most potent imperialist force, the US.
What do you think would have happened if the Cuban Revolution had not been successful?
We would have continued as we were, exploited and discriminated against. The Revolution came to truly save the Cuban people, to save those who worked the land, the students, women, the black people… The Americans thought that we were going to be another star on their flag, but we would have continued to fight because Cuban people have always fought for their freedom and their independence. From our first war in 1868 that lasted more than 30 years we didn’t give up as defeated until we won the victory and it was thanks to Fidel Castro and the generation of people inspired by the centenary of the Cuban revolutionary José Martí who fought for Cuba’s independence from Spain that we triumphed in 1959. It is true that the liberation fight cost us 20.000 lives.
You had the honour of fighting alongside Ernesto Che Guevara, a real legend in our history, how was the experience of working with him, was it more mythical than a reality?
Che was a man made of flesh and blood, a completely normal person. An International revolutionary fighter and very demanding of himself who gave up all his roles and chances of having a quiet life in order to take up arms to defend other people, because Che could have said, “I am going to stay in Cuba because I have such and such a role and what do I care that Argentina or Congo aren’t free”, but he chose to fight for the wellbeing of all people and he died doing this in Bolivia fighting for his ideas. Che is a living presence of what it means to be a real revolutionary who was always by the side of Fidel, Raul and of the Revolution and he gave his life for these same principles.
There are some who call Fidel a dictator, but would it have been possible to lead the Cuban people towards progress and at the same time to maintain that defence against a capitalism system with other Presidents other than him?
The problem is that the Cuban Revolution is very different to what people call a democratic process which is totally false. They say that the US is a democracy because their government has two parties, but the truth is that there are two parties by name only, because the Republicans and the Democrats are the same, they do the same thing, they crush the people and they start wars. In Cuba on the other hand, it can be said that there are 11 million political parties because everyone there has their own opinion and they say what they think. The thing is people don’t know what a dictatorship is.
The media broadcasts biased information depending on who is in control of it. I am a 22 year old European who has grown up with information that criticises Cuba and its Revolution, that is why there are thousands of people who think just like I do that there is a dictatorship in Cuba where Human Rights are not respected nor is there freedom of speech. Therefore, breaking through the media barrier and whether or not the information is true or false, is it possible to find a different image of Cuba?
Of course it is, because the real image of Cuba is the one told by the millions of Cubans and the friends we have all over the world. The working class, those who work the land, the people of Haiti, the Venezuelans and the more than 300.000 Cuban fighters who fought for the liberation of Africa give the other image.
Also the 1.5 million tourists who have visited us in the past four months give the other image of Cuba, because Cuba is open to receiving people from all different nationalities. That is why I don’t understand how people can accuse us of not respecting Human Rights, because in spite of being victims of murder, Cubans defend democracy. What type of democracy? That the poor and the rich have the same rights or that women are not discriminated against compared with men and that they are not paid less to do the same job.
Besides, for the hundreds of young people that are killed for taking to the streets in protest, none of them face this is Cuba. Throughout the revolutionary process, the army has never taken to the street to beat up the workers but in the US and in almost every European country, this happens on a daily basis. So how is that a form of democracy compared with ours? Cuba is educating people without charging a single cent and medicine is also free for all, including for those anti-revolutionaries who want to kill us all.
The thing is that the North American government, the North American press and that of European countries only explain one side of the story, even though they know the whole true story. Of course we have discrepancies, they have their criteria which we respect but Cuba has really had to make itself be respected.
And in the case where people cannot travel to that island at the moment, where can the victims of the capitalist system find objective information about the reality in Cuba, what types of media can they consult?
Our embassy can give them a lot of information and those who fight for the liberation of our people, such as the Cuba Solidarity Campaign here in London. People can also read the Granma Internacional on the internet, the Cuban youth newspaper or they can listen to our radio programmes. Nothing that Cuba publishes is a lie because when we have lost a battle and it was necessary to say so we said so and never was anything added, this is what Fidel has said. When they tried to invade as at Playa Girón they said that it was Cuban planes that were behind the attacks but we knew it was a lie and we were able to demonstrate this afterwards.
How can Cuba face up to the manipulation of the media that causes it so much social and political harm?
The Americans have their systems in place and we are fighting against it because no force exists anywhere in the world that can defeat the truth and we Cubans have learnt to defend our truth all over the world. As Fidel and Raul Castro have said, “We are willing to discuss any issue but on an equal level, not as slaves to the US”. That is why we also have the right to ask them why they commit so many murders, why black people don’t have the same rights as white people, or why Posada Carriles has been freed when the whole world knows that he is a terrorist and not only has he committed the crime of murder against Cubans but also against those from other countries. The US government and the CIA know this, and we are willing to discuss this with them in New York or wherever necessary.
Miami is a crucial anti-revolutionary area hotbed, what do you believe should be done to counteract these activities that have caused so much harm to Cuba?
Luckily we also have a lot of comrades, friends and defenders of the Revolution in Miami. Some had to go into exile due to political problems but those who have been leaving Cuba recently do so due to economic problems. On one occasion when we travelled to Miami to attend some conferences on the African struggle and the Cuban presence in Africa, some wanted get rid of us, in order for us not to speak, but many people, Cubans, Haitians and Latin Americans went there to defend the Cuban Revolution and they stood by our side to shout, long live the Revolution! Long live Fidel! Of course the press published whatever they wanted to but there are photos that will one day come to light.
Without a doubt, Cuba is a country that is comprised of several races, I understand that you are of African descent, and that is why I would like to know what the Cuban presence in the Struggle for independence for various African countries mean to you?
It was our duty as Cubans. During the first confrontations in 1868, the first blood that was shed on our land was that of Cubans and of Africans who had been sent as slaves. The Spanish rulers also deported some people to Equatorial Guinea where the blood of Cuban prisoners was also shed who they kept in cages as if there were animals. This event united us to the African people and in turn with the rest.
What exactly does your work with the Asociación de Amistad Cuba-Africa consist of?
My job is to strengthen the ties between Cuba and the African people but as the Head of International Relations of the Association of Veterans of the Cuban Revolution, I try to visit places where comrades invite me to explain to their citizens what the revolutionary fight was and to talk about the historic moment that we are witnessing in Cuba at the moment.
In spite of the bad times, the economic blockade that the Island continues to suffer, what do you believe is the thing that continues to fuel the Cuban people’s hope?
It is the fact that we are fighting to continue to solve our problems, to move forwards, although we are totally cut off. Despite the fact that we are going through serious difficulties, we are still working on it and the first thing that we have done since the beginning of the Revolution was to acknowledge the things we have done badly in order to find a solution to them. But Cuba will never give in it will never surrender because we will have done things wrong but we have never murdered anyone, we abide by the Constitution. Of course we don’t want there to be war, but if we are attacked we will defend ourselves, and Fidel has clearly said, “We have to avoid war and by avoiding war we win it.”
Do the majority of the people continue supporting the Revolution?
We can’t say that all of the Cuban people are for the Revolution, but it is more than 90% of them and we don’t only continue to have support in Cuba but also in the rest of the world, even in capitalist countries and that is even though they have very little true information about us.
What do you think will happen to the regime when Fidel dies? Could they manage to find a substitute that is on his level or will the Revolution lose its meaning without Fidel?
The Revolution will not lose all of its meaning, it pains me to say that Fidel will have to die one day, as painful as it was when he was at death’s door, the Revolution didn’t change because the Revolution is a mind-set, it is an ideology, and it is strength. The Revolution are the ideas that people have in their minds and in their hearts, those ideas for which they fight and for which they die. There will be changes, the Cuban and Latin American people will suffer when Fidel dies but they are preparing themselves for this because in Cuba there exists a people that are united in one party.
Article by Ane Bores, The Prisma
(Translated by Betty Poku – Email: email@example.com)