|Cuban brigadier general Armando Choy, center with light shirt, arrives in Montreal to begin speaking tour with events at universities and in Chinese community.|
BY JOHN STEELE
AND MAGGIE TROWE
MONTREAL, March 16—Retired Cuban brigadier general Armando Choy began a five-day speaking tour here today with a presentation on the Cuban Revolution to more than 50 students at Marianopolis College. Choy’s talk was followed by an animated discussion, which continued informally with more than a dozen students and faculty members following the meeting.
Marianopolis professors Philip Dann and Dolores Chew, from the Humanities and English departments, and students participating in the Third World Studies Certificate program invited him to speak.
Choy recounted how, as “a student like yourselves,” he joined the movement against the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, after Batista took power in a military coup in 1952. Choy fought in the Cuban revolutionary war, which culminated in a mass insurrection of the toilers in 1959 that overthrew the Batista regime and established a government of workers and farmers that began to implement social policies in the interests of working people.
Two years after the revolutionary victory, he fought to repel an invasion by U.S.-backed mercenaries, who were defeated in less than 72 hours by Cuba’s armed and organized working people, delivering Washington its first military defeat in the Americas.
Choy told the students how in October 1953 Fidel Castro gave a speech defending himself in court after the defeat of an armed attack by Cuban revolutionaries he led on the Moncada barracks in eastern Cuba on July 26 that year.
Castro’s speech, known as “History Will Absolve Me,” became the basic programmatic statement of the July 26 Movement, the organization that, together with the Rebel Army, would lead Cuba’s toilers to revolutionary victory. It called for elimination of the vast economic inequalities that marked Cuban society, of racial discrimination, and advanced a broad program of social measures, beginning with a radical land reform to guarantee land to more than 100,000 peasant families.
“The beginning of the Cuban Revolution also saw the beginning of Cuba’s proletarian internationalism, not only in words, but in deeds,” Choy said. “That has been demonstrated in Africa and in Latin America.”
Choy participated in an internationalist mission in Angola during 1980-81. Between 1975 and 1991, Cuba sent 375,000 volunteers to aid that country—which had just conquered its independence after centuries of Portuguese colonial rule—in defeating the invading troops of apartheid South Africa. After his tour, Choy served as Cuban ambassador to Cape Verde from 1986 to 1992.
Today, Choy carries major responsibilities in the Cuban government organizing the administration of the Port of Havana. He is president of the State Working Group for the Cleanup, Preservation, and Development of Havana Bay, which is one of the most important environmental projects in Cuba.
‘Revolution brought changes’
Choy was welcomed to Marianopolis by English professor Philip Dann, who introduced Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press and editor of Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution. Waters spoke about the conquests of Cuba’s socialist revolution as documented by the three generals in that book, and introduced Choy, one of the authors.
She also told the students about the case of the five Cuban revolutionaries being held hostage in U.S. prisons, serving sentences as long as double-life, simply for gathering intelligence on the activities of Cuban counterrevolutionary groups operating in the United States to carry out violent attacks in Cuba.
Following Choy’s talk students asked questions. “How did the Soviet Union help the Cuban Revolution? Was the relationship amiable or were there tensions?” asked one student.
“We had a good relationship with the USSR,” Choy answered. “We received a great deal of aid in the form of training, food, arms, and oil, for which we were very appreciative.
“At the same time,” he continued, “although many people don’t believe it, we’ve always maintained a policy independent of the Soviet Union. For example, we supported national liberation movements in Latin America and Africa, which the Soviets did not.” In the case of Angola, Choy explained the Soviet Union put the emphasis on developing the regular army, while the Cubans insisted “to win a civil war against the forces of Jonas Savimbi, who was a puppet of imperialism, they had to organize light, fast moving units able to fight in the jungle.”
Another student asked, “Has Cuba really been better off under Fidel Castro than under Batista? How can you say the Cuban government has been doing a good job when tens of thousands of Cubans left for the United States by boat in 1980 from the port of Mariel.” This student also asked about the recent death of Cuban prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo as a result of a hunger strike. Choy and Waters both responded.
“The Cuban Revolution brought about enormous changes for our people,” Choy responded. “There’s no comparison with not only the Batista government but all previous governments of what was a ‘pseudo-republic’ in Cuba” dominated by Washington.
“Jobs were not guaranteed before the revolution,” he continued. Today there is little unemployment and education is not only free, it is a right.
“Look, I was born in the mountains in the central region. When I finished the sixth grade, there were no schools nearby. My dad decided to move to the capital so I could study,” he said. “Today, in that small town more than 500 students attend university level classes. It’s like that throughout Cuba.”
Choy also pointed to Cuba’s “selfless aid to the peoples of Haiti and Chile before and after the recent devastating earthquakes in those countries. “In Haiti the Cuban doctors didn’t just arrive after the earthquake,” Choy said. “They were there four years ago, and Cuba reinforced them after the earthquake. That is what our socialist revolution has made possible.”
Waters took up the question of emigration from Cuba. “It’s important to remember that Cuba lives with the legacy of 500 years of colonial plunder and imperialist domination… . Many who come to the U.S. from Cuba like others from all over the world, come in hopes of escaping the economic conditions created by imperialism.
“But unlike Washington’s treatment of immigrants from anywhere else in the world, any Cuban who sets foot on American soil is guaranteed citizenship and the right to work.” This is meant to foment immigration from Cuba, and the Mariel exodus was a product of such policies.
“Today Washington, Ottawa, and others are campaigning against the Cuban government demanding that Cuba release its “political prisoners,” Waters said, especially since the death of Zapata Tamayo. He was a prisoner with a long criminal record, she noted, including a conviction for violent assault. He was sent to prison for three years in 2004. After he assaulted prison guards his sentence was extended.
“It was only after he was in jail that he declared himself a ’political prisoner.’ When he went on a hunger strike his demands included a cell phone, a TV, and cooking facilities in his cell. The Cuban government did everything possible to save his life, but couldn’t prevent his death. It’s important to see the case of Zapata Tamayo in the history Armando Choy was describing—‘the 50-year war’ that Washington has carried out to discredit and overthrow the Cuban Revolution. The so-called dissidents in Cuba are supported and financed by the U.S. government and its various agencies.”
After the event a number of interested students came to an informal reception to continue discussion with Choy. Five bought copies of Our History Is Still Being Written and asked Choy to autograph the book. Alice Krayem, a 19-year-old student, wanted to ask him more about land reform in Cuba. “My grandfather has a farm in Mexico,” she told him. “I’m half Mexican and half Lebanese, and I can relate to you being Chinese Cuban.”
Choy was also interviewed by reporters from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Chinese-language program department; and Radio Canada International, the CBC’s short wave service.
When Choy arrived March 15 he was welcomed with banners and cheers at the airport by a delegation of 15 people, including Christian Valet, a student at the University of Quebec at Montreal; Armand Vaillancourt, a noted Quebec sculptor who is hosting a dinner for Choy; Timothy Chan, president of the Chinese-Canadian Historical and Cultural Society of Montreal and organizer of a banquet in the Chinese district to honor Choy; and Joe Young, representing Pathfinder Books in Montreal, one of the tour’s organizers.