September 2016        

Letter from Trinidad de Cuba

Seán Joseph Clancy

I’m writing just a short few hours after the definitive peace deal between the Colombian government and FARC-EP rebels was signed here, bringing an end to decades of war that have left more than a quarter of a million dead and millions more hurt, harmed, and displaced.
     Over the course of the four years of the Havana talks, FARC-EP have been in transition from a formidable rebel guerrilla force to a pragmatic and relevant social movement to engage the enemy in a battle of ideas.
     Many disfranchised Colombians have only ever interacted with their state through its repressive and land-grabbing military and paramilitary terror apparatus.
     FARC-EP have their work cut out. Colombia is a very real example of the misery, horror and desperation that unbridled neo-liberalism and collusion with North American imperialism unapologetically and inevitably provokes.
     For an Irishman with some interest in politics generally, the only thing I can think of to say about Éamon Gilmore being the EU’s special envoy to the process is that his presence at the signing struck me as both ironic and a bit bizarre. He seems obviously now the stuff of the Colombian government’s side, both in the Havana talks and in their broader politics, something that might have seemed sacrilegious to suggest once upon a time.
     It brought to mind also the sad, offensive and confounding news filtering out about Sinn Féin’s dalliance with youth-wing fascist thugs from Netanyahu’s Zionist apartheid party—an equally long trip from the principled grass roots as that of the special envoy but, for this republican at least, one being taken down more disturbing and distressing paths.
     There is no peace-process jargon or trendy New Age Blair-speak to justify what would have been akin to entertaining known associates (and members) of the Shankill Butchers before their victims had been laid to rest.
     Courageous risk-taking to promote peace and dialogue is generally a good thing; courting a vicious enemy is not.
     The “forward-thinking” hybrid of NGO and think tank that “facilitated” the trip—supposedly, and possibly, promoted by the Palestinian Authority—would be difficult to differentiate from similar USAID clones that serve the very establishments whose murder, torture and abuse supposedly brought Sinn Féin’s leadership into politics.
     Now, having gone from Havana to the Shankill via Jerusalem, I better at least try to finish with something vaguely Cuban, and closer to what I’m supposed to contribute!
     Cuba finished in 18th place on the final Rio Olympics medals table, ahead of many richer, larger and better-resourced countries, such as Canada, with 5 gold, 2 silver, and 4 bronze. Three gold and a total of five medals were taken by the ten-member boxing team, ensuring that boxing remains Cuba’s sports flagship.
     Although it’s less than the sports authorities and the public here were hoping for, this tally is quite an achievement for a small, blockaded Third World country, where participation in sport in a basic human right.
     Fidel stepped out to celebrate his ninetieth birthday at the iconic Karl Marx Theatre in Havana, where a cultural gala was held in his honour. He looks all of his ninety years and is obviously feeble physically, but his mind is still sharp and strong. He wrote an article for the press on the occasion.
     Fidel’s brother Raúl, only five years his junior, really is remarkable for his age, and there is very little about his appearance, demeanour, work rate or performance to suggest that his years are an issue in his steering of the country.
     History was truly kind to Cuba by ensuring that the moment when Fidel had to exit the political stage the long-awaited void and expected upheaval that its enemies had craved never happened. Raúl was calmly and constitutionally elected as the fourth Cuban president (not the second, as many believe) since the Revolution triumphed in 1959.
     When his time comes to retire there is nothing to suggest that the next transition will not be both as wise and as orderly as the last.

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