One hundred and fifty people attended a lively conference held over August 18-19 titled “Fidel in the 21st century: his contribution and ideas for a better world”. The event examined the inspiring life and historic political contribution of former Cuban President Fidel Castro.
The conference was organised by the Latin America Social Forum (LASF), the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society, the Cuba Solidarity Committee (Western Suburbs), and the Free the Cuba Five Committee, with the support of the Cuban Embassy and the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).
Speakers included Cuban ambassador Pedro Monzon, Venezuelan ambassador Nelson Davila, Tim Anderson from political economy department at Sydney University, Socialist Alliance activist and author of Rainbow Cuba: the sexual revolution within the revolution, Rachel Evans, Free the Cuba Five Committee activists Adrianna Navarro and Joanne Kuniansky, editor of the Cuba’s Socialist Renewal blog Marce Cameron; Hannah Middleton from the Community Party of Australia; and filmmaker David Bradbury.
The conference affirmed the need to maintain and step up campaigns in defence of the Cuban revolution. Participants also unanimously adopted motions congratulating the government of Ecuador for its courageous decision to grant political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and condemning last month’s right-wing coup in Paraguay.
The conference watched filmed greetings from ICAP president Kenia Serrano Puig, and saw a screening of Oliver Stone's documentary about Fidel Castro, Commandante.
On the Saturday, Anderson spoke on "Fidel's legacy for the 21st century," which Castro himself summed up as, "having brought about a synthesis of the ideas of Marti and of Marxism-Leninism, and having applied them consistently to our struggle". Middleton addressed the topic of "Fidel, the environment and Cuba's ecological alternative," highlighting Castro's ideas on climate change and the environmental crisis facing humanity.
In a panel on "Cuba's struggle against discrimination and oppression," Evans explained the significant positive changes in Cuba's attitudes and policies on homosexuality in recent years. Linda Harris, from the Communist League, stressed the leading role played by women in the Cuban revolution, and the major gains made for women's equality over the past 50 years.
"Fidel and the fight to free the Cuban Five," was the theme of the final session on Saturday, taken up by Kuniansky and Adriana Navarro, from the Free the Cuban Five Committee. The Cuban Five, framed up and imprisoned in the US for exposing counterrevolutionary Cuban American terrorist threats to Cuba, have been praised by Fidel as "extraordinary men on an extraordinary and human mission".
On Sunday morning, in a session called, "Fidel's internationalism," Bradbury supported the courage of the Cuban people and their revolution, but called on the government to "do do more to help form the 'new Cuban man and woman'." Olivar Villar examined the context in which the Cuban revolution occurred, and its powerful influence on Latin American, and in particular Colombian, anti-imperialist struggles.
Under the theme, "Fidel and the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA)," Venezuelan ambassador to Australia Nelson Davila and Bolivian ambassador Antonio Moron Nava emphasised the key role of Fidel and Cuba in inspiring and building Latin American unity against US domination of the continent.
In the final session, entitled, "Fidel and the updating of Cuban socialism," Cuban ambassador Pedro Monzon explained the crucial part played by Castro in the process of renovating and democratising the Cuban revolution, and stressed that "the Cuban people continue to support socialism. That is the main reason for the survival of the Cuban socialist system, faced with so many serious challenges."
Cameron said: "We can take heart that the Cuban Communist Party has had the courage to admit mistakes, and take steps to make changes. Cuban is changing in order to survive in a post-Fidel era."
Conference co-organiser and LASF member, Fred Fuentes, said the conference was a success: “The presentations and discussion about Fidel’s contributions were excellent, and the debate around the future of socialism and the challenges facing the Cuban revolution was timely and fruitful.