In London, the annual Latin America solidarity conference pays tribute to Fidel

Bernard Regan, the national secretary of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign UK, addresses the conference. Photo by Denis Rogatyuk.

More than 500 participants gathered at the Trade Union Congress headquarters in London on November 26 for the annual Latin America Adelante conference, now in its 12th year.

With more than 70 different speakers and 30 different workshops and plenary sessions, plus the concurrent Alborada film festival, Latin America Adelante has become one of the most important and well-known gatherings of solidarity with a continent that is increasingly facing a right-wing neoliberal backlash.

This year, however, the conference was overshadowed by the sudden death of Commandante Fidel Castro.

Before the official opening of the conference, a minute of silence was held to remember the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution. His achievements, as well as those of the people of Cuba, were acknowledged and praised by a wide range of speakers who attended the conference.

Roberto Calzadilla, the Bolivian Ambassador to Britain, remarked that “whilst it is a sad day, Fidel has inspired us and lives on in our spirit”. He noted: “It is important to see his legacy in the context of what happened in the last 10 years in our region.”

Cristine Bowler, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, highlighted the importance of Cuba's “Yo si puedo” literacy campaign: “The determination of Fidel to transform the lives of Cubans by eliminating illiteracy and empowering the people with the slogan 'Yo Si Puedo', and making the resources available to make sure that could happen is an absolute example to the world.”

George Galloway, a broadcaster and former MP, blasted the critics of Cuba and Fidel, remarking that “there are more human rights in Cuba than there are in any other poor country” due to its achievements in the field of healthcare, education, sport and social welfare programs. He also paid homage to Fidel, saying: “He lives on amongst us. He lives on in the barrios of Venezuela, in the mountains of Bolivia and Ecuador, in the workers’ movement in Brazil. He lives on among the people of South Africa, in whose freedom from apartheid the Cuban armed forces under the leadership of Fidel Castro played a decisive role.”

Rocio Maniero, the Venezuelan ambassador to Britain, paid her respects to Fidel, saying that “his passing hurts us a lot, but his life continues and stays with us as a lesson, and we will continue learning”. Maniero also mentioned that despite all of the hardships faced by Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution, including attacks from the United States, the country continues to resist and fight for social justice.

Ken Livingstone, the former Labour MP and Mayor of London who welcomed the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez on his visit during 2006, contrasted the life of the late Venezuelan leader with that of some of the modern politicians.

“The most extraordinary thing about Chávez was that he was an ordinary man who did not get into politics because he wanted to become wealthy, like [Tony] Blair, but recognised his job was to do things and improve the lives of ordinary people.”

The conference also played an important video message from Jesus Santrich, a member of the Colombian peace delegation of the FARC-EP and one commanders of the Caribbean Bloc.

Santrich extended his gratitude to the trade union movement in Britain and Ireland for assisting Colombia's ongoing peace process, as the FARC-EP and Colombian government seek to end decades of civil war. A second agreement has recently been signed between the armed revolutionary group and the government. He expressed hope for reconciliation, and said with the signing of the peace agreement, attention will turn to implementation of social justice across Colombia. In prticuar, Santrich highlighted the need to stopp the “new genoicde against social movements” such as Patriotic March (Marcha Patriotica), with 120 of its activists having been assassinated in the last four years.