By Ana Kailis and Paul Howes
HAVANA — At the 14th World Festival of Youth and Students from July 28 to August 5, 12,335 delegates representing 2000 organisations from 132 nations gathered to discuss their experiences in struggle against imperialism, racism and neo-liberalism. Forty-seven Australians attended.
The festival opened with a march of 5000 delegates through the streets of Havana. Cubans lining the streets joined the delegates in chants against the US blockade of Cuba and in support of Cuba's independence and sovereignty.
The march ended on the steps of Havana University, where portraits were hung of Che Guevara, to whom the festival was dedicated on the 30th anniversary of his death. Cuban President Fidel Castro, Cuba's Young Communist Union (UJC) first secretary, Victoria Velásquez, and Nicaraguan Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega took part in the festival opening.
The conference covered a wide range of topics, including the struggle against imperialism and for self-determination; human rights; women's rights; indigenous people's struggles; the struggles against racism, nationalism and neo-fascism; democracy and participation; peace and nuclear disarmament; and the worldwide unemployment crisis.
The numerous contributions illustrated that many of the problems faced by the world's people (in particular young people) are similar, due to deepening capitalist austerity and structural adjustment programs.
The major imperialist powers' efforts to impose neo-liberalism on every continent has given rise to the common experiences of rising unemployment, racism, human rights abuses and a greater gap between rich and poor. The need to connect and coordinate the struggles of young people around the world against these attacks was emphasised.
The conference was addressed by delegates from the Zapatistas of Mexico, the Tupac Amaru from Peru, the FSLN from Nicaragua, the FMLN from El Salvador, the URNG from Guatemala, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, fighters in the Kurdish struggle, East Timorese independence activists, Sinn Féin from Ireland, ANC members, African-American activists, Puerto Rican independence fighters and Aboriginal delegates from Australia, to name a few.
The participation of the US delegation — the second largest delegation after the Cubans — was especially welcomed. The US government denied these permission to travel to Cuba, but 850 of them defied the authorities by travelling via the Bahamas or Mexico. They now face the possibility of a 10-year prison sentence and a US$250,000 fine in the US.
The South Korean government, too, was condemned by the conference for refusing to allow the participation of South Korean youth.
The festival produced strong resolutions in solidarity with many struggles around the world, including the anti-colonial struggles of the peoples of Palestine, Western Sahara, the Basque Country, Catalonia, northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and East Timor. Another resolution called for the closure of all US military bases.
Two days of international action were proclaimed by the conference: the first against imperialism on October 8 and another in solidarity with Cuba on October 10.
A motion condemning the Indonesian government for its occupation of East Timor and its arrest and imprisonment of Indonesian democracy activists was also put to the conference. The motion called for the release of Dita Sari, Budiman Sujatmiko and others, and condemned the Australian, British and US governments for continuing to provide military assistance to the Suharto regime.
The Portuguese delegation took the case for the Timorese people's right to self-determination to the "International Tribunal", a mock court which tried the perpetrators of injustice around the world.
The closing ceremony featured a series of demands read out by Lehida Mohamed Dafa from the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic. They included: an end to imperialist aggression; the right of nations to self-determination and sovereignty; the cancellation of all Third World foreign debt; the right of the world's youth to employment, health, education and a clean environment; the right to choose what type of social system to live in; and against the US blockade of Cuba and in support of the Cuban Revolution.
It was noted that the 14th festival was very different from the 13th, held in Pyongyang eight years ago. Since then, the Soviet Union has disappeared and neo-liberalism is a grinding reality across the globe, yet with this has come a renewed vigour and mood of international solidarity amongst the world's youth.
The closing session was an electric event, with chants and songs culminating in a spontaneous march by some delegates around the track of the Pan-American Stadium. It was a fitting finale to an event that proved that international solidarity is alive and well, and that reaffirmed that imperialism and neo-liberalism require coordinated action by anti-imperialist movements around the world.