Some 10,000 delegates from over 114 countries showed a powerful spirit of solidarity with Cuba as they marched down the main downtown street to a rally on the historic steps of the University of Havana July 28. There, President Fidel Castro welcomed them to revolutionary Cuba.
The occasion was the official opening of the 14th World Festival of Youth and Students.
Tens of thousands of Cubans, young and old, lined the streets cheering each delegation--while each international delegation waved flags and chanted support for Cuba. There were especially loud cheers for north Korea, Yemen, Vietnam and Angola.
From the 520 youths of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to the 628 Mexicans, 398 Angolans, 360 Puerto Ricans and 771 U.S. delegates, they had all come to pay tribute to Cuba's revolutionary steadfastness in the face of a tightening U.S. blockade. And they are here to join forces against imperialism, and for peace and friendship.
The U.S. group is not only the biggest at the festival. It is also the biggest U.S. group ever to travel to socialist Cuba for any event.
Che Guevara's image is everywhere--on banners, posters, T- shirts, in the streets, on videos. His revolutionary life is a constant theme of discussion among the young people here.
Tahnee Stair, a 21-year-old activist in Workers World Party, said: "For me, Che is an inspiration and a lesson that youth can change the world. It does make a difference to have someone who was such a model of sacrifice and struggle, especially as we youth are fighting capitalism and all its effects worldwide."
How to conduct the struggle against imperialism is being debated each day at the Palace of Conventions. Among the many workshop topics are democracy and participation, discrimination and racism, the environment, young workers, and culture.
There are also tours to cultural sites, health centers and work places.
As of July 30, festival participants are still arriving. There are now 125 countries represented and 10,007 people registered.
Each one is staying in a Cuban household. More than 53,000 Cuban families offered their homes to host delegates. A national fund drive among the population helped defray costs.
On June 27 before the official activities began, families came to meet their youth delegates on the lawn of the Ministry of Transport, carrying placards with their names. Jacobo Small, a 21-year-old from Oakland, Calif., shouted out, "Mom!" and embraced his family.
Although many delegates--be they Vietnamese, Chinese or German--may not know Spanish, it seems everyone is using a universal language of solidarity.
The level of organization and coordination among the Cuban organizations and populace is impressive. The Cuban Organizing Committee has 24-hour command posts set up in each neighborhood to coordinate logistics and assist delegates. On each block where delegates are staying, young people are assigned to address any problems that arise.
Dozens of schoolbuses, freed from school-year use, are carrying people through the city.
In a keynote speech during the democracy commission, Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon denounced the most recent hostilities by the U.S. government as expressed by Undersecretary of State for Latin American Affairs David Davidow. Alarcon quoted Davidow as saying, "Like the bones of Che Guevara, Cuba is a vestige of the wrong kind of politics."
Alarcon responded: "For Cuban women and men today, there is no doubt in our minds that Che is alive. We feel him alive in our work, in the work he helped to build, as very few so lovingly did, in how he taught us to struggle constantly to refine and perfect ... .
"We don't have the slightest doubt that he is alive in our will to resist, in our pained struggle to preserve our independence, to save our Revolution, to defend our gains. He is ever-present in our conviction that socialism has to be based first and foremost on conscience, on social awareness, in the ability of women and men to create a better way of life."
While aiding Bolivian liberation efforts 30 years ago, Guevara was assassinated by the CIA. His remains, recently unearthed from a secret mass grave in Bolivia, were returned to Cuba just two weeks ago.