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20 December 2001 Edition

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Cuba and Ireland: Solidarity in struggle

Gerry Adams writes from Cuba, where he unveiled, this week, a mural in commemoration of the 1981 hunger strikers.



HAVANA is a very beautiful city, designated as a world heritage site. There is a sense of faded, crumbling glory about its splendid architecture, its buildings and streetscape.

Like the 1950s American cars, now painted in pinks and reds and yellows, Caribbean pastels, Havana is like a glimpse of the past, made over, patched up and functioning well against all the odds.

There is a sense of wellbeing here also among the people. The economy has improved. There are more and more new modern cars on the motorways. The education system is one of the best in the world, and free to all citizens - with a reduction, at primary school levels, of classroom sizes to 20 pupils or under.

On Tuesday night, I met President Fidel Castro, at the opening of 200 schools in Havana, an accomplishment in anyone's terms. The health service also is free and again of first class quality. Despite recession and the consequences of the 11 September atrocities, with the reduction in air travel, tourism is increasing.

The island is also recovering from Hurricane Michelle, with a lot of the damage already being repaired. Thanks to the success of mass civic contingencies, a very low death count of only five.

A talking point at this time is the arrival of food shipments from the U.S., offered as aid after the hurricane, but paid for by the Cuban government at its insistence. This breakthrough in the economic blockade, like the Cuban offer of help to the U.S. after 11 September, is a welcome sign of what could be.

I am here to unveil a memorial to the hunger strikers of 1981. As many Irish Voice readers will know, this year is the 20toh anniversary of the hunger strikes in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and Armagh women's prison. In Ireland, a year-long programme of commemorations, debates, concerts and exhibitions recalled and celebrated the courage of the Hunger Strikers. Memorials were also unveiled and the hunger strike was remembered in events around the world. In Australian, in the U.S., and in South Africa, where two months ago I unveiled a memorial on Robben Island in the yard where Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisilu were incarcerated for 27 years.

The memorial event here was a full state occasion, with full honors being accorded to the memory of Bobby Sands and his comrades. Whatever one thinks about Cuba, it is true that people here, like people worldwide, were moved and remember still the sacrifices of the Irish prisoners.

In our conversations with President Castro, and senior government representatives, they have discussed with us issues of human rights, civil and religious liberties, democratic values, social justice, equality and other matters of concern to people wherever they live.

Some of our friends might not support or share my view of the world or my views on Cuba or the U.S.'s economic blockade. That is their right. But many people here in Cuba share their concern and hope for peace in Ireland, and we have discussed the peace process in detail.

It is enough, perhaps, in terms of the Irish cause, that all of us agree on the issue of Ireland, on the need to end partition, and British involvement and interference in Irish affairs. We can agree to disagree about the rest.

During the Cromwellian period in the 17th century, among the first slaves to arrive in this region were 50,000 men, women and mostly Irish children who were transported forcibly to Barbados from their homes across Ireland. In Chile, Bernardo O'Higgins was to lead the independence struggle, in Peru Daniel O'Leary and in Argentina Admiral William Brown. And there are many, many more. Che Guevara had Irish ancestors. Some of them bore the surname Lynch. And in a street called O'Reilly Street, in Old Havana, there is a sign in Spanish and Irish and English which celebrates the ties between this island and Ireland.

So its little wonder, like the rest of hunanity, that people here were touched by the hunger strikes. And that is why I am here. Nollaig Shona Daoibh. Bliain úr faoi mhaise daoibh. Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year. Feliz Navidad.
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