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    By Tamara Hansen
    “We can no longer be a people of leaves, living in the air, our foliage heavy with blooms and crackling or humming at the whim of the sun's caress, or buffeted and tossed by the storms. The trees must form ranks to keep the giant with seven-league boots from passing! It is the time of mobilization, of marching together, and we must go forward in close ranks, like silver in the veins of the Andes.”
    - Jose Marti (Our America)

    January 2008 marked the 155th anniversary of Jose Marti’s birth. This was celebrated this year in Cuba with a conference attended by more than 400 intellectuals, politicians, academics, writers, journalists and students from 35 countries. The 2nd International Conference for World Equilibrium, held in Havana January 28-30, discussed the most pressing issue today: the crisis of humanity created by imperialism and the importance of the Battle of Ideas and creating a better world.

    In November 2007, the Fire This Time Newspaper Editorial Board was sent a warm invitation from the organizing committee of the conference. This organizing committee was cultivated by the Office of Marti’s Program, the Cultural Society José Mart? and the Centre of Marti’s Studies of the Republic of Cuba, under the valuable auspices of UNESCO (United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization). Aaron Mercredi, Shannon Bundock and I were honoured to be able to attend this monumental event on behalf of the FTT Editorial Board.

    On the opening day in Havana, we sat as close to the front as we could to hear the opening talk by Armando Hart, the director of the Jose Marti Program Office. He is a very well-known revolutionary in Cuba who joined the anti-Batista forces before the triumph of the Cuban revolution, and after the revolution held the post of Minister of Culture. Hart explained part of the reasoning behind organizing this conference: "We hope that this conference will be a new point of departure for the systematic defence of peace, the preservation of life on the planet and the realization of the better world that we need so much."

    The First Day

    The first day of the conference also featured an address by Frei Beto, a prominent Brazilian writer, religious scholar and liberation theologist. Frei Beto dared participants in the conference to believe in the fight for a better world, saying, “with the upcoming commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, the island constitutes an unavoidable reference for those of us who believe that a just world, like the one Mart? dreamed of, is possible." Throughout all three days the conference broke out into smaller sessions in different areas of the Plaza de las Convenciones and we had a good chance to chat with people from the every continent in the world!

    The warm feeling of the conference was augmented by an infusion of anti-imperialist culture. This could be seen from the opening which featured a musical performance by Pioneers (a group that is like scouts or girl guides in Canada - but revolutionary!). This continued with the opening of the art exhibit “For an Honest Man” by Kamil Bullaudy, dedicated to Jose Marti. The most exciting cultural aspect, for us, was the inauguration of the new monument created by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. This impressive piece includes an open oval plaza with a capacity for 13,500 seats and a sculpture of an open-mouthed monster being confronted by a Cuban with a flag in their fist. This work is a striking symbol of the Cuban people’s resistance to imperialist aggression.

    The Second Day

    On the second day we attended the ‘Foro Juvenil’ or youth forum. This was a challenge for us as the meeting was held in Spanish, with no translation, however after making some great new friends we participated and learned a lot. The youth forum was 150 youth from the Federation of University Students (FEU) from campuses across Cuba. Interestingly, the majority of these students were not Cuban, but international students studying in Cuba for free! This meant we not only learned about student life in Cuba, but also their experiences in their home countries of Guyana, Mexico, Guatemala, Western Sahara, Vietnam, etc. Topics covered in the youth forum were equally interesting, from “Che, the new human being, and youth today”; to “Youth and socialism of the 21st Century”; to “Young artists and intellectuals in defence of humanity”; to “Youth and the protection of the environment”; and finally “Alternative media in the construction of new ideas & thoughts”.

    During the discussion period on alternative media, we introduced the Fire This Time Newspaper and why attending the conference was important for our work against war and in solidarity with Cuba in Vancouver. After our short intervention, we were honoured to be invited by the head of International Relations for the FEU to stay with the youth delegation and become better acquainted with the important work they are doing in Cuba. We had a great opportunity to talk one on one with students both from Cuba and other countries about the Cuban revolution, what they have learned from Jose Marti and why they were interested in attending the conference.

    The Third Day

    The third and closing day featured interventions by Abel Prieto, Cuba’s Minister of Culture and Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba’s National Assembly. Abel chaired one of the most important panels of the conference on “the necessity for a new model”. This panel dealt with organizing the work of the International Network in Defence of Humanity and the UNESCO-sponsored Council of the José Mart? World Solidarity Project. This panel truly underlined the reason for the conference: intellectuals, writers, journalists, authors, artists, and young people uniting to use culture as a weapon against imperialism and for the development of a better world.

    The conference was concluded with a rousing speech by Ricardo Alarcon. Alarcon criticized the US government because in spite of the current situation of hunger and illiteracy that prevails in the world, the US continues with its crazy ideas of world domination. He used his talk to urge all those attending the conference to create new alliances. Why? Because today we live in a time when the ideals of Jose Marti are more valid and important than ever.

    Upon our return to Canada, the Fire This Time Editorial Board worked together with Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba to organize a report back from this exciting conference. On Saturday February 9th a packed room of over 60 people at the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House was welcomed by the evening’s MC Colleen Glynn, an organizer with Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and the president of Richmond New Democratic Party (NDP). The evening featured music performed by Joaquin Ernesto, reading of poetry by Jose Marti, and a multimedia slide show of photos from the conference. Aaron, Shannon and I spoke, outlining the program of the conference, why Jose Mari’s ideas are relevant today, why it was important to attend this conference, and what was learned and gained from it. The discussion period was lively with many people raising different questions about the trip and making their own comments about their experiences in Cuba.

    Against Imperialism

    You may be wondering, ‘why all this talk about Jose Marti?’ It is Marti’s ideas. Jose Marti said, “Humanity is my homeland.” This is a statement that remains a call to all human-loving people today. While war and occupation is being carried out by imperialist countries trying to divide, conquer and destroy humanity, Cuba and the ideas of the Cuban Revolution (which Fidel has admitted on many occasions, come from the ideas of Marti) are to unite, conquer, develop, progress, and raise human consciousness and spirit. This means confronting the ideas of capitalism and imperialism with our ideas for a better humanity and for socialism. The battle of these opposing ideas needs to translate into the fields of education, science, health and especially into the field of culture. Frei Beto said it best: “Cuba’s revolutionary and socialist experience has no right to fail, it has a responsibility and historic commitment to Jose Marti.”

    What we witnessed in Cuba was the development of a new intellectual and cultural alliance against imperialism. This unification is truly dangerous to the United States and imperialism, because if we continue to unite they will never be able to divide, conquer and destroy us. The Battle of Ideas is a battle that we take on as social justice fighters here in Canada as well. We need to see that we are directly connected with others who are fighting for the dignity and rights of oppressed people around the world. We need to show our international solidarity. We need to fight back against attacks on workers, immigrants, refugees, women, Indigenous people and all oppressed groups within Canada. For us, the battle of ideas means we organize, we educate and we mobilize for a better world.

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