“But the philosophy of plunder has not only not been ended, it is stronger than ever.”
Those are the words of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, when he stood before the podium 52 years ago today at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, in the belly of empire, to emphatically denounce Cuba’s — and much of the world’s — imperial aggressor.
That speech, addressed both to states resisting U.S. imperialism and the United States itself still remains relevant today, more than five decades later.
Indeed, in 1964, the world had only seen a fraction of the United States’ campaign of plunder and pillage throughout the world.
Even 52 years later, if Guevara were alive today, his demands on the United States with respect to Cuba would remain much the same: an end to the punitive economic blockade against the people of Cuba and removal of all U.S. naval bases in the country, most notably at Guantanamo Bay.
“In the face of the demands of imperialism, our prime minister laid out the five points necessary for the existence of a secure peace in the Caribbean,” declared Guevara in his 1964 speech before listing these points.
“They are, a halt to the economic blockade and all economic and trade pressures by the United States, in all parts of the world, against our country; a halt to all subversive activities, launching and landing of weapons and explosives by air and sea, organization of mercenary invasions, infiltration of spies and saboteurs, acts all carried out from the territory of the United States and some accomplice countries; a halt to pirate attacks carried out from existing bases in the United States and Puerto Rico; a halt to all the violations of our airspace and our territorial waters by U.S. aircraft and warships; withdrawal from the Guantanamo naval base and return of the Cuban territory occupied by the United States,” he said.
Nine U.S. administrations later, the imperial aggressor has not heeded to the demands of a country it continues to vilify. Despite President Barack Obama’s 2008 ardent campaign promises to shut down the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, known to be a torture camp, after eight years in office, the notorious prison still remains open. And despite a historic thaw in frozen diplomatic ties between the two countries and admissions from Obama that the blockade should be lifted, the U.S. still maintains rigid economic sanctions against the island.
Over the past two years since the beginning of renewed ties between the two countries, Cuba has continued to insist that relations with the United States will only be fully normalized after the economic blockade is lifted and Washington returns the military-occupied area of Guantanamo.
With the recent death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, U.S. officials eagerly took the opportunity to criticize the revolutionary leader's legacy, decrying purported human rights violations from a hypocritical position as the self-proclaimed vanguards of morality. So too was the case in 1964.
"The United States intervenes in Latin America invoking the defense of free institutions," said Guevara. "The time will come when this Assembly will acquire greater maturity and demand of the U.S. Government guarantees for the life of the Blacks and Latin Americans who live in that country, most of them U.S. citizens by origin or adoption.”
“Those who kill their own children and discriminate daily against them because of the color of their skin; those who let the murderers of Blacks remain free, protecting them, and furthermore punishing the Black population because they demand their legitimate rights as free men," he continued. "How can those who do this consider themselves guardians of freedom?”
Though uttered over half a century ago, Guevara's words ring true today amid an ongoing crisis of racial injustice in the United States, epitomized perhaps most clearly in the epidemic of police brutality and institutionalized racism suffered by Black people and other people of color in the U.S. As in 1964, U.S. moral hypocrisy of ignoring systemic oppression within its own borders while being quick to lambast countries that challenge imperialism continues today.
As the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump threatens to roll back progress in normalizing U.S. Cuba relations, undermine civil rights and further embolden white nationalist and perpetrators of hate crimes amid a rise in fascism, Guevara's words are all too relevant today.
While the communist revolutionary leader’s iconic image is plastered on to T-shirts, posters and other mass-produced memorabilia and sold worldwide, it is in his speeches of yesterday where lessons for today can be found.