With a gleam in his eyes and a warm smile on his lips, Dabo Bengaly from Guinea speaks about his love for Cuba, which emerged in 1961 when he came to the island to study Hispano-American Literature at the University of Havana.
He remembers Cuba in those years as a country in action, marked by the beginning of the Revolution in January 1959, and the national literacy campaign, which saw illiteracy on the island fall to less than 3%, a feat which also cost the lives of various martyrs such as young volunteer teachers Conrado Benítez and Manuel Ascunce Domenech, murdered by counter-revolutionary groups.
Also President of the Cuba Friendship Association in the Republic of Guinea, Bengaly explains that he has been witness to important events in the country’s history such as the victory at Playa Girón, which occurred just days after the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution had been announced, when a mercenary invasion supported and financed by the United States was defeated in less than 72 hours by young militia recruits who gave their lives to defend their homeland.
Speaking with Granma International during a recent visit to Havana, Bengaly explained that he also attended the public trials of the mercenaries captured in the Ciénaga de Zapata region, as they tried to flee to the United States.
With trembling voices, the mercenaries attempted to shirk their responsibility as members of the invading 2506 brigade. After being convicted in Cuba, the Revolutionary government handed them over to the United States, in exchange for medicine and preserves.
It was within this difficult environment that the first international scholarship students from Vietnam, Albania, Congo, Guinea and other nations, arrived on the island to study in Cuban universities. According to Dabo Bengaly, the leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz, often came to speak with them. He also noted, “They provided us with the most up-to-date literature and the best professors such as intellectuals Vicentina Antuña and Camilo Ureña. They didn’t hold back anything from their students, they shared all their knowledge with us and constantly sought more, which surprised students, who experienced a different kind of teacher-student relationship.”
Regarding his conversations with Fidel, Bengaly recalls the revolutionary leader’s strong desire to see the international students return to their countries of origin and contribute to the social development of their peoples, explaining that true sovereignty is won through a cultural revolution, centered of human dignity.
The Guinean explains that his most pivotal experience in Cuba was participating in the 1970 sugarcane harvest, known as the 10 million ton harvest. He stayed at a campsite in the municipality of Güira de Melena, in what was then Habana province, together with other international students. “I cut cane in Cuba to try and reach the goal of producing 10 million tons of sugar to boost the country’s development,” he notes.
Bengaly also states that Cuba is where he fell in love with his spouse of more than 40 years, a union which has produced two children and four grandchildren, noting that he is proud to have created a Cuban-Guinean family.
The Guinean activist continued to support the Cuban Revolution, working as a diplomat in Havana, and later founding various Cuba solidarity groups in his native country, which work to support Cuba’s internationalist efforts and causes in the global arena.
“Our work,” stated Dabo Bengaly, “is focused on accompanying the Cuban Revolution in its various struggles. From Guinea we have supported the lifting of the criminal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States, as well as an end to the illegal occupation of the territory usurped by the Guantánamo Naval Base.”
These organizations are composed of many professionals who graduated from Cuban universities and their relations. Members discuss Cuba’s history and current reality; activities are organized to publicize the island’s socialist achievements; while actions commemorating important dates related to the Revolution are also held.
For his efforts, Bengaly received the Medal of Friendship awarded by the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba in 1993, and continues his solidarity work, noting that there are plans to create a large international organization in Africa, reaching 15 Western nations, which works to disseminate information about Cuba’s links with Sub-Saharan Africa.
He cites Fidel Castro Ruz as the reason for his knowledge of Cuba. “Before the triumph of the Revolution, Cuba was a distant country for we Africans, known only for its music and boxing. From January 1, 1959, the Caribbean island became the focus of global attention, firstly because of its efforts to support the decolonization of Africa and later for its fraternal assistance in eradicating the social evils passed down from so many years of colonization.”
In this regard, Bengaly mentioned the first contingent of Cuban doctors sent to Algeria in 1963, and the extraordinary assistance offered by the island to combat the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea Conakry, sending a group of healthcare professionals from the Henry Reeve Contingent specialized in large scale disasters and serious epidemics.
Over 250 Cuban healthcare collaborators risked their own lives to save Guineans and combat the lethal virus, stated Bengaly, noting that the island’s medical professionals have and continue to serve those most in need around the world, motivated by altruism and love for humanity.
Thus, according to Bengaly, the need to record the history of friendship between Cuba and Africa in the sphere of internationalist collaboration, stating, “The blood of Cuban combatants is there on the African continent, and they never asked for anything in return, they only worked to build a more just society.”