November 17, 2005, was a hectic day at the University of Havana (UH). Celebrations for International Students’ Day, at that time commemorating 60 years since the Comandante en Jefe first entered this higher education institution, had attracted thousands of university students from all across the city, impatiently waiting for Fidel to arrive.
That day changed our lives forever, recalls PhD. Elier Ramírez Cañedo speaking to Granma International, who despite being President of the UH’s Federation of University Students at the time, almost couldn’t get into the Aula Magna where Fidel was scheduled to speak. Once inside, however, he noted that such an atmosphere of intimacy was created that every student felt like Fidel was speaking directly to them.
He began with words of gratitude to the youths gathered there, and a sort of apology.
“You have been very kind in commemorating a very special day today: the 60th anniversary of my timid start at this University (…) Not to have attended, at this time, a ceremony in the Aula Magna, invited by you all, would have been the greatest sorrow of my life,” stated Fidel.
This encounter was his return to the starting point, explains the young historian. His return to the place where “this island, this small island’s concern” began, at a time when “there was still no talk of globalization, television didn’t exist, there was no Internet or instant communication from one side of the planet to the other, when telephones hardly existed (…),” as the leader of the Revolution explained to the youth assembled there that November afternoon.
According to Elier Ramírez “He spoke with the university students, in whom he had always trusted, in order to tell them things that perhaps he may not have felt as comfortable or encouraged to address in other settings.” This was an important speech.
That November 17, the Comandante en Jefe expressed an idea which inevitably underlies the rational understanding of any historical process: the possibility that transformations can be undone.
In this sense, Fidel explained that “among the many errors we have all committed, the most important has been to believe that anyone of us knew about socialism, or that anyone one of us knew how to build socialism.”
Later he questioned whether revolutions are destined to fail or, “is it people that bring down revolutions? Can people, or can society stop revolutions from collapsing? (…) This Revolution can be destroyed…we can destroy it, and it will be our own fault.”
However, Fidel was also optimistic, says Ramírez. He trusted in the ability of the people, and above all the youth to whom his comments were directed, to tackle the country’s main problems.
“If we are going to wage a battle we must use better quality missiles, there must be criticism and self-criticism in the classroom, in the (Party) nucleus, and then beyond the nucleus, then in the municipality, and then across the country,” stated the Comandante en Jefe speaking from the podium of that magnificent space where the remains of Cuban philosopher and Presbyterian Félix Varela lie in a marble urn.
Thus, his words marked a “before and after in the course of the Revolution.”
“He focused the lens on our own errors; errors which are more dangerous than the entire machinery of our powerful enemies. I mean, without these problems, which Fidel denounced, such as wastefulness, corruption, bureaucracy, and other ills, no enemy, no matter how powerful, would be able to advance in their plans,” explains Ramírez.
This doesn’t mean that Cuba should ignore external threats, “but that we should also focus more attention on those internal ills that could destroy the Revolution,” he adds.
Fidel couldn’t have been any more explicit: “This country can destroy itself; this Revolution can be destroyed. Today, they (imperialist powers) can not destroy it; but we can, we can destroy it and it will be our fault.”
This doesn’t mean that external enemies no longer represent a threat to Cuba, highlights Ramírez, but that Fidel “called on us to broaden our idea of this enemy, because we had allies of the northern neighbor who facilitated its work, right here in the country.”
“Fidel revealed that the Revolution can only be sustained by overcoming these internal ills,” adds Elier, still moved by that that fascinating and enlightening celebration in honor of International Students’ Day at the University of Havana.
Fidel’s words were magical and “we all surrendered before that special ability of his to mobilize us. They were a battle cry,” he states.