“Every time Raúl meets with youth his eyes shine; he’s re-energized,” says the late Jorge Risquet Valdés turning and speaking to me in a low voice. The revolutionary combatant was referring to the Army General, at that time Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), during a visit to one of the units of the Eastern Army, where he met and spoke with young combatants, including officers, in whom he recognized the will to continue defending the homeland.
Risquet was a close comrade of Raúl's during the period of armed struggle. I recalled his comment some time later, during one of the few occasions when I covered visits by the Revolution’s second-in-command to the contingent he created in 1961, as a reporter for the military press. On each occasion, while speaking with youth, he expressed his complete confidence in them.
His trust in younger generations is without a doubt one of the greatest qualities Raúl Castro has shown throughout his life as a revolutionary, marked by coherent thought and action.
José Ramón Fernández, another close friend of the Army General wrote, “His knowledge of life, of human beings, his revolutionary convictions and infinite trust in youth make compañero Raúl a strong believer in the importance of educating new generations, as well as a forceful critic of forms and methods which do not correspond to each historic moment, every new stage of the Revolution’s development, every reality, with life itself.”
He recognizes, added Fernández, that youth of today are more demanding, more capable, better educated, more cultured and above all, more critical. “He has also pointed out that it is a mistake to attempt to reach youth through schematic formulas, with trivial resources and insubstantial arguments. According to Raul, in order to reach the minds and hearts of youth, strengthen them ideologically and politically, spark their interest and support their goals, we must expand and intensify our political-ideological work to be unequivocally more rigorous and, above all, more modern.”
In this regard he went on to note: “For Raul, youth must be the protagonists in their own education, they must be active participants in their own learning processes, in the transformative work, in setting new goals for the Revolution, taking it to new levels of development, as inheritors of the experiences of those that came before them, but with their own light, initiative, creativity, and deep sense of commitment to being continuators of this work, no matter what the challenges.”
To some, the opinions of Risquet and José Ramón may seem particularly affected by the undeniable affection that has come from working day-by-day alongside Raúl. However, a strong revolutionary sentiment is evident whenever the Army General talks about the importance of youth’s role in maintaining the political and social gains that Cuba enjoys today.
For me, one of these rousing moments occurred in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 2013, during celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the attacks on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Garrisons.
Clearly enthused, Raúl transmitted his passion to those present:
“Many years have passed but this continues to be a revolution of the young, just as we were that July 26, 1953, as well as those who fought and died in the streets of Santiago de Cuba on November 30, 1956. The majority of those who fought for five years - from 1960 until approximately January 1965 - against bandits, were also young people; with active groups of different sizes in all of the country’s provinces, including southern Havana on two occasions during this period; so too were those who defeated the mercenaries at Playa Girón; it was young people, including adolescents, that joined the literacy campaign - most of whom were students; masses of youth joined the militias, the newly formed Revolutionary Armed Forces and Ministry of the Interior; it was hundreds of thousands of young compatriots who served on international missions in other countries around the world…”
He recalled that the majority of those who offered health and education services in other countries; the scientists, artists, and athletes who have achieved countless honors; the young men performing military service and the young women who opted to do the same; high school and university students, workers and campesinos whose work provides important dividends for the national economy; our teachers and professors, were all young people.
Raúl went on to speak of the various generations that live on the island, each one with its own history and merits. He noted that: “With tranquility and calm confidence, the historic generation is giving way to the “pinos nuevos” (new generations) given their preparation and proven ability to uphold the banners of the Revolution and Socialism, for which countless patriots and revolutionaries gave their lives; from the indigenous peoples and slaves who continued to rebel against oppression through today.”
On April 4, 2010, during the closing ceremony of the Ninth Congress of the Young Communist League, Raúl noted that the economic battle must be the main task and focus of cadres' ideological work, in order to ensure the sustainability and preservation of our social system, stating: “Cuban youth are destined to take over from the generation that founded the Revolution, and in order to lead the masses with great strength, a convincing and mobilizing vanguard is required, for mobilization through personal example; a vanguard headed by firm, capable and prestigious directors, true leaders, not improvised ones; leaders who have passed through the irreplaceable forge of the working class where the most genuine values of a revolutionary are cultivated. Life has eloquently shown us the dangers that come with the violation of that principle.”
He also offered various words of advice to the new generations, explaining that “Today more than ever, we need cadres capable of carrying out effective ideological work that cannot be a dialogue of the deaf nor a mechanical repetition of slogans. We need leaders who reason with sound arguments, without considering themselves the absolute owners of the truth; who know how to listen even if they don’t like what some people say; who are capable of examining other peoples’ views with an open mind, which does not exclude the need to energetically refute with sound arguments those views considered unacceptable.”
The Army General went on to highlight the need to foster open discussions and to not consider disagreements as a problem, but the source of the best solutions: “Absolute unanimity is fictitious and therefore, harmful. When contradictions are not antagonistic, as in our case, they can become the driving force of development. We should deliberately suppress anything that feeds pretense and opportunism. We should learn to work collegially, to encourage unity and to strengthen collective leadership; these features should characterize the future leaders of the Revolution.”
In this sense, and with the experience gained protesting against corrupt regimes and later during the armed struggle, as well as confronting natural disasters, military threats with cataclysmal outcomes and severe ideological confrontations, he described the course of action that must always be taken: “There are youth all over the island with the necessary disposition and capacity to take on leadership positions. The challenge is to find them, to train them and to gradually assign them greater responsibilities.”
On that day he also quoted Fidel: “Believing in youth is seeing in them not only enthusiasm but capacity; not only energy but responsibility; not only youth, but purity, heroism, character, willpower, love for their homeland, faith in their homeland! Love for the Revolution, faith in the Revolution, and confidence in themselves! It is the deep conviction that youth are competent, that youth are capable; the deep conviction that great tasks can be placed on their shoulders.”
These were the words spoken for the first time on April 4, 1962, by the undefeated leader of the Cuban Revolution, during the founding ceremony of the Young Communist League; and then again 48 years later by Raúl with the strength and passion of those that struggled shoulder to shoulder for full justice and foresaw victory in the battles that lie ahead.
As he prepares, of his own free will, to step down as President of the Councils of State and Ministers, it is clear that this is the position Raúl has maintained throughout his life as a revolutionary. For him “Our greatest satisfaction is the tranquility and calm confidence we feel handing over the responsibility of continuing to build socialism to new generations.”