Fidel at Playa Girón with Captain Osmany Cienfuegos (left) and a group of militias. Photo: Granma

“The most sacred duty of all humankind is to struggle for peace.” However, this struggle can sometimes mean taking up arms. From an early age Martí understood that one’s love for their homeland is the “indestructible hate of those who oppress it, the eternal resentment of those who attack it;” and sometimes this love makes war necessary.

For the last 90 years, Fidel has continually defended the homeland through his actions and words, such as when he said: “[...] the defense of the country is not an exclusively military phenomenon, it is, above all else, a set of political and economic measures designed to create the necessary conditions to combat all dangers and achieve victory [...].”
As a young university student his battle trench was the Federation of University Students, from which he launched the fight against the nation’s corrupt authorities. Next came resistance from the ranks of the Orthodox Party. But, when the coup d'état by Batista closed off the political path, it became clear that arms were the only way to advance in the struggle to defeat the indignity into which the nation had been plunged.
The events of July 26, 1953, were the first demonstration of the sacrifices that Fidel and the youth of his generation were willing to make for the love of their country. His spirit was neither weakened by prison nor exile. The ideal was more important that these adversities and as such even the events of Alegría de Pío were unable to quell the strength of his convictions. On December 18, 1956, with barely twelve men, only seven rifles and facing an 80,000-strong army of trained soldiers and modern weapons, Fidel was adamant of victory. Such was the power of this love.
Cuba’s history is full of tales of peaceful men and women whose commitment to the future of the homeland saw them compelled to fight. Normal people transformed by this love into great generals who led the Cuban people to victory, of which Fidel was one.
The struggle in the Sierra Maestra both reaffirmed his status as a leader on the political stage and also exposed him as a talented military strategist, able to defeat the fourth offensive launched by Batista’s army and lead a group of men, vastly outnumbered with inferior weapons, the majority lacking military experience, to victory.
However, January 1, 1959, only marked a change in the way in which the homeland would need to be defended. Now that true independence had been achieved, the struggle would be to preserve the nation’s sovereignty, its right to decide its future and finally build a nation with, and for the good of all.
Fidel understood better than anyone that there exists no army stronger than the people, especially the Cuban people, who in the cities and mountains, made great sacrifices in order to secure their freedom.
The responsibility of safeguarding such a precious and costly achievement could only rest in the hands of the Cuban people. Thus these humble men and women responded to the call to protect the country from the outset; be it in the form of militias who cleared the mountains of counter-revolutionaries aided from abroad, or as part of the nascent Revolutionary Army, state security bodies, in the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, or in the trenches of combat, such as the invasion at Playa Girón or the October Crisis.
Defense of the homeland is a concept that endures, and has even been turned into law, as every Cuban has the right to fight for their country and protect it from those who try to harm it; it is a sphere in which women play a leading role, from the Sierra Marines to the Border Brigade battalion.
Fidel turned defending the homeland, in all its manifestations, into an essential part of Cuban life, and the people into its best and most trustworthy ally, and greatest strength. And all in the name of peace.
While he defeated the mercenaries in 1961 through his keen strategic abilities and leadership, and shone as a statesman during the 1962 October Crisis, as Che put it; no less important were his battles in the defense of Cuba during Operation Truth, or at the UN, where he clearly described to the Cuban people the dangers and threats that loomed at every moment.
This leadership was key to Cuba’s military victories, beleaguered by enemy attacks, sabotage, blockades and relentless defamatory media campaigns. Every denunciation made before the world was a way of saying that Cuba wasn’t looking for confrontation, but rather respect for its sovereign decision to build a socialist country; although we wouldn’t hesitate to give our lives, if the time came.
Fidel has always fought for Cuba, and continues to do so today, from the battlefield of ideas. He will do so eternally, out of love for this land, peace and the best of humankind.