Gerry Adams: Two island peoples in the same sea of struggle

From a speech given by the President of Sinn Fein at the Institute for the Friendship of the People in Havana, Cuban
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The Independent Online

I want to thank you for your invitation to visit this beautiful island of Cuba. As a young man growing up in Ireland in the 1960s, and the 1970s, and as a political activist opposing oppression and injustice in my own country, I have had a keen interest in the Cuban struggle. The people of Ireland, our government and political parties have a long record of solidarity with Cuba.

I want to thank you for your invitation to visit this beautiful island of Cuba. As a young man growing up in Ireland in the 1960s, and the 1970s, and as a political activist opposing oppression and injustice in my own country, I have had a keen interest in the Cuban struggle. The people of Ireland, our government and political parties have a long record of solidarity with Cuba.

The Irish people, like the peoples of Latin America, has been subject to colonisation which has left and continues to leave an indelible mark on our society. We have suffered the expropriation of our resources, the exploitation of our labour, division and conflict among our people, and the attempted eradication of our cultures and traditions.

Since 1995, Ireland has voted annually to oppose the US economic blockade of Cuba in the United Nations' General Assembly. Sinn Fein has many friends in the US. Good people from all walks of life support us and the struggle for peace and justice in Ireland. Without their support the peace process in our country would not have developed as it has. Some of these people do not share my world view or views on Cuba or the USA's economic blockade. That is their right. It is enough, in terms of the Irish cause, that we agree on the issue of Ireland and of the need for an end to the union between Britain and Ireland.

But people in the USA and here in Cuba share a common humanity. You have both been touched by Ireland. The diaspora that built New York and Boston and stretches from Washington to San Francisco left its mark here as well. Che Guevara had Irish ancestors and an Irish surname, "Lynch". That relationship is perhaps best summed up in the words engraved on the plaque in Calle O'Reilly in Old Havana, which says in Spanish, in Irish and in English: "Two island peoples in the same sea of struggle and hope, Cuba and Ireland."

Two years ago I visited the World Trade Centre where some friends had organised a fund-raising event for Sinn Fein. One of those involved was killed when the planes hit the twin towers. Many other friends were killed that day also. There is no excuse, no justification for these atrocities.

What happened in New York, in Washington and Pennsylvania on 11 September was, as Fidel Castro said; "a huge injustice and a great crime". Terrorism is ethically indefensible. And those who are responsible for the atrocities in the United States must be brought to justice.

Cuba has many heroes. Ireland has many heroes also who have paid with their lives in pursuit of Irish freedom. This year is particularly poignant as we remember our 10 comrades who died on hunger strike. Twenty years ago the British government tried to make its prisons the breaker's yard of the republican struggle. The British thought the republican prisoners could be isolated, beaten, intimidated, and coerced into accepting the label of criminal. But republican prisoners are political prisoners, men and women of conviction, commitment and determination.

At the end, when no other course of action was open to them, they went on hunger strike. Lying naked in a cold prison cell, Bobby Sands wrote a diary on cigarette papers with a biro refill he secreted inside his body. He had reasons to be bitter. He was beaten, the food was appalling and was often contaminated with glass or other items, and he had a blanket and mattress on a floor covered in excrement and urine. He wrote of justice. Of freedom and liberation. "If they aren't able to destroy the desire for freedom, they won't break you." And Bobby also wrote of the future, and of revenge. He wrote, "Let our revenge be the laughter of our children."

That is the future we want for our people. That is the future I'm sure you desire for the people of Cuba. That is the goal we must strive for, for all those throughout the world who are victims of cruelty and injustice.

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