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The origins of Sinn Féin interest in Cuba

Liam O Ruairc
This is article is the fourth in a series examining Sinn Fein's international links

Gerry Adams's recent visit to Cuba was portrayed to Sinn Fein's supporters in the USA as just being nothing more than a matter of thanking Fidel Castro for his support of the 1981 hunger strikers. But the visit nevertheless raised the question of Sinn Fein's links with the Castroist regime in Cuba.

Those links have been forged in the context of the Provisionals' identification since the second half of the 1970s with Third World liberation movements. If in the early 1970s Sinn Fein referred to Tanzania or Scandinavian countries as examples, during the 1980s, it was Cuba and Nicaragua. Until 1975-76, there were very few articles in the Republican press on international issues, but after that, the Provisionals increasingly began to comment on liberation struggles abroad.

In 1980, An Phoblacht-Republican News ran an interesting series of articles on "Revolutionary Guerilla Warfare". It was an analysis of the struggles in China, Vietnam, Cuba and Nicaragua "from which Irish Republicans can learn and draw inspiration for our own struggle, whilst, of course, remembering that there is no revolutionary blueprint and each country has its own particular history" (Ciaran Dowd, "China: Without Water; The Fish Will Die" An Phoblacht-Republican News (vol.2 n.6) 9 February 1980, pp.6-7; "Vietnam: Only Strike to Win", An Phoblacht-Republican News (vol.2 n.7) 16 February 1980, p.8; "Cuba: Tear Away the Mask", An Phoblacht-Republican News (vol.2 n.8) 23 February 1980, p.8; "Nicaragua: Prolonged Popular War, Proletarian and Insurrectionist", An Phoblacht-Republican News (vol.2 n.9) 1 March 1980, p.10). Danny Morrison - under the pseudonym of 'Peter Arnlis' - finished the series with an article on the struggle in Ireland. (Peter Arnlis, "Revolutionary Guerilla Warfare in Ireland Today", An Phoblacht-Republican News (vol.2 n.20) 17 May 1980, pp.6-7)

In 1982, Republican Publications published a little booklet called Notes for Revolutionaries. It was an anthology of quotes on various topics (armed struggle, culture, etc.) by revolutionaries from Ireland (like Connolly or Bobby Sands) and abroad (like Fanon, Guevara, Gramsci, Giap, etc). There were bizarrely two editions in less than six months because the first edition did not contain any quotes by Marx. This little booklet was a typical example of the progressive third worldist political views of Sinn Fein during that period.

If Sinn Fein interest in Cuba date back to the late 1970s, however, during its early anti-communist period, the Provisional movement actually opposed Cuban socialism. Cuba was presented as a typical example of what happens once the Communists take power. "We have seen Cuba, where after the revolution they slaughtered all their opponents, thus having a one-party state. So the people of Cuba changed from one dictator to another - from Batista to Castro." ("The Red Glow of Republicanism", Republican News (vol.1 n. 8), January-February 1971, p.7) However, by late 1977, the Republican movement had changed to a positive perception of the Cuban revolution. A lot had to do with the great admiration Irish Republicans had for Che Guevara and other Guevarist guerilla groups in Central and Latin America (see for example Juan Sosa, "Guevara -Ten Years Later", Republican News (vol. 7 n.38) 8 October 1977, p.11). But the main person who converted Republicans to the virtues of Cuban socialism was a Latin American academic living at the time in the North and who wrote in Republican News under the pseudonym "Juan Sosa". In particular, he wrote a three part article (cfr. Juan Sosa, "Cuba Today", Republican News (vol.7 n.44), 12 November 1977, p.10; "Achievements of the Cuban Revolution", Republican News (vol. 7 n.45), 19 November 1977, p.8; "Cuba", Republican News (vol.7 n.46), 26 November 1977, p.8) that really introduced Cuba into the Republican discourse.

Soon after, the Republican press began to portray the Castroist regime as a "shinning example" to be emulated (Juan Sosa, "The Cuban Revolution 20 Years Later", An Phoblacht-Republican News (vol.1 n.3) 17 February 1979, p.10). However, that did not prevent Republicans from sometimes taking into account some criticisms - those of Regis Debray in particular - of the Castro-Guevarist political strategy (Juan Sosa, "A Critique of Arms", Republican News (vol.7 n.37), 1 October 1977, p.4). By the early 1980s, motions at Sinn Fein Ard Fheis were voted, expressing opposition to the US embargo and solidarity with the Cuban revolution. Sinn Fein members were - and still are - involved in Cuba solidarity campaigns, and did not wait 2002 to send delegations to Cuba (see for example "Ninety Miles from Imperialism", An Phoblacht-Republican News (vol.8 n.4) 23 January 1986, p.10).

Those kinds of examples could give credibility to the fear of some British conservatives that Sinn Fein intends to transform Ireland into Britain's Cuba. But Gerry Adams denied as early as 1986 that there is any real basis for Ireland becoming a Cuba on Britain's doorstep (Gerry Adams, The Politics of Irish Freedom, (Dingle: Brandon Books, 1986), p.97). Apart from Cuba, the Sandinistas were another Latin American regime the Provisionals were highly sympathetic to (see for example "The Sandinistas: A Decade of Revolution", An Phoblacht-Republican News (vol.11 n.29) 29 July 1989, p.14), and this even before they had taken power (Juan Sosa, "Nicaragua: The Next Cuba", Republican News (vol.8 n.3), 21 January 1978, p.4). During the 1980s, a number of Sinn Fein members went to Nicaragua as part of a solidarity brigade to build up schools and hospitals. Sinn Fein has also supported Maurice Bishop's regime in Grenada and opposed the US invasion that overthrew his New Jewel government ("International Support for Sinn Fein", An Phoblacht-Republican News (vol.5 n.45), 17 November 1983, p.10).

This is article is the fourth in a series examining Sinn Fein's international links.
See also: Arab Countries and Yugoslavia
Eire Nua Tanzanian Style
From Havana to Pyongyang



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