CubaBrief: Mohandas Gandhi and his relevance for Cubans

There is a false dichotomy often expressed in the debate about bringing change to Cuba: either you prefer a violent bloody war that precipitates swift political change or you favor a slow and incremental transition launched top down by the dictatorship.

It is false because, since 1976, Cubans on the island have opted for a third option: nonviolent resistance from the bottom up through civil disobedience movements using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as a guide.

The decision to embrace the UDHR is not haphazard, but one rooted deep in Cuba’s democratic history. It was Cuban diplomats in the 1940s who led the successful effort to draft and ratify this document at the United Nations.

Too many confuse pacifism ( nonviolent resistance to evil) with passivism ( suffering acceptance of evil ). argued philosopher Duane Cady in his 2014 essay “Pacifism Is Not Passivism” in the magazine Philosophy Now.

Courageous nonviolent individuals in Cuba refuse to be passive in the face of evil, but instead actively confront it seeking to visit sanctions on, and the ostracism of the Cuban dictatorship by the international community. These are nonviolent tactics.

They draw inspiration from the examples of non-violent martyrs Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.

Despite being a catalyst for Indian independence, Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948 by a Hindu nationalist, who believed his nonviolent approach incompatible with the existence of Pakistan, a neighboring Muslim state,. In India the government celebrates Gandhi’s memory and declare today “Martyr’s Day”, but some Hindu nationalists celebrate Gandhi’s assassin, and his act of violence as “Valour Day.” King was murdered by a white racist on April 4, 1968, and Payá by agents of the Cuban dictatorship on July 22, 2012.. The Season of Nonviolence has since 1988 organized activities between Gandhi’s and King’s death anniversaries that spans 64 days. Now the Free Cuba Foundation, a student movement calls to extend it to 174 days to include the death anniversary of Payá. They are also focusing on taking action on ten dates to highlight these nonviolent icons, and atrocities committed by the communist dictatorship in Cuba.

Today we remember Mohandas Gandhi’s legacy on his death anniversary highlighted in the documentary, A Force More Powerful. Please view it and share it with others. It is also available in Spanish.

PBS NewsHour, January 30, 2023

Remembering the violent end of a man who prescribed peace

By Dr. Howard Markel

Health Jan 30, 2024

With war currently troubling many pockets of the world, Mohandas K. Gandhi is a worthy peacemaker to remember today, 76 years after his death.

The charismatic Indian leader was killed in Delhi on Jan. 30, 1948, by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist who disagreed with Gandhi’s political ideology.

A brilliant strategist, Gandhi understood how to keep Great Britain at bay, advocated for a free India and straddled the long-standing feud between Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. He prescribed nonviolent protest, a stunningly effective tool later adopted by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

Gandhi spent much of World War II imprisoned in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. There, he tried to raise awareness of the costs of colonialism and a small, British minority oppressing a far larger, native-born population by waging hunger strikes.

As one’s fasting progresses from hours to days, there is fatigue and muscle weakness, shallow breathing and a slowing of the pulse. Dehydration sets in, making one feel quite nauseous and dizzy. A healthy adult can last up to a month or two of eating and drinking nothing, but eventually you would experience confusion and altered mental states. It is rare that one carries on a hunger strike like this, but Gandhi’s were typically long enough — and he was prominent enough — to make headlines. The strikes took such a toll on Gandhi’s health that he was released after 21 months – British and newly organized Indian authorities did not want his blood on their hands.

Throughout the late 1940s, he continued to agitate for peace and Indian independence in the face of threats and violence against him and his family.

It took several more years, but India finally achieved its independence on Aug. 15, 1947. Even a dedicated imperialist like then-Viscount Louis Mountbatten, Viceroy of India, admired Gandhi as the “architect of India’s freedom through non-violence.”

In January 1948, he was walking to a prayer meeting with two family members when Godse fatally shot him three times.

After the assassination, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru eulogized the Mahatma, which means “the great-souled one,” on All-India Radio:

“Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that; nevertheless, we will not see him again, as we have seen him for these many years, we will not run to him for advice or seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow, not only for me, but for millions and millions in this country.”

Gandhi’s murder prompted a tsunami of grief in India and around the world, uplifting his legacy of fighting for dignity and peace.

Today, some of the gravest public health threats in the world occur in conflict zones, including Ukraine, Gaza, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Haiti. The challenges for civilians trying to survive in a war zone are myriad, serious and huge. Sewage and water lines are often destroyed, which sets the community up for gastrointestinal viruses, cholera, and more. Decimated living conditions never support health and prevent much needed sleep, rest and sense of wellbeing. The dust, debris and chemicals released in these zones can also wreak havoc on those with respiratory ailments or heart disease. And then there are food shortages.

As we ponder the collective health of those caught in the middle of armed conflicts, Mohandas K. Gandhi’s influence would be a welcome prescription for our times.

Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter, January 30, 2024

On this day 76 years ago Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated: Today we initiate a Season of Nonviolence

“Terrorism and deception are weapons not of the strong but of the weak.” – Mohandas K. Gandhi

“We are ruthless and ask no quarter from you. When our turn comes we shall not disguise our terrorism.” – Karl Marx, Marx-Engels Gesamt-Ausgabe, vol. vi pp 503-5 (The final issue of Neue Rheinische Zeitung, 18 May 1849)

Seventy six years ago Mohandas Gandhi was shot three times in the chest and killed by Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse at 5:17pm. Godse was part of a team of assassins that had tried 10 days earlier to bomb and kill Gandhi.

Gandhi despite his successful struggle for independence and the establishment of the largest democracy on the planet was felled, after repeated assassination attempts, gunned down as he went to worship. 

The assassins murdered the independence leader because they did not believe that India could survive with Gandhi promoting Satyagraha and a Muslim state next door. Gopal Godse, a co-conspirator and brother of the assassin Nathuram Godse, argued as late as February 2000 in a Time magazine interview that: “In politics you cannot follow nonviolence. You cannot follow honesty. Every moment you have to give a lie. Every moment you have to take a bullet in hand and kill someone.”

Communists view nationalists as a threat to their revolutionary project, and nationalists often have a critical view of Marxist-Leninists, but they both agreed in their hostility to Mohandas Gandhi. 

The nationalists were open and transparent about their evil intent, but the communists had more guile, and their reasons for rejecting him more complex.   

The Soviet press published an article written by S.M. Vakar in 1948 following Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948 titled “The Class Nature of the Gandhi Doctrine” subtitled “Gandhi as a Reactionary Utopian” in the Soviet philosophy journal Voprosy filosofii (Questions of Philosophy). The Marxist Leninist argument was outlined as follows:

Although Gandhi regarded the union and independence of the Indian peoples as his goal, his reactionary-Utopian social theory and the reformist methods of struggle connected with it caused his activity to fail in facilitating overthrow of the colonial yoke […] The social essence of the Gandhi doctrine and its fundamentally reactionary role in the history of India’s national liberation movement has hardly been treated in Marxist literature. Yet this doctrine still retards the development of class awareness among the Indian masses.

What was this social essence of Gandhian thought that so troubled the Marxist-Leninists in the Soviet Union? First, the reformist methods of struggle referred to in the above quote was nonviolent resistance and secondly his social theory rejected class struggle as another manifestation of destructive violence. On September 11, 1906 a new word came into existence that would give a better understanding of Gandhi’s social theory and method of struggle which he described as:

‘Satyagraha.’ Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement ‘Satyagraha,’ that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase ‘passive resistance,’ in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word ‘Satyagraha’ itself or some other equivalent English phrase.

The Marxist-Leninists embrace revolutionary violence and a movement led by a small vanguard of intellectuals and professional revolutionaries that carry out the changes “necessary” by whatever means necessary and reject nonviolence as naive. They follow the doctrine of  Vladimir Lenin as presented in his 1902 revolutionary tract “What is to be done.”

Over a century has passed since both sets of ideas have been set out and applied around the world. An analysis done by Maria J. Stephen and Erica Chenoweth systematically explores the strategic effectiveness of both violent and nonviolent campaigns using data on 323 campaigns carried out between 1900 and 2006.[1] Their findings demonstrate that major non-violent campaigns were successful 53% of the time versus only 26% for major violent campaigns and terrorist campaigns had a dismal 7% success rate.

Today, India with all its flaws is the world’s largest democracy with a growing economy that presents new competitive challenges to the developed world and Communism has amassed a body count of 100 million dead and counting. It would appear that Gandhi’s criticisms of the communists were prescient:

“The socialists and communists say, they can do nothing to bring about economic equality today. They will just carry on propaganda in its favor and to that end they believe in generating and accentuating hatred. They say, when they get control over the State, they will enforce equality. Under my plan the State will be there to carry out the will of the people, not to dictate to them or force them to do its will.” – Mohandas Gandhi

“It is my firm conviction that if the State suppressed capitalism by violence, it will be caught in the coils of violence itself, and will fail to develop non-violence at any time. The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence.” – Mohandas Gandhi

It is Satyagraha that is relevant today in 2022 and offers an alternative to the conflagrations suffered in the 20th century and the wars that plague the world now. Gandhi’s Satyagraha is a call to principled non-violence but even pragmatists and realists looking over the historical record cannot fail to be influenced by the fact that non-violent civic resistance works and offers a better chance of a better life for more people.

Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, founded the Season of Nonviolence in 1988 as an annual celebration honoring the philosophies and lives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi. Dr. Michael Beckwith assisted in the development of this initiative.2024 marks 36 years of this observance. Over 174 days on a weekly basis there will be information highlighting the nonviolent philosophies of Gandhi, King, and Oswaldo Payá .

A 2018 documentary by Deutsche Welle about the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi is available online. It is also available in Spanish.

There are many disciples of Gandhi and King that have continued their good works around the world.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, a non-violent icon born in Havana, Cuba on February 29, 1952 who’s compatriots lovingly called him “Bapu” is one of them.   

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas spent his entire adult life defending the human rights of the Cuban people. He founded the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) in 1988 and used nonviolent means to demand that human rights be respected in Cuba. He mobilized tens of thousands of Cubans through the Varela Project on the need for a democratic transition. However, he did not only focus on the human rights violations of the Castro regime and consistently defended human rights in stark contrast to the current government in Oswaldo’s homeland.

Two instances separated by a decade involving the United States and Iran demonstrate this courageous consistency in speaking truth to power.
On January 12, 2002, the Cuban Communist Party’s daily newspaper Granma offered the official position of the dictatorship on the prison camp in Guantanamo: “We will not create any obstacles to the development of the [U.S. military] operation, though the transfer of foreign prisoners of war by the U.S. government to the base—located on a space in our territory upon which we have been deprived of any jurisdiction—was not part of the agreement that the base was founded upon.”

The first Cuban on the island to criticize and denounce the United States for housing Afghan prisoners in Cuba and demanding they be treated with dignity was Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas on December 17, 2002:  

“It’s obviously a matter of shame that our land is being used for that purpose, having foreign prisoners brought to Cuba. Even if they are terrorists, they deserve respect. Their human rights should be respected.”

Ten years later, on January 11, 2012,  Oswaldo Payá was criticizing the honoring of the Iranian despot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denouncing both his antisemitism and brutal human rights record:

“Tyrant lizard on the hill. Currently, Ahmadinejad speaks at the University of Havana. It is an insult to the students and an outrage to the sacred remains of Father Varela, and against the virtue and homeland of the Cubans.” 

“Mahmoud, why do you deny the Holocaust? Would you repeat it? Never again against any people.”

Twelve years ago on July 22, 2012 this consistent human rights defender was killed in what was a premeditated state security operation that led to the car crash, together with the killing of MCL youth leader Harold Cepero Escalante. Over the past decade his family and friends have demanded an investigation into these two deaths, and in June 2023 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights confirmed that the two human rights defenders had been assassinated by Cuban government agents.

The hatred and violence promoted by communists and ultra-nationalists only end in death and destruction, but time has also demonstrated the constructive power of love and nonviolence.  On this Martyr’s Day lets us remember Gandhi, King, and Payá and their constructive nonviolent legacies that decade later continue to have positive results.

Over the next 174 days this site will be highlighting some of them.

[ Full article ]

Free Cuba Foundation, January 30, 2024

Gandhi King Payá Season for Nonviolence: January 30 – July 22

Gandhi King Payá Season for Nonviolence: January 30 – July 22

By the Free Cuba Foundation

174 days to honor three icons of nonviolent resistance with the dates of their assassinations marking the start, midpoint and end of a series of events and exercises. Inspired by the 64 day Season for Nonviolence initiated by Dr. Arun Gandhi in 1998 and continued to the present day this event will focus on three icons of nonviolence who were martyred: Mohandas Gandhi on January 30, 1948, Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968 and  Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas on July 22, 2012. Each left behind a body of writings and a lifetime of activism that still inspire today. This effort falls within the guidelines of the 64 day Season for Nonviolence:

“The Season for Nonviolence represents a successful new model called, ‘omni – local’ conscious action: ‘Engaging large numbers of self – empowered leaders and groups in a collective intention, supplied with strategic sharable tools, adding their own local resources to work globally with singular purpose.'”

Beginning on January 30, 2024 with this announcement we will focus on a number of actions that span the physical, the psychological and the spiritual. Dates that will involve concrete actions are the following:

January 30 – 76 year observance of the killing of Mohandas Gandhi

February 23 – 14 year observance of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo on Hunger Strike

February 24 – 28 year observance of the killings of four members of Brothers to the Rescue

April 4 – 56 year observance of the killing of Martin Luther King Jr.

May 8 – 13 year observance of the killing of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia.

May 10, – 22 year observance of the first Varela Project petitions delivered to the Cuban National Assembly.

May 25 – 52 year observance of the death of Pedro Luis Boitel on hunger strike

July 11- Three year observance of the 11J nationwide protests, and dictatorship’s crackdown

July 13 – 30 year observance of the “13 de Marzo” Tugboat sinking that killed 37

July 22 – 12 year observance of the killings of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante

The Objectives 
Our objective is to create an awareness of nonviolent principles and practice as a powerful way to heal, transform and empower our lives and community. Through an educational and community action campaign, we will recognize those who have and are using nonviolence to build a community that honors the dignity and worth of every human being. By identifying “what works” in these new models for reconciliation and human harmony, this effort will demonstrate that every person can move the world in the direction of peace through their daily nonviolent choice and action.

The Vision
The Gandhi – King – Payá Season for Nonviolence 

As a human family we are asking the question: “How can any act of violence be recognized as a solution to the consequences of violence that we face today?” Violent actions and reactions are t he scars of social, educational, and economic wounds… the voices of a spiritually inarticulate culture. The practice of nonviolence is initiated by choice and cultivated through agreement. The time has come to agree upon this as a global community as if our lives, and those of our children’s children, depended on it. Our vision is of a better world for all human beings. To this end, we undertake the “Gandhi – King Payá Season for Nonviolence” by applying our efforts and resources to identifying, then bringing focus to the spectrum of grassroots projects and programs by individuals and organizations who are pro – actualizing a peaceful social order.

Day 1 of the 174 Days of Gandhi King Payá 
Watch the following videos related to Mohandas Gandhi. The first recorded in 1931 was the first interview given on camera to Mohandas Gandhi. The second video is a biography of the non-violent Indian icon. The final video is in Spanish and is by Sara Marta Fonseca, a recently exiled Cuban dissident and she speaks about the importance of Gandhi for activists in Cuba.

[ Full article ]

The National, January 30, 2024

Martyrs’ Day 2024: Indians pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi on 76th anniversary of his death

Prime Minister and President lay wreaths at memorial in New Delhi

By Taniya Dutta

Jan 30, 2024

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday led the nation in paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on the 76th anniversary of his death, which is marked as Martyrs’ Day in the country.

Mr Gandhi, a key figure in India’s struggle for independence and a global symbol of peace and non-violent resistance, was assassinated on January 30, 1948, just months after India gained its freedom from British colonial rule.

He was 78 years old when he was shot by Nathuram Godse, who belonged to a militant Hindu group.

Mr Modi and President Droupadi Murmu laid floral wreaths at the Gandhi memorial in New Delhi on Tuesday.

“I pay homage to Pujya Bapu [father] on his Punya Tithi [death anniversary]. I also pay homage to all those who have been martyred for our nation,” Mr Modi said in a post on social media.

“Their sacrifices inspire us to serve the people and fulfil their vision for our nation.”

Leaders of the opposition Indian National Congress party and other senior officials also paid tribute to Mr Gandhi.

“On Martyrs’ Day, we pay our respects to Bapu – the moral compass of our nation,” said Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the INC. “We must pledge to fight against those who seek to destroy his ideals based on Sambhav and Sarvodaya [progress for all].”

Mr Modi regularly talks about Mr Gandhi’s influence on his life, and invokes his name globally to promote non-violence and peace. Still, critics say, since Mr Modi’s rise to power in 2014, right-wing Hindu groups and members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have attempted to lionise Godse.

Hindu nationalists have set up temples and memorial libraries in Godse’s honour in Nagpur, Gwalior and Meerut, with the mission of painting the assassin as a patriot.

Many in India consider Godse a hero, while branding Mr Gandhi a traitor, and mark Martyrs’ Day as “Valour Day”.

Godse, who was 38 at the time, was a member of Hindu Mahasabha, a radical Hindu nationalist group, having previously been associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the ideological forerunners of the BJP.

Hindu Mahasabha had accused Mr Gandhi of betrayal, seeing him as being soft on Muslims and responsible for the bloodshed that took place during the establishment of Pakistan after India gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Godse fired three bullets into Mr Gandhi’s chest from a pistol. Mr Gandhi is said to have died instantly.

A year later, Godse was convicted of murder and hanged, along with co-conspirator Narayan Apte.

On Tuesday, members of the Hindu Mahasabha distributed sweets and prayed at a temple dedicated to Godse in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh.

“We celebrate the day as Valour Day,” Ashok Kumar, the temple priest, told The National. “We want the country to be free from the Gandhian philosophy of secularism. It is because of him that our country was divided on the basis of religion, and Pakistan became an Islamic nation, whereas we are still talking about secularism.”

In the past, members of the Hindu Mahasabha have re-enacted the murder by shooting an effigy of Mr Gandhi filled with fake blood, causing outrage among many Indians.

Updated: January 30, 2024, 4:18 AM