Che Guevara: Thinker and Fighter!Are His Ideas Relevant for the 21st Century?
1st International Conference on Che Guevara - Vancouver, Canada
On June 13th and 14th, 2008, Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver, member groups of the Canadian Network on Cuba, hosted Canada’s first ever international conference on the ideas of renowned Latin American revolutionary leader, Che Guevara. “Che Guevara, Thinker and Fighter! Are His Ideas Relevant for the 21st Century?” opened on Friday night with over 120 people in attendance throughout the evening. Activists and intellectuals from around Canada, Cuba, Venezuela, the US, and the Middle East came to discuss the importance of Che’s ideas today in a series of dynamic workshops and presentations.
-- Friday June 13th --
The conference opened Friday night with MCs Tamara Hansen, coordinator of VCSC and executive member of the Canadian Network on Cuba, and Colleen Glynn, an organizer with VCSC and president of the New Democratic Party (NDP) Richmond. They welcomed everyone and explained how the conference would explore the importance of Che’s ideas in the 21st century, 40 years after his death, as well as exploring Che’s ideas on building a new human being and a better world.
The first evening began with an opening ceremony by Indigenous Cost Salish Elder, Kelly White, who said a few words about how Che inspires the struggle of Indigenous people and gave an offering of tobacco to the 5 guest speakers who came to the conference from out of town. The featured speaker on Friday was Isaac Saney, a professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and the author of the wonderful and educational book, “Cuba: A Revolution In Motion”. Isaac’s dynamic presentation tackled the interconnection between Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution.
-- Saturday June 14th --
The second day of the conference began with the film, “Che: Love, Politics and Rebellion” which was the first Cuban-made documentary on Che. Tamara Hansen opened up the day and read a greeting to the conference from the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa.
The first talk of the day was written by John Waller, the Coordinator of the Pastors fro Peace Caravan to Cuba, which was read by MC Aaron Mercredi, an organizer with VCSC), because John Waller was unable to travel to the conference. John’s theme “Che and the New Human Being” perfectly outlined the ideas and issues covered in the day’s program.
With over 200 participants throughout the day, and with exciting presentations from a number of prominent speakers, the conference brought Che’s ideas and legacy through a variety of exciting workshops. Samira Amndan, Diplomatic Attaché at the Venezuelan Consulate in Toronto, spoke impassionately about Che’s impact on the Bolivarian Process in Venezuela today during her workshop themed “Che and Latin America.” Her talk was followed by talks from two special guests visiting from Cuba. Irma Gonzalez Salanueva and Jairo Rodriguez Hernandez spoke on ‘Cuban Youth and Che’s Ideas.” Irma is a young student leader at the University of Havana and the daughter of Rene Gonzalez, one of the 5 Cuban Heroes currently held in U.S. prisons. Irma is also a leader of the Union of Young Communists (UJC). Jairo is a student leader in the UJC in Havana. Jairo is also the Vice President of the University Students Federation (FEU) in Havana Province. They spokeabout how Che’s example and ideas are reflected in the young people of Cuba today, who are actively part of the Cuban Revolution.
The following workshop, “Are Che’s Ideas Relevant for Today?” was presented by Walter Lippmann, who traveled to the conference from Los Angeles, California. Walter is a long-time social justice and Cuba solidarity activist since the early Vietnam anti-war movement in the United States and Editor-in-Chief of Cuba News. He spoke about his experience getting involved in Cuba solidarity and how in today’s world, which is marked by social and economic crisis, Cuba and Che’s ideas stand out as examples follow.
Ali Yerevani, political editor of Fire This Time Newspaper for Social Justice, spoke next in the workshop called “Che in the Battle of Ideas, and What We Can Learn From It Here in Canada,” and emphasized that Che and Cuba’s example needs to be reflected in the struggle for justice and equality in Canada.
The final workshop of the conference was titled “Internationalism, Volunteer Work, and Che’s Ideas” and was presented by our special Cuban guests, Irma Gonzalez Salanueva and Jairo Rodriguez Hernandez, who spoke about how many of the projects that Cuba is known for, such as the internationalist doctor missions and volunteer work, are the result of Che’s ideas in Cuba today. They also spoke about how the five Cuban Heroes are a product of Che’s ideas, as they sit in US prisons for defending their country against US-sponsored terrorism.
Throughout the day, discussion among participants was lively and dynamic. Participants were able to draw on their own experience, learn from those of others, and reflect on the importance of Che’s spirit and the necessity of his ideas of a better and just world. The conference was truly a success and attracted many new people from different communities, as young as 14 and as old as 78 years old. “Che Guevara: Thinker and Fighter! Are His Ideas Relevant for the 21st Century?” is the first conference of its kind in Canada, and beginning of many more to come, as Che’s ideas are only gaining more and more relevance in the world today.