New York Times

December 24, 1980

Cubans Lionize Guatemalan Guerillas

By Jo Thomas

They were faces one would easily forget, once they stepped into a crowd. They stood proudly on a platform near the soap-green building that was once the Colgate-Palmolive plant for a ceremony of solidarity between the. Cuban factory workers and the Guatemalan guerrillas.

One of the guerrillas was middle-aged, a survivor of 24 years in hiding and the deaths of countless friends. The other guerrillas, men and women, were younger but equally anonymous.

They had-come to Havana to represent a coalition of four armed Guatemalan guerrilla groups at the second Cuban Communist Party congress, an event that drew hundreds of foreign delegates end turned into a sort of Woodstock for revolutionaries, a festival of affection that revolved not around music but around the person of Fidel Castro who, revolution welt in hand, dominated the meeting.

For a few days, delegates who are nameless, faceless and rootless in their own countries could feel what it might be like if the tables turned; they wore name tags, gave news conferences, rode in black Mercedes sedans, and could be assured that the soldiers outside were protecting them instead of hunting for them.

For a few moments, the 536 workers at the Havana soap and cosmetics factory could turn away from the endless march of items such as Perla dental cream, Bio-Diss detergent and Venus depilatory to listen to Mario Sanchez, leader of the Guatemalans, express his sense of love and solidarity with them.

"We feel profoundly moved to be with you," Mr. Sanchez said from the small, makeshift stage. "We are fighting against an oligarchy entrenched and backed by the imperialism of North America."

"Our people are living in miserable huts without lights or water. Seventy percent are illiterate. Thousands of workers don't eat meat all year long. Supermarkets are abundant,. but the people can't buy because their salaries are so miserable - these are stores for the rich."

"The conditions of life are miserable, and each day they get worse. In the last four years the terrorism is worse. More than 70,000 in all have been killed, and each morning 30 bodies are found after horrible tortures.

"There are no political prisoners because they kill them all. They have invented the right-wing death squads, but this myth of struggle between the right and the left doesn't fool anyone. People talk of political parties, they talk of voting. The only political party is the army."

The Cubans, dressed in smocks or faded work clothes, clapped appreciatively; especially when Mr. Sanchez mentioned North American imperialism. If Cuba is now having to tax its peasants because they are threatening to become rich, if Cuba is now having to worry about producing more color televisions and fretting over how to get lazy employees to work, it is still a nation where the portraits of Jose Marti and Che Guevara hang, on every wall and the memory of its aging revolution generates respect.

The 1,700 Cuban delegates to the congress looked well fed, sometimes overfed. The foreign delegates, especially those from Western countries, were far better dressed, but they were often thin, sometimes frail, and they had about them the passionate fervor that in Cuba, 21 years after the revolution, sometimes seems a bit mechanical.

"The cause for which we are fighting has a future," said Norma Guevara, one of the delegation from El Salvador. "This is worth more than the difficulties the patriots can suffer."

Miss Guevara, who said she has worked as a secretary and is 27 years old, had an elfin face that showed nothing of what she has endured.

"In February, I was kidnapped the police," she said. "They admitted they had me in their power. They wanted to exchange me. I was liberated after six weeks because of international pressure. They hurt my spine. They made me bend double. They treated me badly. But that is nothing compared with what others have suffered. This year 12,000 have been killed, and they are finding 50 or 60 bodies a day. They have been tortured."

"Death is not the only way of making people suffer," he added. "How many die of hunger? How do you live when there is no right to work? When there's no freedom? When there is no security?"

At the soap factory, after Mr. Sanchez's speech, the guerrillas were invited to a reception with Cuban rum and canapés and foil-wrapped chocolates.. At this point, one of the guerrillas asked that members of the press not describe their appearances.

"My name doesn't matter," Mr. Sanchez said. "It's been years since I've used my real name. Meyer Sanchez. Look, I've already forgotten this one."