It was September of 1973, in the province of Quang Tri, Vietnam. The “land of steel” smelled of gunpowder; you could still feel the war’s cruelty. The Vietnamese people continued to struggle for independence and freedom, but Quang Tri was liberated territory and Fidel, in the name of Cuba, was there to be at their side.
Fidel was the first and only head of state to visit Vietnam in wartime. He expressed his admiration for the Vietnamese people’s capacity to struggle, to defeat the French colonialists and later the U.S. invasion.
Images from that visit, showing him raising the National Liberation Front flag, capture his absolute confidence in their victory. He, like Ho Chi Minh, was convinced that, once the enemy was defeated, the Vietnamese would create a homeland “ten times more beautiful.”
“No liberation movement, no people among those who have struggled for independence, have had to wage such a long, heroic struggle, as the Vietnamese people have,” the Comandante en Jefe said, September 12, 1973, during his first visit to the country.
Forty-five years since that meeting, inhabitants of the area in South Vietnam that was liberated still recall the huge man, walking alongside Vietnamese leaders and soldiers across the battlefields, conversing with the sick, always close, humble, a picture of the solidarity shared by the two countries. Thus reported Vietnam’s Ambassador to Cuba, Nguyen Trung Thanh, in an exclusive interview with Granma International.
Fidel’s trip to Vietnam implied great risk. The war was still raging, and despite the danger, Fidel decided to visit liberated territory in Quang Tri.
“The enemy did not want it known that this province was already free. Fidel’s visit made it possible for the world to know this. There he was, in his olive green uniform, showing his greatness. It was symbolic of Cuba’s support for the Vietnamese people,” Trung Thanh said.
“Fidel struck a note in the hearts of the Vietnamese. He left ideals of solidarity, courage, dignity. He was an inspiration to continue fighting for justice, not only for my people, but for the world,” he added.
On the occasion of the anniversary of Fidel’s first official visit to Vietnam, both countries held commemorative events, given the transcendental importance of the trip in the history of relations between the two Communist Parties, governments, and peoples.
In Cuba, the main celebration took place on September 12, in the Ministry of Communications’ theatre.
Vietnam’s ambassador in Havana reported that institutions and schools in several provinces, including Pinar del Río, Holguín, Camagüey, and Guantánamo, held meetings and events to reaffirm the sisterhood shared by the two countries.
“In Vietnam, the main event was focused on the unveiling of a bust of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro, in the provincial capital of Quang Tri. Present at this ceremony were high ranking representatives of our government and, on the Cuban side, the delegation was headed by Salvador Valdés Mesa, Political Bureau member and First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers. Dong Ha has the honour of becoming the first city in the entire world to have a plaza named after Fidel Castro,” the diplomat noted.
The bronze bust is mounted on a marble pedestal, with three mounds created in the background to represent the mountains where the battle for the island’s definitive independence was carried out. Royal Palms, Cuba’s national tree, were planted on these grass-covered knolls, while to the left, a small artificial lake was created to recall the Caribbean.
A FRIENDSHIP WITH DEEP-ROOTS
The friendship between Cuba and Vietnam was born of deep roots, bringing to mind a verse written by Ho Chi Minh: “Only when the root is strong, can the tree live long.” Perhaps this is why this friendship continues to grow within the hearts of our peoples.
“Now it is the responsibility of younger generations and new leaders of our countries (to ensure) that the bilateral relations between Cuba and Vietnam continue to be relations of brotherhood, solidarity, and unwavering support, as it has been since 1960, when we established diplomatic relations between the two countries,” Nguyen Trung Thanh stated.
“We both share the same ideology; there are ties of mutual confidence and it is up to us to take the economic and commercial relation to the level of our political relations,” he commented.
Vietnam is Cuba’s second most important trading partner in Asia, and the visit to the island by Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, in March this year, served to strengthen relations with the signing of 22 accords. Their implementation has begun over the last few months.
This deep friendship has stood the test of time. A solid relationship has been constructed, forged in the difficult years of our peoples’ national liberation struggles.
Cuba and Vietnam are also linked by historical coincidences, since chance would have it that May 19 is an important date in both countries. This day in 1895, José Martí died in battle, and five years later, the legendary revolutionary Ho Chi Minh was born in a humble village in Vietnam.
Fidel and Ho Chi Minh were never able to meet, but they were united by ideas of justice, a desire for the freedom of their peoples, their commitment to struggle, and the vast wisdom that great men, true leaders, have and can communicate to others.
These same principles continue to bind the Cuban and Vietnamese peoples, with younger generations making a daily reality of these ideas, working to concretize them and allow them to endure, to create the better world we want, and are building, for all of humanity.
MILESTONES IN CUBA-VIETNAM RELATIONS
During the commemoration of the Granma landing and the creation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, December 2, 1960, Fidel announces the decision to establish official diplomatic relations with Vietnam.
During the 1960s the first group of Vietnamese students arrives in Cuba. Since 1961 to date, more than 3,000 have earned university degrees in a variety of areas.
On September 25, 1963, the Cuban Committee for Solidarity with South Vietnam is established, headed by Moncada heroine Melba Hernández, known today as the Cuba-Vietnam Friendship Association.
The National Ballet of Cuba
In 1964, members of the BNC, led by Alicia Alonso, visit Hanoi, to become the first cultural group to travel to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and are received by Ho Chi Minh.
The Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trong, visits Cuba, in March of 2018, and the President of Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power, Esteban Lazo, makes an official visit to Vietnam to strengthen cooperation between the countries’ parliaments.
Mariel Special Development Zone
The attraction of foreign investment and the development of an industrial park are among the objectives of the Vi Mariel S.A. enterprise, a Cuban entity based on 100% Vietnamese capital, which began operations in the Special Development Zone in August this year.