Iroel Sánchez: A Tribute

Iroel Sánchez (1964-2023)

The Irish Chapter of the Network in Defence of Humanity would like to extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of the brilliant Cuban revolutionary intellectual Iroel Sánchez, who sadly passed away on 18th May 2023.

Iroel was born in Santa Clara in 1964, and he graduated in Computer Science at the José Antonio Echeverría University (CUJAE), held leading positions in the Federation of University Students (FEU) and the Young Communists League (UJC), and also distinguished himself during his service in Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces: he was decorated for his heroic participation in the Defence of Cuito Cuanavale, the pivotal battle in the war against the Apartheid and imperialist troops in Cuba’s contribution to the liberation of southern Africa, and he received medals for Internationalist Combatant First Class, For the Victory Cuba-People’s Republic of Angola and Distinguished Service of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

As a thinker, writer and activist, Iroel was just as committed a fighter and he combined the unity of ideas and action in the very best traditions of Cuban revolutionary thought. Iroel served as President of the Cuban Institute of the Book, the was part of the Organizing Committee of the Havana International Book Fair, and he actively participated in the foundation of the Network in Defence of Humanity (La Red en defensa de la humanidad).

Iroel worked in the Ministry of Communications, where he did invaluable work advancing the computerisation and digitisation of Cuban society. Iroel sagely anticipated that social media and digital platforms would be used by imperialism to attack the Cuban Revolution and he led the way in setting up anti-imperialist spaces that defended Cuba from lies and misinformation and which also provided forums for rich, complex and intelligent debate within the Revolution that have sustained and enriched the Revolution, its values and its continuity across generations.

Iroel founded the digital platform and journal La Jiribilla and the Cuban collaborative encyclopaedia Ecured, an indispensable online repository of knowledge and information that counters the disinformation and bias founded in imperialist ‘cubanologist’ mediations of Cuba’s truth. He also established the online blog, La pupila insomne, which is a consistently brilliant forum for ideas and debate in Cuba and internationally, and he wrote and directed the television programme, La pupila asombrada, a weekly, accessible, intelligent discussion that communicated ideas with depth and beauty with an unwavering committed to decoloization, to socialism and the Revolution, and to Fidel and his ideas.

In a 2017 talk reflecting on Fidel’s famous ‘Words to the Intellectuals’ speech, Iroel said:

‘We are neither Iran, nor Russia, nor China, nor Vietnam, which are ancient societies, which have their own languages that only they speak, which have a critical demographic mass, some have billions of people and others less so, and it just so happens that they are societies that have managed to sustain a prolonged confrontation with the US, the hegemonic country in the world today. No small country like ours, with few inhabitants, with a language spoken by 500 million other people, has managed to sustain such a confrontation over time, and if we have achieved it up until today, it is because Fidel founded a culture of emancipation, a culture of solidarity, a culture of justice. If that culture is lost, the country is lost … I believe it is by embracing that method, that ethics, and that Fidelista culture, that we can save ourselves.’

Iroel’s whole life, his work and his legacy, are testament not only to the truth of Fidel’s assertion of the importance of ideas and of the people as the collective subject discussing those ideas and realising them as part of the material transformation of society by the Revolution, they are also an expression of Iroel’s own achievements as a revolutionary who has fought using guns, pens and keyboards, whatever weapons have been necessary – especially ideas put into practice – and who was the living embodiment of the revolutionary intellectual as a figure of thought and action, a figure of popular debate and dialogue who is inseparable from the people and the Revolution. The titles of both La pupila insomne and La pupila asombrada both allude to the great Cuban communist poet and fighter Rubén Martínez Villena, whom Iroel greatly admired, and Iroel himself stands valiantly and eternally in that great Cuban revolutionary intellectual tradition alongside Rubén Martínez Villena, José Martí, Julio Antonio Mella, Antonio Guiteras Holmes, and of course, Fidel.

Iroel devoted his mind, his heart and soul, to defending and extending the Cuban Revolution and the cause of anti-imperialism internationally, and his work will forever remain a beacon of decolonizing thought and action, a complex and captivating clarification of the living truth of Marxism, and an enduring and inspiring articulation of the need for social justice and for the renewal of our sense of our own humanity and our foundational equality.

RIP Iroel Sánchez! Presente!