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Expanding the “Spiritual Bridge to the New Century”

SGI representatives join 1,500 leaders for an international conference promoting science, art, culture and peace at the Palace of Conventions in Havana.

SGI-USA representatives and SGI-Cuba General Director Joannet Delgado de la Guardia (second from left) attend the Fourth International Conference for World Balance at the Palace of Conventions in Havana, Jan. 28. Photo by JOE PEREZ.

I am just a private citizen, but with courage and action, I would like to change the divisions between peoples and nations into unity. I wish to do my utmost to open the way to peace for the 21st century.

Such was SGI President Ikeda’s determination as he touched down at the José Martí International Airport in Havana on June 24, 1996.

His first historic visit to Cuba, over three days, took him to the University of Havana, where he delivered the lecture “Building a Great Spiritual Bridge to the New Century,” followed by a meeting on the same day, June 25, at the presidential residence with Cuban President Fidel Castro, who eschewed his usual military attire for a blue suit and tie to welcome the advocate of peace.

Their shared belief in the power of dialogue and culture undergirded their discussions on such topics as fostering capable people, politics, life philosophies and worldviews.

“I met an individual of deep humanity.”

Twenty-three years later, expanding the bridges of peace set by President Ikeda, SGI-USA representatives, SGI-Cuba General Director Joannet Delgado de la Guardia and a delegation from Japan—which included Yoshiyuki Nagaoka, executive director of the SGI Office of International Affairs—participated in the Fourth International Conference for World Balance at the Palace of Conventions in Havana on Jan 28–31, 2019.

On inaugural day, the 166th anniversary of the birth of José Martí, Cuba’s most important literary figure and wellspring of its revolutions, the José Martí Project of International Solidarity, sponsored by UNESCO, held the conference dedicated to environmental and economic sustainability through science, art, culture and peace. The main assembly was attended by 1,500 leaders and representatives of various political, social, religious and environmental groups from 66 countries, including current Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

President Ikeda sent a congratulatory message to the conference, and on Jan. 29, Soka Gakkai representatives met with Dalia Soto del Valle, wife of Fidel Castro, and her son Antonio Castro. They discussed the philosophy of the Soka Gakkai and the 1996 meeting between President Ikeda and Fidel Castro.

Ms. Soto del Valle recalled that after the exchange, her husband remarked, “I met an individual of deep humanity.” She also mentioned her fondness of José Martí, Cuban Apostle, a published dialogue between President Ikeda and Cintio Vitier, a celebrated Cuban poet, scholar and founding president of the Center for the Studies of José Martí. While speaking, she held her personal copy of the book containing many bookmarks and notes. Antonio Castro noted that a book of photos taken
by President Ikeda was also treasured in their family library.

SGI’s growing bonds with Cuba continues to open the way for peace in the 21st century.

Today, the University of Havana is engaged in exchange programs with more than 300 universities around the world, including Soka University in Japan, which was founded by President Ikeda. And on Jan. 6, 2007, SGI-Cuba was officially recognized as a religious organization by the Cuban government.

The three SGI-USA representatives were: Gabriel Zune, Florida Zone young men’s leader; Abe Uccello, Florida Zone men’s leader; and Corina Velasquez, Path Finder District young women’s leader in Los Angeles (see photo). Through the conference, Mr. Zune said he realized his mission as a global citizen and disciple of President Ikeda to continue establishing the gateway of dialogue and peace between the U.S. and other countries where President Ikeda has laid the foundations for peace.

Mr. Zune’s late father was French, mother American and he himself was raised in Venezuela. “I’m the connecting piece,” he said in an interview with the World Tribune. “Despite our differences, we’re all human beings. We all experience suffering and want to become happy; we all have the Buddha nature within. The quicker we embrace that, the richer the life we can live.”

José Martí. Photo by TRAVELER1116 / ISTOCKPHOTO.

José Martí: A Cuban Hero

Referred to as the Apostle of the Cuban Revolution, José Martí (1853–95) was instrumental in the effort to secure Cuban independence from the tyranny of Spanish colonial rule. He is also considered one of Cuba’s most brilliant writers, orators and formative intellectuals.

At age 16, Martí threw himself into the independence movement and was imprisoned and exiled. Despite spending only 18 of his short 42 years in his homeland, he continued fighting tirelessly to liberate Cuba. While abroad, he produced a prodigious body of writings and profoundly influenced independence movements throughout Latin America.

In a published dialogue between SGI President Ikeda and Cintio Vitier—Cuban poet, scholar and founding president of the Center for the Studies of José Martí—the two agreed that what set Martí apart was not his thoughts or ideas alone but what emanated from his words and found embodiments in his actions.

Martí died on the battlefield in Cuba one month after returning for the last time. Seven years later, Cuba realized its formal independence.

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