by Jim Guirard

Jim Guirard is a Washington, D. C. attorney and governmental affairconsultant. He served for many years as Chief-of-Staff to U.S. Senators Allen Ellender and Russell Long of Louisiana.

Throughout the centuries, most if not all political, ideological and religious movements have adopted easy-to-recognize symbols to identify themselves and to rally members and supporters.

For over two thousand years, the Jewish people have had their Star of David and their seven-candle Menorah. Early Christians used the sign of the fish, as well as that of the Cross -- with all four of these ancient symbols still in use today.

In more recent times, the communists adopted the hammer and sickle, as well as the “internationalista” sign of a clinched fist held high -- just as the Nazis had their swastika and the infamous “Heil Hitler” salute.

In similar fashion, all nations display their flags. And many adopt inspiring mascots from nature, as well: the British lion, the Russian bear, the American eagle and the like. The ancient Romans’ symbol of a bundle of sticks fastened by twine, or vine, at each end -- the unbreakable “fasces” -- was later revived by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to become the namesake for Fascism.

But nowhere among all these symbols is there one which specifically attempts to communicate the word or the concept of “liberty” -- of the universal aspiration for individual human rights and for civil-libertarian “democracy,” as we have come to call it.

Probably the closest to this meaning is the so-called “V-for-victory” handsign. But it denotes “victory” and not “liberty” -- and is often used by anti-democrats and repressives, as well.

Clearly, therefore, such a universal symbol of human liberty and personal freedom should be added as soon as possible to our wide variety of existing handsigns and other graphic signage.

Elian to the Rescue

As good fortune would have it, and with potential global implications, such a symbol has begun to appear in the street demonstrations of those who strongly oppose the return of six-year-old Elian Gonzalez to the repressive, fascist-left regime of Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Actually, it is a symbol “reborn,” rather than being absolutely new.

It is the handsign of “LIBERTY” -- or, in this case, "LIBERTAD." It is adapted from the handsign of “Laban” which was used in the mid-1980s by Ms. Corazon Aquino and her Philippine supporters in their fight for liberty against the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, and also used briefly thereafter by the democratic opposition to the Castro-supported Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

In the Philippine context, the right hand was held high, the forefinger pointed skyward, the thumb pointed horizontally and other three fingers folded down. The purpose was to communicate to the viewer the capital letter “L,” the first letter of the native Philippine word “laban,” which means fight -- fight for freedom, in this case. In the Nicaraguan context, the same handsign (albeit based on a different word) was briefly adopted by the multi-party “Coordinadora,” the loose-knit alliance of democratic political parties opposed to the Soviet and Cuban-supported Sandinista party. There, they used it to form the capital letter “L” of the Spanish word “Libertad.”

In late 1987 and early 1988, various leaders and member-parties of the Coordinadora began to display the “Libertad” sign on their political posters and written materials, while increasing numbers of Nicaraguan democrats began showing it in street demonstrations -- openly proclaiming it as their sign of commitment to liberty and human rights.

Sandinistas Complained

Quite significantly, on his return from a trip to Moscow on Nov. 5, 1987, Chief Comandante Daniel Ortega loudly protested this intrusion by the “Libertad” symbol onto the Nicaraguan political scene. He ranted to a large Sandinista rally:

“The people also have the right to speak, to express themselves. They also have a right to do this. [Showing the sign of “Libertad.”] Because this was the sign the FDN gave them -- as they say, this is their sign of liberty. Therefore, they are raising their hands and doing this. [Again showing the sign of “Libertad.] So if Reagan’s children are doing that, then Sandino’s children have the right to do this.” [Showing the clenched-fist sign of Communism.]

Unfortunately, as soon as the Nicaraguan democrats, led by Mrs. Violetta Chammorro, defeated the Sandinistas in the elections of 1990, the many small political parties which had formed the Coordinadora went back to their traditional symbols and allowed the unifying handsign of “Libertad” to fall into disuse -- as it had following Ms. Aquino’s victory in the Philippines, as well.

So what will now become of this symbol? First, it helped the democrats to prevail in the Philippines but was not properly sustained and nurtured by its creators. Next, it helped the Nicaraguan freedom fighters to prevail over the Castroite Sandinistas but was again permitted by its beneficiaries to fade away. And now comes the third opportunity for this handsign to become the much-needed universal symbol for liberty.

The question now is whether the supporters of liberty for Elian -- in Spanish “Libertad Para Elian” -- will be displaying, chanting and in other ways communicating the symbol with sufficient intensity, regularity and devotion to insure its survival beyond the immediate situation.

What do we think little Elian -- and, even more so, his dear mother who died attempting to deliver him to the Land of Liberty -- would like to see happen?


Jim Guirard

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