Reportbacks are planned in Los Angeles; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Washington, D.C. The Chicago Cuba Coalition is sponsoring a May 19 event at the Trinity Episcopal Church titled “What We Saw in Cuba,” featuring brigadistas who were in Cuba for the first time.
“It’s important to get the truth out about Cuba and to organize activities to demand: End the blockade of Cuba now! U.S. out of Guantánamo now! End Washington’s subversive programs against Cuba!” Steve Eckhardt, the brigade’s national coordinator, told the Militant May 14.
“I was swept away by the May Day march and its message of solidarity,” Michael “Jabari” Tidmore, from Chicago, said during the march of hundreds of thousands to Revolution Square in Havana May 1. “The Cuban people stay upbeat in face of the U.S. blockade. They are resilient.”
“Being at May Day reinvigorated me and shows what we need to do to make change in the U.S.,” said Jaimee Swift, a brigadista from Howard University in Washington.
Tidmore and Swift were two of over 50 people from the U.S. who joined 300 other brigadistas from 29 countries for 15 days of activities aimed at learning about Cuba’s history and its revolution. They visited museums, heard talks on Cuba’s current economic challenges, talked with people in the street, visited hospitals, and had discussions with leaders of mass organizations in Cuba. Many also did voluntary work in the fields.
It was the first time there was a U.S. contingent as part of the annual international May Day Brigade, offering brigadistas from other countries and Cubans they met an opportunity to learn firsthand about conditions facing working people in the United States. At the May Day march U.S. delegates stood on the viewing stand with a banner that said in English and Spanish: “End the U.S. economic war against Cuba now!” and “U.S. out of Guantánamo now!” Many passing marchers who read the banner responded with clenched fists and cheers.
We stayed at the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp in Artemisa province, a one hour drive from Havana.
On the first four days, many brigadistas did volunteer agricultural work in the morning. They visited nearby farm cooperatives, planted yucca, removed rocks so mango trees could be planted, and worked in banana and tomato fields.
“We have 145 members in our cooperative, but we need more,” Héctor Iriarte, a leader at one of the cooperatives and a Communist Party member, said during a work break. “We have a challenge motivating our youth to work in the fields growing food. Education is free in Cuba up to university level.” We are trying to win them to the importance of producing food as part of the efforts to strengthen the revolution, he said.
“There are two events that happened after the 1959 revolution that changed the lives of Cuban women — the literacy campaign and the construction of child care centers allowing women to work,” said Federation of Cuban Women representative Elpidia Moreno at an April 26 panel that also featured other leaders of Cuba’s mass organizations.
A representative of the Central Organization of Cuban Workers explained the role of unions in organizing and improving production, and in mobilizing workers to defend their revolution. There were also speakers from the Federation of University Students and the Union of Young Communists.
They explained how from the beginning the new revolutionary government, led by Fidel Castro, mobilized workers, farmers and youth to transform the conditions of their lives — and to transform themselves in the process. And how they’re committed to continue to do so today.
International Solidarity ConferenceOn May 2 an International Solidarity Conference took place at the Convention Palace in Havana. Some 1,000 people from 86 countries attended. Ana Teresita González, Cuban Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, told participants the U.S. government hasn’t stopped seeking ways to subvert and undermine the revolution.
Fernando González, president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples, spoke about the ongoing U.S. economic war against Cuba. He pointed to a banner calling for U.S. out of Guantánamo and emphasized the importance for the solidarity movement to campaign for an end to Washington’s illegal occupation of that piece of Cuban territory.
“The May Day march made my heart skip a beat,” Karen “Arewa” Winters, a member of the U.S. delegation from Chicago, told the conference. She spoke about police brutality in Chicago, especially in the Black and Latino neighborhoods on the south and west sides. Her nephew was shot and killed by Chicago cops last year. “Police in Cuba are different,” she said to applause.
On the way to Cienfuegos province, the buses stopped at historic sites in Santa Clara where we learned about the role of the revolutionary army column led by Che Guevara in defeating dictator Fulgencio Batista’s army, helping bring down the U.S.-backed regime and bringing Cuba’s workers and farmers to power.
A few years after the victory of the revolution, Guevara led a guerrilla movement in Bolivia. He was captured and murdered in cold blood by the Bolivian army in a CIA-organized operation in 1967. His remains were returned to Cuba in 1987 and brought to what is now the Che Guevara Memorial in Santa Clara.
In Cienfuegos, we visited health care centers, including the Provincial Hospital, Ambulatory Specialized Center and the Pediatric Hospital, where we learned about the Cuban health care system. It’s not based on whether you have or can pay for health insurance like in the U.S. Health care is available to all at no cost, made possible by the socialist revolution.
Anyone who wants to learn more about what difference a revolution can make, should consider going on a brigade to Cuba. The second international “In Che’s Footsteps” brigade will take place Oct. 1-15. For more information write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact those of us who participated in the brigade who live in your area and join with us is getting out the truth about Cuba’s socialist revolution.
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