Reflections from Cuba’s 12th May Day International Brigade

The Internationalist May Day Brigade to Cuba, 2017: A Short Report
by Wyatt Nelson from Lincoln, Nebraska, a participant of 12th May Day Int’l Brigade

People celebrate workers on May 1st

This spring, hundreds of people from around the world went to Cuba to participate in the celebration of International Workers Day. The Workers’ March on May 1 was the centerpiece of a two week journey of cultural exchange, serious learning, and building trust.

The nearly 300 participants in the brigade represented 23 countries from North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. (That’s right, the whole world.) The process of self-selection for a solidarity trip to Cuba results in a wonderful range of people. For example, we mingled with a Japanese reggae artist, a Ghanaian trade union leader, South Korean communists, English bus drivers, a Puerto Rican farmer, indigenous people from Peru, and a brilliant tattooist from Los Angeles. Probably the most curious demographic quirk was representation by a total of five Nebraskans!

Internationalists prepare for farm labor

Farm work, meetings with the members of organizations, and cultural events filled the 15-day schedule of the Brigade. In the fields, we learned about the innovative agricultural techniques used in Cuba and got our hands dirty planting yucca, harvesting tomatoes, pulling weeds, trimming banana trees, and clearing rocks to prepare  land for cultivation.

From the representatives of mass organizations, we learned about womens’ empowerment, including the 48% female representation in the National Assembly.  We heard about the revolutionary efforts of medical students throughout Cuban history, including their current success keeping Cuba  Zika-free. Sugar workers explained to baffled listeners that, yes, the workers control production. Yes, they have monthly mass meetings where they make a plan for the month and elect managers. Professors and farmers alike patiently explain: In Cuba, everyone goes to school. Everyone can read. Want to go to college? Its free. Want to see the doctor? Its free.

Music! Cubans always listen to music. From dawn to dusk, a seamless flow of recordings, live performances, and impromptu performances filled the air with sweet melodies. A favorite is Afro-Cuban music, which pours into one’s body and makes the dance floor quake.

Cuban doctors explain free health care

What did we learn? Three main things. Most importantly, that socialism is real. Its not a fantasy trapped in the pages of books or in idealist imaginations. It is a real economic and social system that is practiced in Cuba. It is an imperfect and difficult process that centers human needs, instead of profit, as the main priority of society. Secondly, that the struggle is everywhere. What you don’t read in the papers, you hear from the broad array of brigade participants: In every place in the world there are people trying to build a peaceful and just society. Finally, we learned something that was articulated by a Puerto Rican, and Chilean, and a Cuban, among others. They expressed: “I was taught to hate Americans. But now I’ve meet you guys, and I see you are kind. You support our struggles. All of us people, no matter what country we are from, can be united. Its the rulers we are up against.” As Americans, we were proud to break the mold.

Now What?  For American socialists and people of conscience, it is our duty to defend the Cuban Revolution. We can do this by demanding the end of the U.S. blockade against Cuba (it is still very much in place), by demanding the return of the occupied land at Guantanamo, and by working to understand the Cuban Revolution and the Cubans who are behind it.

A big thank you to everyone who donated money to help pay for travel expenses!

If you are craving more information, need a longer version of this report, want to go on a trip to Cuba, or have any questions, you can contact the Nebraska Cuba Solidarity Committee at

Some Facts about Cuba

> Cuba has enjoyed independence from foreign rule since 1959 when Fidel Castro and his supporters seized state power. For the 500 years preceding, Cuba was under Spanish or American control as a colony. Before that, indigenous people lived on the island.

>Private property exists in Cuba. Many individuals own their own houses and small farms. Additionally, a significant amount of dwellings are owned by the state, which are provided to citizens rent free.

>There is a continuing housing shortage in Cuba. The result is overcrowding in some buildings, and very innovative construction methods. Cubans point to the US blockade as the reason for building material shortages.

>In Cuba, there is a robust election system that begins with neighborhood committees. Campaigning and campaign finance are punishable with jail time. Anyone, regardless of party affiliation, can run for office. The next national elections are set for 2018, when Raul Castro has announced he will step down.

>Increasing tourism is creating income inequality in Cuba. Wages in tourism sectors and non-tourism sectors are extraordinarily different, presenting a host of problems.

>The Latin American School of Medicine, located outside Havana, educates thousands of students from 190 countries. Tuition is free, and graduates receive internationally recognized (and lauded) medical degrees.

>According to UNESCO, Cuba has an illiteracy rate of about 0.2, compared to a rate of 11.7 for Latin America.

>Cuba spends 13% of its GDP on education, significantly more than the United States.

>According to UNICEF, child malnutrition is nearly non-existent in Cuba.

> The infant mortality rate in Cuba is 4.63 deaths per 1000 births, compared to 15.4 in Latin America.

> Since the triumph of the Revolution, at least 132,000 Cuban medical personnel have volunteered overseas serving millions of people. This level of direct aid surpasses all other countries and international organizations.

>According to UNESCO, Cuban volunteers have taught millions of people throughout Latin America and the world to read and write. Cuban literacy programs continue today. These programs are also totally unparalleled on the global stage.

>The Cuban government harasses and jails political dissidents. So does every single other country in the world, including USA.

>The United States operates a torture base on occupied land in the Guantanamo province of Cuba.

>Wages are very low in Cuba. For example, a sugar worker might make about $40 per month. A teacher might make $20 per month. Nearly all money is spent on food (remember, people don’t pay rent in Cuba) which is supplemented by ration cards which provide about one week per month food for free.

>The economic, political, and financial blockade of Cuba by the United States government makes foreign trade very difficult. For example, if a Japanese company uses Cuban nickel to manufacture a car, that car cannot be sold in the United States. For example, if a ship docks in a Cuban port, that ship cannot dock in the United States for six months. For example, if a bank (even a European bank) commits any financial transactions in Cuba, it is subject to heavy penalties in the U.S.

>Cuba is not paradise. But compared to the poverty and instability of its Caribbean and Latin American neighbors, and because of its dedication to resisting the whims of foreign powers and its commitment to international humanitarian aid, it is truly a beacon and example for nations around the world.

Example of Cuba for the unpolitical

The Problem

During the last 300 years of human history, one small class of owners have been buying up all the labor from all the workers of the world. They buy this labor through wages, which the worker takes in exchange for so many hours and years of work. And when we work, they make money.

The truth of the matter is that our work is the source of everything man-made thing on this beautiful green planet. That is obvious enough. If we want to change trees, minerals, and soil into houses, roads, and food, we have to work. The sorry part is that while all of us are working, theres just a few-–the bosses—who don’t work but get all the money.

Thats why you can see a homeless man on the same street as a Bentley. Thats why you can spend your whole life working, your body taking the wear and tear, and retire without a dime. Thats why so many good strong persons who work hard for their families and futures struggle to survive.


The Secret

There’s a big secret the bosses don’t want us to know: if we all get together we can transform this whole world so that it serves our needs. We do all the work, and we know the best way to do things. And since we do all the work, we deserve to be in charge! I’ll tell you what: the rule of the bosses is held up by a string. That string is the widespread belief that us workers need those bosses to survive. But the opposite is true. They need us. We do the work, we make everything go. We are the beating heart of the economy. And we can make it our economy if we all work together.

Now getting everyone together ain’t easy. We’ve been trying real hard for a long time now, and we’ve made a lot of progress. But the bosses are smart too: they’ve set up a whole system of police and courts and prisons to keep us in line.  What they fear is that enough of us get together and work together all at once. We’ve got safety in numbers, and if we look out for each other and act to defend each other, they can’t get any of us.


Is is possible to win?

Yes. We’ve done it three times before, all within the last 100 years. Each time, all the people who work in society—factory hands, retail workers, mothers, farmers, students, doctors, and all the other people who work rather than own—all got together and changed their government and society so that the welfare of human beings is the first priority of society. The workers controlled the government, and re-molded society in their own image. I’ll tell you a story about one of those three examples.

On an island nation of 11 million people, the bosses and a brutal dictator enjoyed absolute power. All the people of the island worked and worked and worked, but they remained poor. Children died at birth. Poverty was widespread. People couldn’t read. Few went to school. Work was dangerous.

But people knew about the secret. Through decades of struggles for national independence and against slavery, the people discovered that if they all worked together, they could transform society for the better. Then in one great upheaval that was the result of so much effort, so much organizing, so much blood, sweat and tears, the workers defeated the bosses and took power for themselves.

Today, more than 50 years after that great transformation took place, there is no longer widespread poverty. Children don’t starve on this island (according to the United Nations data.) The nation has taught everyone to read, far surpassing all its neighbors.  School, health-care, and housing are free and available to everyone. Workers are a lot safer on the job. Even a big powerful rich country like the United States can’t match the outstanding social achievements of this small island nation.

This outstanding example is the example of the Cuban Revolution. In the United States we hear a lot of bad things about Cuba, about Fidel Castro, about communism. We are told those negative stories because the bosses don’t want us to know about the secret. The Cubans know it. They embody it. They have been joined together and working to build a socialist society for 50 years, and they are making incredible accomplishments. Now, I’ll tell you what, there are a lot of problems there. But they are getting better because the workers have the power to change things. Power to the people!

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