Reflections from Cuba’s 12th May Day International Brigade

Cuba is a very interesting country. It is a 3rd word country right, so when you think of a 3rd world country—for example, like Pakistan, where I was born and raised for some part of my life–there you will see poverty, illiteracy, lack of health care–you see naked children on the street begging for food/money with no shelter, and streets are smelly/dirty. So, when I was thinking of a 3rd world country, I was thinking of things like that, but when you go to Cuba, another 3rd world country—it’s very different than most 3rd world countries, it is the total opposite.

Cuba is independent of capitalist domination and you see no homelessness there, literacy rate is 99.7% (higher than rich 1st countries in the world), Cuba has one of the best healthcare systems in the world (better than rich 1st world countries) and the streets seemed clean for a 3rd world country.

When we first arrived at the airport in Cuba, the first thing that caught my attention was the airport workers were women-dominant—that being black and brown women— even as we walked around the provinces in Cuba, I saw majority of women coming from work in their uniforms. Especially in my personal experience working in IT in the U.S. with white-male dominance, it felt unusual, but Cuba really showed that gender equality is something that is reachable as a society. I also noticed outside on the streets that the police did not carry as many weapons at all compared to the U.S. police–living in Chicago, I see the police here go around the city with so many weapons like we are in some war zone.

In Cuba, Women constitute 48% of employees in state institutions or national assembly, exceed 70% of the workforce in sectors such as education, health and the administration of justice, and make up almost half of the Parliament.

We listened to Fernando González in the middle of the picture above on mic—he inspired me—his bravery–even after being locked up for 14 years in the U.S., as soon as he got out—he went back to his revolutionary activities—spreading the word of Socialism and fighting for liberation. Fernando also became the Vice President of ICAP (Cuban Institute of Friendship with Peoples–the organization that holds these international brigades to invite the world to learn about Cuba and Socialism) in May 2014, three months after being released from a U.S. jail.

Another person that was inspiring at the brigade was one of our tour guides, he was a sniper at the war in Angola in 1978 when he was 18 years old and showed us pictures of him in Angola. He explained in depth why he decided to join the war in Angola and that he was doing it for the liberation of the peoples. Compared to people who go to war from the U.S.—do not have a deep understanding of why they are going to war and fighting in other countries (the U.S. wars also have nothing to do with the liberation of the peoples).

We also farmed with Cuban farmers. One of the Cuban farmers that we helped, showed us her house (picture on left). She had a picture of Fidel Castro up on the wall. You can tell that the Cuban’s really honor their revolutionary leaders. The farmer also told us that the land was provided to her by the state for free to grow mango trees—we helped her remove rocks from the land, it was very hard work! I just moved 3 rocks and I was exhausted—I felt like i was done for the day, when I had 4 more hours to go, but here is this Cuban farmer with her husband and her daughter who work on the whole farm all by themselves.

The farmer also pointed out how they can’t use some farming techniques and have to use old machines from the Soviet Union that they reinvent the parts of–to keep the machinery functioning and this is all because of the blockade, they can’t import modern machinery–if the blockade was lifted, it can solve a lot of their farming issues.

Many individuals own their own houses and small farms. It’s not absentee ownership, if you own it, you either live on it or work on it, but it is all rent-free. It was also mentioned that there is a continuing housing shortage in Cuba. The building material shortages are because of the blockade, but Cubans are still able to have no homeless people, unlike the U.S., we have abundance of high rises and houses, but still have countless homeless people on the streets. Cubans are very politically aware and vocalize that the issues are because of the US blockade.

You also see a lot of private run cafe’s or restaurants at people’s homes as you walk around (above)

One great experience in Cuba was when we were walking around on the streets–one Cuban, who was also a farmer invited us to his house to play dominoes and drink coffee (above)—that was a fun time.

Something else that was interesting–I saw a church (above left) and a mosque (above right) while walking around. I personally didn’t see a lot of people being very religious or going to Sunday masses or anything, but there are spaces there for people to go to—they still have freedom to practice any religion in a socialist society.

We also visited the Presidential Palace of all the Cuban presidents till Batista, which is now a museum—it became a museum after the Cuban Revolution (Museum of the Revolution). It contained exhibits on the history of Cuban struggles from the 15th century to the present. The museum contained equipment used by Che and Castro, for example, SAU-100 tank used by Castro during the 1961 battle of the Bay of Pigs. Also, the Granma boat was displayed that carried Fidel Castro and 81 other revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba in December 1956 to launch the Revolution. There were displays of uniforms that had blood-stains and bullet holes, which people wore during revolutionary wars against Batista, it also contained displays of planes, vehicles and weapons used during the Revolutionary wars against Batista and in the Bay of Pigs.

You also see bullet holes around the museum from 1957 (in the above pictures) when the University Students Federation attempted to assassinate Batista. This museum gave me the chills, it really hit home on how real the struggle for socialism was. It showed that to get rid of capitalism and to have a society that workers control is something that we as people will have to get together in solidarity and fight for.

There was also this one satirical display in the Museum of the Revolution (above) with caricatures of Batista and the U.S. Presidents, thanking each President for making Socialism strong in Cuba.

We also attended May Day in Havana at Plaza de la Revolucion. In Havana, there were near 1 million Cubans marching and over 6 million in all of Cuba. It was really interesting and also very nice to see that the police/security at the May Day were not wearing their uniforms and I did not see any weapons on them, they blended in with the people on May Day.

On the left are shots from the Cuban International Workers’ Day on May 1st (see security/police in top image wearing regular clothes and no weapons on them).



Translation from some of the posters and chants of the Cuban people on May Day were:
“Long live the workers of Cuba and the world”
“Long live Fidel and Raul”
“Long live the Cuban Revolution”

Translation of banner above: “Unity is our Strength” (this was when the march was just beginning).


We also saw Raúl Castro (left) come out and wave at the Cuban crowd on May Day! @ Plaza de la Revolución—It was interesting because he did not speak at all to the crowd and I thought he would, but this is because May Day is about the workers and the people.


Also, another very inspiring moment was when all the Cubans on the streets marching sang The Internationale (left-wing anthem) on May Day (video above).

We visited a medical college in Cienfuegos. There the director of the college told us how the Cuban people are proud of the fact that they have trained thousands of doctors from all over the world (med students from different countries—in image above–top right).

Studying in Cuba is all free and going to any doctor is free too. Cuba has abundance of doctors, you can find a doctor in every neighborhood block, the Cuban doctor was explaining how the doctors know their neighbors families and see their children grow, so families usually just go to their neighborhood doctor who becomes their family friend. Doctors are also paid less than farmers currently, they explained that this is because since education is free, everyone wants to become an doctor, but Cuba needs more people in farming, so the salary is higher to get more people to do farming (good example of how people are not greedy as usually capitalist society’s argue that people are naturally greedy and want money, but here in Cuba, people are more oriented towards putting people first, not profit)

If you read about Cuba, you will learn quickly that Cuba has one of the best health-care systems in the world even with the blockade, but the blockade still gives them a lot of issues. Such as the doctor explained how some of their medical technologies are not present in all the hospitals around the island because of the blockade the technology import is limited. So, if a person needs a specific test, it can take days and it can be life-threatening sometimes to wait for some patients. I mean think about how much Cuba can do if the blockade was lifted! Cuba wants to share their innovative methods with rest of the world (such as lung cancer vaccine, medicine for diabetes etc) but U.S. wont allow it with the blockade, its ridiculous!

We also visited a university where students from all over the world were studying there and had displayed their countries culture for us—such as, Panama, Sierra Leone—other countries from Africa, Caribbean etc (in above image on bottom right).

I also got sick in Cuba, some type of an allergic reaction and went to the local doctor. Before the doctor did anything, he made me talk to 3 different workers to let them translate to him on what I am saying so there is no misinformation transferred during the language translation. It was such a quick, painless experience, the doctor just handed the medicine and I left–all free, no money or insurance involved. The doctor also told me to come see him the next 2 days after to make sure i am recovering, and again no money involved and the medicine did fix me. The doctor also told me not to work for the next 2 days just to be 100% sure I recover, even though I felt fine. In the United States, when I get sick during work–I can’t even take a day off work easily and I am also hesitant to go to the doctor, that is the last option for most people in the United States–to go see a doctor because how expensive it can be and how much extra work will come with it–the insurance papers, its just another headache to deal with that. There has been countless times where I have been to work sick and could not take off because work is so demanding–since I work in tech consulting, I also sometimes fly to a different state to work at a client site and I have flown sick with a flu and went into the office right after I landed, it was a horrible torturous experience, but in Cuba, it is nothing like that–people and their health are first!

We visited a Cooperative Production Center in Artemisa (above). Workers there told us that the workers control production. They have monthly mass meetings where they make a plan for the month and elect managers. The workers also take turns to do each different position because doing the same routine can cause repetitive injuries, so to avoid any injuries from repetition of hand work, they change positions, there is also no pressure in doing work quickly!

We were invited to a neighborhood meeting in Cienfuegos held by the members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR)—the homes in this neighborhood were built by the help of Venezuela in 2006. The Cubans in the neighborhood held a block party for us and served us desserts and fruits, also held performances for us.

It was really cool to meet the members of CDR. There are 8.4 million Cubans of the 11.2 million national population registered as CDR members—this shows that if more than half the Cuban population are members of CDR, then people themselves are in control of their own communities. The numbers also show that CDR is obviously not some secret police like the U.S. government implies if way over half the Cuban population is the CDR. CDR is to keep an eye on and condemn people who want to exploit others or spread any acts of racism and sexism (this includes everyone, no matter who you are, even if you are the police), that is what the CDR is trying to stop in their communities and protect people from. CDR is to be democratic, it is for communities to vote and voice their concerns.

Lastly, one random thing I noticed was when we first arrived to the camp that we were all staying at in Cuba—we were introduced to every single worker (doctor, cleaning person, dining services, IT woman and etc), they honor all their workers. Also, at the camp–at night there would be communal gatherings and dancing, so I always saw the doctor hanging out with the bathroom cleaning worker. You would never see that in the U.S. because of the class differences and how we are all divided by where we can afford to live. Sadly, this is something that we have to notice or see as something as so different when we go to Cuba because of the capitalist societies we are from when it shouldn’t be like that. With the Cubans, there is no weird ego or competitive personality, no one is in a rat race or trying to prove to others they are more successful, better, happier than the rest. They are all just living in solidarity and dignity. Also, Cubans are always listening to music and dancing, so you definitely can’t avoid that when you go there!

Cuba is not a perfect heaven, but notice what Cuba as a 3rd world socialist country has done for its people (and keeps fighting for its people) and know how Cuba was before the Revolution when it was under imperialist-capitalist control like most of other 3rd world countries are under right now. Cuba puts its people first, not profit, and wants the same for rest of the countries. Cuba has accomplished so much (such as in the healthcare area) even with the U.S. blockade for 55 years. Learning about Cuba’s history and where it is now, also visiting Cuba has really shown what a remarkable place it is.

Check out a short article explaining why Cuba has a blockade (as Cubans call it) and not an embargo (as U.S. media implies) here

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