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 Neforcuba@protonmail.com.

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!

Reflection and photos by a participant of Cuba’s 12th May Day Int’l Brigade, Harvey M from North Aurora, IL:

I had the good fortune to travel to Cuba April 29-May 9 this year. First to participate in the May Day march in Havana, and then to travel across country to Guantanamo for the Firth International Seminar For Peace and Against Foreign Military Bases. This was the same time that the May Day Brigade, with 25 Chicago participants, was in Cuba. One conclusion right off the bat: anyone who has the opportunity to travel to Cuba as part of similar activities, Do it!

The May Day march was tremendous. We got up before dawn and walked through the dark streets to the Plaza de la Revolución, every block a stream of people walking to the assembly points where they would join the march. Hundreds of thousands marched in Havana, millions across all of Cuba. This in a country of 11 million. I was impressed by the number of handmade signs and banners from schools and universities, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies and investigation centers, factories, transportation and tourist companies. Most of these did not exist in 1959 before the revolution. The marchers were energetic and enthusiastic, waving and chanting as they went by. This was the first May Day since the death of Fidel, and we saw the slogan “We are Fidel” on many of the signs.

Then we took a 2-day bus trip across Cuba to Guantanamo. Past cane fields, fields of mangos and pineapples and cattle ranching cooperatives, as well as large areas lying fallow and overrun with invasive marabú underbrush. We were told Cuba has made significant progress in producing more of its food and reducing the amount of imported food, especially by convincing more young people to take up farming to increase the supply available at agricultural markets in towns and cities.

We also saw the toll taken by the decades-long U.S. economic war and the limited resources available. The modern 6-lane national highway ended 200 KM east of Havana and our bus switched to the 80-year old highway that badly needed repairs for the rest of the trip. We saw bridges and road preparations that had been completed for extending the modern highway, but they had to be abandoned in the 1990s as Cuba’s trade and credits shrank after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But we did see new housing construction underway. And the Medical Sciences University in Guantanamo had just been opened a few years previously. We met students from Cuba, Africa and the Caribbean who were studying there, all free of charge.

We spent an afternoon in Caimanera, a town of 11,000 that lies on the western shore of Guantanamo Bay, just north of the U.S. base. Driving into town through salt flats (Caimanera produces sea salt, supplying most of Cuba’s needs and exporting some), you drive right along the tall barbed wire fences that mark the perimeter of the base territory.

We had a chance to talk with Caimanera residents and joined in a rally in the town plaza demanding the end of the U.S. occupation of the base. We were told they have a small fishing cooperative, but they can fish only on the northern part of the bay. Restoring the 45 square miles of land and water occupied by the U.S. base would give them access to the open ocean for the first time in many decades, greatly expanding the potential of the fishing cooperative. Similarly, Guantanamo could be a major port for Cuba, but now can only handle small ships since they cannot dredge a channel through the waters controlled by the United States.

I was struck by the confidence and spirit of the people with whom we talked. They were proud of help they had given to other peoples fighting for their freedom, as well as the social gains of the revolution. Some 300 people from Caimanera were part of the Cuban volunteers who fought in Angola against invasions by South Africa from 1975–1990. Doctors from the Guantanamo area were among the 256 Cuban doctors and nurses who rushed to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to staff Ebola treatment centers during the epidemic in West Africa. People we spoke with expressed determination to maintain the social gains they had created through the revolution. This was what they mean by “We are Fidel,” continuing the solidarity in practice with those in need within Cuba and around the world, They asked us over and over to do everything we could to end the U.S. blockade and to return the territory occupied by the U.S. base.

A great experience, and plenty to do now in our day-to-day activity in the United States!

A participant of the May Day Int’l Brigade, Steve Halpern born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. During those years, he witnessed the 1967 rebellions, and was in high school during one of the longest teacher’s strikes in the country.

For close to forty years Steve lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and have worked in automotive production and as a housekeeper. During those years, he worked in solidarity with workers struggles throughout the world, including the struggle to overthrow the apartheid regime of South Africa.

The title of his novel is “Looking Back From 2101” where he imagined a future world devoid of poverty and discrimination. Steve also has an unpublished book of poems titled, “What Does The Word Freedom Mean?” Many of his poems can be seen on his blog: Human Needs Before Profits.

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Click here to view Steve Halpern’s original blog post as seen below

Recently I returned from two weeks in Cuba. I was one of 287 members of the 2017 May Day Brigade that was sponsored by the Cuban organization ICAP. ICAP has been organizing friendship brigades to Cuba for several decades. I believe there were about thirty-nine nations represented in our Brigade.

Towards the end of our time in Cuba, I asked several brigade members how they would describe their time on the island when they returned home. While everyone appeared to be inspired by our time in Cuba, many brigade members found it difficult to summarize what they found to be inspiring.

So, I’m writing this blog in an attempt to show what I found to be truly inspirational about our time in Cuba. However, in order to do this I first need to step back and look at the environment that we all came from.

While the members of the Brigade came from many different countries and spoke different languages, we all have a common experience.  We all live in nations organized by the political economic system known as capitalism.

So, I will begin this blog by outlining some of the problems with the capitalist system in the nation I’m familiar with which is the United States.

Life in the United States of America

During the years when I attended schools in this country my teachers always started the day with a ritual. We would all stand up, place our hands on our hearts, and pledge allegiance to the flag that supposedly represented “liberty and justice for all.”

Many years after my time in school, I learned that this same Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist named Francis Bellamy. The words, United States of America, were not in Bellamy’s pledge. Bellamy’s original words to his pledge were “I pledge allegiance to my flag”, and his flag represented a future socialist world that would have “liberty, justice, and equality for all.” Bellamy didn’t include the word equality because it was controversial at a time when women, Black people, and Native Americans didn’t have the right to vote.

One of the reasons why I began to question what I was learning in school was the environment at that time. While I was pledging allegiance, the United States government was carrying out a holocaust in Southeast Asia that would cost the lives of millions.

Just before my first year of high school in Newark, New Jersey, the National Guard was mobilized and went to war against the people of the city. The National Guard murdered over twenty people including several children.

Black people had justifiable grievances against the institutionalized racism of this country. These grievances came to a head with the systematic police abuse of the Black community. Hundreds of cities across the United States joined with the residents of Newark protesting these inhumane conditions.

The teachers of Newark went on perhaps the longest teachers strike in U.S. history.

While all of this was going on, I took notice of the gross inequality in this country. Most of the students in the high school I attended were Black. The school was located in close proximity to the crowded housing projects. The school itself was run down and there was no full sized gymnasium for over 700 students.

Within a half hour drive of this school, there were other publicly funded schools that had swimming pools, tennis courts, and every convenience one could think of. There were also private schools that today cost close to $40,000 per student per year to attend.

I began to realize that this gross inequality did not happen because of a lack of sensitivity, or because of mistakes in policy. No, this inequality is a fact of life because there is something profoundly wrong with the political economic system of the United States.

Years after my time in school I read a book by James Loewen titled, Lies My Teacher Told Me. This book documented the fact that the history books I was required to study were filled with outright falsifications. Loewen argued that this is one reason why students are alienated from school.

The falsifications those history books promoted argued that the United States has a glorious history. This history was interrupted with a few problems that had been magnanimously corrected a long time ago. These falsifications are necessary in order to convince students that the government as well as corporations are worthy of their support.

The actual history of the United States is a bit different. This history includes: genocide against the Native Americans, the horrors of chattel slavery, the inhumanity of the factory system that included child labor, and the fact that women didn’t have basic human rights for most of U.S. history. The source of change in this country didn’t come from the government, but from those who organized to protest against government policy.

Working for a living

When someone leaves school and enters the workforce, that person continues their real education. On the one hand, the individuals now have money that can used as they choose. On the other hand, there is a new kind of regimentation that the worker learns she or he has no control over.

Sooner or later the worker learns that there are real problems on the job that are very difficult to rectify. While the Constitution says there is freedom of speech, workers understand that they can be fired if they attempt to organize a union.

Then, we learn that we need to plan for our retirement, our health care, as well as the education for our children. While every worker produces vast quantities of wealth, most of this wealth isn’t used for our benefit. Why do I say this?

Today, corporations as well as the government argue that cutbacks in all or most social services are necessary. However, the Apple corporation acknowledges that profits on their cell phones are about 40% to 50%. If this is the typical markup on commodities, why are prices so high?

The capitalist system gives us visual aids in answering this question. The largest cities in this country have numerous skyscrapers that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. In order to work in these skyscrapers, one must wear expensive clothes and men almost always wear ties.

Many of the enterprises housed in these buildings are: insurance companies, banks, advertising agencies, corporate headquarters, as well as corporate law firms. Now, we might think about the goods and services working people need and want. These include: food, clothing, housing, transportation, communication, health care, education, as well as exposure to culture like music, theater, sports etc.  .  .

You might notice that the enterprises housed in those skyscrapers contribute nothing to the value of the commodities we need and want. However, when we pay for any commodity, we need to pay for all the services housed in these skyscrapers. This is one reason why prices are so high.

Another reason is that less than one percent of the population owns and controls half of the financial wealth in the United States. Again we see how this small minority takes a cut out of the sales of all commodities.

So, when workers ask ourselves: Why there is such a profound disparity in the standard of living in this country? The answer is that this is the basic nature of the capitalist system.

Other features of capitalism

When we speak of the unnecessary institution of advertising, we might mention the street named Madison Avenue in New York City. This is the center of an enterprise that uses about $200 billion every year.

One of the primary tasks of advertising is to make women feel insecure about their appearance. The image advertising agencies promote is the nineteen-year old runway model. Their goal is to convince women to purchase billions of dollars worth of clothes and jewelry to conform to this impossible image advertisers promote.

Another issue concerning women is abortion. The primary issue about abortion is whether or not women should have the right to decide if and when they will become mothers. In the United States there are powerful forces dedicated to taking away this right of women to control their own bodies.

While the government argues that discrimination is against the law, Blacks, Latinos, and women experience systematic discrimination. Anyone who lives in the U.S. has a better chance of going to prison than citizens of any other nation in the world.

Trump and Obama

Today, much of the media in this country is critical of President Donald Trump. They argue that he is unfit to be President and that he has been dishonest.

One of those critics is former President Barack Obama who implies that Trump disdains facts. Well, there are a few facts that Obama isn’t too fond of.

Obama argued that he improved health care in this country with his Obama-care. The Department of Agriculture argues that about one out of every six people in this country doesn’t have enough food to eat. Clearly, not having enough food to eat is harmful to one’s health.

Immigrant workers are indispensable to the economy of this country. Without these workers entire enterprises would shut down. Yet Obama deported more immigrants than any other President.

Many of these immigrants have children who were born in this country. When they are deported, the children are sent into foster care and might never see their parents again. Yet Obama says he is critical of people who disdain facts.

When we look at the true history of the United States, we also see a history of struggle. Unions carried out momentous battles for decades to improve the standard of living. Black people mobilized to do away with Jim Crow segregation, so they would have citizenship rights in this country. Women also mobilized so they could have the right to vote, as well as the right to decide if and when they would become mothers.

Corporations are not in business to improve the standard of living of workers. No, corporate executives are obsessed with cutting costs.

So, when working people mobilized so we might have better lives, corporations responded. They invested massive amounts of money into nations where the prevailing wages are two dollars per day. As a result entire industries shut down, and there was a tremendous growth in the Chinese economy.

One of the reasons why the United States government doesn’t like Cuba is because that government uses its resources to support the interests of the people. Corporations would prefer that the wealth of Cuba be used to enrich the affluent as it did before the revolution.

The experiences of the rest of the world

During our time in Cuba we learned from Brigade members of problems in other parts of the world. Thinking about these problems, we all developed a greater appreciation for Cuba.

Latin America: We learned from Brigade members that the nations of Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina all experienced a similar development. These nations experienced economic upturns. The governments of those countries made modest concessions to workers during those years. Then, the economies went down and now the new governments of those countries are demanding cutbacks from the workers.

We met several Brigade members living in Chile who had been forced to leave the country because of the U.S. supported military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. They received asylum from several nations and lived outside Chile for over ten years.

Africa: We met people from Zambia and Ghana. The people from those countries were looking for ways to develop their countries. Africa has been one of the most mercilessly exploited continents in the world.

Cuba sent it’s armed forces to Angola to defend that nation from an invasion supported by the former apartheid regime of South Africa.

The developed nations of Asia and Europe: There were members of the Brigade from South Korea, Japan, The United Kingdom, Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland. We discovered how workers in these countries are experiencing the same kinds of cutbacks as in the United States.

South Korean and Japanese workers have been protesting the fact that there are U.S. armed forces occupying parts of their countries. The U.S. also occupies a section of Cuba at the Guantanamo Naval Base. Our entire Brigade was united in demanding that the United States return their military base in Guantanamo to Cuba.

Turkey & Kurdistan: We learned from a Brigade member that many political activists are now serving time in prison because of the repressive policies of a dictatorial government. Most Kurdish people live in Turkey and they have been experiencing horrendous discrimination for centuries.

Haiti: Haiti is the closest neighbor to Cuba. The extreme poverty of the country as well as natural disasters have had devastating consequences. Former U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton and the President of Haiti supervised how the relief money would be spent. About thirteen billion dollars was raised for earthquake relief. According to a member of the Brigade, this money did little, if anything, to improve the lives of the Haitian people.

On the other hand, Cuba has been sending doctors to Haiti for over ten years. These doctors clearly improved health care in that country. Cuba has also trained over five-hundred Haitians to become doctors. This was done free of charge.       

How is Cuba different?

During our first days in Cuba, Brigade members carried out agricultural tasks on farms. We went to our work locations on the back of a truck, and we used a ladder to climb in.

While this was basic work, we were under no compulsion to work faster or face the threat of termination. No, the Cubans told us of all the work we did and were appreciative of our efforts.

The rooms we stayed in were primitive compared to living conditions in the developed nations of the world. I shared a room with seven other Brigade members and most had similar accommodations.

So the immediate question is: What is so special about Cuba given that our living quarters clearly were not of the standards of the United States?

In order to answer this question, we need to look at facts that the capitalist media rarely considers. Today, about half of the world lives on two dollars per day or less. About one billion people in the world do not have direct access to electricity or running water. According to the United Nations, every day about 30,000 children die of preventable diseases.

These were the kinds of conditions most Cubans experienced before the revolution. What we all experienced in Cuba reflected a dramatic improvement over the extreme poverty and ignorance experienced by the Cuban people before the revolution.

We might also reflect on some of the things we didn’t encounter in our time in Cuba. There were no skyscrapers that housed banks, or insurance companies, or advertising agencies, or corporate law firms.

Yes, corporations are in Cuba invested in things like tourism and nickel mining. However, those corporations are strictly regulated by the government.

What does all this mean for the Cuban people? Today infant mortality in Cuba is lower than in the United States. Life expectancy is about the same in Cuba as the United States. The percentage of people who have AIDS in Cuba is significantly lower than in the United States. No Cuban has to worry about how they will pay astronomical medical bills because health care is a right for everyone on the island.

When thinking about these facts, we might also consider that Cuba spends significantly less on health care as the United States. Cuba has a population that is 100% Latino and about 40% Black. These communities in the United States have the least access to health care, yet in Cuba the facts show that these same communities have better standards of health.

We see a dramatic difference in Cuban health care when it comes to dentistry. About one-third of the U.S. population doesn’t have dental insurance. So, by the age of retirement, about twenty percent of the population have no teeth in their mouths. Yet, cosmetic dentistry for the affluent is booming. In Cuba everyone has the right to a lifetime of dental care.

Because of the economic blockade against Cuba by the U.S. government, Cuba lacks in many medical supplies that would help save Cuban lives. However, when we look at the overall standard of health in Cuba, there is one inescapable conclusion. Cuba overall, has a better health care system than the United States.

I began to see the difference in values of Cubans to the values in the United States in a discussion I had with Cuban baseball players. We visited the home of a former Cuban baseball player. He made his home into a museum documenting the history of Cuban baseball.

Investors liked what he had done and offered this person a considerable amount of money to sell his home. When he refused this offer, he was offered another considerable amount of money to rent out his home to be used as a museum. This person refused that offer as well because he wanted control over how his home was used.

This large amount of money might have made the life of the former baseball player a bit easier. However, this person argued that his family never went without food and their needs were taken care of. This person now works with children with disabilities to teach them the game of baseball.

The highpoint of our time in Cuba was the May Day event. We had the opportunity of seeing over one million people marching in the Square of the Revolution giving their enthusiastic support to the government.

Unlike in the United States, the Cuban people learn the truth about their history. They learned that they were once a nation of abject poverty and ignorance. They learned that before the revolution the only so-called job open to many women was prostitution. They learned that all of this happened so a small percentage of Cubans and the affluent from the United States could benefit. They learned that the present government is dedicated to making sure that Cuba will never live that reality again.

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.

After his talk we listened to a musical performance by about sixteen children aged five to about sixteen. They sang the famous song, We Are The World. Listening to those children give their outstanding performance was another high point of our time in Cuba. The words to that song, sung by those confident children, gave us the impression that yes, a better world is possible.

We listened to many different talks about the Cuban reality concerning the relations with the United States, the Cuban economy, how Cuban women are advancing, and how Cuba organized to teach everyone on the island to read. We were all impressed by the professionalism of all these talks. We were also impressed by the honesty of what we were listening to. In the capitalist world, all ideas promoted by those who have power are tinged with the reality that the super-rich will get their cut of the action.

We viewed a film titled Behavior. This film exposed some of the real problems Cuban people have today. The story was about a troubled student who’s mother was addicted to drugs. The school this child attended was divided about the idea of expelling the student, or in aiding the student to deal with his problems. During the course of the film, some of the problems of this student had been resolved. However, at the end of the film we don’t know the ultimate result of the story.

We might ask ourselves how many films we have seen where there are good and bad characters? How many of these films even attempt to look at the reasons why the so-called bad characters became anti-social? Typically, these films end with the good characters winning. Isn’t all of this a bit silly? Doesn’t the film Behavior reflect a more realistic portrayal of reality?

I came to Cuba to learn about their reality and came away with a lot more than what I expected. With all the seeming political madness we see in the United States, I found a nation where the people and the government make rational decisions about their future.

There is a saying in the United States, “Open the door and let us in.” The late singer, song writer, and dancer James Brown had another version to this saying. He said, “Open the door and we will walk through ourselves.”

The Cuban revolution opened the door for the Cuban people so they could walk through and begin to transform their lives. I learned that it is possible for people all over the world to also force the door open, so we can walk through and make this a world where human needs are more important than profits.

 

26th of July

Speakers from Workers United, an SEIU affiliatePuerto Rican Cultural CenterBlack Lives Matter Chicago, & Consulado de Venezuela en Chicago

Sponsored by Chicago Cuba CoalitionBlack Lives Matter Chicago, &Mexico Solidarity Network

Endorsers include the National Boricua Human Rights Network, Chicago ChapterChicago ALBA Solidarity Committee Chicago Workers World Party, & Socialist Workers Party

Click here for printer-friendly version of the flyer

 

The Cuban band-Septeto Santiaguero performs in Chicago

Check out the original event page here: Cuban Legends Septeto Santiaguero make Chicago debut August 5

***Update:
The founder of HotHouse (who has done a lot to connect people with Cuba & other Third World countries) has made an generous offer of giving us tickets at $18 (otherwise $25 at the door) or discounted tickets for 20 people.

So, please RSVP and invite all your friends/family and let us know if you will come (or how many tickets you want to buy) and we can do a count to get you all discounted tickets.***

Saturday, August 05, 2017
Doors open at 7:00 p.m.
Event starts at 8:00 p.m.
$20 in advance, $25 at the door

Location: Martyrs-3855 N. Lincoln Avenue Chicago, IL 60613

The band began their career performing in a small restaurant in Santiago de Cuba known for showcasing traditional music. While in Havana, there can be found a mix of Cuban and Latin music, from salsa to reggaetón, in Santiago de Cuba, traditional son, bolero and trova dominate the music scene.

Septeto Santiaguero brings that energy with them everywhere they go. For two decades, they have toured in Europe and Latin America, preforming in Spain, Colombia, Germany, France, Mexico and Brazil. The group performed for the first time in the United States at the Lincoln Center in 2016 and this year were one of the crowd favorites in the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

This will be their Chicago debut.

Buy Tickets Here: http://www.hothouse.net/event.php?event_id=239

28th Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba – FILLED – Not taking applications anymore

If you want to learn about the REAL Cuba, talk to the REAL people and go ‘beneath the surface’, then join our 28th Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba this July, and be a part of challenging the US economic blockade of Cuba.

July 11-28, 2017.

Cost of program- $1650
plus travel to Mexico City and back from US at own expense.

Caravan Program Update:

This year’s Friendshipment Caravan had the intention of traveling to Cuba’s eastern provinces of Guantanamo and Santiago. This choice was motivated by our desire to be in solidarity and accompany the people of this region affected by Hurricane Matthew this past fall. Even though there is a major rebuilding process, due to the material conditions on the ground, our hosts are not able to receive us. Despite this change in the Caravan’s program, our actions in solidarity with Cuba cannot cease!

As an alternative two week program we will visit Villa Clara Province and Havana.

In Villa Clara we will focus on Cuba’s rural development and how in the 21st century, the Cuban people are providing leading examples of sustainable agriculture, universal and community based health care and access to culture for all. This year also marks the 50th Anniversary of the Death of revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. An important component of this Caravan will be to visit the historic sites in the city of Santa Clara where he fought one of his most famous battles and the mausoleum where he and fellow fighters are laid to rest.

Caravanistas will take part in Cuba’s conversation on how the participation of the LGBTQ community and people of African descent are integral to the Cuban revolution. We will be part of the nationwide celebration of the July 26th attack on the Moncada Barracks, and we will be visiting the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana.

We go to Cuba as a conscious act of civil disobedience in the spirit of the US civil rights movement. We will be committing the civil offense of unlicensed travel to Cuba. In the years 2005 and 2006 all adult Caravanistas received letters threatening fines from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the department of the US Treasury responsible for implementing the US economic blockade of Cuba, though in the end no further action was taken. Since then there has been nothing, but we cannot predict what stance the Trump administration will take.

Application forms are available by emailing: friendshipmentcaravan@ifconews.org or filling out the form here: https://ifconews.org/cuba-caravan/67-2/

Deadline to apply:-  May 1st 2017 (Even though the deadline passed, feel free to e-mail anyways just in case there are spots open and we can get you in)

Schedule and more info: Caravan Brochure2017

Cuba Venceremos Brigade – FILLED – Not taking applications anymore

The Venceremos Brigade (VB) is a political education project that, since 1969, has directed its efforts toward developing solidarity with the Cuban Revolution.  Despite the U.S. blockade against Cuba, the VB has sent more than 9,000 people from across the U.S., striving to send highly diverse contingents. The VB works to raise consciousness around issues related to Cuba such as democracy, social justice and the role of U.S. imperialism, while working within the larger U.S. Cuba solidarity movement and striving to strengthen its unity and broaden its influence. The VB considers travel to Cuba to be our right and has never requested a license from the U.S. government. The 48th Contingent of the Venceremos Brigade is an education project hosted by the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).

Total Cost (includes $100 application fee): $1,600 plus the cost of flight from your home to Toronto and from NYC to your home.

ESTIMATED TRAVEL DATES:  July 15August 2nd

HOW TO APPLY:

  1. Read and complete entire application (fill a out separate application for each person) here: 48th Contingent VB Application
  2. Mail applications to the PO Box listed below and purchase delivery confirmation (i.e. tracking number).
    Venceremos Brigade  (VB) Education
    271 Cadman Plaza E. STE 1
    PO Box 24981
    Brooklyn, NY 11201-9997
  3. Email your name, email, phone number and tracking number to  VBRIGADE@GMAIL.COM
  4. If you don’t hear from someone within 2 weeks please send a follow up email.

Note: A complete application MUST include the following.  If any part of the application is missing, your application will not be accepted. Please PRINT clearly or TYPE. 

You will also need two recent photos attached where indicated on the application form (black and white or color, passport size and quality).

APPLY EARLY, SAVE MONEY: All applications postmarked by March 15th, 2017 will receive a $100 discount off the final payment.

Making the Road Travel Seminar to Cuba

Dates: August 15-24, 2017
Places: Chicago, Cuba (7 days in Havana including one day trip outside the city)
Partners:  Village Leadership Academy (hosting for Chicago orientation), AfricaFocus Bulletin (on-line educational resources).
Participants: 18 to 20.

General Background about Making the Road

  • Making the Road (MTR) is a US-based educational project, led by Prexy Nesbitt, aimed at making in-person links across national, ethnic, and racial borders, generations, and mental “silos,” to foster progressive analysis and activism on different axes of racial, social, cultural, and economic justice.
  • Each MTR Travel Seminar, focused on a specific transnational issue area, highlights both the history of social justice movements and the challenges of today’s struggles in the countries visited as well as in the United States and globally.
  • Participants are selected intentionally to provide diversity, including significant representation from students to young professionals  as well as more experienced professionals and activists.

Thematic Context
The right to health, acknowledged in international agreements as a fundamental human right, is an obligation of governments and of the international community.Violations of this human right to health are visible signs of social and economic inequality at both global and national levels, and these inequalities are linked to the history of racism and colonialism. The seminar will address the obstacles to achieving this right and the lessons to be learned from Cuba’s domestic and international roles, including particularly on the African continent. Seminar participants will also have the opportunity to experience and reflect on music, dance, and cultural links between Africa and the Americas interwoven with the complex history of race on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Seminar leaders
Prexy Nesbitt has spent more than five decades as an educator, activist, and speaker on Africa, foreign policy, and racism. He teaches at Columbia College in Chicago, and has led two travel seminars to Cuba, the latest with the Village Leadership Academy in 2016.
Luxme Hariharan, MD, MPH, has lived and worked in India, Kenya, Latin America, and the United States. She is currently Pediatric Ophthalmologist and Policy Consultant for Latin America for SightLife, the largest NGO working to eliminate corneal blindness worldwide.

Responsibilities of participants: Participants must commit to actively engage in preparatory reading and viewing of relevant resource material (which will be provided in advance), in dialogue and listening during the seminar,  and in communication of insights to their own networks during and following the seminars.

Passports and Visas
You must have a passport, valid at the time of entry, with at least 2 blank pages for entry and exit stamps. Please check to ensure that you do not need to renew your passport in order to meet these requirements. For obtaining or renewing your U.S. passport, visit https://www.state.gov/travel/.

Health and immunization
For immunization requirements, see https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/cuba

You may be required to show your WHO international certificate of vaccination (“yellow card”) on entry to Cuba. Please do not forget it!

Estimated Costs
Payment to Making the Road, Ltd. is currently estimated at $3,500 for double room, $500 additional for single room. Although the final cost can only be determined once the number of participants are confirmed and travel agency Marazul has confirmed what they are charging Making the Road, we are hopeful that the cost per participant can be reduced. Some scholarship funds as discounts will be available for some participants, and Making the Road will assist participants in raising additional funds.

This includes round-trip travel from Chicago to Havana, housing in Cuba, breakfast and one other meal per day in Cuba, meals during seminar sessions in Chicago, and admission to program events in Cuba. You are responsible for your own housing in Chicago. Participants coming from outside Chicago should be in touch with Andrea Meza for possible home-stay options in Chicago.

Further costs:
Participants are responsible for one additional meal per day in Cuba, for costs incurred for passports and immunizations, for individual local transport, tips, and other incidentals. Estimates of such costs, based on experience of previous seminar participants, range from $300 to $600. You should bring sufficient cash, since U.S. credit and debit cards cannot be used in Cuba.

Scholarships
Making the Road is raising funds to offer partial scholarships to some individuals who would not otherwise be able to participate. However, the seminar can only be viable if most participants pay the full cost—either personally or by obtaining support from sponsoring organizations. Making the Road will work with participants to facilitate such contacts as well as personal crowd-funding efforts. Contact Andrea Meza for details on fundraising strategies.

How to submit your application
Complete and submit electronically the two forms linked here: short-form application and long-form application. Deadline for submission is June 19, 2017. You will receive instructions on payment of a $300 deposit by June 23, 2017 to confirm your participation, and on payment of the full amount in time for Making the Road to pay Marazul, the travel agency making the arrangements for flights and itinerary in Cuba.

Contacts: Prexy Nesbitt, Making the Road (send email to both makingtheroad.updates@gmail.com and Prexy’s personal email at rozell.makingtheroad1@gmail.com); William Minter, AfricaFocus Bulletin (wminter@gmail.com),  Andrea Meza, Making the Road (andrea.meza@loop.colum.edu), Luxme Hariharan (luxmeh@gmail.com).