Monday, August 2, 2010

I've Been To Cuba

My friend Gerry, and the other 80+ caravanistas who brought this year’s supply of humanitarian aid to Cuba, are preparing for their “reverse challenge.”

The primary challenge, each year, is about crossing the US/Mexican border with all those buses full of hospital and school supplies destined for Cuba. The “reverse’ challenge is when they return to the Mexican/US border and declare – “We are US citizens,” as many of them are, “and we have been to Cuba.”

US-Americans are forbidden, by their 'land-of-the-free' government, to travel to Cuba. There’s a desperate need to keep the secrets of Cuba’s socialist revolution quiet, lest they the people should realize that maybe socialism isn’t all that bad when it’s implemented as a sincere effort to egalitarianism (and not as background to some imperialist patriarchal agenda ie: Stalin).

Gerry called me last week, from Cuba, on his international cell phone. He had recently returned to the Martin Luther King Jr. centre in Havana, after a few days’ excursion to Via Clara. His group of Caravanistas had been among a crowd of 90,000 Cubans celebrating the July 26th holiday at the memorial to Che Guevara. Fifty one years ago, in Santa Clara, revolutionaries had emerged victorious against Batista’s US funded gambling empire.

Gerry said it was very exciting to be with the energy of 90,000 peaceful people. I asked him about security – he said they all went through a metal detector, but that was all. No goon squad guards, no fire hoses, no tear gas, no pepper spray, no deafening sound machines, tasers, or semi-automatic weapons. The Cubans variously criticize their government and the direction their revolution is going, but they are not perceived as enemies of the state as we’ve seen in other nations (ie: Toronto’s G20, Copenhagen’s environmental summit, etc.).

Cubans live with more democracy than we could even imagine. Their representation is very localized. The "leaders," Raul Castro, as Fidel before him, crept through the jungle setting up education centres and clinics to serve the peasants who joined them to overthrow the Batista land thieves. They have the final say on policy, but they are advised by students, labour unions, and citizens from all communities (except Guantanamo Bay, of course). Last year, I remember, Raul spoke for hours about the importance of agriculture and food security. It was broadcast on Cuban national television. This year, Gerry informed me, Raul introduced a keynote speaker who reminded fellow citizens and guests about the successes of the revolution. Anybody could have made the speech, Gerry said, the increased life expectancy, universal literacy, and lowered infant mortality rates are common knowledge. Perhaps that’s why the Castros stayed in the background – it’s not about the figurehead, it’s everybody’s revolution.

Fidel, in his mid 80s, met with 15 Caravanistas including a young medical student from Fresno, and Janine Solanki from Vancouver. Sarah, from Victoria, wrote this about the day:

Along with 90,000 Cubans and members of international solidarity brigades, we heard from such revolutionary leaders as Ali Rodriguez Arague, Minister of Energy in Venezuela and Jose Ramon Machado, First Vice President of the Republic of Cuba. We heard from many famous musicians and artists and watched as President Raul Castro Ruz present Villa Clara with the award for most outstanding province. As the crowd erupted into a chorus of Fidel! Fidel! Fidel! and Viva Cuba! Viva la Revolucion! it was a day of celebration, of joy, and of the reaffirmation of the will to confront the challenges that lay ahead for the Cuban Revolution and for building the better world we know is not only possible, but absolutely necessary.

I asked Gerry what else was going on in Cuba. He said they’d been to the Latin American School of Medicine where, every year, students from poor communities around the world are provided room and board and free medical training on the condition that they return to their home communities and practice medicine for a number of years (5, as I recall). Cuba’s medical school is housed in a former naval college, and their approach is holistic – way beyond pill popping, incorporating preventive and complementary medicines (herbal therapy, massage therapy) in addition to allopathic practices.

The Cubans were already in Haiti when the earthquake hit, and have since sent many hundreds of doctors to help directly. Gerry said the attitude in Cuba is that Haiti’s system is “too broken to fix in a capitalistic way,” and they’re watching closely those who would establish a nationwide sweatshop under the guise of "restructuring."

The Cuban economy, Gerry said, has definitely been affected by the international collapse of capitalist economic policy. The Cubans have survived quite remarkably outside the global economy these 50 years, but for the past decade have begun to depend on tourist dollars. And tourism, this year, is not what it has been.

There are still NO casinos in revolutionary Cuba. They’re focused, as always, on ensuring a world class education that’s free through grad school, on providing an adequate food supply for their population (farmers are the highest paid in the nation, though there's not a huge wage gap), and on health and healing for not only themselves, but all who suffer.

Gerry and the Caravanistas will be returning to the USA tomorrow. They’ll be asking for the return of 5 pentium computers the US government stole from the Caravanistas on their way south, and will either walk those over the boarder to friends in Mexico who will pass them along to their Cuban cousins, or they’ll take them back to New York and try again next year.

You’re not likely to hear anything about this 21st Caravan to Cuba, or its brave return, on the corporate capitalist media, but there’ll likely be updates through various alternative media outlets.