Hasta La Victoria Siempre! Reflections from a Solidarity Trip to Cuba

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You’ll be in Cuba during a historic time,” everyone said. I was excited and hopeful, but also anxious and curious. Just a few months before, after 55-years of US economic blockade, the United States and Cuba announced the resumption of diplomatic talks to “normalize” relations.This past spring, 25 delegates from the US chapter of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle embarked on our first ever education and exposure solidarity trip to Cuba. ILPS is a broad international alliance of anti-imperialist organizations across the world. We represented various national liberation movements in our homelands and struggles in our communities in the United States. As Filipino, Korean, Latin American, Mexican, Palestinian, Pacific Islander, and African descent people living in the U.S., we came together to gain a deeper understanding of Cuban society, and to extend solidarity and support to its people and struggle in this critical historical shift in Cuba-U.S. relations.

In the face of distorted and negative media representation of Cuba, we were eager to witness and experience Cuba firsthand and learn its history and victories against U.S. hegemony and imperialism; yet, we also worried about the impact to Cuba in opening itself to the US, the very empire that had terrorized, ostracized, and demonized it for so many decades.

What would this “historic thawing of relations” mean for Cuba and its people? for the US? Who would benefit? How could we continue to support Cuba? What is our role as anti-imperialists in the U.S. in supporting Cuba in this new phase of diplomatic relations with the U.S.? We sought to explore these questions and lay the foundation for deeper relations and solidarity with the Cuban people. Solidarity meant mutual respect and understanding; and valuing humanity and advancing one’s right to self-determination. As an anti-imperialist we strived to embody solidarity with all oppressed peoples, something that Cuba also had given and received to and from the world.

This simple act of solidarity is something the United States government has failed to extend to Cuba after its socialist victory and to the nearly hundred countries that it has (and continues to) intervened and occupied to promote and safeguard the economic and political interests of its wealthy and monopoly corporations.

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Now, I was standing on land the U.S. and the rest of the world had demonized, called “terrorists”. All because Cuba declared their independence and sovereignty free from US economic and political interference to uplift Cuban people and society: After Cuba’s socialist revolution, the country underwent national industrialization so that all Cubans could benefit equally from the country’s resources. Because Cuban national industrialization undermined U.S. monopoly interests, it was labeled a “terrorist threat” and an economic blockade was imposed upon it in 1960. This blockade prevented Cuba from trading and getting the resources and exchange necessary to build industry and infrastructure.

Our hosts talked about the food shortages and the inability to trade with other countries due to the blockade. They shared with us their economic struggles and challenges. Yet, in spite of these hardships, the Cuban people managed to overcome them while preserving their revolutionary spirit and attitude.  Even with limited resources, they exemplified solidarity with each other and the world by sharing their resources. As Fidel Castro once remarked, “Cubans share the little things we have, not the leftovers”.

Cuba places high emphasis on the humanitarian development and the progress of its people and society. It fundamentally challenges the notion of profits over people: its programs and advancements reflect its pro-people values. The programs implemented after the Cuban revolution provided basic needs and services to its people who had been neglected and exploited under years of Spanish colonialism and Batista-U.S. imperialist dictatorship.

Education and healthcare account for more than half of the state’s budget, with every Cuban having free access to higher education and universal healthcare. After launching Fidel Castro’s literacy campaign in 1961, Cuba’s literacy rate dropped from over 60% to less than 0.02%. In 2008, UNESCO officially declared Cuba illiteracy free giving it the lowest illiteracy rate in the world. Cuba’s healthcare system and biotechnological achievements are one of the most advanced and developed in the world. Most recently, it has even developed the first lung cancer vaccine.

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The rights of women and children have advanced greatly since the revolution with a large percentage of women participating in high-ranking government positions; universal education, housing, and healthcare for all children regardless of parental status or family income; and an education that promotes women’s welfare, and economic, social, reproductive rights.

Workers have found greater protections and rights in the workplace such as enforced safety standards, livable salaries, sick days and 1-year maternity & paternity leave. These gains were achieved through genuine and democratic dialogues and processes between the employer and workers making labor strikes obsolete. This is because workers hold valuable power, and are respected: they are not viewed as simply a means to maximize surplus value, but rather as contributors to a better nation and society.

Unused plots of land in the cities are transformed into community gardens to plant fresh and organic vegetables or to construct housing units. Because the unused land is owned by the state, it services people’s basic needs, rather than being hoarded by wealthy landlords or corporations.

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Cuba is also a leading example in disaster prevention and preparation for the world. State budgets are not only allocated for conducting vulnerability studies, but also for programs, trainings, and educational information. Early disaster prevention and intervention is an important agenda in every institutional sector (i.e. education, health, and community civil defense), and at local, municipal, and national levels. Cuba’s disaster preparation has effectively evacuated millions of its citizens throughout its most powerful hurricanes and storms. In fact, in 2005, during Hurricane Dennis, one of the strongest recorded hurricanes in the Caribbean, Cuba suffered only 10 victims. Cuba had zero victims during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

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At the most basic level, the trip illustrated countless examples of Cuba’s collective responsibility for one another and one’s fellow neighbor. Not only did the Cuban government implement programs and policies that prioritized its people, the Cuban people themselves took matters into their own hands to value and protect each other. Even in such short time, Cuba allowed me to experience a society fundamentally different from my life in the US.

It might seem silly or absurd to even have to contemplate valuing life, but the truth is that the US government, and much of the world sadly, does not prioritize or value human life. Profit-seeking motives have made the safety and well-being of people secondary, leading not only to untimely deaths, but also a complete lack of responsibility and accountability in addressing these tragedies.

In the process, we have become alienated from humanity and love for our fellow people. Instead of creating a society that loves and protects its members, we have normalized and accepted death. In South Korea, 304 high students lost their lives due to a tragic, senseless, and avoidable ferry accident and ensuing botched rescue. Why does the South Korean government still refuse to conduct a proper investigation? In the US, hundreds of Black people are murdered extra-judicially by police forces and racist vigilantes. Must we simply accept these killings? In the Philippines, thousands of people have died from the world’s strongest typhoon because of its government’s negligence and lack of disaster preparation. Why must we accept these tragedies? Why is human life not valued over profit?

Even with others around the world, Cuba has traveled the world in their service. It provides resources, training, literacy teachers, medical doctors, and health workers. In the recent earthquake in Nepal, Cuba sent its medical personnel to help the victims. The Latin American School of Medicine has recently shifted its focus to prioritize sending medical brigades to Africa and address its overwhelming infant mortality and disease. As they’ve told us, “We may not be ‘developed’, but we are developed in a human point of view.”

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Now, in the face of this historical shift in Cuba-U.S. relations, Cuba needs solidarity and support from the world. Many of the Cubans we met acknowledged that Cuba is not perfect. The U.S. blockade has been an overwhelming challenge in their daily lives and a hindrance to their development. While Cuba still prioritized the advancement of its people, I wondered what more could have been achieved with access to telecommunications, trade, and other raw materials? What else could it have done for its people? The US blockade is no mere abstract foreign policy; it directly hurts the lives of ordinary Cubans. It’s clear that as people in the U.S. we need to demand an end to the U.S. imposed blockade.

Cuba opening its doors to the U.S. is not without perils, since it also involves opening up to capitalist ventures and possible exploitation. But as one of our guides at the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the People (ICAP) told us, “Solidarity is trusting in us to work through our own problems.” Trusting in Cuba to remain steadfast in its founding revolutionary and socialist principles is how we extend solidarity to the Cuban people. For years, Cuba has fought hard to protect and maintain its sovereignty, even during its most challenging moments. That perseverance and fierce revolutionary spirit still remains, even amidst talks with the U.S. government. The U.S. and others must respect Cuba’s sovereignty and not intervene in its laws which uphold the rights of workers and Cuban land, resources, and people.

While Cuba has many victories to celebrate worthy of emulation, I was inspired by their humility and honesty about learning in the process. They continue to struggle together in solidarity with oppressed people around the world, while learning and building the society they trust and believe in. For us to extend genuine solidarity means to also trust Cubans to figure out what works best given their particular conditions and history.

As freedom-loving peoples of the world, solidarity with Cuba during this time is absolutely critical.  Whether in settler-colonial United States, Palestine, Korea, Mexico, or the Philippines, only an organized anti-imperialist movement for self-determination for all oppressed people against US intervention can truly advance our peoples’ liberation, rights, and welfare. A victory for Cuba is a victory for all. ¡Hasta La Victoria Siempre!

This Cuba education and exposure trip was hosted by ILPS-USA, which consisted of 25 delegates from across the United States, representing various organizations, communities, and people's movements. The International League of Peoples Struggle is an international alliance of more than 350 organizations from 40 countries promoting, supporting and developing the anti-imperialist struggles of the peoples of the world. It has a broad mass character and is not subordinate to any political party, government or religion and affords equality to all participating organizations. It strives to realize the unity, cooperation and coordination of anti-imperialist and democratic struggles throughout the world. ILPS has 17 concerns, which can be viewed here: http://ilps.info/. Jaye currently serves as the regional coordinator for ILPS-USA Southern California.

written by Jaye Cho, Solidarity Correspondent