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Cuba's revolution as inspirational as ever at 60

On January 1 2019, Cuba will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the revolution. OLLIE HOPKINS reports

SIX decades on, the Revolution continues to defy all the odds. A small, socialist, independent island 90 miles from the United States has resisted an onslaught of intervention from its northerly neighbour in a David versus Goliath struggle. 

The United States has tried all means possible to overthrow the Revolution, ranging from the ongoing blockade to the CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs, from the hundreds of assassination attempts on Cuba’s leadership, to billions of dollars spent on regime change activities. 

But the Cuban people have not just survived these attacks, they have developed a society based on the needs of humanity, where education, health, social care and internationalism are its core priorities. These achievements stand as a beacon to the Global South and progressives the world over. 

Blockade continues

Six decades on, the US blockade and attacks on Cuba continue. Donald Trump’s administration has further tightened the blockade, all but closed the US embassy in Havana and ramped up the cold war rhetoric against the island. And now John Bolton, arguably the most pro-war hawk in Washington, is the White House national security adviser. 

Bolton infamously and falsely accused Cuba of developing chemical weapons in 2002. Now once again he is naming Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela as the “troika of tyranny” and using threatening language that “their day of reckoning awaits.” Friends of progressive Latin America must be vigilant over the huge threats posed to the region by Bolton and the Trump administration.   

Predictably, Bolton celebrated the election of hard-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and the pair officially met this week. Bolsonaro’s election is a huge leap backwards for Latin America. 

Over 8,000 Cuban doctors have already left or are on their way back to Cuba, following threats from Bolsonaro to expel them.  The Cuban doctors had been working in Brazil since 2013 as part of the “Mais Medicos” (More Doctors) programme, delivering healthcare to the poorest and most remote peoples of the country. 

A year of change?

This year, as so many years before, there have been mainstream media headlines around the world about how Cuba is “on the verge of change,” this time around due to the election of Cuba’s new president and the updating of their constitution. 

Similar headlines have been repeatedly published over many years — in the ’90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, then again when Fidel Castro retired as president, when Barack Obama visited Cuba and again when Fidel died. 

It is true that Cuba, like all countries, is always changing and developing. 

But the mainstream media excitement about change in Cuba is actually a fantasy of Cuba renouncing its socialism or independence, rather than reality.  Friends of Cuba will be assured that the Cuban people have made it clear that they will never renounce their ideals and independence. 

The process of updating Cuba’s constitution is taking place across the island now through a huge discussion across all sectors, mass organisations and trade unions. The document includes new term and age limits for elected officials, recognition of new forms of ownership and legalising same sex marriage. There has been extensive debate on the island and a consultation process where over 135,000 meetings have taken place, and a referendum on the updated constitution will take place February 24 2019.

With same-sex marriage in Cuba being debated over the island, it is timely that National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) director Dr Mariela Castro Espin is a keynote speaker at the Latin America Conference. Mariela has led the political and social campaign to promote LGBT+ rights in Cuba, including leading Cuba’s state-funded IDAHO (International Day against Homophobia) pride marches, championing anti-discrimination legislation in the National Assembly and campaigning for same-sex marriage to be legalised on the island.

Miguel Diaz-Canel visit to Britain

This spring’s general elections resulted in Cuba now having the second highest percentage of women MPs in the world. Now, over half of MPs (53.2 per cent) in Cuba are women and over 40 per cent are black or mixed race.

The elections also resulted in the first post-revolution president of the Republic of Cuba from a generation who did not take part in the 1959 Revolution. Miguel Diaz-Canel, who was born in 1960, became president in April this year.

Just six months into his presidency, Diaz-Canel made history with the highest-level Cuban delegation ever to Britain last month following his first tour of Asian countries including China, Russia and Vietnam.

During this historic visit — the first by a Cuban president to Britain since the Revolution — the president was accompanied by a delegation of ministers from the Council of State including Deputy President Ricardo Cabrisas, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Deputy Foreign Minister Rogelio Sierra.

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign helped organise his programme here, including a meeting with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, a parliamentary reception in the House of Lords hosted by Baroness Angela Smith and an evening reception with trade unionists and solidarity campaigners at the Cuban ambassador’s residence. 

Addressing the parliamentary reception, Diaz-Canel said that he was struck by the warmth of his welcome, “that in a place that is so far away from Cuba, we can find so much warmth, affection and love, that it seems like we have known each other for a very long time. And for that I want to thank you very much.”

It is positive that the delegation was warmly received by the British government, which arranged for the president to meet Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond at 11 Downing Street while the deputy president met International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox.

It’s also welcome that Britain continued to vote in support of Cuba’s resolution to end the blockade at the United Nations general assembly on November 1, despite US attempts to sabotage the vote. 

But the British government could, and should, do so much more. It is embarrassing that UK-Cuba trade remains at paltry levels. It should have been the British government, not the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC), that challenged the Open University’s blatant disregard for British laws when the OU banned Cuban students from enrolling in 2017, for example.

At the evening reception Diaz-Canel met members of CSC executive committee, including national secretary Bernard Regan, and several of Britain’s leading trade unionists, including Len McCluskey of Unite, Frances O’Grady of the TUC, NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney and RMT general secretary Mick Cash. The president thanked CSC director Rob Miller and the British trade union movement for its campaigning work and solidarity. 

Diaz-Canel promised that Cuba will “uphold and remain committed to the legacy of respect, friendship, and affection ... among all of us, united and together, we shall overcome all obstacles, interference and stumbling blocks and the triumph will be the best of us that will emerge from all of us together, which is friendship, solidarity and co-operation.”

Ollie Hopkins is the campaigns officer for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.

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