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‘As harshly as Cuba has been attacked, the greater the solidarity Cuba has found’

MATT KERR reports on the Cuban ambassador’s visit to Scotland, a nation that stands out in its support for the socialist island in the Caribbean

THE Cuban ambassador to Britain, Barbara Alvarez, visited Scotland last week, a place where the Cuban struggle has enjoyed solid support for many years.

She would visit the Scottish Parliament — the first in the world to debate the plight of the Miami Five — and its Cuba cross-party group brilliantly led by former MSP Elaine Smith and now chaired by Labour’s Carol Mochan; but the first stop was Glasgow.

Her first port of call was with Glasgow’s Lord Provost, Cllr Jacqueline McLaren, to be welcomed to the city that has been twinned with Havana for over 20 years, before taking time to speak to the Morning Star about sanctions, self-determination, and the meaning of solidarity.

“As harshly as Cuba has been attacked, the greater the solidarity Cuba has found,” she said.

“Inevitably, my first reaction has to be one of gratitude, because I always think, ‘How can they understand us, being so different from the way we are and not having such a direct contact with our reality?’

“That is due to the work of the people that are driving forward solidarity and promoting solidarity with Cuba everywhere, but particularly in Britain and most especially in Scotland and Glasgow.”

This was the ambassador’s first visit to Glasgow, after an inauspicious start in her role.

“I started out as a diplomat here in London in lockdown, and those were very special circumstances. And of course, they were not the best.

“In those circumstances, I got to meet and be heard by many people virtually, online, and among those meetings, the meetings I had with the Scottish group was one of the fondest memories  — I remember it with a lot of gratitude, it always touches my heart.

“I believe that the connection remains … the solidarity movement provided so many badly needed resources as part of the massive effort that Cuba was making as a country during the pandemic.”

Cuba was rightly praised for showing solidarity with other nations in sharing medics and medical resources during the pandemic.

However, Alvarez is keen to point out that the solidarity and support from around the world went beyond mere words during the pandemic as they raced to develop a Covid vaccine.

“Before you get to the vaccine, you have to do a number of things first.

“You have to go through a process, and you have to run clinical trials, and you have to go through those phases of the testing before you actually get the product.

“To do that you need to draw blood from people, and to do that you need syringes and you need needles, and little components and plastics for the tests — and those are the resources we were not able to get a hold of, that we couldn't buy; Cuba could not buy those inputs as a result of the US blockade on our country.”

“It took less than 4 months to roll out [the vaccine.]

“So it was a solidarity movement that came up and provided those components which were crucial for the success of this massive rollout, the vaccine and the immunisation of our people.”

For all the well-documented problems facing the Cuban economy after six decades of the US blockade, they chose not to rest on the laurels of having vaccinated their own population.

“You know, it is Cuba’s policy not to give out our leftovers, just to share what we have.

“Cuba believes in the south-south relationship.

“Cuba believes that we have a duty to help out those who are even worse off than we are — and we are under very difficult conditions ourselves.

“I always say that from a very difficult situation, the ones that will come out as victor are not only those who resist, but those who get to the end with their best values still alive.”

The ambassador met little argument on that point from me, or indeed from the Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign meeting she later addressed.

A packed meeting listened as she described not only the crippling impacts that decades of sanctions had had on the Cuban economy, but the effects of being added to the US list of “terrorist states” by Donald Trump and left there by Joe Biden despite protestations from the UN and even the Pope.

While some of the effects of the sanctions are both serious and obvious in terms of materials and means to function as a state, it was hard not to marvel at the sheer, petty, banality of actions, such as 34 banks refusing the Cuban embassy’s custom  — and the dignity with which Cubans endure it.

The next day she headed to Edinburgh and the cross-party group on Cuba at Parliament, attended by Green MSP Maggie Chapman, and Labour’s Mercedes Villalba and Katy Clark.

Carol Mochan opened the meeting by offering “great thanks” to the ambassador for her people’s impressive efforts in the fight against Covid while sending health workers across the world, saying: “Theirs is an example we can all learn from.”

Alvarez then ran through all the issues she had at the meeting the night before; yet the message of heartfelt solidarity and what it means never got dull, not for a moment.

Nor did the clarion call for self-determination, coexistence, and above all peace.

“Who gave the US the power to decide who is good or bad, or when invasions are right or wrong?” asked Alvarez.

“Standing with Cuba does not mean you have to agree with all Cuba does.

“It means you believe in our right to find our own way and to make our own mistakes.

“We deserve respect.”

That, they most certainly do.

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