Members of FIST and Workers World Party traveled to Cuba from July 18 to 28 to defy the travel ban and to witness the gains of the socialist revolution. Following is Part 3 of reports from their experience. The previous reports are posted below.
Cuba defends all expressions of sexuality
FIST was invited to the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) on July 24 for a presentation and discussion about the methods undertaken in Cuba to defend the rights of and provide resources to lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender Cubans. CENESEX has been greatly aided in this process by the Cuban Women’s Federation, which has been reaching out to people’s sensitivity as human beings.
CENESEX presented information about their successful efforts to educate Cubans in all walks of life to be sensitive and open to all expressions of sexuality. Unlike the vast majority of political structures in the U.S., this education also targets the police and institutions as well as the population as a whole. Anti-gay and anti-trans violence on the island is now virtually non-existent.
FIST photo: LeiLani Dowell
In universalizing their free medical treatment, Cuba provides free transitional surgery and hormones for transgender Cubans. Their efforts towards health care services have been so successful that the rate of HIV infection on the island is nearly 60 times less than in other Caribbean nations!
The FIST delegation presented CENESEX with a framed “Rainbow Solidarity to Free the Cuban 5” poster describing the recent efforts to build the international campaign of solidarity for Cuba inside the LGBTQ movement. Leslie Feinberg, co-chair of the LGBT caucus of the National Writers Union/UAW, author of groundbreaking books “Stone Butch Blues and Transgender Warriors,” and participant in the delegation, presented one of her books to transgender staff members at CENESEX. The gifts were received with warm thanks.
More about CENESEX can be read at http://www.workers.org/2007/world/lavender-red-107/.
Defending the revolution
On the afternoon of July 25, FIST was invited to visit the Anti-Imperialist Tribunal. Outside the tribunal flew 138 black flags, each with a single white star, honoring the many Cuban lives lost to terrorist acts committed mainly by groups in Miami.
The director of the tribunal gave the delegation a detailed history of the site, which for decades has been designed to politically defend the Cuban revolution against U.S. imperialism. When the U.S. cancelled diplomatic relations with Cuba shortly after its socialist revolution, both the U.S. and Cuba had to go through a third country to house their embassies.
The U.S. and Cuban Interest Sections are housed in the Swedish offices in Havana, adjacent to the Malecón—a famous walkway along the Havana coastline which many Cubans frequent. The U.S. site has been used as a battleground for anti-revolutionary propaganda. The U.S. uses the windows of the fifth floor of this embassy to broadcast a large, bright marquee with slogans meant to undermine the revolution.
With their infinite creativity, the Cubans built the anti-imperialist tribunal right next door, expropriated the embassy parking lot and installed the 138 huge flags to honor their fallen Cubans. When rumors surfaced that Cuba would bomb the embassy they quickly replaced the military personnel surrounding the building with Cuban children, an occupation that could not be viewed as provocative or threatening. The Anti-Imperialist Tribunal now features a memorial commemorating all internationalist freedom fighters, including peoples from the U.S. such as Clara Barton, Henry Reeve, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner and Malcolm X.
Comités en Defensa de la Revolución
The FIST delegation also had an opportunity to spend some time with a local Committee in Defense of the Revolution (CDR) on the eve of July 26, the anniversary of the revolutionaries’ attack on the Moncada barracks in the city of Santiago de Cuba in 1953. The CDRs—neighborhood-based organizations tasked with the defense and further development of the Cuban revolution—were organized in September 1960 following the overthrow of the Batista regime. Their slogan is, “In every neighborhood, Revolution!” They are assigned the task of guarding the neighborhoods and providing medical assistance, if needed. CDRs are fundamental building blocks of the organization of the Cuban revolution.
The delegation had the opportunity to talk to local community members and members of the local CDR during the neighborhood’s July 26 celebrations. This included a very special encounter with a community member who had been part of the July 26th movement, who was assigned to make patches for the revolutionaries and who marched into Havana on Jan. 6, 1959—one day before Fidel Castro. Her perspective on what the revolution had done for the country was positive. After the revolution she decided to work rather than go to school, and now at 70 years of age she was passing on her experiences with the revolution, not only to us, but to her grandchildren who were present.
Reverse travel challenge and struggle against blockade
When the FIST delegation returned to the U.S., they did so publicly and without a permit, to openly defy the travel ban and bring attention to the inhumane economic blockade on Cuba.
On the warm, sunny afternoon of July 28, FIST members met with U.S. activists from the Venceremos Brigade and the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange to march across the mile-long Peace Bridge from Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada, into Buffalo, N.Y. As the 80 marchers entered the U.S. from Canada, they were joined by more than 100 activists from Pastors for Peace simultaneously returning from their trip to Cuba, entering back into the U.S. from Mexico via Hidalgo, Texas. During their trip, Pastors for Peace delivered more than 90 tons of material aid to Cuba.
Initially enacted by the U.S. Congress after Cuba’s socialist revolution, an economic blockade directly and on a daily basis weighs heavily on the Cuban food supply, transportation, housing and even on the fact that Cubans cannot rely on the necessary raw materials and equipment to work with.
In 1992, the Torricelli Act further tightened the blockade by prohibiting any U.S. corporate subsidiary from trading with Cuba—70 percent of which trade was in foods and medicine—calling on Western allies to enforce the blockade, sanctioning Latin American countries that trade with Cuba, prohibiting any ship that trades at a Cuban port from entering a U.S. port in the next six months and allowing funding of opposition groups on and off the island.
This year’s protest was particularly important given that the Bush administration recently established a task force designed specifically to enforce the blockade.
The effects of the blockade could be seen all over the island, forcing unnecessary shortages on the Cuban people—sidewalks were torn up, toilets were leaking, cars were outdated and inefficient, certain foods were unavailable, and more. Yet, despite these hardships, the Cuban people have persevered. They defend their homeland and their government to their death—thus the slogan, “Patria o Muerte.”
The FIST youth delegation returns to the U.S. with concrete experiences of the gains of a socialist revolution and will continue with their work to openly challenge the blockade and to organize for the freedom of the Cuban 5. Ultimately, the delegation knows that the greatest way to show solidarity with the Cuban people and all workers and oppressed of the world is to get the U.S. off their backs by creating a socialist revolution inside the U.S.
Dante Strobino is an organizer with Raleigh FIST and Abraham Mwaura is an organizer in West Virginia against mountain top removal with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OHVEC).
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