- by Vinnie Molina
- The Guardian
- Issue #2054
A recent Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) delegation of seven from around Australia attended the celebration of May Day in Cuba. More than 1200 delegates from all over the world gathered in Havana in defiance of the 63-year blockade imposed by the United States of America on its neighbour less than 145 kilometres away in the Caribbean.
More than 150 delegates were from the United States, mainly young people who defied US law that prevents its citizens from traveling to Cuba. It was a challenge for them as they faced fines, interrogation, detention and harassment by their own government for exercising their right to learn about socialist Cuba on their return to the US.
It is hard to understand the full effects of the criminal blockade on the people of Cuba unless you visit and experience the Cuban reality first hand. The longest ever blockade imposed on any country affects every single family on the island.
MAY DAY CELEBRATIONS
Many of the international delegates missed the one million strong traditional celebration as it was suspended due to shortages of fuel required to mobilise huge numbers of people on a public holiday. May Day became yet another casualty of the US blockade.
Instead, the Cuban government planned smaller rallies in all municipalities across the country. However, this was affected by a storm which hit the island. Especially impacted was the stage set up near the anti-imperialist square close to the Hotel Nacional alongside the seafront known as Malecon. The most desired celebration of May Day was then postponed for the first time ever to Friday 5th May, and to compensate a second public holiday was enacted for the people to be able to celebrate the workers’ national holiday.
The 5th May saw more than one hundred thousand people gather in Havana to listen to trade unionists and other leaders of the revolution. This was replicated across the country. Speakers condemned the blockade as the single major obstacle that prevents Cuba’s development.
LEARNING THE TRUTH ABOUT CUBA
Delegates had the opportunity of taking to the streets to talk and share with workers and people in general. This was a great opportunity to learn directly from the people who shared their experiences about the direct impact of the blockade on their wages for example.
The exchange rate for US dollars or Euros is high. This is bad news for workers. The purchase capacity of the Cuban peso is impacted and prices are rising. There are also some products not covered by the government’s basic card which guarantees basic necessities.
No one starves in Cuba but there are some products that are hard to get and must be purchased in hard currency or at its exchange rate. Not all people can afford to do that. Cuban creativity is often evident as people work to overcome the limitations imposed on them.
However, the objective of the US blockade is to create scarcity and make things hard for the people and the US finds many ways to make this worse. Recent examples would be blocking access to raw materials needed for vaccine production.
Cuba couldn’t access vaccines produced in the US but with its own biotechnology industry developed a number of successful vaccine candidates despite the difficulties they had to overcome. Cuba vaccinated its entire population.
CUBA NEVER ON ITS KNEES
What was evident was that most Cuban people are still prepared to keep their revolution alive and fight against the effects of the criminal blockade.
We also heard about the US “democracy” program that targets young Cubans having an impact with some being tempted by the so-called American dream. US propaganda tells young Cubans that because of the excellent education they have received in Cuba they could go to the US and become millionaires in just a few years.
Of course, this is the minority who have seen many difficulties but fail to see the key reason for the problems and fall victims of the ideological campaign.
We also met those among the older population who directly benefited from the Cuban revolution. They would prefer to die than live on their knees. They will never allow the falsehoods of the “US dream” to touch them or to inspire them to leave their country. Cuba belongs to its people.
The Trump Administration was very active against Cuba during its four years in government. It introduced 243 coercive measures against the people of Cuba. It restricted trade and enacted Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. Title III had been shelved by previous administrations, as it punishes third countries from trading with Cuba. All Obama’s changes were removed.
The other criminal act by President Trump before he left office was to add Cuba to the US list of countries “sponsors of terrorism.” The inclusion of Cuba in the list of countries accused as sponsors of terrorism was based on lies, and makes the lives of the people of more than 39 countries currently on that list much harder.
This means Cuba cannot easily purchase or sell anything through the US controlled financial system (Swift system). Even diplomatic representations have been affected as banks have closed accounts. In Australia, despite not having Cuba in any list of sanctioned countries, the banks avoid any financial punishment in the way of fines if trading with Cuba.
The coercive measures mean that if someone in Australia is travelling to Cuba and exchanges money through a bank or exchange bureau the exchange could be denied if the country of travel is Cuba.
Despite his promises, US president Biden has not really changed any of the measures introduced by the Trump administration which tightened the blockade.
Shame Biden Shame!
ACTIVITIES DURING THE VISIT
Delegates visited several workplaces during the May Day activities. The surprise for us was the fact that serious incidents or fatalities are almost non-existent in Cuban workplaces where the unions and workers play a central role in management and safety on the job. Another fact was the number of women involved in management and leading union positions.
Some of the workplaces were directly involved in construction or the manufacture of construction materials. The presentations clearly showed the impact of the criminal US blockade that affects every single family and the activities in their workplaces.
SOLIDARITY WITH CUBA
A highlight of the visit was the participation in the international meeting in solidarity with Cuba held on 2nd May at the Cuban Convention Centre. This was attended by Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel. The more than one thousand delegates in attendance expressed solidarity with the Cuban people demanding the US lift its inhumane blockade.
The meeting supported a formation of a network of Trade Unions against the Blockade. This is necessary to stop the aggressive US policy which is an attempt at genocide of the Cuban people. This may sound extreme but as an example, Cuban access to syringes during COVID was blocked by the US.
This was only overcome by solidarity actions around the world which mobilised to take syringes to Cuba. These hardships are the daily experience of Cuban people including children who are sometimes denied access to life saving medical equipment because it has more than 10 per cent US parts (that includes screws!). Union solidarity has supported the children’s hospital in Havana attempting to minimise the impact.
It is urgent to strengthen international solidarity united against the blockade. The fact that more people in the United States are getting involved in the solidarity movement with Cuba needs to include the US trade unions.
In actions like the Bridges of Love, initiated by Cuban American Carlos Lazo, activists around the world walk across bridges on the last Sunday each month to create awareness of the impact of the blockade on Cuban families living inside and outside the country. Members of the Communist Party of Australia actively participate in these events in solidarity with Cuba through the Australia-Cuba Friendship Societies.
PEOPLE ARE PROUD AND HAPPY
Despite the difficulties we found that the Cuban people continue to express their happiness and hope with music, dance, and politics. We spoke to people on the street who seem to go on with their normal lives and with creativity, saying “Hands and hearts for the Homeland.”
They feel proud of their decision to remain independent to build a better society for all, they will never give up or be put on their knees. Cuba is after all more than the clichés of cigars, rum, and classic cars. It is a country that has many things to share with people around the world including Australia.
We thank the Cuban Workers’ Central, Cuban Construction Union, and the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, for their hospitality in hosting the Australian delegation during our visit to their country.