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Issue #1654      September 3, 2014

Long live Cuba Socialista!

A talk at Politics in the Pub, Sydney

Acknowledgment of the traditional custodians of the land where we gather today and I pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I am not Cuban or a public speaker, neither a qualified university scholar but I do support the Cuban socialist revolution and my talk tonight is based on personal observations and experiences.

Maria Hilario (on the left) in Cuba earlier this year.

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak tonight, also grateful to Australia for allowing me to study Civil Engineering for free at TAFE many years ago.

Why do I support Cuba socialista? The main reasons are my poor peasant background, my experiences working and helping homeless people in Sydney for around nine years and the great experience of visiting Cuba with the brigade in January this year.

My interest in Cuba and its revolution began when I was very young working in the dry fields of Castilla along side my granddad listening to his stories of the Spanish Civil War and how he never surrendered his ideas.

My grandfather admired Fidel and heard on the Spanish radio daily news of the Cuban revolution and Fidel’s men with their long beards teaching poor Cuban peasants to read and write in conservative fascist Spain where beards were a sign of demons. It used to make my grand father happy and he often wished he was one of those peasants learning and that Fidel’s men would soon reach his poor village.

In Spain before the 2nd Republic in 1931 in the rural areas the illiteracy rate would have been more than 90 percent in my village. Between 1932 and 1933, in just one year with the new left-wing government opened more than 3,000 public libraries in the rural areas. Also they created the pedagogy missions with a group of university students teaching everyone in remote villages about culture in general and to read and write. They put a lot of emphasis on the culture of theatre because they recognised the link between education and entertainment. They thought that the representation of their culture and traditions would help the poor learn and they took on board the classical idea of educating, having fun or being entertained and learning (instruir deleitando).

Garcia Lorca was one of the university student initiators of the program La Barraca. But the program was short lived; the fascists killed him in August 1936 and his body has not been recovered like those of 140,000 other victims of fascism lying today in big common burial graves or on the Spanish roadsides.

This year the work of the United Nations made recommendations (Spain is binder under International Law) Spain should investigate the human rights and crimes during the Franco years and it should give priority to implement 42 of their recommendations in regards to the victims.

It has been nearly 80 years and family members are still looking for justice, dignity and reparation.

Minister for education Chris Pyne in July this year speaking on the Dateline program was talking about the cost of education and some one asked him why it could not be free and health care too. His answer was: do you think this is a paradise?

And I thought of Cuba.

I always dreamed of visiting Cuba and seeing the work of the revolution. I did the same with Palestine as I wanted to see the situation on the ground and support the victims of abuse, denigration and against criminal actions by Israel.

We went to Cuba for the first time when our son was 12 and it was just after September 11 when no one wanted to fly and the prices were very low and so we could afford the trip. When I came back from that trip I joined the Australia Cuba Friendship Society in 2002 and I have been supporting their activities since.

My second visit was the one on the Brigade in January this year.

Last year In the community sector where I work the conditions were deteriorating, and now we have lost our jobs. The managers were testing the Work Place Act and they started to force on us holidays as they wished. No longer could we accumulate holidays or choose when we wanted to take them. When I came back they had threatened to sack me and thanks to the union there had been a mutual understanding regarding my leave.

Arriving in Havana from the airport this big billboard hit me: “The Cuban blockade the longest genocide”. The Cubans have been living for 56 years behind this illegal, inhumane blockade imposed by the USA. The UN General Assembly at its meeting in September 2013 adopted for the 22nd year in a row a resolution calling for an end to the United States’ decades-long economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba. The resulting economic damages accumulated after half a century amount to more than $1 trillion. The vote in 2013 was 188 in favour to two against (United States and Israel) with three abstentions (Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau).

This has to be the longest and most brutal blockade in history; they are trying to break a country by famine or illness. But what has happened? Yes, Cuba is suffering as a result of the economic blockade. It is not a rich country.

But also the millions of poor USA citizens. There are lots unemployed or with poor working conditions and they don’t trust the judicial systems: we saw daily demonstrations in Ferguson.

Some people cannot afford to live and with no access to health services their capitalist system is not interested in them, the poor.

Every year in the USA, the number of people wanting to lift the blockade is growing, and not only among the poorer citizens but now US businesses want the blockade to be lifted because they are missing out on millions of dollars in contracts. The majority of the US population wants a change in Washington’s policies towards Cuba.

But the USA is under the influence of a reactionary, sectarian and powerful minority that defends aggression and wars and their markets. It does not represent the interests of their own people only the markets and the big energy corporations. They have lost their credibility and influence in the world because of the double standards. Also they are very good at dividing the poor, creating fears and racism to send the poor to wars so they can control the resources for the big captains of industry and their markets.

How can socialist Cuba make advances in the face of 56 years of bullying and isolation from the big powerful nation 90 miles to the north? It is because of the system of working together hand in hand in solidarity in adversity they find solutions. On my trip I was able to compare how the two systems work – by looking at the plight of the most vulnerable in our society and in Cuba because I believe the way we treat the most vulnerable is a reflection of our very humanity.

During the brigade I asked many questions about their socialist system and what happened to their homeless, mentally unwell people or women with domestic violence, child abuse – these are the areas of my interest. In my work you only have to pay a visit to areas where the most disadvantaged and the unemployed live and you can see they have no services or very limited access to the services they need. Community programs, women’s refuges, and many other services are being closed down due to funding cuts by our conservative government.

Cuba statistics

In Cuba in 1959, 57% of the population was illiterate.

They had 844 schools, 2,832 teachers and 19,075 students.

In one year, 1960-61, they created 15,000 new schools in the rural areas they reduced the illiteracy rate to 3.9% educating young and old and disabled people including 25,000 Haitians who didn’t speak Spanish.

The Cuban method Yo si Puedo “Yes I can” has taught reading and writing to more than six million persons in 29 countries including Spain and Australia. There was a nice history in the Good Weekend recently by Chris Ray about the literacy program in Bourke and Wilcannia.

In Spain the Fundacion Sevilla took on board the program but the main stream media TVE did not want to run a program after one of the smaller TV channels did. In Spain they are ashamed that a rich country from Europe has to access a program created in a developing country.

Cuba for me was emotional at times, remembering what my grandfather believed and his ideas of a fairer system for a peasant like him, especially when we visited an organic farm cooperative in Havana with 170 members living in the community nearby. They had 230 different types of vegetables and legumes; everything is organic including pest control by microorganisms and soil diversity. They have not used chemicals since the year 2000. Their message was “united we multiply our results” and their motto was “to live with the land not off the land”.

We also visited a cooperative of agricultural production near Julio Antonio Mella camp. We were told why these cooperatives are so important for their economy and efficiency as a way creating local employment and utilising the land for the production of food. Their food production is either consumed by members or is sold in the markets around the local area and the excess exported.

Every one gets the basic salary and food plus extra if a worker has worked overtime. All the workers are members of the cooperative and the decisions are made in the assembly, they mediate if problems arise before they escalate. They don’t use transgenic seeds and they always promote the local product rather than imports. It is a key to the survival of local economies and since 2000 they are trying harder for their agricultural products to be organic.

We learnt about Cuba’s work with renewable energies since 1994 and today there are more than 500 Medical centres in remote areas powered by solar systems and 2,364 schools and 1,864 community television rooms.

Cuba is now part of the [economic groups] ALBA, CELAC and the TCP (Tratado de Comercio de los Pueblos). Their aim is to end poverty and social exclusion, end illiteracy and support human rights, to improve the working conditions of women, to care for the environment, economic integration and the formation of grand-national enterprises to create a front to the transnationals.

I would now like to turn to the Cuban 5 [see also Cuban 5 background facing page]. Two weeks ago the daughter of one of the Cuban 5 Aili Labañino was in Sydney. I assume most of you have heard of the Cuban 5. They were on a mission in Miami to monitor the actions of Miami-based terrorist groups, in order to prevent those groups from carrying out attacks on their country of Cuba. Every one should know about the hypocrisy of the US system and why this is a political case.

I met with some of the family of the Cuban 5: the mothers of Rene and Antonio, Ramon’s wife (Elizabeth Palmiero) and Gerardo’s niece.

Cuban women

I met Dalia from the Federation of Cuban Women while on the brigade. It is a grass roots women’s organisation with programs and policies that their aim is to achieve equal rights and full emancipation in all the aspects and levels of the Cuban society.

Cuba is fourth in the world for women represented in parliament – 43.2%. Ahead of countries like Norway and Finland.

  • 65% of university graduated are women
  • 46% of the workforce
  • 66% personal technique and professional
  • 48% scientific researchers are women
  • 52% international missions of cooperation

I was able to learn about over 54 years of grass roots work in the Federation of Cuban Women and their national structure. Their last congress was in March this year. They elected the National Committee with women representing all social sectors. Currently they have four million women in the organisation. Girls over 14 years old can join in.

There are programs like the Coordination of Employment to improve female participation in the workforce and to prevent discrimination in contracts.

Women’s Advocacy Centres – Casas de orientation – provide a range of services including access to social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and educational experts to help with different problems like domestic or inter-family violence or alcohol issues.

They provide help to the people affected by divorce, like counselling for children or older people. They have a weekly publication “Mujeres” with its aim not to provide a sexist image of women but more to do with information and documentation. They coordinate educational programs directed at children for parents who don’t work and look after their children at home. The social workers work with the mums or family members in activities to prepare the child for school.

It was interesting to compare their programs and progress with my experience in Australia. I work with abused homeless women and children in Sydney. I often complain about the lack of services, like refuges for women and children experiencing domestic violence and more affordable houses for low income people to rent.

Women’s advocacy centre’s Casas de Orientacion coordinate and provide support for 82,000 social workers and 78,000 health professionals who work in the barrios to prevent diseases like dengue fever, influenza or HIV-AIDS. They also provide advice and support to thousands of people going through legal services, dealing with Family Courts.

Cuba is poor, the blockade has taken a huge toll on the country, but the people have the essentials in life.

To conclude:

There are many things we can learn from Cuba socialista, the free health and education, the way towards food efficiency and organic product not transgenic, food gardens in city parks, the practical use of renewable energy for public buildings and the solidarity with the peoples of the world rather than war, and the work of the Women’s Federation.

It is very important is to keep the pressure on to lift the economic blockade on Cuba and to demand the removal of Cuba from the US list of terrorist nations. Also to apply pressure on President Obama to release the Cuban 5 – the last three left in jail Antonio, Gerardo and Ramon. And that Guantanamo Bay be returned to Cuba and that the prisoners held there be given a proper trial or be released.

I will end with a few words from the Cuban national hero, Jose Marti: “to be educated is the only way to be free”. This I hold very close to my life – without my little education I wouldn’t be here today.

Viva Cuba ! Long live Cuba Socialista!

Next article – The Cuban Five

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