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Issue #1774      April 26, 2017

“A better world is possible”

ACFS 34th Annual Consultation

Every year the Australian Cuban Friendship Societies hold its Consultation with the Cuban ambassador in a city around Australia which has an active branch. The Consultation had not been held in Albury since 2003 and many members of the ACFS had not previously visited the city situated on the mighty Murray River which forms the southern border between NSW with Victoria.

From left to right: Deputy Mayor of Albury Dr Amanda Cohn, Veronica, Cuban Ambassador Jose Galego and Albury Mayor Kevin Mack.

The Consultation is an opportunity for the various ACFS’s around Australia to let the ambassador, Jose Manuel Galego Montano, know what activities they had undertaken in the past year to promote solidarity with the Cuban people and their revolutionary society which is seen as a beacon to the world of a peaceful, egalitarian and sustainable society.

The proceedings commenced with a civic reception at the Albury City Council offices on March 31 where the Mayor Kevin Mack welcomed Ambassador Galego and his family. The mayor also acknowledged the Wiradjuri Aboriginal people as the custodians of the land on which the Consultation would take place and acknowledged his Deputy mayor Amanda Cohn who was also present and other councillors. Mayor Mack also acknowledged the experience of the Cuban ambassador and his search for ways to improve relations with Australia and New Zealand as well as the difficulties which confronted Cuba, “in maintaining its independence and the struggles which your country endures on a daily basis.”

The Consultation opened on the Saturday with a report by the Cuban Ambassador Jose Galego in which he described the challenges facing Cuba in improving not only energy production but also food production. Cuba needs not only to become less reliant on the import of oil and gas but increase its production of energy from renewable sources which it is doing from solar, wind and biomass.

In relation to food production, the Cuban government is looking at incentives to encourage the highly educated and skilled Cuban workforce to move to the countryside to resource Cuba’s efforts at increasing food production and food sovereignty. Though urban agriculture continued to provide fresh food and vegetables to many city people, it was often not possible to have pig and chicken farms in the cities for health reasons. This was also compounded by the need to feed the extra 6-7 million tourists who visited Cuba.

Relations between Australian and Cuban governments, reported Galego, continued to be constructive and mutually beneficial. 50,000 Australians are visiting Cuba each year and discussions are ongoing about improving flights between the two countries, while the position of opening an Australian embassy in Cuba is still on the agenda.

As usual, sitting at the top of Cuba’s concerns about its finances and economy, is the effect of the outdated and cruel blockade of Cuba by the United States which has been in effect for over 55 years. The only positive side effect of the US blockade being in place for so long was that it increasingly made transparent the ideological imperative of those who implemented and continue to maintain it including the previous US President Obama and the current President Trump.

In February 2018, President Raul Castro will stand down as president of Cuba and hand the reins of power to a new generation of leadership while Raul would continue to stay on as president of the Cuban Communist Party.

Finally, Galego advised that the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People (ICAP), which now has a new president in former Cuban Five Fernando Gonzales, is supportive of the projects in the areas of health and education funded by individual ACFS’s around Australia.

For the rest of the day the individual ACFSs presented their annual reports and there was also a comprehensive report back from the members of 34th Australian New Zealand Southern Cross Brigade to Cuba on the activities undertaken in Cuba and the observations of life, society and economy that brigade members had experienced.

On the Sunday, there was a report on the “Yo si Puedo!” (Yes I can!) literacy project being run with some Cuban resources and also private sector funding (e.g. Multiplex). Ambassador Galego advised the Consultation that the government wants to have the “Yo si Puedo” campaign in mainstream schools as well as in Aboriginal communities. However, while the results and effectiveness of the Cuban literacy campaign is self-evident, a lot of money goes into resourcing the campaign.

What is also evident from the way the campaign is run is that it is not a “one size fits all” campaign and success comes in part from it being able to empower individual communities through education: The community drives the program with the guidance of advisers.

Another report presented on the Sunday included one on the Havana Book Fair held in February 2017. The Havana Book Fair is based on the Cuban Revolution. More than 4 million books were published in Cuba last year.

There were also reports on the medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp by a registered cannabis grower, Wayne Wadsworth, on why Cuba should grow cannabis, the Fidel is Fidel photo exhibition touring Australia and the 8th Asian Pacific Regional Conference to be held in Manila, Philippines on 8-9 April 2017.

At the conclusion of the two-day Consultation the 31 attendees presented the Declaration of the 34th Australian/NZ-Cuba Friendship Societies in which they asserted their “long and proud history of solidarity with Cuba, its people and government and stand in solidarity in their struggle against the enemies of the Revolution and US regime change policies.”

The 34th Consultation also “Salutes the courage, determination and creativity of the Cuban people who have not given up in the face of adversity, who continue with generosity in international missions to assist those in need with medical aid and sharing their legacy of literacy in all corners of the world, including Australia and New Zealand.”

The 34th Australian/NZ Consultation calls for “The lifting of the criminal economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed by the US (through over 40 legislative instruments) for over 55 years. The immediate closure and withdrawal of the US from the illegally occupied Guantánamo Bay and the end of the covert and overt media war against Cuba, and attempts at regime change to try to discredit and demoralise the victorious Socialist Revolution won and constructed by the Cuban People”. An additional resolution passed by the Consultation called for “The US to pay for the cost of the ongoing rehabilitation of the land upon the withdrawal and closure of the illegally acquired US Military Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”

We stand with Fidel in saying, “A better world is possible”.

The 35th Australian/NZ-Cuba Friendship Societies National Consultation will be held in 2018 in Adelaide, South Australia.

Next article – Government is told of “failure”

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