This Chilean family formed part of the brigade. Photo: Karoly Emerson (courtesy of ICAP)

More than 200 people from Argentina, Brazil and Chile arrived in Cuba as part of the 23rd South American Voluntary Work Brigade, running January 24 through February 7, motivated by the desire to express solidarity and fraternity with the Cuban people.

Staying at the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp (CIJAM), located in the municipality of Caimito in the province of Artemisa, the brigadistas attended the Second International Conference “With All and for the Good of All”, dedicated to the life and thought of Cuba's national hero, José Martí.

They also took part in the “March of the Torches”, organized by the Cuban youth in support of the Revolution, who march from the University of Havana’s grand stairway to the Fragua Martiana museum, on the eve of January 28, the anniversary of the birth of this independence hero.

Alejandra Leppe Rojas, a social worker from Chile, expressed her excitement on participating in these activities. She noted that she was motivated to learn about the island through exchanges with experts and the Cuban people, in order to report back when she returned home.

Her friend Alejandra Lira (on her third brigade) teaches second grade in Chile, and tells her students of her experiences on the island, showing them photos and explaining the Cuban government’s efforts to raise the educational level of the population and ensure a better society.

Speaking to Granma International she noted, “I am surprised to see that despite the shortages caused by the brutal economic, commercial and financial blockade for more than 50 years, you have managed to maintain national sovereignty, move forward … generating so much.”

Over 200 people from Argentina, Brazil and Chile form part of the 23rd South American Voluntary Work Brigade. Photo: Karoly Emerson (courtesy of ICAP)

Chileans Leonardo Cuevas Venegas and Sandra Bustamante Rueda, together with their daughters Maura Cuevas Tobar, aged 16, Amada Baeza Bustamante, aged 13, and little Colombina Cuevas Bustamante, just two years old, agree. They are visiting Cuba for the first time, having been drawn to the island by the stories of Sandra’s mother, who has participated in past brigades.

Leonardo stated that he was curious to visit the country which has served as an example in the struggle for human emancipation and solidarity with other peoples of the world. He wanted his daughters to experience a different society, far removed from capitalism and colonizing neoliberal models.

Sandra noted that she felt at home in the Camp, which is celebrating its 44th anniversary. Workers here have helped her find ways to feed her youngest daughter, who is lactose intolerant. Her older daughters, meanwhile, have been able to exchange with young people of different nationalities.

Aleida Rivelly, Fernanda Tinnetti, Malena Gerez and Guadalupe Tenaglia, from Argentina, expressed similar views. They arrived on the island in December, in order to travel to different parts and participate in the celebrations of the anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution on January 1. They noted the dynamism of the island, which is undergoing constant changes to improve social welfare and perfect its economic model.

They are keen to learn from the human values, intrinsic to Cuban culture, in order to convey these to their fellow activists. They stressed the plight of their own country in recent months, given a rise in unemployment, the implementation of unpopular measures, and frequent demonstrations in response, recurring themes in their discussions with Cubans.

They each stated that they were moved as they learned more about the struggles and achievements of the Cuban people in safeguarding the Revolution, especially the feats of their compatriot Ernesto Che Guevara, admired by youth committed to peace and social justice across the world.

Similarly, Brazilian Rosefania Rorevania intends to take note of experiences of the fight against imperialism, taking full advantage of visits to historic sites in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba and the central province of Villa Clara, where brigadistas will pay tribute to Argentinean-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, at the memorial complex that contains his remains.

Her compañero Idelfonso Filho accompanies his Cuban brothers and sisters in their call for an end to the interventionist blockade policy imposed by successive U.S. administrations. He also stated his opposition to the illegal occupation of Cuban territory in Guantánamo.

Hero of the Republic Fernando González, one of the five Cuban anti-terrorists imprisoned in the U.S., who welcomed the solidarity brigade, thanked them for their support during the struggle for their freedom over more than 16 years. Thanks to their efforts, he noted, on December 17, 2014, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero finally returned to Cuba (René González and Fernando were previously released having served their sentences).

He referred to the current context, marked by a complex process toward normalizing relations with the U.S. He stressed that relations will not be normalized as long as the blockade continues to exist and territory in Guantánamo remains occupied.

“For Cuba, solidarity has always been of vital importance, as a fundamental value of human beings, communities and nations,” he said.