Establishing ties of friendship and solidarity between people from different countries is the principle accomplishment of the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp (CIJAM), celebrating its 45th anniversary this year.
Located in the municipality of Caimito, in the province of Artemisa, the camp receives thousands of international visitors every year, participating in brigades invited to the island by the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) in order to learn about the country’s political, social, and economic reality; visit places of historic interest; and undertake voluntary agricultural work; and other types of activities linked to the island’s economy.
In the beginning, the camp was composed of wooden barracks, which housed youths from 28 countries; members of the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the International Students Union, who helped to build various educational centers in response to the demand created by a new scholarship program of the Revolution.
These new rural schools were designed to combine work and study, catering to middle and high school students, who would spend part of their time studying and the other part doing agricultural work.
The brigadistas, from countries which were part of the socialist camp at that time, named the campsite Julio Antonio Mella, after learning about the life and struggle of the Cuban university student, founder of the country’s Communist Party and Federation of University Students in the 1920s.
The brigade members made a pledge to Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz to complete the Ceiba Siete School, which was later re-named Jorge Dimitrov, and build the Los Naranjos neighborhood, within six months. To complete the challenge, the Cuban leader promised to inaugurate the work himself.
The project was completed in five months and 28 days, which is why during his inaugural speech delivered on January 24, 1972, Fidel stated, “Just as the brigade was created, the brigade must multiply and in the same way, the Julio Antonio Mella brigade must continue to exist internationally.” Thus emerged the CIJAM.
Since then, bigadistas who have stayed at the facility have also contributed to improving and expanding it, so as to receive larger groups and offer a more comfortable stay, explained Raúl Abreu Chávez, director of the camp, speaking to Granma International.
To date, over 100,000 friends have stayed at the camp, with capacity for over 300 people. It features kitchen-dining facilities, a cafeteria, shop, currency exchange, sports areas, bike hire, history museum and library; as well as 24-hour medical assistance, including dental services.
According to Abreu, “The brigades complete a 15 to 21-day program prepared by ICAP. During the first week they carry out agricultural or other voluntary tasks, and at the same time attend conferences on Cuba’s reality, and participate in cultural activities. During week two they visit a province and talk with people in hospitals, workplaces, neighborhoods, schools and other places. Then they return to Caimito and round-off their activities with a Final Declaration, outlining the political actions they will undertake in each of their respective countries.”
The programs are released a year in advance by the 2,045 solidarity with Cuba organizations worldwide, each one specifically designed to respond to the interests of its members.
Some organize sports competitions and friendship races, others climb mountains where they issue a message of solidarity from the summit. Members also participate in marches, parades, congresses, and forums which take place on the island.
The Camp is located close to the Martiano forest, and one of the first things many brigades decided to do, is plant a tree. They also pay tribute to Julio Antonio Mella and other late friends of Cuba, whose ashes are buried there.
In June 2016, staff at the camp completed a series of renovation works to improve the center, which included roofing the parking lot, building a bar in the dining area, offering cocktails, juices and wines; as well as the installation of a stand featuring a copy of Julio Antonio Mella’s biography, which is available for anyone to read, while several murals were also painted.
Dinorah Pláceres Díaz, who works at the camp noted that 45 initiatives are scheduled to be completed this year, including expanding potable water and energy services; the creation of an audiovisual center; repair of various streets and sidewalks; and the construction of a park featuring exercise equipment; and organic permaculture field.
“As Directorate Secretary, I interact with all the brigadistas,” states Pláceres Díaz. “They visit all of our areas. Many ask to speak directly with the director and I arrange the time and date. Right now I can mention Honorio Delgado, from Spain but who lives in Brazil and Doménico, an Italian who has visited on many occasion and asked that his ashes be scattered here.”
The key aim of the camp is to provide visitors with a better understanding of Cuba’s reality; as such brigadistas first talk to staff at the center, then Cuban citizens in the different provinces they visit. In their free time participants also walk to El Guayabal, a town located close to the camp, where they meet and talk with local families.
In this regard, Ernesto Córdoba López, supply manager and secretary general of the Communist Party of Cuba branch at the facility, noted, “All the staff support and are committed to the camp, we have a strong sense of belonging and enjoy a notably stable workforce.”
He highlighted that all staff members are able to respond to brigadistas’ questions, as they also participate in the conferences given by experts on Cuba’s economy, healthcare, history, and sociology. Workers are also invited to attend the friendship bonfire, during which members from every country present examples of their culinary traditions and culture.
“We always respect their opinions, and look to encourage a range of ideas and accept different outlooks,” he noted.
As ICAP President Kenia Serrano Puig, noted on one occasion: “Dreams are created at the camp and are then realized through the efforts and strong commitment of these friends during their stay at the facility; where the essence of the Revolution and our great solidary and internationalist vocation is genuinely reflected.”