The nations of Cuba and Puerto Rico are united by genuine ties of friendship. An example of these fraternal relations is found in Puerto Rico’s Cuba Solidarity Committee, convened every year by the Juan Rius Rivera Voluntary Work Brigade in an attempt to bring the two peoples closer together.

Granma International contacted various members of the Solidarity Committee. One of its directors, Fernando Quiles Franco, responded, noting that his affiliation with the organization began in 2003 after participating in the Fifth International Meeting of Economists on Globalization and Development Issues, organized every year by the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba, representing Puerto Rico’s Inter-American University.

The following year he found out about the voluntary work brigade, which offers participants the opportunity to visit Cuba for three weeks, and signed up straight away. Since then he has visited the island a total of nine times, six of these as a member of the Juan Rius Rivera brigade.

Quiles Franco joyfully recalls how he fell in love with his current partner, Yolanda Vázquez, who he met during an activity organized by the brigade in 2004. Since then they have visited the island four times as a couple and as brigadistas. Both work hard to try and attract more people to the organization and support its solidarity initiatives.

When asked as to why he decided to participate on the brigade, Quiles Franco replied: “I joined the organization because I know that we Puerto Ricans are the heirs to a centuries-long commitment made by our compatriots; Ramón Emeterio Betances, Juan Rius Rivera, Pachín Marín, Lola Rodríguez de Tió; the very same made by Cuban independence fighter José Martí from the founding of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, and which was later assumed by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz. These exemplary figures are the motivation behind our support for the Cuban people and the sovereignty of both nations.”

This commitment was also reaffirmed by architect Estelí Capote Maldonao, who lives in the city of San Juan and notes that “I believe in the Cuban Revolution and the example that it represents for the future of Puerto Rico and the world. Cuba has established a new paradigm of governance, which promotes love and support between nations.”

Estelí’s attachment to Cuba was heavily influenced by her family, as her parents were members of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party. Estelí’s father was born in Cuba, and for her Cuban society represents loyalty, fraternity and solidarity.

She went on to note that, “To my honor, I was chosen to read the pledge during the multi-sectoral act held in Puerto Rico in tribute to Fidel Castro Ruz following his death. I practiced it many times, I wanted my voice to sound sweet, strong and determined, like Fidel’s. At one point I didn’t think I could do it; but when the time came, there before the entire audience, our commitment to seeking justice under any circumstance gave me the courage I needed.”

The young mother, professional and member of Puerto Rico’s Cuba Solidarity Committee, together with leader of the country’s Socialist Front, José Escoda, created all the publicity material for the tribute held in Puerto Rico, in honor of the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, on December 2, 2016; including the publication Puerto Rico: A Tribute to Fidel.

They also designed commemorative T-shirts for the Juan Rius Rivera Brigade’s 25th Anniversary, and another which will be worn by members of the brigade traveling to Cuba in April, to participate in celebrations for the anniversary of the victory over the mercenary invasion at Playa Girón, in 1961.

Librarian Silvia María Alberti Cayro has also been a member of the Solidarity Committee for the last 15 years, an organization she describes as a place for reflection. She also believes that the Committee represents the best way to tackle the complex economic and political situation affecting the world, and in particular the continent; as well as to unite people with a similar political outlook; who want to build a better world.

She states that Puerto Ricans recognize and admire the achievements of the Cuban Revolution, and are not fooled by the anti-Cuban campaigns carried out by the mass media and other reactionary groups. Alberti Cayro expressed her support for the measures adopted by the Cuban government to guarantee the well-being of the population and noted that the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on the island represents the biggest obstacle to the country’s development.

She still remembers the emotion she felt in Havana’s Parque Central, standing before the statue of José Martí, as fellow brigade member Dominga Flores Anaya thanked the Juan Rius Rivera contingent for its solidarity.

At that moment, she finally understood what a Cuban had once told her: “In Cuba we could have nothing, but we will always have love for Puerto Rico.”

These words reaffirmed to her the notion that “Cuba and Puerto Rico are two wings of the same bird.”

Meanwhile, Maribel Morales Robles who lives in Aguas Buenas, has been a member of the Solidarity Committee since 2014, and today forms part of the Juan Rius Rivera Brigade directorate.

Morales Robles knows that solidarity is reaffirmed by continually supporting the struggles of the working class, students, women and the most vulnerable.

She expressed her admiration for the island: “Cuba has shown that no giant is invincible. The Revolution and socialism are the way to achieve equality. The Cuban people have stood up to the cruel and unjust blockade and offer solidarity in various countries, bringing health, education and sports; this is the true example.”

For Morales Robles, it was whilst meeting children from the Pedro Albizu Campos School in the Cuban province of Matanzas; speaking with doctors who fought the lethal Ebola epidemic in West Africa; during celebrations in 2015 to mark July 26, National Rebellion Day, at the Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba, and at the Comandancia de la Plata in the Sierra Maestra in 2016, that she learned about the origins of such principles, which represent the foundation of Cuban society.

“I want to thank the Cuban people for their solidarity with my people. Thank you for everything that you do in support of our independence and Puerto Rican political prisoners incarcerated in U.S. prisons, such as Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores, Lolita Lebrón and Oscar López Rivera.”

María Ramos Muriel shares similar feelings. She describes Cuba as a great example of solidarity with the peoples of the world and with Puerto Ricans: “There is no way to describe the love and admiration we feel when we come to Cuba or when Cuban brothers and sisters visit our island. We are united in our struggles for sovereignty, and admire the Cuban people for their strength, dignity, and pride in their country.”

Ramos Muriel went on to note: “I fell deeply in love with Cuba on my first trip there in 2011, during a cultural exchange before I joined the solidarity organization. I was bowled over by the joyful children, the energy you feel walking the streets of Havana, the love shown to us by the people when they find out we are Puerto Rican, listening to and meeting the popular band Los Van Van on Havana’s Malecón. In a nutshell, Cuba is Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico is Cuba.”