AS part of the annual May Day celebrations, the International Solidarity with Cuba Encounter saw hundreds of trade unionists and representatives of social and solidarity movements from across the world gather in Havana’s International Conference Center this May 2.
On the decision of the President of the Councils of States and Ministers of Cuba, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, the event, organized by Cuban trade unions, saw the awarding of Cuba’s Medal of Friendship to the Secretary General of the World Federation of Trade Unions, George Mavrikos, as well as the organization’s Vice-President, Valentin Pachu.
The medals were presented by the Secretary General of the Cuban Workers’ Federation (CTC), Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, and decorated Hero of the Republic of Cuba and President of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with Peoples (ICAP), Fernando González Llort.
Also present were Salvador Valdés Mesa, a vice president of the Council of State; the Secretary General of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), Teresa Amarelle Boué; José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera, member of the Secretariat of the PCC Central Committee and head of its International Relations Department, among other personalities.
The international delegates highlighted the difference between the atmosphere of celebration they witnessed during the huge May Day parade alongside the Cuban people in Havana’s José Martí Plaza de la Revolución, and the protests that mark this important date for the workers of the world in their own countries.
In his opening remarks, the CTC Secretary General expressed Cuba’s support for workers’ organizations around the world, and in particular for the Venezuelan people in their struggle against opposition violence and foreign interference, while he denounced the criminal blockade imposed by the United States on the island for more than 50 years.
Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Ana Teresita González Fraga detailed Cuban foreign policy and the island's relations with the world, highlighting Cuba’s support for those peoples who continue to fight for their national sovereignty.
The Encounter served as a timely opportunity to share experiences of struggle and to reaffirm the importance of solidarity among the peoples of the world. Panelists from Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela offered details on the threats posed by right wing forces in their countries and highlighted the need for unity and solidarity among the world’s working classes to confront global financial capital and the imposition of the neoliberal austerity model.
Hero of the Republic of Cuba Fernando González referred to the importance of the fight against the blockade and emphasized: “When we hear in the media that the U.S. government is improving its relations with Cuba, it does not mean that the blockade has been eliminated, the blockade against the Cuban people continues.”
He also called on those present to continue informing on this issue in their own countries and call for the closure of the Guantánamo Naval Base and the return of this illegally occupied territory to the Cuban people, adding that the international campaign for the freedom of the Five was a clear example that when forces for good come together it is possible to achieve great things.
He also noted that the current situation in Latin America with the attack on the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, the presence of neoliberal governments and parliamentary coups are a sign of the regional right wing’s attacks on progressive forces.
Omarlena Abreu, national secretary of the Unidad Popular Venezolana (Venezuelan Popular Unity Party), reflected on the reality faced by the Venezuelan people today amidst the economic war and condemned the double standards of Western powers and their allies in accusing countries such as hers of not respecting human rights, while they launch military attacks and violate the self-determination of the peoples with their interventionist policies.
Delegates from Palestine, India, Ghana, Barbados, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uruguay, Nicaragua, and France expressed their solidarity with the Cuban people and government, while reporting their efforts to counteract the media manipulation regarding the island in their respective countries.
Guests from the United States referred to police repression, racism, trade union struggles, and the lies of the hegemonic media in their country. They highlighted the example of figures such as Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos and stressed that Cuba’s strength was felt in the historic march this International Workers’ Day.
Two dozen young trade unionists from the United Kingdom participated in the event. Speaking to Granma International, Jenni Gunn a young Scottish member of UNISON, one of the UK’s largest unions representing 1.3 million public service workers, expressed her excitement on marching alongside the Cuban people this May Day, an experience she described as very “emotional.” She stressed, “You hear a lot about the politics of the Revolution but it really transcends into the social aspect of Cuba as well… the people of Cuba are just some of the warmest people I’ve ever met.”
She added that she knew a little about the island before visiting but that “I didn’t really quite realize the extent to which the U.S. blockade and state sponsored terrorism in Cuba had affected the people here. I mean there were 3,000 Cubans who died through terrorist acts supported by the United States and that really shocked me.” However, she added that she was also “heartened by the fact that it has just strengthened the resolve and the support for the Revolution.”
She concluded that her experiences in Cuba would serve her to explain on returning home that “socialist ideals are not just rhetoric, that they work and you can see it in this country, it’s not just Marx and Lenin, it’s not just ideology, it’s actually practical solutions that work for the people here. And we can talk to people and show them that yes it can work and Cuba has made it work under the most unbelievably difficult circumstances… it’s just about prioritizing things like health and social care and education over war and profit.”
Undoubtedly, these feelings were shared by all those gathered in Havana, who have experienced intense days of celebration, debate, and solidarity with their Cuban counterparts.