Photo: Karoly Emerson

With the enthusiasm and joy which characterize the people of Puerto Rico, the 26th Juan Ríus Rivera Cuba solidarity brigade, composed of over 60 individuals from the country visiting the island July 17 through August 1, is currently undertaking an intense program of activities.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of heroic guerilla Ernesto Che Guevara in Bolivia, the solidarity group will visit the provinces of La Habana, Matanzas, Artemisa, and Villa Clara, where they will meet residents and local authorities, undertake agricultural work, and celebrate July 26, an historic date for Cubans, when in 1953, Fidel Castro and a group of revolutionaries attacked the Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba to initiate the armed struggle against the Batista dictatorship.

During their stay on the island, where they are being hosted by the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), brigade members will receive information on national and international issues at the headquarters of the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL); the Puerto Rican Mission; Casa del ALBA; Casa de la Amistad; Museum of the Revolution; and visit Güinía de Miranda, a town liberated by Che and his troops during the revolutionary struggle, as well as other sites of interest.
Brigadistas will also travel to Playa Girón, in Matanzas, where they will tour the museum which recalls imperialism’s first defeat in the Americas; as well as the town of Pálpite; the 50th anniversary of Fidel’s meal with the charcoal workers Memorial-Library; and the Korimakao community art complex. On July 25 brigadistas joined members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution in Pálpite in festivities leading up to July 26, National Rebellion Day.
One of the groups’ first activities included paying tribute to Puerto Rican independence fighter Julio Vives, alongside his daughters Cristina and María Esther, at the site where his remains are interred in the Julio Antonio Mella International Campsite, located in the town of Caimito, Artemisa province, where the brigade is staying.
“My father became a Cuban,” stated Cristina, speaking to Granma International, “He was very committed to Puerto Rican independence and the Cuban Revolution. He requested that his ashes remain in Cuba. Coming here helps us to discover the beauty of a different kind of social system supported by the entire population, one which provides the people with well-being and social fulfillment.”

The young musician noted that although Puerto Ricans continue to live under the colonial yoke of the United States, social movements have achieved victories, including the expulsion of U.S. marines from Vieques and the release of independence activist Oscar López Rivera, imprisoned in the U.S. for over 36 years.

Sisters Cristina (right) and María Esther, paid tribute to their father, Julio Vives, at the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp where the ashes of the Puerto Rican independence fighter rest. Photo: Karoly Emerson

“The issue of public debt is currently affecting us. The White House has imposed a Fiscal Control Board, with absolute power able to override the local government, and which is proposing extremely harsh economic measures for the people. Funds in the public sector have been cut. They have started to close down schools, lay off lots of workers and reduce university budgets. I’m a flute player in a concert band formed over 50 years ago. I have witnessed these cuts to funding, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to keep going much longer,” she added.

Her sister, María Esther, lives in Tennessee, in the United States, and works as a teacher. According to María, the Caimito camp reminds her of her father’s love of agriculture. “Coming to Cuba is like arriving in my second homeland. My comrades on the brigade are very loving and friendly. I feel like I’m among family, as if I were at home,” she stated.
María went on to note that she receives lots of questions about Cuba from her students and relations, who only know what they have read or heard in the U.S. corporate mass media, which spreads lies and attempts to discredit the Revolution. María has had to explain the damage caused the Cuban people by the economic, commercial and financial blockade, imposed by the northern country for over half a century.

She added that many people are confused about the process of rapprochement between the two countries, initiated by former President Barack Obama. Many erroneously believed that the U.S. had stopped its policy of aggression and attempts to overthrow the Revolution, now realizing that the U.S. continues to maintain its policy of intervention and has taken a step back in regards to improving relations, following recent announcements by President Donald Trump.
Members of the Ocasio-Abrams family share a similar opinion. The father, Noel, is a history professor in the city of Quebradillas, 65 miles west of the capital San Juan. He noted that he teaches his students about the historic processes which have taken place in Cuba, from the island’s struggle for independence from Spain in the 19th century to the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.

“It’s important that history is included in the curriculum and class hours aren’t cut, which is what they want to do in capitalist countries, downplaying the importance of events which have taken place throughout human history and that have defined who we are today. We must cherish the knowledge of our cultural roots in order to build the future,” he stated.

His spouse, Luz Mercedes, wants her daughters to learn about Cuban culture, become familiar with other peoples around the world, and have experiences which they can go on to tell others about. “Coming as a family makes us more united and improves our communication,” she noted.
Although Luz is recently retired, she explained how she would talk to her students about Cuba, during her time as a primary school teacher. She would show them a map of the island and talk about the cultural similarities between the two Caribbean countries, noting that the main difference between the two nations are their political systems: Puerto Rico, which is still a colony, and Cuba, a free and independent state.

The eldest daughter, Laura, 21 years of age, wants to meet young Cuban university students and learn about their interests. As a professional musician, specializing in string instruments, she is also looking forward to visiting the University of the Arts in Havana and finding out about courses she can take in Cuba.
Laura’s 19 year old sister Dairelsa was first violin at the Escuela Libre de Música, but is now studying foreign languages at the University of Puerto Rico. She found out about the brigade through her professors and classmates, and convinced her parents to make the trip.

“I wanted to come to Cuba because there’s a big struggle currently going on in Puerto Rico for free, quality, and public education. Right now, in order to pay off the country’s debts, they want to cut 500 million dollars from state funding for universities, which will leave institutions practically inoperable, affect staff salaries, lead to research cutbacks, and make it impossible to print text books for students. This kind of education is unsustainable,” she noted.
All expressed their great satisfaction at being able to share with their Cuban brothers and sisters and partake in a genuine cultural exchange. They also expressed their strong affection and respect for all the social achievements the Cuban people have made to date.