“Despite the hostile policies of the U.S. government, there is a very intertwined history of solidarity of the people of that country with Cuba,” noted Sandra Ramírez Rodríguez, director for North America at the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), in an exclusive interview with Granma International.
She explained that in both the United States and Canada, there is a national platform that brings together the majority of the friendship and solidarity associations working in these countries, although there are also many friends and supporters of the Cuban Revolution who are not members of such organizations, but who demonstrate their solidarity in other ways.
In the case of the United States, there are 112 solidarity organizations, some more active than others, and 46 are grouped within the National Network. Among the most active cities are Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Boston, and the state of Florida.
New York is usually described as the city of solidarity, due to the high number of friendship associations and groups that work with Cuba there. All undertook multiple actions in 2017, and a varied program of activities and events is proposed for 2018, highlighted Ramírez, who graduated in English Language.
She highlighted the courage of Cubans living in Florida grouped in the Alianza Martiana Coalition. The groups making up this Coalition work actively in Miami, a city that is home to well-known terrorists with a long history of acts of sabotage and crimes against the Cuban people.
“In March of last year, a national solidarity with Cuba conference was held in New York, with the purpose of demanding the total normalization of relations between the two governments. More than 300 members of some 70 groups gathered there, who held different workshops on the history of the Revolution, its cultural work, and international collaboration projects with third world countries,” Ramírez explained.
Diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. were restored in 2015, but have not developed normally due to hostility on the part of the White House, committed to maintaining the criminal economic, commercial, and financial blockade that aims to destroy the Revolution.
In September, 2015, the Second Days of Action against the Blockade of Cuba was held in Washington, organized by the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity for the Peoples. The event saw activists visit congresspeople and senators, presenting them with different materials to raise awareness regarding the damages caused to the Cuban people by this aggressive policy. The central topic chosen for the debate was Cuban public health, and a pediatric oncologist from Havana was invited to participate.
”He reflected on several Cuban medicines with proven efficacy, which cannot be marketed within the United States. Nor can relations or exchanges be established between scientists. Our specialists are denied visas to attend academic events and visit U.S. medical institutions,” the ICAP director noted.
The experience will be repeated in September this year, as once again the offices of U.S. congresspeople will be visited, with the aim of explaining further effects of the unjust and irrational blockade policy. Several states within the U.S. have signed resolutions against the blockade, and support is growing among voters and in Congress, as well as in different institutions, schools, social organizations, etc.
Likewise, the annual meeting of the National Network on Cuba was held in the city of Seattle in October 2017, offering all member organizations and guests a space to exchange experiences. Agreements were adopted regarding actions to be carried out immediately and in the near future. The meeting is held in a different city each year and offers an opportunity to learn the latest about what’s going on in Cuba.
Ramírez Rodríguez clarified that previously this type of meeting only took place in Washington or New York, because the participating Cuban guests were prohibited from traveling beyond a 25-mile perimeter. While it has been carried out in different cities for the past three years, it is still unclear if the event can continue to be carried out in this way, due to the setback in bilateral relations under the Donald Trump administration.
In all these exchanges, solidarity is also promoted with the Venezuelan people, under constant attack to end the Bolivarian Revolution. Freedom of travel is also promoted for those who wish to visit Cuba, mainly groups of professionals such as doctors, nurses, lawyers, architects, mayors, teachers and educational authorities, interested in exchanging with their Cuban counterparts.
MIGRATION AS A POLITICAL WEAPON AGAINST CUBA
Since the triumph of the Revolution, on January 1, 1959, there has been a media campaign to discredit Cuba. The best way to learn the truth about the island is to visit it. However, the State Department has issued a travel warning to prospective U.S. travelers, claiming that they are at risk on the island, and citing alleged sonic attacks against its diplomats. “Therefore, it is necessary for solidarity movements to organize more groups and act so that more people visit us,” Ramírez stressed.
She also noted that the largest percentage of Cubans living outside the island reside in the United States, and thus the U.S. government has wanted to turn that situation into a political issue. However, it has been demonstrated that the vast majority of those who emigrate from Cuba are seeking a better economic situation. Therefore, the struggle for these Cubans lies in their being allowed to visit their family and friends back in Cuba whenever they wish.
For this reason, they have organized caravans that travel through the main streets of Miami, challenging the most conservative and retrograde sectors of the Cuban-American population, and hoisting posters calling for freedom of travel while condemning the blockade.
“In 2017, Cubans living in Florida organized a very important event on April 28. They presented us with the second billboard demanding the release of the Five Cuban anti-terrorists that they had managed to place on the rooftop of a restaurant in Miami. The first had been immediately destroyed, but this second was on display for 32 hours. They kept it as part of their heritage and decided to present it to ICAP. We keep it at the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp that receives the international voluntary work brigades,” Ramírez highlighted.
DEFYING THE BLOCKADE
Groups in the U.S. also organize projects to challenge the requirement to obtain a travel license to travel to Cuba, including a series of brigades. The Venceremos Brigade traveled to the island for the first time in 1969, to undertake voluntary work in agriculture, cutting sugarcane alongside the Cuban people. In recent years, this brigade has visited different provinces of the country, and met with young Cubans who guard the perimeter of the territory illegally occupied by the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo.
The Antonio Maceo Brigade brought Cubans who were forced by their parents as children to leave the country during what was know as “Operation Peter Pan” to the island 40 years ago. The Brigade continues today, but with a different format, with activities supporting the Cuban Revolution. Similar work is carried out by the Pastors for Peace Caravan, an outstanding solidarity project.
“Every Cuban knows the risk that these caravan members have faced to bring shipments of medicine and computers for Cubans, on one occasion they even launched a hunger strike to be allowed to move their cargo across the U.S. border into Mexico. The group visits us every year and in 2018 will be in the province of Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo, to pay tribute to Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro,” Ramírez explained.
The Pastors for Peace Friendship Caravan tours various cities en route to Cuba, explaining the reality on the island, collecting materials and donations. This year, it will visit some 50 cities between the United States and Canada, before embarking on the trip to Cuba. The work of the Caravan is coordinated by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO). The IFCO also facilitates the selection of young people from the U.S. to come and study medicine on scholarship in Havana.
Today there is greater participation of U.S. citizens in the international brigades that visit the island, such as the May Day Brigade, and the Por los Caminos del Che (In Che’s Footsteps) Brigade. A hundred people came to the International Camp this year to participate in the May Day events at Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución. “These examples show great activism on the part of solidarity movements, many want to come to learn about and to support our social process in some way,” Ramírez said.
Meanwhile, the Ernesto Che Guevara Brigade is organized by the Canadian Network On Cuba, bringing together friends of the island. There exists a very solid movement in the northern country, and the national network brings together 25 solidarity organizations, including those of Cuban residents.
Cities such as Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver have done outstanding work. These groups organize monthly protests against the blockade outside United States’ diplomatic premises, sometimes in temperatures below 30 degrees.
“Our organizations have become accustomed to challenging the hostile policies of imperialism. Today, solidarity work requires greater activism and more ingenuity to reach different spaces. The challenge lies in confronting the huge avalanche of aggression against our country,” Ramírez concluded.