In a packed fringe meeting at GMB National Conference in Brighton, over fifty delegates heard about Cuba’s social achievements and learnt about the island’s struggle to defend socialism in the face of worldwide economic crisis and within the context of continuing economic blockade.
Cuban Ambassador Esther Armenteros heralded the triumph of the Cuban Revolution and the opportunities it gave her – as a black working-class woman – to build and develop her career. Esther – joking that she was wary of giving away her age – declared she was (just) old enough to remember what life was like prior to the revolution and likened the racial segregation in Batista’s Cuba to apartheid South Africa. The revolution’s victory created unprecedented opportunities for women and black people in Cuba and – whilst Esther concedes the system is not perfect – it has created unparalleled levels of equality and well-being.
Cuba’s achievements – according to Esther – are even more remarkable considering the ongoing “economic warfare” which the United States has waged against the island. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the economic blockade of Cuba which over the course of its history has cost the Cuban economy an estimated $750billion. Ambassador Armenteros believes the ongoing blockade of Cuba is purely political and declared that “the United States has never forgiven Cuba for building socialism in their own backyard, but Cuba will continue to fight for its rights and for socialism”.
Former Labour MP Colin Burgon placed Cuba’s struggle for national sovereignty within the ongoing narrative of American influence in Latin America. Colin drew the origins of US intervention within the Americas back to the collapse of the Spanish empire and the implementation of the Monroe Doctrine which declared Latin America as under the United States’ sphere of influence.
Colin attacked U.S intervention in Latin America but said we can learn so much from the progressive governments in Latin American and the great changes they have brought. He urged the British labour movement to draw inspiration and encouragement from Latin America and use their example to demonstrate the failure of neo-liberalism:
We have to show that working people shouldn’t pay for the banking crisis... Just because neo-liberalism has dominated in the UK, it doesn’t mean that it has to. We have to learn from the progressive governments in Latin America.
Colin concluded by urging the GMB to intensify its international work – particularly with Cuba and Venezuela – whilst Chair Andy Newman, editor of Socialist Unity, praised the solidarity work of Cuban health workers around the world.