Thursday, 17 May 2012

NAPO’s Amazing Cuban Adventure

NAPO Delegates at International Solidarity Conference. L-R: Jackie Dixon, Jonathan Walsh, Radhika Saujani, Sarah Wake, Andrew Lesnik and Tania Bassett
Article by Tania Bassett, NAPO, May Day Brigade 2012

I could write forever about our trip and still probably only cover half of what was a truly amazing 12 days in Cuba. So this article will try to cover the significant events and give you a flavour of what life was like as a May Day brigadier!

Cuba Solidarity Campaign UK delegation

There were 20 delegates in total from Unison, Unite, CWU, RMT, UCATT and 7 from Napo. Yes, as usual Napo was punching above its weight being the smallest union that no one had heard of, with the biggest delegation. There was a mixed age group with the youngest being 22 and the eldest being Jonathan, so I won’t expose his age! Dan Smith was also with us from Cuba Solidarity Campaign as the organiser and he did a sterling job both before the trip and while we were away.

Julio Antonia Mella International Camp

Founded by Julio Mella also the founder of the Cuban Communist Party, the camp was originally a temporary camp in the 1920’s. It is used for people to come to live together to learn about Cuban ideology, politics, way of life and meet other delegates from around the world. Although we were told it is basic before we went I think even the most prepared Brigadiers were a little surprised. With no running hot water on camp, cold showers at 5.30am are bracing to say the least. Food was very plain starting with breakfast (a very boiled egg with bread, milk and coffee) and then lunch and dinner (bread, rice, bean soup, a meat of some description and plantain). But with a total of 280 people on camp it was impressive how organised meal times were.
Members of British delegation with trade unionists and activists from South Korea

Depending on the agenda we were woken between 4am and 5.45am. The speaker system on camp was used to broadcast a cockerel followed by Guantanamerra and other Cuban songs! Accommodation consisted of 8 bed dorms with bunk beds, which provided some entertaining evenings as people attempted to climb on to the top bunk after being at the bar a little too long! It was a wonderful experience to meet the other delegates from all over the world including Columbia, Argentina, El Salvador, Finland, South Korea, Australia, Peru, Chile, Haiti to name but a few. And the very accommodating bar on camp offered plenty of opportunity to socialise and drink very cheap rum!

The Agenda

The agenda was mixed for the 2 weeks. Starting with a variety of lectures and seminars, agricultural work, followed by 3 days in Pinar del Rio (with a hotel with showers and everything!), some sightseeing, the Museum of the Revolution, street parties and professional visits. For Napo delegates this included a unique visit that had been arranged by the CSC link and our interpreter Luis. We met with the President of the Provincial Court (equivalent of Crown Court), a Provincial Court Judge and a Municipal Court Judge. It was a unique opportunity to find out more about the Cuban Criminal Justice System, sentencing process and how offenders are resettled and rehabilitated in the community. Their approach is much more focused on communities helping people to resettle and having involvement in getting people back to work and contributing to society with overall supervision responsibility being with Judge Assistants. We were very fortunate to have this visit and I hope it is something Napo can develop for the future.

Then back to camp to get ready for the May Day Parade through Havana. We weren’t sure what to expect really but it was overwhelming to see so many people parade through Havana in celebration of Trade Unions. We were especially lucky that Raul Castro was also at the parade and thanks to some binoculars we were able to see him. The Parade lasted over an hour and hopefully some of our pictures will give you a sense of the scale of the parade.

The following day we attended the International Solidarity Conference. There were about 1200 delegates at the conference and each was asked to take the floor and make a contribution. I had been chosen from our delegates to address conference which was a real honour, if not slightly nerve-racking. We were also addressed by the mother of one of the Miami 5 or Cuban 5 as they are also known. It was a moving address in which she thanked the work of the British Trade Union movement for all its support. After the conference we were then privileged to meet with her and the wife and mother of 2 of the other Cuban 5.

Thoughts from the Delegation

“I'm immensely grateful for the opportunity to have visited the Republic of Cuba. Not many people spend just under two weeks in the company of like-minded trade unionists, activists and ideologists being shown the history, progression (and problems) of a socialist state…  my legs are still recovering from intensive dancing!

I am leaving Cuba with good memories and new friends, I'm outraged at the Western neo-liberal aggression towards it (I arrived with that); I'm inspired at how they are able to do so much with so little.”
Andrew Lesnik 

“Our trip to Cuba was truly a trip of a lifetime. The opportunity to visit places and meet people that otherwise would not have been possible outside of this trip was truly amazing. It was also a fantastic opportunity to meet NAPO and other trade union members from around the country who shared a passion for the trade union movement. I recommend next year’s trip to everyone!!” Keron Choudhury 

“I was proud to be part of the first NAPO delegation on this visit... Sceptics might suggest we saw only what they wanted us to - driven to meetings and visits under police outrider escort - but I encountered only warmth, respect, open generosity and intelligence. During free time we were encouraged to speak to anyone we encountered. The reception everywhere was almost overwhelming such was the generosity of the Cuban spirit. At a high school visit several comrades admitted to welling up in the face of the warmth of a singing, dancing reception - equality and respect evident throughout.

Cubans have nothing against the American people - remarkable in the face of the embargo and imprisonment of the Cuban 5 for trying to expose US based terrorism against their people. There are many "poor but happy" platitudes to resist but I felt at ease, valued and safe in this wonderful country as well as grateful for the opportunity to pay homage to their courage at the solidarity conference prior to departure. NAPO must take their lead and be fortified in our efforts to continue the fight for social justice.”
Jonathan Walsh

Next year?

After a truly inspiring trip I hope that Napo will continue to support CSC and the brigade and that we can build on the connections we have now made with the Cuban people. I certainly will be putting my name down for next year and would encourage all Napo members to make this journey that was in many respects quite life changing. All of us were profoundly affected by Cuba and it was an experience that will stay with us forever.

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign runs a range of Brigades and Study Tours throughout the year. For more information, please visit our Tours Website. If you would like to join our May Day Brigade in 2013, please get in touch and express your interest.

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