The daughter of Che may share his iconic name but she is a Cuban legend in her own right. She spoke about Latin American integration, Cuban internationalism the need for solidarity at four sessions during Latin America 2014 on Saturday 29 November, and her presence helped make it not only the most well-attended in the conference’s ten year history, but also one of the most inspirational.
Throughout the day more than 500 delegates had the opportunity to hear from 50 speakers taking part in 3 plenaries, 23 workshops, 4 film screenings, 3 book signings and a post conference fiesta, and speak to activists at one of the 15 solidarity campaign and information stalls represented.
Dr Aleida Guevara was well qualified to speak at a packed session on Cuban internationalism. She graduated as a doctor whilst on a medical mission in Nicaragua, served in Ecuador and Angola and recently volunteered to go to Africa as part of the Ebola mission.
“We Latin Americans could also be called Afro-Latin Americans because our history forms such an important part of our cultural and ethnic roots. That is why it is such an important duty to help the people of Africa”.
“When you accept this kind of mission you know where you are going but you don’t know if you are coming back” she said of the brave doctors who volunteer for medical missions abroad. And that doesn’t just apply to those volunteering to treat Ebola in West Africa she said. Citing an example of Cuban health workers who were trapped in a Venezuelan hospital as right-wing anti-government demonstrators threatened to burn it down, she told how a doctor, crying to her family over the phone, in fear of her life, was strengthened by her 15-year daughter who said, “mum, against those people not a single tear”.
“The culture of our developing youth understand international solidarity and giving to other people, and I am proud of that” she said. “Cuba has a social conscience and we do not give our excess of what we have, we share what we have with all those in need,” she said to applause.
The pride in her voice was evident when she speaks of her father who recognised the importance of Africa for US imperialism as a resource to exploit. That is why everyone must help impede that exploitation both in Africa and Latin America and achieve the continent’s complete liberation, she said. Warming to that theme she talked of Cuba no longer being just an isolated example in the world and consequently there is a new era of Latin American integration underway.
She reminded us that her father knew “people who go forward demonstrate with example” and through leadership and inspiration you can push others to go forward as well. “But if we tell everyone else what to do, but we don’t demonstrate these things ourselves why follow us?” she asked. “That’s why we try to convince people of the need to change by our actions and that’s why so many doctors are in so many countries,” Aleida said. “A number of countries have now been re-born in our great continent”. They are also developing real unity by example: “From Rio Bravo to Patagonia, we are one people, one identity.”
Since the revolution 325,000 Cuban health workers have volunteered in 158 countries. Today there are 50,731 working in 66 countries including 14,00 in Brazil, 11,000 in Venezuela and 4,048 in Africa. But as Aleida says, the numbers are not important “it’s the results they achieve that matter – bringing down infant mortality – what could be better?
Writer Victoria Britain agreed and praised the 15,000 Cubans who have volunteered for the Ebola mission. She described how Cubans always live with the people, often in incredibly difficult and dangerous conditions. They are heroic she said because they do not just go their ‘ex-colonies’ like countries of the West, but to those that are most in need. Already training Ebola medical teams in Bolivia, Mexico and Nicaragua, Cuba recently hosted a conference on Ebola at which doctors from the US participated. How sad and ironic that at the same time they were again voting against Cuba at the UN and still encouraging all those Cuban doctors serving abroad on missions to defect to the US.
Journalist Seamus Milne not only thanked Cuba for being the first to respond to Ebola “but also the first in Haiti and Pakistan and anywhere in the world when there is a need.” “Cuba has saved hundreds of thousands of lives….but the story of their remarkable internationalism has barely registered in the western media.” However, this might be changing with the five recent editorials in the New York Times, in as many weeks, he said. These editorial had called for an end to the blockade which “may herald a real breakthrough if it comes to pass.” Describing the Cuban Revolution as “truly exceptional not only in Latin America but the entire world” he echoed a theme supported by nearly all the day’s speakers.
Praise also came in the ‘Voices from Latin America’ plenary session from Nicaraguan Vice Minister for International Co-Operation Valdack Jaentschke, who said through all the 35 years of the Sandinista revolution it would not have been possible without the beacon of the Cuban Revolution, and the ethical and moral strength of Cuba and its solidarity. During the 16 years of neo-liberal darkness from 1990 to 2006 he explained, they had no electricity whereas “today we are full of light fuelled by the continents progressive movements”.
Rocio Maniero, the new Venezuelan Ambassador, had been in the UK just eight days and she was “so impressed with this show of interest and solidarity, as well as such an opportunity to know and learn.” She said how Venezuela had been under attack ever since Chavez’s first election in 1998 and they still have many problems to face but she promised, “not one penny is going out of the missions and we will continue to prioritise health, education and social progress.”
George Galloway MP said “Cuba is the threat of a good example” and whilst it may have been isolated, today it is the future “a glimpse of what could be”. Remembering the late Teophilo Stevenson as a three times heavy weight Olympic boxing champion who turned down a fight with Ali saying “What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?” George drew comparisons with Cuban society and the US where “black kids are gunned down in the street under a black president”. Although not perfect “Cuba is the sprig of white heather in the lapel of the future” he said to applause.
Presenting 23 workshops, film shows, solidarity stalls and book launches on a huge variety of topics and countries with over 50 expert speakers, the annual Latin America conference is without question the most important event on the continent in the UK calendar.
At one workshop alone more than 60 people heard Dr Steve Ludlam go through the latest economic and workforce changes in Cuba, whilst Dr Tony Kapcia identified and explained the process of negotiations in relation to decision making, mass participation and the building of the Cuban state. Others focussed subjects as diverse as TTIP, Culture and revolution, Bolivia’s recent election, Climate justice, the Miami Five, Ecuador’s citizens’ revolution and volunteering in Central America and Cuba to name just a few.
Teresita Vicente the interim Charge ‘d’Affaires at the Cuban Embassy said she found the conference “a beautiful experience as a human being” and was pleased to give a strong message to the US government, namely: “ Free the five. Give Guantanamo back to the Cuban people. End the blockade of Cuba”. Re-iterating the fact that the region is now united and changing for the better, she looked forward to the future and an even bigger response for progressive ideas and social justice.
It was left to a homegrown hero of our movement, Jeremy Corbyn MP, to once again close the conference. He praised the speech by Argentinean Ambassador Alicia Castro describing the vulture capital funds attacking her country as “vile people, utterly disgusting and contemptible.”He praised the continent where no nuclear weapons exist, no proliferation takes place and all recently supported the creation of Palestine. He spoke with real pride about a region demonstrating real solidarity with ordinary people.
Cuba he noted has been there “for the whole of my lifetime” as a shining example to the continent of what is possible. Much of that example is now on the agenda across Latin America, with ALBA paving the way for real choices – “for the right to go to school, to have a health service, a chance to live in a home and work in a job.”
He stressed here are still problems that cannot be ignored. In Mexico, in Colombia, in Guatemala and in Honduras, where just in the last decade 60,000 murders have taken place with impunity.
But as Latin America Adelante 2014 showed there is so much to give us real hope and re-iterating the strongly felt theme of the conference Jeremy declared, “we can all learn so much from Latin America’s experience and another world is truly possible.”
|View a slide show of photos from the day here|
|Follow the live blog from the day here|
|See Aleida speak in Leicester, Sheffield and London this week|