The GMB recently sent six delegates on our Young Trade Unionists’ May Day Brigade to Cuba. Two of the delegates from the Northern Region – Craig Maguire and Michael Carey – have written the article below outlining their thoughts and experiences.
As two young trade unionists the opportunity to go to Cuba and experience the highs and lows of Cuban life first hand was an exciting prospect, a once in a lifetime opportunity, not to be missed; to have our eyes opened to the struggles and successes of Cuba and bring back the message of Cuban people for the purposes of international solidarity and awareness of injustice inflicted by the USA.
One of the key messages was about five men, known to us in Britain as the “Miami Five” (or to the people of Cuba “the five Heroes”). These men were arrested on the 12th September 1998 and incarcerated without fair trial; these men are still in prison today. The men were arrested on 26 different charges, the main of which being false identification and espionage. These 5 men where in Miami to gain intelligence on Cuban exile groups and terrorists which posed a threat (and still do to this day) not only to Cuba and its people but a served and damaging threat to the USA also. As a measure of goodwill and humanity, and an attempt to build strong relations with North America, the intelligence gathered was presented to the US authorities, who swiftly and unjustly arrested the men for no more than attempting to preserve life and improve relations, completely ignoring the intelligence presented to them at the whim of an out-dated and draconian grudge against Cuba.
Everywhere we went and everyone we spoke in Cuba had something to say about the issue. We were honoured to spend some time with the families of the five and gained great insight into the tireless campaigning of the family to free the men. We learnt of appeals not being granted and visitation visa’s being refused, of the families pain and hurt on a personal level and of the complete disregard for human rights by America who consider themselves ambassadors of human rights (Gerardo Hernandez states he was held in solitary confinement for 17 consecutive months) and quickly understood the hypocrisy of the USA on the international war against terrorism. There was a complete lack of evidence to uphold the case, yet these men are still in maximum security prisons across America.
We also experienced first-hand the frustrations and problems caused by the blockade on trade set by the Americans on Cuba, stopping the Cuban nation trading internationally, with them losing out on 92 billion dollars last year alone as a result of the illegal embargo. The embargo was set in 1960 and enforced into law by America to a near total embargo on the 7th February 1962. The blockade is financial, commercial and economical and in 1996 the “Helms Burton Act” was passed by US congress denying US Citizens from doing business in or with Cuba. You can see this all around Cuba, illustrated and framed in the vehicles they drive and the crumbling of their beautiful architecture around Havana. The embargo was put in place as America believed the Cuban government should move towards “Democratization and respect for human rights”, which was greatly demonstrated by the Cubans during our visit and so casting doubt over America’s reasoning.
Cuba greatly yearns to be part of the international community, a mutual respect shown by the sheer number of nations that attended the solidarity campaign we were part of. Cuba have sent doctors, nurses and medical clinics to places such as Haiti and Thailand following devastating natural events and also does charitable work in the educational sector worldwide. Although these humane acts have been carried out America still holds the embargo against the Cubans as most recently claimed by Barrack Obama “It is still in the national interest of America”. The Cubans are not allowed credit and is currently in around 20 billion dollars of debt. If this embargo was lifted the country would strive and bloom; last year alone the lifting of the blockade would’ve had the potential to clear Cuba of its debt.
We had the pleasure of watching a play devised by a local school on the five heroes, played out by children ranging in age from four through to fourteen. As we walked into the foyer Cuban music was playing loudly and as we walked in the children were playing professional instruments with mesmerising skill in front of us on a stage and went on to perform an amazingly delivered play based on a lesson undertaken in school where they would discuss politics and are given choice to make their own decisions in life and to embrace the essence of everything, to look deeper and be confident. We felt it was important to mention this as it reflects the high level of education within Cuba (of which 14% of the nation’s wealth is spent) and passion for its own people. Cuba was a shining example to us and the world of what humans are capable of under difficult and hardened circumstances and we believe that there are lessons for us to learn through such a fine education system and patriotic passion for its people and those of other nationalities given the opportunity. Watching their May Day march in Havana it underlines their spirit that they march not against their nation but in proud respect for it, a stark contrast of those nations who too often paint an ill-informed and negative picture of Cuba.
All of the campaigns delegates from 42 different countries received a warm and gracious welcome to Cuba, along with humbling hospitality during our stay. They inspired us with rich history and culture and the passion and unity of the Cuban people, asking only in return that when we leave we speak truthfully of the real Cuba to those that are willing to listen and learn.
We would like to extend our gratitude and thanks to GMB, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, and the people of Cuba for all they have done for us. It was an awe inspiring trip and we have taken important learns away with us for a lifetime. Thank you, and may all those involved continue to fight for justice for those in Cuba who need our help most.