At the beginning of the year I was given the opportunity of joining the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) on their annual Young Trade Unionists’ May Day Brigade. This is a chance for trade unionists under the age of 35 to visit Cuba and see how the history and politics of their country differ to our own and also gives us the chance to show our support and solidarity to a country that is still being blockaded by the USA after more than 50 years. I agreed to go and to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Before I left, people asked me what I was going to be doing and when I couldn’t really tell them past doing some gardening work and participating in the country’s May Day Rally, I got the same look and response: So really you’re just going on a holiday then? Well what could I say? I didn’t really have an answer. I didn’t do much research into the country and their background before I went so that I could try and learn as much as possible on the trip. Before we left we received a short meeting with the organiser, Dan Smith, who told us that we would receive a full itinerary on arrival in Cuba as it was still changing on a daily basis so I actually didn’t have any idea what I was going to be doing. I packed according to a list given to us by CSC along with a number of gifts that we received both from Unison and other companies and organisations. On my return from Cuba, what can I tell you?
Well for a start it was not “just” a holiday! I was one of 28 people in the British delegation from all over the UK and one of 4 people from Unison. The other delegates were from GMB, TSSA, Unite and UCATT. We stayed at the Julio Antionio Mella International camp where we were part of a 200 strong brigade from over 40 different countries. Our home for the next 2 weeks was basic to say the least. Each block had 8 dorms and each of these housed 8 people. The facilities were split in to male and female but we only had 4 toilets and 4 showers to share between, not exactly luxury, especially when you take into account the fact that one of these toilets was just a hole in the ground! Because of the number of females in our delegation it was not possible for us all to stay together so myself and 4 others chose to share a dorm with one Turkish and two Canadian delegates. As it turned out, this was the best thing to happen as we managed to socialise and interact with lots of the other delegations and form friendships and connections with them that has carried on since we’ve come home.
So what did we do whilst we were away? Not sunbathe I can tell you... at least not for the majority of the trip anyway.
We did so many things over the two weeks including:
- Attended the opening of an exhibition on Cuba and the Cuban 5 by a local photographer
- Met with the family of the Cuban 5, or the Miami 5 as you may have heard them called
- Participated in an International night, setting up a stall of English food and drink for people to try
- Cleared a local farmer’s field so that it was ready for the next batch of crops to be planted
- Visited the Museum of the Revolution to learn more about the history of the country
- Watched a theatre production by a local youth theatre group on the importance of educating young people on their history and the background of the Cuban 5
- Watched documentaries on important moments in history such as the invasion of Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs) which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year
- Participated in the Annual May Day Rally
- Attended the Annual Cuba Solidarity Conference, with one of our delegation even giving a speech on the day in front of all the delegations
- Visited the Bay of Pigs to learn more of the history by visiting the museum there
- Watched community groups and saw how this helps the people that live there
- Visited the Memorial Library and met victims of terrorism
- Met the Federation of Cuban Women and discussed how they help their communities including during pregnancy and with disabilities etc
- Attended a meeting of the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR)
- Visited the Che Guevara memorial, mausoleum and museum
- Visited the memorial to the “Armoured Train”
- Met with ex-Cuban security cover agents that have infiltrated some counter-revolutionary cells
- Attended the official closing and farewell meeting of the brigade.
My highlights of the trip were the May Day Rally which moved me to tears with the way they came together to celebrate their country and show how much they love it and the youth theatre group which taught me about the Cuban 5’s history and made me wonder how a group of kids could be so amazingly talented.
There are a few things that I have brought back with me from the trip and one of these is a sense of disappointment that we do not have the same sense of pride in our country that the Cubans do. They are incredibly proud of what they have achieved and of the journey that they have taken to get there. The only thing that they ask of visitors is that we return home and tell people of the things we have seen and experienced whilst in their country.
It is a beautiful place with an amazing culture and history, if you ever get the opportunity to visit please do and on your return show your support and solidarity for this wonderful country by joining the CSC to help Cuba in any way you can. I loved the experience as did my 27 comrades on the trip and hopefully I will have the chance to go again next year to do some of the things I didn’t get chance to do this time.