[News] Cuba Lives, Breathes, Resists – May Day, COVID, Guantánamo, & the Summit of the Americas

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 3 10:11:20 EDT 2022

counterpunch.org <https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/06/03/245416/>
Cuba Lives, Breathes, Resists – May Day, COVID, Guantánamo, & the Summit of
the Americas
by Diana Block - June 3, 2022

*Billboard in Havana- Cuba Lives and Breathes*

I set off for Havana at the end of April to participate in the 15th
International May Day Brigade organized by ICAP (The Institute for
Friendship with the Cuban People
Having achieved one of the lowest COVID mortality rates and highest
vaccination rates in the world, Cuba had reopened the country to
international guests on November 15, 2021. The U.S. had tried and failed to
exploit the global disease disaster to bring about regime change, but the
intensified embargo have made living conditions worse than ever for the
Cuban people. May Day 2022 was a chance for Cuba to welcome tens of
thousands of international guests to uphold the vision of International
Workers’ Day
<https://archive.iww.org/history/library/misc/origins_of_mayday/> and
demonstrate that global solidarity with Cuba lives.

Forty-five years before in 1977, I had joined Cuba’s May Day celebration as
part of the tenth Venceremos Brigade
<https://vb4cuba.com/about-the-venceremos-brigade/>. In defiance of the
U.S. blockade which had been put into place in 1960 to suffocate the
revolution, the Venceremos Brigade mobilized people from the U.S. to break
the blockade and engage in work in material support of Cuba. From the
earliest days of the revolution, Cuba recognized that building the broadest
international solidarity possible was critical for countering the
unrelenting attacks from the imperialist regime to the North. My work in
Cuba in 1977 cemented my belief that radical change within the U.S. had to
be connected to liberation struggles around the globe.

I had visited Cuba a number of times since then, most recently in 2019 as
part of the 50th Venceremos Brigade. After two years of pandemic isolation
in the U.S., I was eager to march in Havana’s May Day parade to affirm a
social system which, remarkably, continued to put people and care first. I
was also looking forward to attending the Seventh International Seminar for
Peace and Abolition of Foreign Military Bases
which would take place in Guantánamo, Cuba right after May Day. The Seminar
would be an important intervention at a time when the U.S. and NATO were
using the war in Ukraine to further promote their expansionist strategies
around the world.

At the Julio Antonio Mello International Camp where the Brigade was
staying, I met many other people of my generation – from Colombia, Brazil,
Peru, Turkey, and Sweden among others. We had all lived through decades of
revolutionary setbacks and fierce repression but were still committed to
social change. As some of us elder women worked in the Camp’s kitchen, we
shared memories of Cuban youth festivals and brigades from decades gone by.
We talked about current efforts for change in Latin America, such as the
campaigns for leftist presidential candidates – Lula in Brazil and Gustavo
Petro, a former guerrilla, in Colombia (who is now the leading candidate.)
And we appreciated the high energy and growing commitment of dozens of
younger generation Brigadistas who had come from Africa, Vietnam, Latin
America, Canada and the United States. These young people were the ones who
would carry forward the work of solidarity in these very challenging times.

In the days leading up to May 1st, we learned about developments in Cuba
over the past two years. We heard from Miguel Fraga who had been the First
Secretary at the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C. from 2015-2019. Fraga
explained the many ways in which the U.S. had intensified destabilization
efforts during the pandemic. While tightening sanctions which cut off
medicines, medical equipment, food, fuel and family remittances, the U.S.
orchestrated a social media war, blaming the shortages and problems on the
Cuban government. This culminated in anti-government protests on July 11,
2021 <https://monthlyreview.org/2022/01/01/preface/> with some U.S.
politicians calling for “humanitarian” intervention in Cuba. Thousands of
Cubans who supported the government took to the streets and the crisis was
averted. However, the U.S. continues to try and manipulate Cuba’s serious
economic problems to its advantage.

It was an honor to visit the Center for Genetic Engineering and
Biotechnology <https://www.cigb.edu.cu/en/home/> (CIBG) and hear from Dr.
Manuel Raíces about the rapid development of three vaccines (with two more
pending approval) in response to the pandemic. Cuba has vaccinated over 90%
of the population starting at two years of age and has one of the highest
vaccination rates in the world. Dr. Raices pointed out that the Cuban
biotech sector is the only one on the planet that is not market oriented.
They have worked to distribute vaccine science and technology to countries
of the global south at the same time as they try to commercialize their
pharmaceutical products when selling to wealthy nations.

Six days into my trip, I woke up with mild congestion and went to get
tested for COVID at the Camp’s clinic. Despite my four doses of the Pfizer
vaccine and the masks I had worn most of the time as mandated by Cuban
protocols, I had caught COVID as I lived and worked in the Camp’s
congregate setting. Intellectually I knew that the pandemic wasn’t over
when I decided to be part of the May Day Brigade. But part of me hoped that
Cuba’s superior health care system and its indomitable spirit would
magically protect me. Instead, all my plans were abruptly altered as I was
quickly whisked away in an ambulance to the Clinica Internacional Camilo

The Clinica, founded in 1992, routinely provides specialized medical care
available at reasonable costs, to international visitors in ophthalmology
as well as internal medicine, orthopedics and gynecology. It had expanded
its services to COVID-positive visitors in this period. Because I was a
solidarity guest, six days of care, room and food were all free!

After having a complete medical review, including a chest x-ray, an EKG and
a PCR test, I was escorted to a private room in the clinic where I would
spend the next six days in quarantine. The room was air conditioned with a
TV, my physical symptoms were very mild, and all the health care providers
and staff were kind and concerned, but I was very disappointed and
disoriented. Instead of participating in the huge social energy of May Day
and the dynamic political exchanges at the conference in Guantánamo, I
would spend the next days in a room by myself without access to the
internet. While Cuba has internet, the U.S. blockade and limited economic
resources have limited its accessibility and the government prioritizes
wifi access for public spaces. The Clinica did not have wifi and I was told
that the only possible access was through the hot spot in the public park
across the street.

By holding my phone up to one corner of the window, I was able to get weak
wifi sometimes for a few minutes, an exercise in frustration. However, as I
stood by the window and watched Cubans go about their daily routines, I
recalibrated my focus. I saw people on the corner waiting (and waiting) for
buses to come and take them to work. I watched children playing games in
their school uniforms at recess during the day and teenagers playing ball
in the early evening. I observed people hanging their laundry out to dry on
lines that they strung between the trees in the park, presumably because
this provided more air and space than they had in their nearby homes. I saw
couples sit and talk and embrace on a popular bench under a tree directly
across from my window. I remembered that every day, especially since the
pandemic, Cubans had to reimagine their lives because of shortages of
everything from medicine to food to fuel. I needed to take my cue from
Cuban resourcefulness. I would unplug and learn what I could from being in
Cuba under quarantine.

I read the books on my ipad. I did daily stretches and yoga and walked back
and forth across the room several times a day. I watched crappy old
American sitcoms and movies, and flipped through news in five languages
(English, Spanish, Chinese, German and French.) And I was able to view the
exuberant May Day events <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6PsU1QH940> as
they were happening not only in Havana but across the island in Holguin,
Santiago de Cuba, Santa Clara and Pinar del Rio. I absorbed the May Day
energy and later supplemented my impressions with information from those
who attended the march.

Havana’s march was attended by more than 700,000 workers
and students from across the region while more than 5.5 million people
celebrated throughout Cuba. Leading the Havana march was a gigantic banner
100-feet across, which read “Cuba Vive y Trabaja (Cuba Lives and Works),”
with 50,000 doctors and scientists involved in the anti-COVID struggle
marching behind it. After them came workers, student, women’s and
neighborhood contingents each with their own banners, posters, bands,
dances and chants.

At the Plaza de la Revolución, Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, General
Secretary of the CTC (Cuban Workers Federation) spoke of the ominous global
circumstances in which this celebratory event was taking place, “Hostility
is growing and the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on
us by the United States government
the main obstacle to our development programs, is intensifying to the
extreme, together with a pandemic that maintains negative impacts in the
economic, social and labor spheres … Faced with this panorama, Cuba does
not stop…. We will not bend. Cuba lives and works for its present and for
its future.”

The vibrancy of May Day helped carry me through the next few days of my
quarantine. On May 3rd I heard the chilling news, from TV reports in
multiple languages, about the U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion
which could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade. Cuban commentators pointed
out that reproductive rights for Cuban women were enshrined in Cuba’s
constitution, a fact that was elaborated on later in an article by Calla
one of the young May Day Brigade members.

On the sixth day of quarantine, I happily tested negative for COVID and was
able to leave the clinic and return home. Back in San Francisco, I was
eager to hear about the Seminar in Guantánamo from those who had gone. The
Seminar was attended by eighty-four delegates from twenty-five countries.
Mark Ginsburg, a Brigadista from the Bay Area, was struck by the statistics
that were shared. The U.S. maintains approximately seven hundred and fifty
military bases around the world in eighty countries. 90% of the bases
around the world belong to the United States! He was particularly moved by
testimony from people in other countries, such as the Phillipines, who
spoke about the damaging impact of military bases on their communities.

On a Voices with Vision
<https://archive.wpfwfm.org/mp3/wpfw_220510_090000voiceswdiocoop.mp3> radio
report back, hosted by May Day Brigade leader Netfa Freeman, Dr. Samira
Addrey from IFCO <https://ifconews.org/about-us/> reported on the Seminar
and the effect of the Guantánamo military base on the people living there.
“The US military occupation of Guantánamo has impacted the lives of the
people of that province, it has stripped them of their agency and their
ability as a province to produce a large share of efficient fishing

Dr. Addrey also called out the barbaric use of the base as a detention
center since September 11, 2001. “Guantánamo Bay base has become a death
camp that has targeted Muslims…. all those prisoners held there were taken
from one place or another, and disappeared into the system of black sites
in different countries and then sent to Guantánamo to be tortured, and put
in solitary confinement with all those parallels to the experiences of our
political prisoners in the United States.”

The Declaration issued at the end by Seminar participants cited the
increasing aggressiveness of the U.S., NATO and the European Union as the
urgent context for the conference. The Declaration demanded the closure of
all foreign military bases worldwide, the return of Guantánamo naval base
to Cuba, and an end to the criminal U.S. blockade.

In the weeks since I returned from Cuba, the U.S. has ramped up its
aggressive actions by banning Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from
participation in the Summit of the Americas
which is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles between June 6th and 10th. In
response, Mexican President Manuel López Obrador, Bolivian President Luis
Arce, Honduran President Xiomara Castro, and many other heads of state have
all declared that they will not participate if the exclusions are
maintained. The U.S. seems to have underestimated important political
shifts that
have taken place in Latin America over the past two years in the wake of
the pandemic, making it less likely that countries will roll over and
accept the U.S. belligerent policies.

The People’s Summit for Democracy <https://peoplessummit2022.org/about> is
being organized by activists from June 8-10 as a progressive alternative to
Biden Administration’s exclusionary summit. Unfortunately, the twenty-three
member delegation from Cuba has been denied visas by the U.S., and the L.A.
police have denied a permit for the legal mass march planned to protest the
official Summit gathering. The Workers Summit of the Americas
<https://workerssummit.com/>, another alternative gathering, will take
place in Tijuana, Mexico, June 10-12. It will not be subject to U.S.
control and will welcome delegations from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Solidarity is on the rise. Cuba lives, resists and inspires others to do
the same!
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