“2022 marks another 60th anniversary – the beginning of the US’s blockade against the country. This has caused enormous problems for Cuba’s response to the pandemic in terms of blocking access to medicines and medical equipment.”
By Ben Hayes, Islington North CLP & Arise Festival Volunteer
Hundreds joined the latest online Labour Outlook forum: ‘Why Socialists Learn from Cuba’s Revolution and Latin America’s struggle’, with a panel of longstanding solidarity campaigners, internationalists and socialists discussing the region’s legacy on the international left and the contemporary events shaping it today.
You can read the report-back or watch it in full here:
Chairing the event, Susan Grey from Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America opened by reflecting on the recent 60th anniversary of the Second Declaration of Havana, and how its spirit can be seen in recent mass mobilisations and electoral victories in numerous countries.
Natasha Hickman of the Cuba Solidarity campaign explored this further, pointing out that the declaration not only addressed the future of Cuba but offered a manifesto which spoke to the whole of the Americas. She also highlighted that 2022 marks another 60th anniversary – the beginning of the US’s blockade against the country. This has caused enormous problems for Cuba’s response to the pandemic in terms of blocking access to medicines and medical equipment, but as Hickman discussed, they have still been able to construct a health system renowned across the world, including a first class vaccination programme – with its international work putting the principle of healthcare as a universal right into practice.
Quoting the Second Declaration of Havana’s observation that “by liquidating the Cuban Revolution, they believe they are liquidating the revolutionary spirit of the people”, she concluded by noting that six decades of blockades and aggression have still not been able to defeat that spirit and the example its achievements have set for the world.
General Secretary of Liberation Roger McKenzie argued that Cuba is an example to the world of what genuine sovereignty looks like – and that all socialists should demand it be respected by those who have spent so long trying to undermine it. Raising the recent cases of racism faced by people of African descent attempting to flee Ukraine, he reflected on how much can be learned from Cuba’s commitment to international solidarity in a time when reactionaries seek to push an agenda of division. McKenzie described this history of internationalism and “standing up to the world’s number one bully” as something which inspires liberation movements across the globe every day. He closed with a rallying cry for socialists in Britain to prioritise both providing practical support to the Cuban people by demanding the end of the blockade and organising here for politics which stand in the tradition of their revolution.
Labour Outlook’s Matt Willgress opened by discussing a section of the Declaration which raised the question of what was at the heart of the backlash from the US state – explaining it was ultimately “not a fear of the Cuban Revolution but of the Latin Revolution” – where popular forces would “take power in the oppressed and hungry countries exploited by the oligarchies of America”. This, he argued, can be seen in how many struggles for change across the region have taken inspiration from it – such as the New Jewel Movement led by Maurice Bishop in Grenada, the Movement For Socialism in Bolivia, or the recent example of the progressive electoral victory in Honduras, where the new Cabinet includes a former student of the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana. Wilgress also reflected on the 20th anniversary of the defeat of the attempted coup against the government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, emphasising that in what is undoubtedly a difficult period for the left in Britain it is vital to take inspiration from the achievements of socialists across the world and make links of solidarity – “you can’t be a socialist without being an internationalist”.
Questions from those tuned into the event covered topics including Cuba’s significance to Black Liberation politics, what can be learned the different strategies deployed by left forces in various countries across Latin America, the state of play with US-Cuba relations in the Biden era, how to build support for a programme which puts health and education over militarism, ways in which we can build practical solidarity, and the legacy of Che Guevara today.
Natasha Hickman discussed Cuba’s role in the defeat of apartheid South Africa in Angola, and addressed the issue of current US policy. Highlighting that Trump had rolled back even the limited steps forward taken by the Obama administration (such as removing Cuba from the list of ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ and lifting restrictions on financial transfers), she pointed out that Biden had done nothing to improve the situation – in effect making it worse, given how the impact of anti-Cuba policies has increased significantly in the context of the pandemic.
In terms of what practical solidarity can be offered, she raised the Viva La Educación campaign for educational aid to Cuba being organised with the National Education Union, as well as their ’60 Years Too Long’ open letter to Joe Biden calling for an end to blockade an general work challenging misinformation in the media. Hickman also discussed Guevara’s famous quote that “the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love”, putting this in the context of the emotional responses generated by the revolution, and emphasised that Cuba has always encouraged others to follow the spirit of their path to socialism rather than copy the exact model.
Roger McKenzie urged attendees to join the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and other solidarity organisations, as well as Liberation. Comparing the way images of Guevara are used to Angela Davis, he emphasised the importance of ensuring that the politics these figures represent are not lost. Recalling hearing Fidel Castro speak at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, he discussed the sense of hope and strength that the Cuban Revolution has given countless activists, and how its impact could be seen in Black movements in the US itself. Referencing Tony Benn’s words that “hope is the fuel of progress”, he argued that Cuba’s concrete example of an alternative represents a huge contribution to the fight for a better world.
Matt Willgress stated that the left needs to make the case from a fundamental reset of government priorities, and argued that the continuation of US sanctions despite their failure to overthrow governments in the region illustrated the range of powerful political and economic interests committed to them. Addressing the lessons for organisations, he mentioned that the Bolivian left has always prioritised maintaining and growing its organisations and social movements at various stages both in and out of government – ensuring they always have an engaged mass base who can be mobilised.
Encouraging those on the meeting to revisit Guevara’s writings, Willgress emphasised that they are not only interesting from a historical perspective but continue to offer important insights which can be applied to the world we live in today and how it can be changed.