Standing room only at Labour Party fringe meeting

Campaign News | Wednesday, 3 October 2007

POLITICIANS past and present urged the Government to ditch United States policy and forge close ties with Cuba at a packed Labour Party Conference fringe

It was standing room only as almost a hundred delegates crammed into the Whitehall Hotel, in Bournemouth, to take part in the Havana Club Rum Reception, organised by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign on 25 September.

The Government was told to not only distance itself from North America’s brutal trade embargo, but to also do far more to promote trade between Britain and the Caribbean island.

Former MP Brian Wilson first visited Cuba as a delegate to the World Festival of Youth and Students, which the island hosted in 1978. He became Labour’s Minister of Trade in 1998, and visited the country six times during his tenure.

Mr Wilson said: “When I became trade minister the civil servant responsible for the Americas and Carribean gave me a run down of every country.

“There was one conspicuous absentee. ‘What,’ I asked, ‘are we doing with Cuba?’.

“The answer was very little, ostensibly because of a modest outstanding debt from the mid-1980s.”

Mr Wilson explained how through his regular visits - which included meetings with Fidel - he strove to establish the type of relations which should exist between any two sovereign nations.

He said: “Cuba deserves respect for what it has achieved. Spain is changing its view, to an extent so to is the European Union, but Britain continues to view the country negatively.

“Why is the bar set so much higher for Cuba? I’m a passionate defender of what the country has achieved, it’s ensured no child lives in poverty and its health and educational systems are the envy of the world.

“Rather than be a servant to the US’s immoral crusade against Cuba, we must give the country what it’s entitled to, and that is dignity, respect and recognition.”

The Cuban Ambassador René Cantelar stated trade between Britain and his country was a paltry £40 million, which was put in perspective after the Independent revealed Britain has £1.2 billion worth of trade with the murderous Burmese regime.

He added: “I find many things in common between the values shared by my country, the European Union and the United Kingdom. Therefore we should be working together rather than standing so far apart.”

Colin Burgon, Labour MP for Elmet, is vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cuba and pledged to tell the Foreign Office that Mr Wilson had urged them to develop closer ties with Cuba.

The politician, who also chairs Labour Friends of Venezuela, said: “What we are supporting is Cuba’s revolutionary defiance of the war on democracy being waged by the US in Latin America.

“Cuba’s tremendous resistance has few parallels in world history.

“And that’s the big thing, what Cuba represents is a powerful example and that example is now paving the way for a new generation of revolutionaries, such as Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa.

“Viva Castro, viva Cuba and viva socialism for the 21st century!”

Dr Ian Gibson, chair of the APPG on Cuba and Labour MP for Norwich North, said: “There is very interesting work being done by Cubans in vaccination, driven by the fact that the US blocks medicines from entering the country so they have to develop their own.

“This type of resistance and resourcefulness is what makes Cuba such an absolutely amazing country.”

Norma Stephenson, UNISON President, chaired the meeting, and recalled how she first visited Cuba 13 years ago.

She said: “That visit changed my life. My background is in health work and I want to echo what the speakers have said, Cuba’s achievements in health are incredible and I think it’s a fantastic country.

“But rather than take my word for it, it is best for you to go there and see it for yourselves.”

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