Labour Party Conference fringe report

Campaign News | Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Baroness Angela Smith , Vice Chair of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign welcomed over 200 delegates to a standing room only, packed fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester on Tuesday 28 September.

First up was Tony Benn who talked about the strength of the Cuban nations solidarity and the lessons we can learn from it. By investing in health and education Cuban’s have put their people first but then shared their resources through an unstinting internationalism which he believes has set an example to the world.

Luis Marron Political Counsellor at the Cuban Embassy thanked the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and everyone in the room for their support for Cuba. He referred to recent press reporting about Cuba and explained to applause that “the only system for Cuba is socialism which we are always striving to improve”. “In Fifty years we have done nothing before that has ever created a problem for the workers and as we speak, all the Trade unions and all the mass organisations in Cuba are discussing ways to ensure that the structural changes announced recently to the Cuban workforce will leave no-one out of work or in a worse situation than they are now”. He re-iterated “This has not been done in a moment - it is well thought out and the outcome of lengthy consultation. No one will ever be abandoned by our system” he pledged. Luis also highlighted the effects of the US blockade and the campaign to free the Miami Five.

Keith Sonnet from UNISON talked of the devastating cuts planned in this country in public services and contrasted that with the different approach and ideology that drives the Cuban system. “They believe in a different model for health, for education and for international solidarity. Cuba and the inspiration it provides is an excellent example of what can be done if you have different values and beliefs” he said. Re-iterating the demand for respect for Cuba’s right to self determination and its sovereignty, an end to the US blockade and for normal arrangements between this country and Cuba, Keith reminded delegates that “ Pressure must now be brought to bear on all our politicians to relax the European Union’s Common Position on Cuba” .

Tony Woodley from Unite spoke with passion about his work on the campaign for justice for the Miami Five. “Solidarity is vital but politics is also crucial and we need to campaign politically to bring about justice not only for Five but for their wives and families” The campaign is international and he outlined work Unite has been heavily involved in with Canadian and US unions. “Moving the politics along in the USA is a priority and we are doing everything we possibly can to improve the situation”. “We have now reached the highest level of the government in America and yet still we have no movement from them, but as the wives said to me recently - we expect no miracle - but don’t feel sad, as your efforts in the UK give us the strength to continue in our struggle”

Stephen Cavalier talked of law firm Thompsons internationalism and why it has long been a supporter of many international issues. He outlined the reasons why the blockade on Cuba is illegal and why the judgements in the case of the Five are so flawed. “These are legal reasons that sit alongside our support for all Cubans as fellow human beings” he said “Cuba’s inspiration makes us proud to support the Solidarity Campaign and the people of Cuba”

Journalist and author Seamus Milne stressed the inspiration “as a beacon for change” Cuba has become in the world. He said, quoting Fidel that when the USSR and the Socialist camp disappeared “no one would have bet a few cents that Cuba would survive”. But it has, and it has laid the ground the for a re-birth in progressive politics across the rest of the Latin America .

His personal reference point for Cuba’s humanity is in the example of Mario Teran, the man who murdered Che but then forty years later had his sight restored by Cuban doctors, working in the Venezuelan backed ‘Operation Miracle’ programme in a socialist Bolivia. “That one act is an emblem of humanity that symbolises Cuban and what it stands for today” he said to applause. Cuba’s understanding of and resistance to imperialism has translated itself into a mass politicisation of the people and mass participation in all the forums that exist in the country. He talked of the incredible achievements in health and education that surpass many countries in the ‘developed world’ and praised the living example of 50,000 medical professionals working in nearly 100 countries around the world for free. “That is a story by any journalistic standards that is unbelievable as well as uplifting and inspiring, but you will get very little reported in the western press and media about it” he observed. He called on the USA to “ Get off their backs if you really want to do anything about the situation in Cuba” and suggested like Luis Marron that Cuba’s capacity to re-invent and reform itself ( whether with tourism or advances in bio-technology) will see the country continue to survive and provide hope for the world regardless of what America does.

“Cuba’s isolation is now being broken” he said and re-iterated the call for support for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign . “We can all learn from Cuba - a unique experiment and model for social development in the world, which brings inspiration to so many”

Thanking delegates for attending, Angela Smith called on everyone to support the Vigil outside the US embassy in London on the 19th October in support of the Miami Five

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