Report from the Winter 2011 Solidarity Brigade
Campaign News | Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Amy Barringer reports back from the Nordic Brigade to Cuba, 15 December 2010 - 5 January 2011
This was a small brigade, likely a sign of the current world economic climate, 60 brigadistas in total dominated in numbers by the British delegation of 24 and the Swedish delegation of 22, alongside groups from Finland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and Ireland.
At the heart of the British group was a youth group from Bradford City Council with 8 young people taking time out from their various exams, and 4 youth workers. Eleven women and Chris made up the rest of the group, we hailed from all ove Britain and were joined by Zarah from Denmark.
We arrived at the Julio Antonio Mella camp with varying motivations and expectations. Following four days of freetime, during which we visited the beach and chilled in Havana, the Brigade finally got underway on 20.12.10.
“The pen should be managed in the afternoon, and in the morning the hoe” - Jose Marti
And so it was, just as Jose Marti believed it should be, in the mornings we put our hoes to work, weeding for the revolution, hoeing for the revolution, shovelling shit for the revolution and my personal favourite machete-ing for the revolution. The agricultural work was varied and you could put as much physical exertion into it as
you felt able to. Because of the way the days fell it lasted only 4 mornings in total, which was a source of embarrassment for those brigadistas who had dined out on the tale of the hard physical work they would put in.
Come the afternoons true to Marti, “the pen was managed.” This by way of a series of interesting lectures and talks by a local MP, Cuban health workers, Trade Unions, Womens’ Federation and Young Communists as well as a lecture by an ICAP official on internet and social networking in Cuba.
During these lectures we learned about Cuba, asked questions and shared stories of our own countries. We learned of their healthcare system, education system, talked about Cuba’s international work, sending doctors while other countries send soldiers.
The lectures gave a sense of the holistic approach to health, education and welfare that has served their people well. What’s the use of healthcare when housing is bad.
What’s the use of housing when someone can’t pay their mortgage and gets evicted.
Despite the adversity of an illegal blockade, the Cuban model aims to provide the full package to their people - health, welfare, work, housing, culture and social support.
Even the coldest Cuban winter since 1951 was not enough to deter us hardy Brits from enjoying our evenings’ entertainment. While Britain froze, the British brigadistas moaned as night time temperatures occasionally plummeted below 10c.
Almost all nights were a party, sometimes a celebration too, but why not celebrate anyway for any reason, after all we were in Cuba! Several live bands and theatre groups were brought in to entertain us. Great music, great chat at the bar, great companeros talking into the early hours - talking, dancing, drinking.
And from there, where else? Stumble to bed, a brief sleep in the dorms and awoken early by the sound of the cock crowing, Guantanamero playing loudly, a quick breakfast grabbed and into the main square for roll call.
A Happy Christmas
Christmas Eve came and yet another celebration. A special meal prepared for us and partying in the square until the early hours. On Christmas Day itself we were treated to an excellent production by a children’s theatre group, followed by a trip to Havana and free time where we ate, drank and put the world to rights.
From cold showers to the luxury of a hotel
For some of the group our 3 day trip on 26th December to a hotel in Pinar Del Rio province marked their first shower in a very long time!
By this time we had all spent quite a lot of free time in Havana and it was interesting to see the culture of a different province. We visited kindergartens overflowing with handmade toys. The embargo presents problems obtaining toys, but as with all of the other problems these are never seen as insurmountable. The staff told us how
they make toys out of reinforced cardboard. Glued together with flour and water, and
painted brightly. The children role played for hours, doing each other’s hair in the salon, shining shoes or pretending to cook in their toy kitchen.
The next day some of us visited a hospital, while others went to a community art group for young people with special needs.
In the evening the local CDR hosted a fantastic street party for us, answering questions on the work and welcoming us to the province. Once more we were dancing in the street.
“It is solidarity and activism that will free our sons.”
For many the ultimate highlight of the brigade was upon our return to camp meeting the mothers of three of the Cuban five. Five Cuban men wrongfully and unjustly imprisoned for the last 12 years in maximum security US jails for fighting against terrorism. The mothers powerfully expressed the plight of their sons, powerfully expressed that this injustice is about more than their sons, this is an injustice
perpetrated against Cuba as a whole. The strength of the women cannot be described in words. And the message they gave so clearly to the brigade is that it is solidarity that provides them this strength. And that it is solidarity and activism that will free their sons. The US justice system has failed them, the western media will not tell their story, but Brigadistas who met the women were left in no doubt that our job was to join the campaign for the freedom and tell their story.
“Without being cultured you cannot be free” - Jose Marti
The last few days passed in blur. As we all knew they would. New Years day and a yet another treat - a trip to the Cuban National ballet in Havana. Breathtaking. The ballet, as with cinema, dance, music is cheap and affordable for all Cubans to be able to enjoy.
A football match took place between brigadistas and staff of the camp and their opponents, a local football team based in Caimito, and the following day a friendship race from Camp to Caimito. Unsurprisingly the race was won by the professional Cuban althletes who had ventured to camp to take part.
More parties and celebrations ensued including a meal at Friendship House in Havana, salsa lessons in the main square, and a New Years Eve event.
Linda does Butlins bluecoat
And so as the brigade drew to an end and after a day soaking up rays on the wonderful East Havana beaches we reach the Nordic night, where for once it was our turn to entertain the Cubans. Ably and amusingly compered by British brigadista Linda Reid, us Nordics grouped together to present our different cultures. Everything from poetry to rapping to Auld Lang Syne; Norwegian singing to the Cha Cha Slide.
The Brits served tea and biscuits and Naz and the boys from Bradford cooked and served delicious homemade curry and rice.
The end of the brigade
It was with sadness that we departed on the 4th January. Most of the group set off for London, while a few others departed off for further travels around Cuba.
A special mention and thank you must be go to the fantastic Cuban delegation, both staff at the camp and ICAP officials and volunteers who lead the brigade. Their thoughtful, caring and loving efforts did not go unnoticed.
Leaving aside the celebrations, which true to Cuba made for a very enjoyable Brigade, we were also treated to an open and honest look inside Cuba. We saw that against all the odds, decades of an illegal blockade and terrorist attacks, Cuba has managed to feed, house, educate and provide healthcare and welfare for its people
- as well as healthcare around the world.
Free the Cuban Five. End the blockade. Viva Cuba!