Father Geoff Bottoms writes on the Revolution Route tour to Cuba

Campaign News | Wednesday, 21 September 2011

for the Morning Star

Building bridges across continents

Bottoms Printable Email Seventeen intrepid solidarity activists said goodbye to industrial action at the airport airport and Arctic weather to head off into the sunshine of socialist Cuba for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign Revolution Route study tour.

There is no better way to get to know Cuba than to discover it for yourself, and a trip to Cuban friendship organisation ICAP provided a good starting point to help understand and discuss the economic reforms that are the subject of debate throughout the country.

Thousands of people will be redeployed from the state sector to the co-operatives and into self-employment.

For the first time, Cubans will be able to buy and sell houses and cars within a socialist planned economy that is having to readjust to harsh economic realities - although there is no intention of returning to capitalism.

In the coming days, we soaked in the sights and sounds of beautiful Trinidad, Cuba's best-preserved colonial city, visiting a farmer's market and art school before a short stay in Camaguay which included a novel bicycle-taxi tour and a visit to the local health-care centre, a co-operative farm and an outstanding visit to the city's world famous ballet school.

From here the group made its way to Holguin the sixth international conference for the Freedom for the Miami Five and Against Terrorism, which attracted over 300 participants from more than 50 countries.

It was both appropriate and salutary that a stop was made at the memorial in Las Tunas to the victims of the bombing of a Cubana airliner over Barbados in 1976, which killed 73 people.

The sculpture in the grounds of the memorial that also contains a museum in honour of the victims moved everyone to silence and tears.

The conference itself was a touching and inspirational experience, culminating in a march of solidarity to the Che monument where tens of thousands rallied in defence of the Miami Five and to demand that President Obama prove himself worthy of his Nobel Peace Prize.

Just to be among and hear the stories former prisoners of conscience from countries such as the Lebanon and the families of victims of terrorism both in Cuba and abroad was a life-changing experience for the group.

The families of the five Cuban men imprisoned by the US were there to constantly challenge participants to propose specific lines of action rather than just reiterate the injustice of the cause, although we all benefited from sharing our experiences arising from the many campaigns taking place in almost every country and continent.

Yet it was the atmosphere in the hall which really proved affirming and reinvigorating, with spontaneous chants calling for the freedom of the five interspersed with outbursts of applause at every available opportunity.

The overwhelming expression of love towards the five and their families was palpable and contagious, reminding us, in the words of Cuba's national hero and poet Jose Marti, that humanity truly is our homeland.

There was a genuine feeling of belonging to an international campaign that was determined to end this monstrous injustice and fight against the real terrorism stalking the planet.

The local neighbourhood committee for the defence of the revolution meeting in Holguin was a highlight of the trip. We were given a rousing reception by the local community, with a cultural presentation from all sections of the community ending with the usual street party, speeches and donation of gifts.

There may have been a problem with language but this was more than made up by the loud music and lively dancing that characterises all Cuban activity where politics and life are one.

Our visit to Holguin was also marked by a tree-planting just outside the city by all the colloquium participants who formed a mini work brigade.

This was far from back-breaking work, yet as a gesture of solidarity it was priceless. No wonder after all this that copious amounts of Havana Club rum were consumed by one and all at the final cultural gala in Expo-Holguin at the end of the conference, where the British presence was marked by riotous laughter punctuated by flying balloons and less than well-behaved puppets.

Exhausted but exhilarated, we returned to Havana, visiting the Latin American medical school and enjoying a fascinating guided walking tour of Old Havana before attending a full assembly at Julio A Mella primary school.

This is always a high spot of the tour. The children perform and try out their English on their regular visitors, who always turn up with surprise gifts in return for handmade mementos of the school, all in the spirit of solidarity.

Of course the whole point of the tour is to experience the Cuban reality and return home motivated and renewed to work in solidarity with a country that has experienced the most vicious blockade in modern history.

Certainly everyone thought this was achieved and, as new friendships were made amid the rough and tumble, the group gelled beautifully under the professional eye of Joel Abreu, our specialist local tour guide.

For those who have the opportunity this is an unbeatable way for people to get to know this unique country - as long as they are prepared to be changed by the experience.

The Revolution Route Study Tour returns to the central and eastern provinces in Cuba from November 9-23. We are pleased to have received a second special invitation to attend the conference for the Freedom of the Miami Five and Against Terrorism in Holguin. Full details and booking forms are available from Cuba Solidarity Campaign on (020) 8800-0155, but emailing tours@cuba-solidarity.org.uk or by downloading an information pack on the link below.

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