Latin America 2011 Conference report

Campaign News | Monday, 5 December 2011

Bob Oram, reports on the seventh annual Latin America conference

[photo: Alberto Juantorena dedicates his gold medal to the Cuban people at the Latin America conference on Saturday 3 December]

The annual Latin America Adelante conference never ceases to amaze. It is amazing that yesterday on the first Saturday in December, for the seventh year running, hundreds of delegates turned up in London at Congress House for a whole day of workshops and speeches. It is amazing because the breadth of speakers and topics constantly expands, as Latin America delivers more progressive governments and real examples of human progress.

Frances O’Grady in welcoming us on behalf of the TUC made clear the connection between an historic week of struggle in this country and the lessons to be learnt from Latin America. Deriding the US attitude to Cuba as one of “arrogance, intransigence and insecurity” she recognised that Cuba is the beacon of hope in the world that has inspired the Latin American alternatives and reminded us all that another world is possible.

Jeremy Corbyn MP likewise later drew on the fact that some of the worst neo-liberal monetarist experiments were conducted on the continent and all progressive regimes brutally repressed. But out of that experience workers and indigenous peoples have learnt lessons that we can learn from as well. Values, ways of working and practical skills can all be taken and used. To huge applause he stressed that we can also reject the doctrines of markets, privatisation and austerity.

Hugh Lanning from the PCS stressed the common enemy across the world is the 1%. They are internationalists - going anywhere and ripping everyone off. “Borders are mere devices to control labour rights and migration - there are no borders for the exploitation of profit and capital”.

Thanking all the unions from around the world, but especially those in Latin America who sent solidarity greetings on N30 he said that they understand that our struggle is the same as theirs and we need to do likewise. Echoing a theme he recognised we support our comrades in Latin America by winning battles and fighting for social justice and progress here in this country.

There are now so many amazing workshops and speakers it is impossible both to report them in detail, and get to them all. Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change, The Media (mis) Representation of Latin America, Domination of the Caribbean from Slavery to Neo-Colonialism, Venezuela - Defending the majority not punishing the poorest, Music across continents - Africa and Latin America, Education and Liberation in LA, Popular change in Argentina and Uruguay, Women and the struggle for Equality in LA were literally just a few of those on offer. There were country sessions on Colombia, Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, Honduras and Ecuador, as well as five film showings and stalls brimming with upto date information or amazing Xmas gifts.

To meet so many interesting and dedicated people is an experience in itself but it is the range and breadth of knowledge that each of the speakers and groups bring that give the conference its real unique attraction.

For example the session on ‘21st Century Cuba - Economic Development and Labour Relations’ stood out in the workshops. Emily Morris from the London Metropolitan University put into complete context the challenges and issues within the economy and Dr Steve Ludlam from the University of Sheffield clearly explained exactly what had and has happened in Cuba as part of the economic reforms.

Carlos Alfaro from Cuba gave it the local perspective and the level of information learnt was more than five pages of notes. Engrossing and a session that can only be described by saying do not believe anything you read or hear in the media (apart from the Morning Star). The economic reforms in Cuba are not at the whim of one man nor are they the abandonment of any of the principles that have guided the revolution to date.

Two other highlights - the legendary ‘white lightning’ twice world record breaking, gold medal winning Olympian Albertino Juantereno. Holding aloft his medal he said “This belongs to the Cuban people - not me - but to everyone - the man who prepares the track, to my doctors, my coach, my team and my Commander Fidel but also to every single Cuban who strives on behalf of our country”

Now a parliamentarian in Cuba and Vice President of the Cuban Sport Institute he spoke of the ideals of sport and the Cuban revolution but also how he had had to travel to Mexico to collect a pole vault - a reminder of the cruel, inhumane and sickening blockade imposed by America on his country and his people. “It affects every aspect of our life - from food to medicines, to sports wear and sports equipment - everything to make us suffer in every way”

The biggest standing ovation of the day though went to three brave mothers who have had to live with an incredible injustice for thirteen years. Irma Sehwerert Mileham, Magali Llort Ruiz and Mirta Rodriguez Perez are three of the mothers of the Miami Five and with great dignity and humility they could have not been more eloquent. Thanking us all for the solidarity and support we have given the families and their sons, they spoke of the hopes and disappointments suffered in the long fight for justice. Clearly determined to continue their efforts you realised that time is against them, unless we can all step up our efforts.

We all owe something to these brave and heroic people and lets hope everyone can send a letter, sign a petition or do something through any organisation you belong to, to help bring an end to this criminal injustice. It is hard to even imagine the joy that the world would feel at seeing these mothers and their sons re-united in Cuba.

An amazing day and a credit to all those who the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and Venezuela Solidarity Campaign who organised it and everyone who took part.

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