Standing room only at Cuba Solidarity/Venezuela Solidarity Labour Party Fringe meeting

Campaign News | Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Over 100 pack in and look forward to a year of campaigning

It was standing room only at the joint Cuba Solidarity Campaign/Venezuela Solidarity Campaign fringe meeting at this year’s Labour Party conference.

Over 100 people packed in to hear Her Excellency Esther Armenteros, the Cuban Ambassador; Colin Burgon, Labour Friends of Venezuela; Baroness Angela Smith, chair of the All Party Group on Cuba; Alvaro Sanchez, from the Venezuelan Embassy; and Doug Christie of Thompsons Solicitors - with Adrian Weir from the Unite union chairing.

Adrian opened the meeting recalling that this year we have lost a giant among progressive figures, President Hugo Chavez. Despite that enormous loss, he said, progress is spreading across the Latin American continent.

Esther Armenteros illustrated the inhumanity of the US blockade on Cuba with a poignant example:

“They call it an embargo, but it is a blockade - a form of economic warfare. Just one example - a Cuban child won an international award and went to Japan to accept it. But they were not allowed to receive the prize - a watch - because more than 10 percent of the components were from the US.

“The international solidarity movement is vital in highlighting the continuing impact of the blockade and I’d like to thank the Cuba Solidarity Campaign here in Britain.”

There was wide recognition in the audience and huge applause as Esther outlined some of Cuba’s achievements despite half a century of blockade. She also called on all those present to increase their efforts to free the Miami Five, unjustly jailed in the US for 15 years for the “crime” of fighting terrorism.

Doug Christie said of the Five, “We have heard a lot in recent weeks from the US about Syria and international law, but somehow it’s ok for the US to flout international law in the case of the blockade and the Miami Five.

“Earlier this year Rene Gonzalez, of course, safely returned to Cuba. But none of the Five should ever have been imprisoned in the first place. One out of Five is not good enough. Thompsons Solicitors is proud to be supporting the International Commission of Inquiry into the Miami Five taking place in London on 7 and 8 March next year at the Law Society. It is time to end this injustice.”

Baroness Angela Smith underlined the humanitarian suffering inflicted not only on the five men, but on their wives and families too.

“The wives have suffered their own emotional imprisonment too,” she said. “Adriana Perez - wife of Gerardo Hernandez - told me how much she wants children, but that if Gerardo is not released soon, then time will run out.

“We must never lose sight of our humanity in all the political debate. The International Commission is a crucial rallying point to bringing this needless suffering to an end.”

Colin Burgon highlighted the shift in the politics of Latin America over the last two decades. “Forty years ago we saw the US-backed coup in Chile, which under Pinochet became a laboratory for all neo-liberal ideology that was later unleashed in the advanced industrialised countries under Thatcher and Reagan.

“Now, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, following the pioneering of the Cuban Revolution, is echoing across the continent and pointing to an alternative that puts people first.

“We are here at this meeting today for several reasons - above all, because Latin America is giving the world hope.”

Alvaro Sanchez said, “Five million people have been lifted out of poverty in Venezuela. Over 400,000 homes have been built in the last two to two and a half years. One third of the population are in some form of education.

“But there are some people in Venezuela who do not like that - the old elites who on 14 April unleashed violent demonstrations after they lost the election. They have powerful friends in the international media, who are about to launch another massive campaign of vilification and lies about Venezuela.

“We rely on you to get the truth out.”

At the end many attendees commented that it was the best fringe meeting they had been to and left further committed to the campaigns in solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela.

*Many thanks to Thompsons Solicitors and Unite - the Union for supporting this event.

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