A high price for independence-Labour Party conference report
Campaign News | Wednesday, 19 October 2022
Cuban ambassador tells Labour Party delegates of the “incalculable, massive and cruel” impact of the US blockade in its 60th year
CSC held a successful fringe meeting and ran a stall at September’s Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. Existing CSC members and affiliates visited to say hello, find out the latest news and buy gifts, and many delegates joined CSC at conference. Several members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cuba expressed their support by having their photographs taken at the stall.
On 27 September Diana Holland, Unite the Union Assistant General Secretary and Labour Party Treasurer, chaired the CSC fringe meeting ‘60 Years too Long, End the US blockade.’ The sixtieth anniversary of the blockade was not an anniversary that we really wanted to be marking, she said: “Sixty years of this inhumane and cruel policy is sixty years too long.”
Despite this, Cuba has “continued to make many advances” said Holland, praising the country for the result of the Family Code referendum which was declared a day earlier: “Fantastically, after many years of hard work by Cuba’s Centre for Sexual Education, LGBTQ+ activists, the Federation of Cuban Women and numerous others, I am delighted to announce that on Sunday, 66.87% of voters in a national referendum approved Cuba’s new Family Code… it’s great to have something to celebrate at this meeting too,” she said.
Navendu Mishra MP for Stockport said there had been a lot of discussion at conference on vaccine inequality, and it was worth making the point that Cuba was the first low-to-middle-income country to develop its own COVID-19 vaccines and vaccinate over 90 per cent of its population.
Mishra recalled his participation on CSC’s May Day Brigade to Cuba in 2016 when he was a young Unite member, when he had the opportunity “to see for myself the daily impact of US policies in the country. I also saw how the Cuban people value the solidarity and friendship, both practical and symbolic, that we can offer to show that they are not alone in their struggle against the blockade, and I hope that everyone here will continue to support this campaign until this evil blockade is lifted.”
Gemma Bolton, a recently re-elected Labour NEC member, discussed her more recent memories of the “incredible opportunity to participate in solidarity work, discover the reality of life for Cubans living under blockade, and particularly attend the spectacular May Day rally in Havana,” as a member of the 2022 young trade unionists’ May Day delegation.
“Due to the blockade life for Cubans can be basic, but what shone through is the pride the Cuban people take in what they have,” said Gemma.
Recalling the vibrancy of May Day she said: “We saw so many incredible banners, and placards at the rally, where Cuban people had taken the time to symbolise their jobs, from producing fire extinguishers out of papier maché to an enormous cardboard airplane. What was so clear was the pride Cubans have in their work knowing that each day they are working they are producing a better society for themselves and their fellow people, not putting more and more wealth in the pockets of their bosses. But the sign which was my favourite was very simple, small and just black marker on white paper and it read ʻSocialism or Deathʼ. The Labour Party and labour movement might be tough to be in sometimes, but the struggles so many Cubans have had put our own struggles in context, and inspire me to fight on for socialism and peace here and around the world.”
Cuban Ambassador Bárbara Montalvo Álvarez began by addressing the widening gap between the rich and poor in the world. Despite the fact that the human race has more scientific and technical capabilities and the capacity to generate more wealth and wellbeing than ever before, she said, “the world is more unequal today; and inequality is deeper.”
She told delegates of the extreme hardships the country was facing: “shortages; difficulties of all kinds; disrepair; blackouts. We canʼt deliver all the school materials we would like to; but we recover used books; and we guarantee a minimum of materials to each student, and we do not close schools. We do not close GP practices or hospitals; we do not neglect our population.
Montalvo accused the US government of taking advantage of the world economic crisis and COVID-19 to put more pressure on the Cuban economy, which was impacting on “the provision of services, the scarcity of food and medicines, and decline in consumer spending and general wellbeing of the population.”
Concluding her speech, the ambassador said: “The blockade will be there, for who knows how long. So we must, despite all the difficulties, do things better, without giving up our struggle to end the genocidal, and longest-standing, sanctions regime ever applied against a nation, for sixty years.
“I would like to reiterate my appreciation for the invaluable accompaniment and solidarity from CSC members, trade unions, friendly MPs, and individuals to bring an end to the blockade, and to those who are supporting donations of school supplies, medicines, and parts for medical equipment, to try and help counter the scarcity caused by this policy.
“We have always been willing to have a relationship, even cooperation, with the United States, on the basis of mutual respect and without compromising our national independence.
“We are a small developing island nation that has paid a high price to exist as a sovereign and independent country. And if that shall be our destiny, we will continue to take on this challenge.”
Local MP for Liverpool Wavertree Paula Barker had been involved in solidarity with Cuba for many years before her election to parliament, namely as a trade union activist and North West Convenor for UNISON. The North West Region is twinned with Matanzas in Cuba, and Paula spoke about how she had been personally moved by the tragic fires in the city.
“The cruelty of the blockade was devastatingly highlighted” by this tragedy, she said. “The US, with all its experience and resources and just 90 miles from where the fires were raging for more than three days, was conspicuous in its absence when Cuba put out a request for international help. Thankfully other countries, notably Mexico and Venezuela, responded immediately to Cuba’s request for help by sending fire-fighting teams and equipment to help quell the fires, while the US made a meagre offer of ‘advice’.”
Barker also condemned the US government’s decision “to keep Cuba on its ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ list. Being on this list prevents banks and companies from trading with Cuba for fear of violating US sanctions and receiving fines. Cuba itself has been the victim of many terrorist attacks originating from exile groups in the US over the last 60 years. The country also played a major role as guarantor in the landmark peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla movement in 2016. And just last month, the new Colombian president, Gustavo Petro, asked Cuba to host talks between his incoming administration and the ELN guerrilla group. So it would be more accurate to describe Cuba as a state sponsor of peace given its historic role in hosting peace talks.”
Closing the event, Rob Miller, CSC director, described the current serious economic challenges in Cuba and gave a number of examples of the extraterritorial impact of the blockade on companies and individuals in Britain. He called on delegates to get involved in the Campaign and to support the Viva La Educación fundraising appeal.