“We will keep going and, with your support, we will never give up
Campaign News | Friday, 23 June 2023
Members, local group activists, executive committee members and many more came to Hamilton House in London on 10 June for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign’s Annual General Meeting.
Assistant General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) Ros McNeil opened proceedings, to welcome CSC to the NEU headquarters. She emphasised her union’s continued support in the struggle to end the blockade. “The NEU remains absolutely committed to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, to the people of Cuba and Cuban educators”, she said.
Moving the annual report, CSC director Rob Miller summarised the work that CSC has continued to do in what has been a difficult past few years for Cuba and its people. In particular, he paid tribute to all those who played a key role in the appeal which raised upwards of £200,000 of vital medical aid during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the recent Viva la Educación appeal, which, with the support of the NEU raised over £100,000 to send educational supplies to Cuba. On top of these material aid appeals, CSC has continued its work in Parliament to improve awareness of the situation in Cuba and to improve Cuba-UK relations. Rob highlighted the recent delegation of 52 Young Trade Unionists’ who visited Cuba for our biggest ever May Day Brigade and the successful NEU delegation in October (many of whom were in attendance for the AGM) as an example of how we continue to build solidarity with Cuba in the trade union movement. He paid tribute to the trade unionists, CSC members and local groups who “are the backbone of this organisation” and who do so much to keep the Campaign going in the absence of any grants or large donations.
Her Excellency Bárbara Montalvo Álvarez, Cuban Ambassador to the UK, provided an overview of the current situation in Cuba. Detailing the “difficult and challenging” situation that Cuba has faced since 2019, with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global economic downturn being compounded by a number of major disasters, she emphasised the key role that the blockade plays in Cuba’s struggles.
“All of our efforts have been severely affected by the suffocating effects of the economic war waged against us, which seeks to shut down revenue streams, destroy the government’s ability to attend to the needs of the people and bring about a collapse of the economy, and government.” This, she said, “has been going on for more than 60 years.”
Despite hopes that the end of Donald Trump’s presidency would provide some respite to the Cuban people, she said that “the Biden administration is the one that has applied the economic sanctions most aggressively” and is the one that “causes the most damage to the daily life of Cubans.”
The Ambassador highlighted the effect that Cuba’s spurious inclusion on the US’s list of ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ has had. “On the same day that Cuba was placed on this list, around 45 banks around the world closed their operations with Cuban entities. Dozens of banks closed their operations with our embassies abroad. There is a war against Cuban suppliers. And all this is to do with Cuba’s inclusion on that list.”
However, despite the difficulties that Cuba faces, she restated Cuba’s commitment to social justice and its revolution. “We will not pursue neoliberal policies in order to have a prosperous economy. We will not privatise any social service or affect social welfare. We will not abandon the most vulnerable as we will not abandon our internationalist duty.”
Closing her address with a message on the importance of continued solidarity, the Ambassador sent thanks to CSC and all of its members and supporters. “You are an inspirational example of solidarity. Massive thanks, for dedicating part of your time and your lives to the Cuban people! Venceremos!”
Griffiths Nguete, Alpha Kane, Luis Santamaria and Jayne Fisher moved and seconded motions on education in Cuba and building on the success of the Viva la Educación, as well as removing Cuba from the US’s ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ list.
Griffiths, who visited Cuba in October 2022 as part of the most recent NEU delegation, spoke passionately about the Cuban education system, celebrating what it has been able to achieve despite its minimal resources. Alpha Kane recalled the inspiring example of the Cuban Literacy Brigades which, in the space of just a year, almost eradicated illiteracy on the island. This, he said, would have been impossible without the revolution.
Moving the motion on removing Cuba from the ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ list, Luis Santamaria highlighted how, just a day before the AGM, the Colombian government and the guerrilla group the ELN, had signed a historic ceasefire in Havana with Cuba acting as guarantor. Given that the US’s main justification for placing Cuba on the list was in part due to the role it’s played in hosting negotiations to bring about an end to the conflict in Colombia, its designation as a ‘sponsor of terrorism’ rather than a champion of peace seemed all the more egregious. Jayne Fisher seconded the motion, pointing out that Cuba itself has been the victim of international terrorism, often emanating from counter-revolutionaries based in the United States, including the bombing of flight 455 in 1976, which left 73 people dead.
After discussion all motions were passed, the Annual Plan and Financial Report were passed, and 36 new members of the Executive Committee elected. Kevin Courtney, current joint General Secretary of the NEU was elected as the new Chairperson of CSC.
The 2023 Blockade Buster Raffle raised almost £14,000 for CSC and winners details can be found here.
A thank you to Diana Holland
Before closing, attendees gave a standing ovation to Diana Holland, who has been Chair of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign for twelve years, following the announcement that she would be stepping down as Chair to coincide with her retirement as Assistant General Secretary of Unite. Rob Miller presented Diana with gifts on behalf of the campaign and thanked her for an extraordinary commitment to Cuba during her time as chair. However, as Diana said, “you can retire as Assistant General Secretary of Unite and Chair of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, but you can’t retire from international solidarity.”
Afternoon rally – Viva la Educacion!
Following the success of the Viva la Educación appeal, the afternoon was dedicated to the amazing achievements of education in Cuba since the revolution.
A screening of ‘Maestra’, a documentary directed by Catherine Murphy, was put on for attendees. The film focuses on the experiences of some of the youngest women teachers that participated in the 1961 Cuban Literacy Campaign. It was during this campaign that the revolutionary government aimed to eradicate illiteracy in one year, sending a quarter of a million volunteers to all corners of the island to teach reading and writing in rural communities.
NEU members, who visited Cuba as part of the regular NEU & CSC October delegation, spoke of the impact that their visits had on their own educational outlook and the need to continue building solidarity.
Tony Foody (Cumbria NEU) highlighted the two main differences he saw between the Cuban system and the British system, which he works in - the educational philosophy and the availability of resources. While Cuban schools struggles to obtain the resources available to British schools, he said its emphasis on the arts and culture, the impressive staff to pupil ratio and their focus on the wellbeing of students made him realise how much better things could, and should, be in this country.
Catherine Boswell (Wigan NEU) spoke about how Cuba supports children’s transition from early years to formal education, an area that is often neglected in Britain. She said that since she has returned she’s raised the struggle to end the blockade with her colleagues and now believes that “a better world is possible.”
Azadeh Neman (North Kent NEU) recalled hearing that, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, schools remained open even if only one pupil was able to attend. She said that in Cuba, “the students are everything”.
Our special guest speaker, Professor Lissette Rubio Mederos, spoke about the challenges that Cuban educators and Cuban students face as a result of the six-decades long blockade. Lissette is a Professor of Pedagogical Sciences at the Enrique José Varona Pedagogical University in Havana, a member of the Cuban Federation of Women and was in Britain for a speaking tour of CSC local groups and trade union conferences. She highlighted the daily shortages that directly impact the classroom – from everyday equipment such as stationery and computers to specialist equipment for children with SEND.
However, despite the difficulties, Lissette reaffirmed Cuba’s commitment to its values, its revolution and thanked everyone in attendance for their continued solidarity. “We will keep going and, with your support, we will never give up. I would like to thank CSC, all of its members and all the members of the British trade union movement who have supported us over the years”, she said. “Viva la Educación, Viva la Campaña de Solidaridad con Cuba y Viva Cuba Libre!”