INDEPENDENT NEWS

Three Lessons I Learned On My Visit To Cuba

Published: Wed 19 Jun 2024 12:16 PM
By Amanda Yee
Last month, I went to Cuba as part of a 20-person delegation to deliver $60,000 in critical life-saving cancer medications and medical supplies to two pediatric hospitals there. This delegation was organised by Hatuey Project, a volunteer-run organisation that regularly brings medical and humanitarian aid to Cuba. As part of the 10-day trip, we met with representatives of different Cuban organisations, institutions, and even members of Parliament. Through these exchanges, we learned about how the people of Cuba are engaged in its ongoing revolutionary process, their project of building socialism, and the impacts of U.S. policy on everyday life.
Here are three key lessons I drew from our delegation.1. All of Cuban Society Has Been Impacted by the U.S. Blockade
The U.S. blockade on Cuba, in place since the 1960s, is an act of economic warfare. The political motivations behind it have been clear since the very beginning: to make life so miserable on the island that the Cuban people will direct their frustrations against the Communist Party and overthrow it, making way for U.S. business interests to take hold again. This has been U.S. policy toward Cuba for over 60 years.
As representatives we spoke to emphasised, there is no sector of society that the blockade does not touch. Conditions are now worse than ever: The blockade has led to extreme shortages in food, flour, and fuel. Electrical blackouts are becoming more and more frequent.
Meanwhile, farmers cannot grow food on a mass scale, because the blockade denies them the pesticides, fertilisers, and equipment to do so. Many have relied on countries such as Mexico donating tractors, hoes, and other farm supplies.
When receiving our medical delivery, a doctor at a children’s hospital in Santa Clara relayed to us that medicine is what is most needed and yet most affected by the blockade. The blockade not only prevents crucial medications from reaching the island, but also the raw materials and science and technology needed to produce them. And as the most effective cancer treatments are often U.S.-produced and doctors do not have access to those, they often seek alternative treatments that are not as effective. This has an obvious impact on survival rate.
The doctors also lamented that fuel scarcity makes it extremely difficult for families of patients to travel back and forth from their homes to the hospital. On top of that, food scarcity creates even more hardship for these families. As we came to understand, the blockade doesn’t just affect individual things in isolation; it creates overlapping crises with which everyday Cubans must contend.
This is the cruel price that the Cuban people continue to pay for their socialist project.2. Cuba Shows Us That Another World Is Possible
Cuba is an example that a future exists beyond capitalism, and that future is worth fighting for.
Cuba’s government represents a democracy virtually unknown to us in the United States. On our last day, we met with several members of Parliament, or the National Assembly of People’s Power—the country’s highest political body. Unlike in the U.S., these government representatives do not receive a salary nor do they represent any groups with certain political interests. Nor do they have election campaigns or receive campaign funding.
As one member of the Assembly told us, “Policy is not a business. It’s a responsibility of the revolutionary project we have built.”
Popular consultation between government officials and community members is an important democratic principle in Cuba. Every new potential law is debated and refined through this process, including the new Families Code passed in 2022. The high level of political participation among the Cuban people can likely be attributed to their faith in this democratic consultative process.
And in spite of the blockade, Cuba mobilises what scarce resources it has in service of its people, especially its most vulnerable. We were constantly in awe with how much Cuba did with so little. At the hospitals we visited, our delegation—accustomed to navigating the byzantine for-profit U.S. healthcare and insurance systems—was immensely impressed at the dedication of staff to provide comprehensive and quality care to patients despite the extreme hardships brought by the blockade.
We also visited the Quisicuaba Agricultural Camp in Artemisa Province, an assisted living center for the homeless, as well as the elderly who need support in their later years. Since landlordism was abolished in Cuba after the revolution, the conditions which drive homelessness there are different than in the U.S. In Cuba, homelessness is usually caused by mental health issues, alcoholism, or loss of family support, rather than eviction.
Quisicuaba provides residents with accommodation, clinical and psychological treatment, three meals a day, along with workshops and daily programming. There is a farm on the camp where, together, residents grow bananas, sweet potatoes and cassava, along with livestock. The camp fosters a community setting among residents, and its primary goal is protection and rehabilitation in order for them to be reincorporated back into society. Assisted living centers like Quisicuaba are subsidized by their provincial governments.
Meanwhile in the U.S., over half a million people experience homelessness with no government support, and faced with the substandard conditions of most homeless shelters, they often choose to remain on the streets rather than seek refuge. This is an unconscionable reality of living in the U.S.—our government spends billions of dollars on war and to bankroll Israel’s genocide in Gaza while homelessness skyrockets, people can’t afford basic necessities, and infrastructure crumbles.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Cuba shows us that another world is possible, one that centers humanity and dignity of life over profit.3. We Must Firmly Reject Despair in Fighting for This New World
Yet despite the hardships created by the blockade, we were struck by how warm the Cuban people were toward us, the pride they exuded when talking about their revolution, and their steadfast commitment not to kneel to U.S. policy. One of my favorite parts of the delegation was a trip to the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, a research institute in Havana.
The scientist we spoke to there recalled that one of the proudest moments of his life was contributing to Cuba’s COVID-19 vaccine. They named that vaccine “Abdala,” after a poem written by Cuban national hero José Martí in which the titular character defends his homeland of Nubia against Spanish occupiers. Martí wrote that poem during Cuba’s Ten Years’ War against Spain. At the forefront of people’s minds is their struggle for sovereignty and national liberation, always.
The scientist told us, “When your idea is correct, you must fight to the end.”
This was a key takeaway for me as someone living in the U.S., especially given the level of cynicism and pessimism among some sectors of the Left here. The U.S. blockade has now been in place for over 60 years. Most Cubans alive now have lived their entire lives under blockade. If the Cuban people remain so determined to defend the gains of their revolution, if they maintain their sense of revolutionary optimism even under the most severe of conditions, what excuse do we have to feel despair about what we are up against? About fighting U.S. imperialism?
I believe that type of pessimism is a luxury afforded to us, but we must reject it. Despair is a shirking of our collective responsibility as those living in the heart of empire. Our own government has robbed the Cuban people of so much over the course of centuries, from occupation to the current blockade. It is our responsibility to combat the vicious policies of the U.S. Only when U.S. imperialism is overturned will countries like Cuba be allowed to breathe and develop to their full potential. We do this first and foremost through getting organized, so that we can build capacity to weaken imperialism from within. That is a responsibility we all share as those living in the belly of the beast. We owe it to people in places like Cuba.
Author Bio: Amanda Yee is a journalist and organizer based out of Brooklyn. She is the managing editor of Liberation News, and her writing has appeared in Monthly Review Online, The Real News Network, CounterPunch, and Peoples Dispatch. Follow her on X @catcontentonly.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.

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