Yolanda Alaniz is a Trotskyist feminist Chicana from a farmworker family. A Seattle city employee and leader in the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women, she is also co-author of The Chicano Struggle: A Racial or National Movement? She calls her visit to Cuba (and, on the way, Mexico) a lifelong dream come true.
“I think what is admirable is that we have not bent like other countries … We are willing to resist as long as the blockade is there.”
Fidel Castro made these comments to the 250 members of the third U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment Committee caravan on our last night in Havana, March 18. Representing 20 nations, we had been organized by Pastors for Peace to break the immoral and inhuman U.S. embargo by delivering 150 tons of humanitarian aid.
Castro was saying the same thing we had heard from many others during our week-long stay. Cubanos refuse to be starved into submission to the “free-market” economy.
In the beautiful heartland of the revolution, Santiago de Cuba, I spoke with Rosario Fabre Navarrete, the president of the local Federation of Cuban Women, who told me that the people are determined not to let the embargo kill the enormous gains of the new society.
I witnessed these achievements firsthand. The revolution liberated workers, women, poor peasants, and Blacks. Cubanos have full employment and free healthcare and education; I was captivated by the children and how they are cared for and taught. Great strides have been made in eradicating racism and sexism.
These accomplishments are the fruits of a workers state – a society where the means of production have been collectivized to benefit the working class – and now they are all in jeopardy.
Blockade causes devastation. In Cuba, the cruel and unusual punishments of the blockade are all around you.
The beautiful Spanish-style buildings are deteriorating, people are very thin, most construction projects are abandoned, and hospital shelves are empty of medicines. It is common to see a tractor or horses pulling a truckload of people.
Crime and prostitution are rising as the quest for dollars, which buy basic necessities on the black market, intensifies. Women are being retrained for service jobs that bring in U.S. currency from tourism.
Mothers worry about the quality of their children’s lives.
In the midst of our hectic schedule, I managed to spend one afternoon on the beach with a woman journalist from Havana. We shared stories about our lives as women and mothers. I asked her what happens when she runs out of staples like cooking oil – how does she feed the children? As she tried to answer, she began to cry, and I changed the subject.
Crisis rooted in isolation and incomplete democracy. The problems go deeper than the blockade. Cuba’s social transformation was meant to spread like beautiful red wildflowers, to be surrounded by other revolutionary countries who could nurture and protect it. Cuba can no more institute “socialism in one country” than the Soviet Union could.
When all is said and done, its survival depends on workingclass revolt in the U.S., center of world counterrevolution.
Cuba is also held back by the failure of the revolution to flower fully on its own soil. One-party paternalism, however well-meant, is no substitute for real proletarian democracy, in which workers’ councils, or soviets, directly control government and the production and distribution of goods.
Some groups suffer more than others for this lack. I interviewed a gay man, frustrated but loyal to the revolution, who told me about ongoing discrimination against sexual minorities and the Communist Party’s refusal even to allow him simply to form a gay organization.
However, since that rejection, gay and AIDS education groups have sprung up in Havana. In the realm of gay rights, as in many others like the demand for grassroots discussion of economic policy, people are pushing for change from the bottom up. But open debate will mean nothing if differing pro-worker programs can’t be represented via different workingclass parties.
Officials feel threatened by the prospect of a multi-party system and real workers’ control, but these innovations are essential to defeating the Yankee assault.
Friendshipments to the fore. In the area of international support, the Freindshipments are taking the lead.
The trip I was part of was a thrilling success, beginning with the militancy of the caravanistas’ stand against the U.S. government as they prepared to cross the border from Canada. The group as a whole was ready to use civil disobedience if need be. (An exception: nervous members of the Communist League, Canada’s parallel to the U.S. Socialist Workers’ Party. The Cl and SWP several times undermined the united front by trying at critical moments to overturn decisions made by the majority and by the leadership, Pastors for Peace.)
The caravan took 13 routes, stopping in over 130 cities to educate about the blockade and driving to Tampico, Mexico, to load the supplies onto a Cuban freighter.
The positive response we met shows how strongly people are still inspired by Cuba’s example. To make this tremendous global reservoir of goodwill a powerful tool, Castro needs to organize it.
Now is the time for the Cuban leadership to call for a new regroupment of communists and socialists around the world to defend and expand the Cuban revolution. That is the way to turn crisis into opportunity—to turn the grave that the U.S. is attempting to dig for Cuba into the spadework for a glorious new garden where international solidarity and human potential can blossom.