Solidarity swells for defiant Cuba — Participant reports on Friendshipment IV and Havana World Conference

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Last November, Havana was the site of two inspiring events that signaled rising opposition to the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The fourth Pastors for Peace Friendshipment caravan delivered a record 260 tons of aid. Caravanistas arrived on the eve of the first World Conference in Solidarity with Cuba, held from November 21-25 and attended by over 3,000 people from 109 countries.

Busting the blockade. U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment IV was the first to include a trip across Canada. From Seattle, I joined the 13-day trek eastward from Vancouver Island to Montreal. We received enthusiastic welcomes in more than a dozen cities where we stopped to collect aid, educate, demonstrate, raise funds, and talk to the media.

On November 17, as our U.S. contingent attempted to cross into Canada at Buffalo, New York, U.S. Customs agents impounded some of the Cuba-bound computers. Undaunted by threats, caravanistas carried boxes of aid by hand across the border. Later, when Customs seized a van, quick-thinking caravanistas blocked the tow truck with their bodies until Customs agreed to return both the van and the computers.

In Montreal, dockworkers helped us load more than 28 cargo containers of aid, which made their way to Cuba by freighter. Weary but elated, we then boarded jets headed for the Caribbean.

What road for the economy?We streamed into Havana’s Karl Marx Theatre for the first session of the solidarity conference, which opened thrillingly. Thousands of participants chanted demands to end the blockade as dozens of speakers lined up to denounce Yankee aggression and praise Cuba’s defense of the downtrodden.

At the closing session, thunderous applause greeted Fidel Castro’s pledge never to return to capitalism.

The embargo and the demise of trade with the former Soviet bloc have created economic crisis on the island. The Cuban leadership has had to respond by taking some drastic measures that they recognize as steps backward. These include entering into more than 180 joint-venture agreements with foreign businesses and legalizing the dollar.

Some concessions to world capitalism are unquestionably necessary. But the danger is that Cuba, like Russia and Eastern Europe, will end up back in capitalism’s pocket. Of immediate concern is the government’s partial dismantling of centralized planning, a cornerstone of a workers state that becomes all the more crucial when limited capitalist practices must be reintroduced.

Best defense: internationalism and workers’ democracy. Castro’s message that Cuba will go it alone if it has to is courageous, but not realistic. With the Soviet Union’s much vaster resources to rely on, Stalin announced his intention of building socialism in one country. It proved impossible, just as Lenin, Trotsky, and the early Bolsheviks predicted. The only hedges against capitalist restoration are thoroughgoing internationalism, including support for budding revolutions and left regroupment around the globe, and workers’ democracy.

Proletarian democracy means the establishment of workers’ councils, or soviets, that have the power to set policy for both the job site and the country. Topdown paternalism, however well intentioned, cannot substitute for the intervention of the laborers, whose knowledge about problems and solutions comes from direct experience and whose future is at stake.

What will persuade the Cuban leadership to give control to workers and recognize the decisiveness of world revolution to the country’s future?

International sympathizers will play a role. For example, the U.S. delegation to the solidarity meeting brought a proposal initiated by the Freedom Socialist Party for a worldwide week of protest and education this spring and for the internationalization of the next Friendshipment.

Cuban conference organizers endorsed the idea of international participation in the Friendshipment, and they approved some other proposed expressions of solidarity.

But they provided little time to discuss plans for specific future actions or the formation of working committees, and so did not fully capitalize on the conference as an opportunity to build on the incredible support present.

Another initiative was one raised to the Federation of Cuban Women by Radical Women, which hopes to be part of organizing a special international delegation of feminists to visit the island. The federation president, Vilma Espin, was delighted with the proposal, and urged women in the U.S. to continue their support for the Cuban revolution and its achievements, especially in promoting women’s equality.

Keeping the beacon lit. Cuban women, along with lesbians and gays, Afro-Cubans, and youth, are hit hardest by the crisis and have the most incentive to resolve it. But they need public forums in which to explore ideas about how to do so.

In our article on Cuba in the June 1994 issue, we advocated multiple workers’ parties as a means of spurring and organizing debate about program and tactics. But we’ve reconsidered this position, based partly on our talks with people during our several trips to Cuba, where we saw firsthand the dangers facing society.

At this time of special peril for Cuba, multiple parties could open the door to U.S.-funded counterrevolution, even if only those sympathetic to the revolution were legally permitted. And the discussions and policy changes that are needed can occur if principled political tendencies are allowed to operate within the Communist Party.

Grassroots groups like Cubans in the Struggle Against AIDS are already affecting government policy, but indirectly; they need a voice inside the party.

To survive, the revolution must rekindle its internationalist flame. Until socialism takes root in the U.S. and across the Americas, Cuba will never be free. Economically and politically, no country can remain an island. Friendshipment IV and the Havana conference prove that the power to end Cuba’s forced isolation is real — and growing.

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