The 8th biennial convention of the Canadian Network on Cuba was held in Toronto, Canada, on June 3-4, 2017. I was asked to speak on the panel titled Building Solidarity with Cuba in Canada with distinguished panelists Don Foreman of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), and Yamil Martinez of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).
This is what I said. The title is taken from a statement by Fidel Castro.
I was here at the Canadian Network on Cuba Convention (CNC) two years ago and also had the opportunity to speak about solidarity at the Panel Discussion: Canada-Cuba Solidarity & 70 Years of Canada-Cuba Diplomatic Relations, together with the Hon. Jean Augustine and His Excellency Ambassador Julio Garmendía Peña of Cuba.
I believe I ended with a quote from the book “Cuba Solidarity in Canada – Five Decades of People-to-People Foreign Relations”. Today I will start with that quote as we continue our dialogue about Solidarity.
The quote is from the very last paragraph of the Conclusion chapter of the book:
“Reflections on five decades of people-to-people relations between Canadians and Cubans based on solidarity show that a paradigm shift in the current foreign relation is not only desirable but also possible. What are still needed are the political will and the recognition that solidarity may well be the missing link in human interactions leading to peace and justice among nations in the twenty-first century. All governments should be encouraged to tap into this powerful human resource.”
I still believe in the power of Solidarity as a social force. And I still believe that Solidarity is the only realistic path towards a peaceful world. I say this despite the senseless imperial wars taking place in the Middle East, or the violent rightwing actions in Venezuela, or despite the reversal of the social gains Latin America had made in the last few years (coups in Paraguay, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil).
How can I still be optimistic and realist?
- Because the objective reality does not offer another way to peace at this time. We need to be creative and explore new models of international relationships both formal and people-to-people.
- Because I have seen real solidarity in Cuba and from Cuba. And I have seen it working. We are witnesses of a process that produces results. Be it diplomatically (call to dialogue with respect), be it trade relations (CELAC, ALBA), or, be it truly humanitarian aid (medical missions al over the world). All of this including social, technological and biological advances for its own society.
- Because under the leadership of Cuba, the solidarity movement has achieved a great collective victory: The freedom of the Cuban Five! We had Fernando Gonzalez at the CNC convention 2 years ago! Gerardo Hernandez came to Canada as well.
Finally, Cuba’s success in re-establishing diplomatic relationships with the US, which is Cuba’s victory in a longer, and harder diplomatic process.
In one of his reflections referring to the help received by Cuba besieged by hurricanes, Fidel wrote: “The seeds of solidarity planted for many years are growing everywhere.” Indeed, every act of solidarity is a seed that will give us back in time of need. It is not an act of greed, on the contrary, it is a selfless act. Just like Cuba’s act of solidarity with Africa that we heard about in the words of the CNC co-chair Isaac Saney.
Allow me not to list all the specific actions of solidarity that the CNC member associations and individuals have done daily in support of the Cuban Revolution in Canada. Many of those action are presented in the book and many have been reported by the reps at this convention.
Are those actions enough? Of course not. If they were, we would not be here today and the CNC would not be relevant anymore. That would mean that Cuba would be free of threats to its independence and sovereignty.
Unfortunately, the CNC is still relevant.
Speaking of threats to Cuba, we all know what those are:
- the return to an ultra conservative US administration with Trump who may reverse the still meagre Cuba policies by Obama.
- the usual individuals of Cuban origins in the US Senate that are driving the dark forces of annexation, so despised by Jose Marti.
The blockade continues to be a threat to the progress and economic growth of Cuba.
To be alert about Cuba is important and necessary, but more than that we need to be prepared. We need to be able to read the signals that more reliably will come from Cuba and be ready to act. The US empire will not stop.
It is worth mentioning that indirectly Cuba is also threatened if the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela is lost. This gives us another dimension of solidarity to consider.
Obviously we need to do more. We commit ourselves to do more. But most of all we have to be prepared to overcome the sense of frustration for failure in achieving our goals, not of our own fault, but because we have a formidable enemy, an aspiring world empire that seems to be unstoppable.
But I can tell you this: The empire is suffering major political bruises and is losing world credibility as the naked king is exposed. This is more evident in the Middle East.
We need to take a more principled stand about unconditional solidarity. Consider what that looks like with the following example from Cuba.
Cuban doctors have worked with US counterparts and US military (surely) in fighting Ebola in West Africa. Yes, socialist Cuba working side by side with imperial and political nemesis USA. Cuba did not pull back its principled solidarity for the dying people of West Africa. Cuba did not say, ‘my ideology forbids me to work with people who have an ideology contrary to mine’.
Cuba’s principled and unconditional solidarity has saved many lives in the world, not only in West Africa. That is the core of Cuba’s foreign policy. And the heart of it is Solidarity.
And, you know what? There are no major rewards from all that hard work. Ah! But there are political rewards! Even if that might take some time to come to fruition.
Cuba’s achievements have moved on from being recognized only for having free education and free healthcare for all Cubans to being recognized today as a world power and mover in the human right to healthcare for all. Recently Cuba called for worldwide universal healthcare at World Health Organization Assembly and Cuba’s doctors from the Henry Reeve brigade were also recognized with a prestigious award.
Fidel’s phrase again comes to mind: “The seeds of solidarity planted for many years are growing everywhere.”
We must reject war mongering, and practice solidarity mongering if we want to harvest solidarity!
So, where does the US blockade against Cuba stand in comparison to the humanitarian work that Cuba is doing?
That is the analysis that we need to produce and convey. We must do that everywhere. We have a right to do that in Canada because we stand for universal principles. We have a right to go to our parliamentarians and say that the US blockade against Cuba is not a US-Cuba bilateral issue. It is an issue that concerns Canadians based on humanitarian principles. Canada is not a stranger to speaking on behalf of the Canadian people when it comes to promoting less moral and ethical foreign policy issues. The recent interference against Venezuela at the OAS comes to mind.
We need to develop a strong voice that not only organizes protests on the streets but offers ideas and political solutions. That is the only way that we can bend the official Canadian political will to our cause. That is the only way that we can foster a “paradigm shift in the current [Canadian] foreign relation”.
We must convince our politicians that Solidarity is a valid tool of foreign policy! There is no more convincing power than knowing the facts as we have seen them in Cuba.
Over time, the CNC will acquire visibility on the political map of Canada.
We can develop similar analysis for the issue of the Guantanamo base. We are familiar with that and we can build a case that is of concern for the Canadian people.
Together with packages of information we can develop talking points for all to be able to present the issues in a convincing way.
By developing those strategies we will be able to engage Canadians of all stripes. But most of all the CNC will be able to engage member organizations to work locally.
Since I am convinced of the need to engage member organizations, let’s use Cuba’s model of democratic process. I suggest a CNC committee a) develop a draft package of information and talking points about the blockade, b) request member organizations to review, analyse and send back comments and amendments to the committee.
In a short period of time we would have solid educational material on the blockade that we can use for our work, but equally important we would have built a sense of shared ownership and internal solidarity within the CNC.
Finally, I apologize if I have spoken about things that have been said or done before. I’m sure we can all use this as a reminder to ourselves and, by doing that, strengthen our future work as this convention is called to do.
For me, that is the meaning of “building”, as stated in the title of this panel. Planning for a sound strong solidarity with Cuba means joining forces; putting aside differences for the only purpose that the CNC exists: Solidarity with Cuba.
Let’s do that. Let’s continue planting Fidel’s “seeds of solidarity.”
We reject war mongering. We want solidarity mongering for Cuba in Canada.
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