Young organizers from across the United States have arrived in Havana, Cuba, to take part in a 10-day brigade organized by the International Peoples’ Assembly. During the brigade, the young leaders will meet with different sectors of Cuban society to hear firsthand about the impact of the U.S. blockade and the experiences of the Cuban people in building socialism. They will also share experiences and challenges that they face as organizers against capitalism, racism, and oppression in the U.S.
The brigade participants hail from organizations such as Black Lives Matter Grassroots, Black Men Build, Black Youth Project 100, the Palestinian Youth Movement, CODEPINK, Unión de Vecinos, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the People’s Forum, and others.
Manolo De Los Santos, co-executive director of The People’s Forum and an organizer of the delegation, stated during the opening activity of the brigade,
We have comrades here from all over the world who in many ways are prisoners of the U.S. empire and are subject to the violence of the U.S. Empire.
De Los Santos added,
This system of violence puts itself in all its force, with all its resources, with all its strength, against anyone who says otherwise. Any people who dare to organize their societies on their own terms, in defense of their own resources, in defense of the planet, in defense of life [face] the wrath of the U.S. Empire. That is why we are here today.
During the first session of the day, brigade participants heard presentations from the president of Casa de las Américas and former Minister of Culture Abel Prieto, and Zuleica Romay, the director of the department of Afro-American studies at Casa de las Américas. Prieto and Romay reflected on how the Cuban revolution has grappled with cultural transformation in the eradication of oppression as well as the current conditions in Cuba today with the intensified blockade. They also answered questions from brigade members about how Cuba’s democratic process works, the experience of Black people in the country, and the most pressing challenges facing Cuba today.
Culture in transformation
Prieto, one of the country’s key intellectuals on culture, explained that one of the strongest tools of the U.S. empire used in their psychological warfare today is the weaponization of history. He said that there is a significant attempt to idealize and praise the pre-revolutionary Cuba. “The idea is that people say ok, then why did we have a revolution, if that all was so great?” he explained.
But of course, in this image of the idealized Havana, you couldn’t see the children without schools, hospitals, homeless, and living in shantytowns.
This is why, Prieto told the brigade participants,
it is necessary to engage in permanent education about the history of the revolutionary process. It is important that our youth understand where we came from, what we did, everything that it cost us in terms of sacrifice, blood, and lives.
Romay emphasized the need for this education to also address the existing oppressive hierarchies that exist in society. She explained that following the initial triumph of the revolution in 1959 “it was thought, naively, that if we were able to break the infrastructure that sustained capitalism, the rest of the things would change over time.” However, she added,
prejudices are extremely resistant, even to structural changes…it looks for a way to maintain inequality and so that the person who is considered inferior stays in their place.
This became apparent, she highlighted, during the economic crisis of the 1990s because it is when social inequality becomes normal, “and the people and groups of people that are more relegated socially are in that situation because they deserve it and they haven’t put in effort. And by the end of the 90s there were people who dared to say this publicly.” What did Cuba do in this moment? It intensified its struggle against social prejudices: “the prejudices motivated by skin color, territorial origin, sexual orientation, etc.” She explained that this is key because “it is society that trains us, it is the society that represses us, and it is society that is violent towards us. And the society must get ready in many ways to struggle against this. We are in this struggle and we are motivated. We are not the least bit tired. A revolution is looking around you and recognizing things don’t work correctly and we have to start again with more enthusiasm.”
During the afternoon session, the brigade met María Ofelia Rodríguez, coordinator of the Network of Lesbian and Bisexual Women, Maritza López, a popular educator of the Black Neighborhood Network, and Yamila Gómez Ferrer, a lawyer who helped draft and build the historic Family Code. The women talked about how they have organized to defend the dignity of all Cubans and their human rights.
The Network of Lesbian and Bisexual women is one of the largest organizations of its kind. Rodríguez saluted the historic victory of the Family Code and added that “the struggle is not over, because it is not just about a law or legislation but it is in the hearts and minds of the people.”
López of the Black Neighborhood Network underscored the importance of popular education in the struggle against racism,
it has given us not only a methodology but a conception of life…and has helped us make people understand and change their perspectives.
Ferrer reflected on the profoundly democratic process of building the Family Code, which involved tens of thousands of meetings and consultations with communities and institutions. She added,
The minds of people don’t change one day to the next but we have a code that gives us a legal framework to guarantee people’s rights.