All around the world, “Cuba” is synonymous with so many aspects of life, culture, and of course politics, that it is clear that this island of 11.2 million people has an enormous impact on the world. In the Middle East and North Africa, in countries in the midst of mass uprisings against repressive US backed regimes, posters of the revolutionary leader of the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara, are held high in protests and demonstrations. In Pakistan, Cuba means the 2,601 doctors who volunteered their services after the devastating 2005 earthquake… not to mention, the 37,041 Cuban doctors and other health workers on medical brigades in 77 countries around the world. For a survivor of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Cuba is home to the medical complex dedicated to providing free specialized treatment to the Chernobyl victims. For any country under occupation, war, oppression or aggression by the U.S., Cuba is a country that has been standing up against U.S. imperialism since the triumph of the 1959 revolution. For a feminist, Cuba is the Cuban Federation of Women, made up of 85.2% of Cuban women. For an environmentalist, Cuba is a leader in organic farming and sustainable agriculture. For an aspiring musician, Cuban music is the maestro. For ballet lovers, Cuba is revered and admired.
For anyone in this world interested in the struggle for a better world, Cuba is a wealth of experience, leadership and inspiration. The Annual International Che Guevara Conference aims to bring together the ideas of Cuba and Che Guevara to Vancouver and beyond, and provide an opportunity to learn from Cuba’s example, to discuss, to debate, and to join Cuba in creating a better world!
5 years and growing
The first International Che Guevara Conference started as a question, with the theme “Che Guevara: Thinker & Fighter - Are His Ideas Relevant for the 21st Century?” The second year brought into perspective an important milestone of the Cuban Revolution, with “50 years of Dynamism of the Cuban Revolution”. The third year of the conference explored how Cuba has impacted the world with “Cuba & Revolutionary Internationalism”. Last year’s conference focused on “Cuba Today! The Gains and Challenges”. The 2012 conference theme, “Cuba’s Economic Reforms: Capitalism or Socialism” approached a topic that is hotly debated both in and outside of Cuba.
The 5th Annual International Che Guevara Conference, from November 2nd to 5th 2012, brought together more than 600 people who participated in four dynamic days of inspiring talks, passionate speakers, discussion, and debate as well as poetry, music and film. The four-day conference, organized by Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC), featured 6 prominent Cuban speakers, including Dr. Aleida Guevara, a Cuban revolutionary leader, pediatrician, prominent author of the book, “Chavez, Venezuela and the New Latin America” and daughter of the legendary Ernesto Che Guevara.
Cuba’s heroes, our heroes, honoured at conference opening
Cuba’s is a land of many heroes – you can count Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as the most well known around the world. But Cuba’s heroic history is a continuing tradition, and the Cuban 5 are today’s heroes not only for Cuba, but for humanity. The opening night of the conference on Friday November 2nd was titled “¡Volveran! A Special Evening Dedicated to the Freedom of the 5 Cuban Heroes: Fighting Against Terrorism & Fighting for Humanity”. The Cuban 5, Ramon, Gerardo, Fernando and Antonio held in U.S. prisons, and Rene on parole in the U.S. are true heroes fighting for humanity even from inside their jail cells. (Read more about the case of the Cuban 5 in this issue of the newspaper)
The evening was opened and welcomed by the conference MC’s, Tamara Hansen (Coordinator of VCSC and author of the book, “5 Decades of the Cuban Revolution: The Challenges of an Unwavering Leadership”), Colleen Glynn (VCSC Executive Member and Richmond Federal New Democratic Party President) and Aaron Mercredi (organizer with VCSC and organizer with the Indigenous Rights and Action Project). Over 120 people joined together for the opening night, at the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House in Vancouver. The event started with an explanation of the case of the Cuban 5 by Tim Louis, former Vancouver City Counsellor and long-time supporter and activist of social justice causes. Participants also heard two video messages of solidarity from the U.S., from Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban 5, and from Alicia Jrapko, coordinator of the International Committee to Free the Cuban 5. Many hearts were touched by the short film “The Prisoner and the Bird” narrated by U.S. actor Danny Glover, which gave a view of the life of one of the Cuban 5, Gerardo Hernandez, from behind bars. The film was followed by another heartfelt narrative by one of the Cuban 5, Antonio Guerrero, whose poetry was read by Gisela Lara, a young Venezuelan activist and journalist.
Following the poem by Antonio Guerrero, participants then heard from special guest Antonio Guerrero Cabrera, the son of Antonio Guerrero and a member of Cuba’s Union of Young Communists. He spoke passionately about the heroism of the Cuban 5, and the need for the world to join the campaign to free these 5 Cuban men from the U.S. so they can return home to their people and their families. Participants then were inspired by the words of Dr. Aleida Guevara, who appealed to people to get involved in the campaign and to expose the hypocrisy of the U.S. government in imprisoning the 5 Cuban Heroes.
The cultural elements of the program included musical performer Réjean singing songs of peace, love and freedom,
beautiful poetry by a young Venezuelan revolutionary and journalist Eder Delgado, as well as hard-hitting poetry from the soul of VCSC organizer Shakeel Lochan. Socially conscious Hip Hop from Joose Justice brought people to their feet and the final performance of the night was the powerful and romantic musical performance of Sangre Morena.
The conference began with this beautiful evening dedicated to 5 Cuban Heroes, Cuba’s heroes, our heroes, heroes for the world. The solidarity with these 5 men who should be home with their families and not locked behind prison bars was felt as the evening ended with everyone chanting "Free the Cuban 5 NOW!"
Prominent speakers, engaging workshops, dynamic discussions and debates
The 2012 conference brought together a line up of nine speakers, six of whom were prominent Cuban guest speakers. Through the workshops their great experience and knowledge was shared with conference participants, as well there was an opportunity for many discussions and debates.
Before launching into two days of workshops at the Russian Hall in Vancouver, November 3rd started out with the film “Ode to the Revolution” by director Roberto Chile which was an emotional and inspiring tribute following the many gains made throughout the Cuban Revolution. After the film, the Keynote Address of the day was given by the Cuban Consul General of Toronto, Javier Domokos. Javier, a graduate of Havana's “Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales” has been posted in several diplomatic missions around the world including Turkey, Zimbabwe and Kenya, and during this time he has also worked for Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Javier spoke on “Where the World is Today and Where Cuba is in the World” and with many examples it was clear that the small island of Cuba occupies an important role in the world.
Moving into the workshops for the day, Cuba’s expertise in sustainable agriculture was addressed by the workshop “Cooperatives in Cuba: A New Revolutionary Path?” presented by Wendy Holm and Mavis Alvarez. Wendy Holm is a Professor of UBC’s International Field Studies in Sustainable Agriculture (Cuba), an economist, author and award winning journalist and sustainability expert, as well as the organizer of the Canada-Cuba Farmer to Farmer Project. After she spoke and presented a slideshow on her topic, participants heard from Mavis Alvarez, an agricultural engineer and educator who consults with Cuban family farming and cooperatives and a member of the national leadership of Cuba’s National Association of Small Farmers.
A day of workshops is not only a day of workshops though – before breaking for lunch, musical performer Réjean had the whole hall singing along, smiling and laughing to his music.
The next workshop was on the topic “Cuba’s Economic Transformation: Causes, Challenges and Necessities”. The workshop was presented by Alberto Prieto, the Coordinator for North and Central America for the Central Committee of Communist Party of Cuba. Alberto was also previously the first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. His talk gave an in depth perspective to the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, the economic, social and political guidelines that came out of the congress and how and why they are being implemented.
The final workshop of the day was “The Dynamics of Cuba’s New Economic & Social Guidelines: Healthcare, Education & Culture in Perspective” In this workshop, participants had the opportunity to hear from Dr.Aleida Guevara. Aleida illustrated this topic with examples of the effects of the criminal U.S. blockade on Cuba, her own experience as a Cuban doctor, and with the principals of the Cuban revolutionary movement. She even demonstrated Cuba’s rich culture by dancing a traditional Cuban dance and challenging others to try it out!
Throughout the day, over 140 people participated in the conference, with a diversity of ages and from many ethnic communities. Participants were eager to bring their questions and comments to the floor during the discussion periods following each workshop, and the conference speakers were also eager to respond and expand on the points brought up in discussion. As the second day of the conference closed it was with high spirits from a dynamic and inspiring day of workshops and discussion, and enthusiasm for the next day of the conference.
More prominent speakers, engaging workshops, dynamic discussions and debates
The second day of workshops, on November 4th, began with the film “ALBA: Venezuela & Cuba” outlining the development of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the strong relationship between Venezuela and Cuba. Following the spirit of international cooperation and internationalism shown in the film, the Keynote Address of the day was given by Merli Vanegas, the Venezuelan Consul General in Vancouver. Merli is also a lawyer of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Legal Consultant founder of Citizen Power, and was a diplomat in Libya. Her address followed the topic “The Re-election of President Chavez and the Consolidation of Participative Democracy”.
The first workshop of the day was on “Youth Today in Cuba and the prospect of revolutionary advancement within the new policies of the Cuban government” given by Antonio Guerrero and Alberto Prieto. As a young revolutionary in Cuba, Antonio had many perspectives to share and relate to both the young and young at heart at the conference.
Again, a day of workshops included not only listening to exceptional speakers and participating in discussion, but also participants sung along to the famous song “Hasta Siempre Comandante” and other favourites played by Latin American musician, social justice activist and radio host Joaquin Ernesto.
The next workshop moved forward with the topic “The New Economic and Social Guidelines and the future of Cuba’s Socialist Project” given by Manuel Yepe. Manuel is a journalist and professor at the Superior Institute of International Relations of Havana. His immense historical knowledge dates back to his own experience as a leader of the underground July 26 Movement in Matanzas leading up to the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959. His analysis of the workshop topic came with his great experience and knowledge, from the Cuban revolution and his memories of working directly with Ernesto Che Guevara, up until today.
The third workshop of the day was on “Revolutionary Internationalism within Cuba’s Socialist Project vs. Socialism in One Country” and was presented by Ali Yerevani, the Political Editor of the Fire This Time Newspaper, Political Editor of the Battle of Ideas Press, and participant in the 1979 Iranian revolution. His talk delved into the political theory that Cuba's socialist project is built on, and how Cuba’s revolutionary internationalism contributes to revolutionary movements worldwide. He emphasized that Cuba’s profound Communist internationalist theory and practice is in direct conflict with the nationalist concept of socialism in one country as practiced by the former Soviet Union and its bloc worldwide. He put forward his analysis explaining how the Cuban Communist Party is the vanguard and leader of the worldwide working class struggle against capitalist and imperialist hegemony today.
The much anticipated final workshop of the day was given by Dr. Aleida Guevara, on the topic “Are Che Guevara’s Ideas Relevant Today in Cuba?” The conclusion of Aleida's talk, through many personal and political examples was a resounding “YES!” and proved that Che Guevara's ideas are relevant today in Cuba, and around the world.
Day 3 brought together 150 people throughout the day. As in the first day of workshops, each speech was quickly followed by a line of participants behind the discussion microphone, as there was never a shortage of people who wanted to take part in discussing the themes presented by the conference speakers.
To summarize this very significant conference, Aaron Mercredi spoke on “What we have learned from workshops and discussion.” He put the Cuban Revolution and the Che Guevara Conference in a global perspective of the world economic crisis and the imperialist war drive, and how within this Cuba is leading the way to creating a better world. Tamara Hansen then wrapped up with the “Facts, Statistics, Framework and Outlook” and broke down the conference to “7 workshops, 2 keynote speakers, 5 special talks, 3 films, 4 musical guests, 4 poets and poems, all in one 5th Annual International Che Guevara Conference!”
As the conference came to a close, the MC's reminded participants that although the Vancouver portion of the conference was over, there was still one more day of the conference – taking place for the first time in Kamloops, BC the next day!
The Che Guevara Conference touches on new ground
For the first year the Che Guevara Conference reached out from Vancouver to encompass Kamloops, in the interior of B.C. The ideas of Che and of Cuba’s revolutionary project are too much for just one city in this conference, and to expand the conference to a neighbouring city is a good example of how this conference can grow!
The conference speakers arrived in Kamloops at the Thompson Rivers University after a 350km drive from Vancouver, through the mountains of BC. The final day of the conference was opened by Darcy Robinson, an organizer with the Thompson Rivers University Socialist Club which organized the Kamloops event. He was followed by Tamara Hansen, coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba, who shared in opening the event. Over 170 people from Kamloops and the surrounding area of the Okanagan were in attendance.
The first workshop titled “The case of Cuban 5 Heroes Held in U.S. Jails” was presented by Dr. Aleida Guevara and Antonio Guerrero. Many people had heard about the case of the Cuban 5, and many more learned about the struggle for the freedom of the 5 Cuban Heroes for the first time, but for all question in the discussion was how to get involved in supporting the case of the Cuban 5. The workshop, “Cuba’s Economic Reform: Capitalism or Socialism” was given by Dr. Aleida Guevara, Alberto Prieto and Manuel Yepe, and encompassed many of the topics and discussions from the entire conference. The wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise of these three speakers made for a comprehensive final workshop, and participants followed the presentation with many thoughtful questions and discussion points.
For many Kamloops conference participants, this conference has just been the first step to discovering more about the examples Cuba has to offer, and how someone in Kamloops can get involved further activities in support of the Cuban Revolution.
The Che Guevara Conference… What is next?
The 5th Annual International Che Guevara Conference was a great success, from the number of participants to the media coverage locally and internationally, to the significance of the topics discussed, to the invaluable contribution of all of the speakers, especially the six prominent Cuban speakers. Four days was not enough to cover everything that can be learned by people here in Canada and around the world about the gains and examples of Cuba's Revolution, from it's historic triumph in 1959, to understanding Cuba's continued socialist project as it implements the current economic measures and transformation.
More of Cuba’s great example is sure to be covered in the 6th annual conference, but that doesn’t mean conference participants have to wait a whole year until the next conference. If something is to be learned from all the speakers, workshops and discussions, it is that Cuba’s struggle for a better world is constant, active and ongoing – and so for anyone wanting to join Cuba in this great effort, the simple message is, get involved! The gains of the Cuban Revolution are immense achievements, but people in Vancouver need to be made aware of Cuba’s example in order to learn from it. Furthermore, Cuba, a beacon of hope and struggle for humanity, is also a country under attack from U.S. imperialism, through a criminal blockade, the support of anti-Cuban terrorists, and a campaign of demonizing Cuba’s revolutionary government. For this beacon to shine, Cuba solidarity activists have the task of defending Cuba and the Cuban revolution, and calling for the end of the U.S. blockade against Cuba.
Cuba, as stated in the beginning of this article, has had an impact on people in every corner of the world, and through the Che Guevara conference, that impact can be felt in Vancouver and Kamloops – an impact that says, a better world is necessary, is possible, and Cuba is leading the way towards that world!
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