By Alison Bodine
On December 17, 2014, Cuba and the United States announced that they were beginning steps towards re-establishing normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries. With this, came the victorious return of all of the Cuban 5 Heroes, as Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labaniño and Gerardo Hernández joined with René González and Fernando González. They were released from U.S. prisons and returned to Cuba after over 16 years of unjust imprisonment in the United States. Since December 17, the U.S. and Cuba have held talks about re-establishing diplomatic ties, and Cuba has now been removed from the U.S. “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list. However, the cruelest policy of the U.S. government against Cuba, the U.S. blockade, still remains.
It is within this dynamic political situation that from May 30-31, 2015 Cuba solidarity activists from across Canada gathered in Toronto for the 7th Biennial Convention of the Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC). For two days, delegates from 19 different Cuba solidarity organizations, from Vancouver to Halifax, came together for celebration, discussion, debate and planning for the next two years of Cuba solidarity work across Canada, with a focus on the main task ahead, to join with people around the world in the struggle to end the cruel and immoral U.S. blockade against Cuba.
With this important work in mind, the atmosphere of the 2015 CNC Convention was decidedly charged and energetic. However, it was the simple words of the Convention’s honoured guest, Cuban 5 Hero Fernando González that really set the tone – “It doesn’t matter how hard it is, you just have to keep fighting.” In fact, from opening night until the closing reception, it was clear that with the presence of Cuban 5 Hero Fernando González, the spirit of struggle against the U.S. blockade against Cuba filled the air, and brought new energy to the work of the CNC in the next two years.
The night before the convention began, there was a successful book launch of “Cuba Solidarity in Canada: Five Decades of People-to-People Foreign Relations” by Nino Pagliccia, a Cuba solidarity and long time social justice activist based in Vancouver, BC. This book covers the history of Cuba solidarity in Canada through 12 chapters, written by prominent Cuba solidarity activists from across Canada and Quebec. Present at the book launch were seven of the book author’s, including Tamara Hansen, the Coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and Ali Yerevani, political editor of the Fire This Time Newspaper and initiating and founding member of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee –Vancouver and Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC). Together, these Vancouver Cuba solidarity activists authored the books chapter “Building a Consistent and United Campaign Across Canada: the Effective Way to Free the Five Cuban Heroes.” The book launch included a summary and introduction on the importance of solidarity by Nino Pagliccia, followed by words from authors present at the event. For more information about the book, and photos from the Toronto book launch visit:
The energy generated at the “Cuba Solidarity in Canada” book launch the night before continued into the next morning as the 2015 CNC Convention began. In addition to the delegates present, there were Cuba solidarity activists from across Canada participating as observers and also a distinguished Cuban delegation that included Cuban 5 Hero Fernando González, who is also Vice President of ICAP (the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples), Sandra Ramírez Rodgríguez, the Chair of the North America desk of ICAP, His Excellency Julio Garmendia Peña, the Cuban Ambassador to Canada, Miraly González González, First Secretary of the Cuban Embassy in Canada, and Javier Domokos, Cuban Consul General in Toronto.
The next two days of the Convention were filled with reports, panels and resolutions meant to direct the work of the next two years of organizing for the CNC. This work began with an overview of what has been accomplished by the Cuba solidarity movement in Canada over the last two years, including a report from CNC Co-chairs Isaac Saney and Elizabeth Hill, as well as individual reports from CNC member groups. It was during this time that the victory of the return of the Cuban 5 was reflected most strongly, especially in the report of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver by delegates Alison Bodine and Thomas Davies. Among others events and actions, the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver organized 110 consecutive monthly pickets for the Cuban 5 in front of the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver.
During the convention there were also three diverse panel discussions. The first of these panels was “Planning for 2015-2017 – New Challenges, New Struggles.” This panel featured CNC Co-chair Elizabeth Hill, Tamara Hansen, Coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and Sandra Ramírez Rodgríguez from the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP). This workshop developed on proposals for concrete work to be taken on by CNC member groups, with the focus clearly stated by Tamara Hansen, “Ending the U.S. blockade on Cuba should be the undercurrent of all our solidarity work.”
Other panels during the Convention included “Canada-Cuba Solidarity & 70 Years of Canada-Cuba Diplomatic Relations” with Nino Pagliccia, Jean Augustine (a former Member of Parliament in Canada) and His Excellency Julio Garmendia Peña, Cuban Ambassador to Canada. The final panel of the Convention was “Cuba, Today & Tomorrow: Renewal, Change and Continuity Struggles,” with CNC Co-chair Isaac Saney, Javier Domokos, the Cuban Consul General in Toronto and Keith Ellis, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto and author of numerous books.
In addition to the important discussion taking place at the CNC Convention there was also an outstanding public forum “Cuba in the Struggle for a Better World,” held in the Steelworkers’ Union Hall in Toronto, on Saturday May 30. This forum featured Cuban 5 Hero Fernando González, Hero of the Republic of Cuba and the Vice-President of ICAP speaking for the first time in Canada. The large hall was standing room only as 300 people gathered to hear from Cuban 5 Hero Fernando González, who spoke about the return of all of the Cuban 5 to Cuba, but focused his presentation on the importance of the international solidarity movement coming together to fight for the return of the Guantanamo Naval Base to Cuba and the lifting of the U.S. blockade against Cuba.
The inspiring presentation by Fernando González was preceded by moving words from Dr. José de Jésus Portilla Garcia, an official from Cuba’s Ministry of Health and leader in organizing Cuba’s internationalist medical brigades. Dr. Portilla was just completing a CNC sponsored cross-Canada speaking tour about Cuba’s leading role in the fight against Ebola in western Africa.
During this dynamic event, there was also a special presentation made by Vancouver Cuba solidarity organizers Tamara Hansen and Alison Bodine. Together, they presented Cuban 5 Hero Fernando González with three binders containing nearly 150 posters for Cuban 5 solidarity work in Vancouver and BC, including the posters created for the 110 picket actions for the Cuban 5 held at the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver. This presentation was the highlight of the multiple times during the convention that the Free the Cuban 5 Committee Vancouver was recognized for its extraordinary effort for freedom of the Cuban 5 Heroes.
After a strong day of discussion and planning the 7th Biennial Convention of the Canadian Network on Cuba ended on Sunday, May 31st. Now, it is up to the work of the new CNC executive and of the member groups of the CNC to carry forward the objectives and resolutions laid out during this Convention. Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver are excited to be continuing our work with the CNC in building a strong and united Cuba solidarity movement across Canada.
End the U.S. Blockade on Cuba!
Return Guantanamo to Cuba Now!