By Tamara Hansen
On June 30, 2020 Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and Friends of Cuba Against the U.S. Blockade – Vancouver jointly organized a webinar titled, “Despite the U.S. Blockade Cuba's Internationalism Leading the Way.” Tamara Hansen, the coordinator of VCSC and executive member of the Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC) was one the speakers at this successful event. Tamara is an author, journalist, and member of the Fire This Time newspaper editorial board. She spoke about Cuba’s revolutionary internationalism. Below we are reprinting her talk from the event.
Thank you very much to participants and speakers for joining us here today. In the face of this U.S. blockade, Cuba has earned such an important leadership role in the world, in the fight against Covid-19 and through their example of revolutionary internationalism over the last 60 years of the Cuban revolution.
I wanted to start my talk with a José Martí quote, which I think really summarizes our current situation, which is that "homeland is humanity" or "patria es humanidad." For those of you who might not know, José Martí is Cuba's national hero, poet, writer, and an anti-colonial revolutionary. He was killed in battle during Cuba's war for independence against Spanish colonialism.
When José Martí said, "homeland is humanity," he really meant that humanity is where we find our place in the world. That we should not be divided by nations and borders, but that we should truly find a place for ourselves in the struggle alongside all of humanity.
In the last 60 years of the Cuban revolution, Cuba has really exemplified this. In fact, May of this year marked one hundred and twenty-five years since José Martí’s death in combat, and in those last 125 years, José Martí has inspired the Cuban people in many fights for independence and many internationalist causes.
Cuban medical internationalism in the fight against Covid-19
As has been mentioned, the most significant part of Cuba's revolutionary internationalism today is the over 3,000 Cuban doctors currently working in 29 countries all over the world to fight this global pandemic of Covid-19. We are so inspired by the work that they are doing in bringing free healthcare to many communities where it is not accessible and really see the hope that they are presenting. This is happening not just in other so-called third world countries, but even countries like Italy and Andorra that are in, you know, the so-called first world. They still count on Cuba in this time of global pandemic to fight the crisis.
While Covid-19 is a new virus, Cuba's revolutionary internationalism - and even Cuba's revolutionary internationalist doctors - are not new. This project began fifty-seven years ago when Cuba sent its first group of internationalist doctors, nurses, dentists, and medical technicians to Algeria in 1963.
But doctors are not all that Cuba has offered humanity, and that's what I wanted to talk about today. Cuba's revolutionary internationalism is inspiring us through its doctors' work today, but this is not all that Cuba's revolutionary internationalism is. So, I wanted to talk a little bit about those lessons.
Cuban internationalism in the fight against imperialism, colonialism, and apartheid
Revolutionary internationalism is really the foundation of Cuba's foreign policy. And this doesn't mean that Cuba is necessarily fighting to create revolutions in other countries. It demonstrates that Cuba believes in the idea that "homeland is humanity" and that Cuba’s job is to fight for all human beings' health and well-being, no matter where they live. Of course, with a special focus on poor, working, and oppressed people worldwide. Revolutionary internationalism is sending literacy teachers, sports experts, technical experts, cultural and artistic advocates of the revolution, and doctors and other health care professionals internationally.
This is an inspiring foreign policy that we can contrast very easily to U.S. imperialism. The United States has 800 military bases worldwide; it was the first (and only) country to use the horrifying nuclear bomb on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan; and the U.S. talks about freedom and democracy and yet is the world's largest military power. The U.S. is not a healthcare power, an education power, or a building free housing power. So, when we look at what Cuba is doing, we can be really inspired by this effort to bring a different kind of foreign policy and internationalism in favour of humanity, rather than war and destruction.
One of the most beautiful examples of Cuba's revolutionary internationalism was the victory at Cuito Cuanavale in 1987. For those of you who may not be familiar with this history, the South African apartheid army was advancing and preparing an assault on the newly independent Angola. Fidel Castro explained how the South African army advanced strongly towards Cuito Cuanavale, an old NATO airbase, and prepared to deliver a mortal blow against Angola. As Fidel said, "Desperate calls were received from the Angolan government appealing to the Cuban troops for support in fending off presumed disaster. It was unquestionably the biggest threat from a military operation in which we, as on other occasions, had no responsibility whatsoever." Here, Comandante Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban Revolution, talks about how the racist South African apartheid army was advancing on Angola and how Angola's people called on Cuba to help defend their independence against this racist regime and its invasion.
In fact, Cuba did take up the call, despite not having any obligation, but really feeling a human responsibility. Fidel sent over 55,000 soldiers to Angola. He remained in Cuba, spending days and nights helping to strategize the battle happening half a world away in Africa. These plans were victorious, and the victory against the South African apartheid army at Cuito Cuanavale severely weakened the apartheid regime. Eventually, years later, in 1991, apartheid fell in South Africa.
While in Cuba on July 26, 1991, as president of the African National Congress at the time, Nelson Mandela said, “The Cuban people hold a special place in the heart of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have contributed African independence, freedom, and justice, unparalleled for its principles and selfless character. From its earliest days, the Cuban Revolution has also been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the Cuban people's sacrifices in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of the vicious imperialist-orchestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gain made in the Cuban Revolution. We too, want to control our own destiny.”
Cuban revolutionary internationalism in the fight against illiteracy & illness
That's one of the beautiful examples of Cuba's revolutionary internationalism in terms of sending soldiers and fighters, but again, in an entirely different context than U.S. imperialism.
We can also talk about the highly successful Cuba's literacy campaign. In 1959, the Cuban Revolution decided that it needed to fight to create a very literate population that could read and write, which did not exist in Cuba before the revolution. So, they fought to build a campaign to eradicate illiteracy within Cuba, sending thousands of young people, mostly from the city, mostly teenagers, to rural communities in Cuba to teach families how to read. And in only one year, in 1961, Cuba was declared free of illiteracy. This was a huge and very moving campaign, which has been covered in hundreds of important books and works all around the world. If you haven't seen the documentary "Maestra," by U.S. filmmaker Catherine Murphy, I highly recommend it.
From this literacy campaign, Cuba also developed a literacy method called the "Yo, sí puedo" method, or "Yes, I can." This literacy method has not just stayed in Cuba. It has also been a part of Cuba's contribution to revolutionary internationalism. The "Yo, sí puedo" literacy method has been taken by Cuban teachers to countries throughout the world, but it has also been developed by people in those countries to teach literacy in their own communities.
For example, here in Canada, there's a program called ArrowMight, which is an adaptation of the "Yo, sí puedo" method for indigenous communities in Canada. It is widely used across Canada in many indigenous education centers, including the Squamish Education Center in North Vancouver. These programs integrate traditional knowledges of Indigenous people in a pan-Indigenous lens to inspire people who may have suffered from residential school experiences or may not trust colonial educational institutions to convince them of getting involved in their own literacy and their own learning. It's a remarkably interesting and exciting program, inspired by Cuba.
Researchers at the University of New England in Australia, Bob Boughton, and Deborah Durnan, have been doing more research on the use of the "Yo, sí puedo" method in Australia and internationally. And they say, “Since it was first trialed in Haiti in 2000, Cuba’s Yo, Si Puedo model for mounting mass adult literacy campaigns has mobilized over six million people in twenty-nine countries to acquire basic literacy.”
Very excitingly, in 2021, next year, Cuba will celebrate 60 years since the triumph of the literacy campaign. We're looking forward to celebrating with Cuba the significant victory of this campaign, not only within Cuba but also worldwide.
We encourage you to make sure you stay in touch. Make sure you're following Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba on Twitter, Facebook, and that you get signed up to our email list to hear about our plans and projects for celebrating this important anniversary.
Speakers tonight have already mentioned that Cuba's Henry Reeve International Medical Brigades are in 29 countries worldwide, with over 3,000 medical professionals helping in the fight against Covid-19. But it should be mentioned that Covid-19 is not the first time that the Henry Reed Medical Brigades have taken on an international pandemic. In the early 2010s, when West Africa was facing the Ebola crisis, Cuba sent doctors that were again internationally recognized, even in mainstream news, for their amazing work. We saw articles from Time magazine “Why Cuba is so good at Fighting Ebola” or in the Telegraph from the U.K., “Cuban doctors take a leading role in the fight against Ebola,” and these articles were reflecting the amazing work of Cuban doctors.
It is also important to mention Cuba's work in Haiti for many years before and after the earthquake; Cuba's work in Pakistan also after the earthquake there; and how Cuban doctors and other medical professionals have played an important leading role in providing free healthcare to people in need.
Building solidarity with Cuba
So why is this important today? As I conclude, I just want to say, I think that it's important that we consider that right now during this pandemic, a lot of people are questioning how life is going to look once we are going back to normal and whether the normal that existed before is the normal that should exist after this Covid-19 pandemic. We see this in the Black Lives Matter movement and Black and Brown folks' remarkable struggle in the United States against police brutality. We see this again in the role that Cuba is playing internationally with its doctors. The world is crying and asking, ‘isn't there a better way to do things?’ I think that the answer is ‘yes!’
We want to look for examples of how we can organize a better society, put humanity before corporate profits, put humanity before corporations, and put humanity before capitalism and imperialism. Socialist Cuba is a shining light, again, not only within the gains made by the Cuban revolution for the Cuban people but in Cuba’s role as revolutionary socialist internationalists.
Cuba's revolutionary internationalism demonstrates that with health, education, proper nourishment, and housing, new liberation fighters will be born, and more people will be able to educate themselves and conclude that the people of the world deserve a better world and a better future.
We have a role to play as people involved in the Cuba solidarity movement, or folks who are just coming to their first event about Cuba, to start talking about these issues. We should force the mainstream media in our country to talk more about these issues, and we need to spread that information on social media. We must defend Cuba's amazing revolutionary internationalism, which is coming under profoundly severe attack today by the U.S. government.
I want to thank everybody for joining us today on this webinar. I'm looking forward to a great discussion. Thank you. ¡Viva Cuba!
Follow Tamara on Twitter: @THans01