By Beth Brunton
Last month, I traveled to Havana, Cuba, with Code Pink, the national women-led peace group, to celebrate May Day in Havana, Cuba, and to meet with education, health, agricultural, and cultural leaders. They shared with us their analysis, hopes and fears about both U.S. and Cuban policy changes. Our group was among thousands of travelers, including a 100-strong U.S. delegation, and labor leaders from 70 countries.
The Cubans we met expressed both joy and concern about their changing economic opportunities, including increased trade with the U.S. While they welcome U.S. visitors and trade, they are adamant about preserving their socialist values of equality and unity and resisting domination by the U.S. or any other nations or corporations.
For example, Cuban-born economist Rafael Betancourt, taken to the U.S. at age 11, returned to stay in Cuba in 1986 to help invent a new economic model. Rejecting the Chinese model of Market Socialism, he explained. “Cuba seeks to reinvent ‘socialism with a market’ to preserve the hard-won social equity while allowing new, small enterprises to flourish to raise living standards for all Cubans.”
Another inspiring speaker, Mariela Castro, director of CENESEX National Sex Education Center and President Raul Castro’s daughter, exhorted other Cuban leaders to be the revolutionary vanguard to challenge all forms of discrimination—including gender identity and sexual orientation—because they divide us. Mariela reminds all, “Our power is our unity in diversity. The struggle is not only class based, but also cultural.”
We had a delightful surprise at the end of a visit to the Atelier Opina textile worker co-op, when the 47 mostly women members showed us how they take a break from their antique black Singer sewing machines (like the ones your mother may have used). They turned on salsa music and invited us to dance with them. They told us how proud and grateful they are since voting to become a co-op. They are producing and earning more and building stronger relationships, while producing high-quality uniforms and clothing. Their greatest challenge to growth is the U.S. embargo, which keeps them from importing the fabric they need.
At last, a new relationship with Cuba is possible. With your help, we can learn with and from each other how to create a more fair economy. If you would like to go on a similar delegation, Code Pink plans another Cuban tour in November which will include Guantanamo.
If you support our rights to visit Cuba freely, you can ask your Senators and Representatives to pass the “Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act”, S 299/HR 664.
Beth Brunton is a Seattle teacher, a peace and justice activist, and a PSARA member.