I was one of the 37 members of the Venceremos Brigade who returned on Aug. 1 from a trip to Cuba in defiance of the US blockade and travel ban. For decades, the brigade has undertaken a travel challenge to openly defy and challenge the US ban on travel to Cuba. The brigade engages in civil disobedience by announcing it plans to not ask for a license to visit the island country.
The brigade has been traveling to Cuba in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution for almost as long as the US blockade has been in place. Since the overthrow of the Socialist Bloc in Eastern Europe, there has been a misconception by many in the United States that the embargo has been eased and that the travel ban will soon be lifted. In reality, the embargo has been intensified through legislation like the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 and continued attempts by the United States to undermine the Cuban government. The US government continues to carry out and intensify its efforts to overthrow the Cuban Revolution.
This was the 42nd contingent of the Brigade and my first trip to Cuba. I have long been a supporter of the Cuban Revolution, but to see it first hand was an important experience for me as an activist.
Our trip lasted two weeks, and during that time we had a busy schedule of presentations, meetings with different social groups, solidarity work in gardens and, cultural exchanges with the Cuban people. Our various activities were quite informative and interesting.
The United States holds five Cuban heroes, known as the Cuban Five, in prison, despite a worldwide movement calling for their release. The Venceremos Brigade had the opportunity to meet with family members of the Cuban Five. Working to free the Five was an important theme of the Brigade’s meetings, and many members are committed to continuing to raise awareness about the case at home.
While there are official presentations geared to help travellers better understand the Cuban system, the members of the Brigade are encouraged to explore and talk to the Cuban people themselves and develop their own opinion about Cuban socialism. For me, the most important thing was being able to interact directly with folks who live in a system that puts human needs over profit and witness the popular support that system has amongst the Cuban people.
Our trip was not a vacation but an act of solidarity. The goal of the trip, while mainly to challenge the U.S. travel ban, was also to demonstrate a mutual respect and exchange with the Cuban people. The people of Cuba are very welcoming and express their respect for the people of the United States. While they have serious disagreements with the government of the United States, which has tried since the early 1960s to sabotage their revolution, everyone I talked to stressed that they have a great respect for the average U.S. citizens.
One thing that remained on my mind throughout the trip was a line from an article by Richard Levins that reads, “Socialism is not a thing, but a process.” (“How to Visit a Socialist Country,” Monthly Review, April 2010) While seeing hospitals and workplaces and exploring various cities in Cuba, I realized that the entire process of how society works is different than in a capitalist country like the United States.
Cuba is still a developing country, so to walk down the street with a ‘checklist’ of problems that pop out and use that to judge the socialist system would be problematic to say the least. There is also an embargo that has affected the country for years, especially after the fall of the socialist camp. Even seeing the lack of resources and being reminded of the embargo every day in Cuba, the different social structure they have adopted was just as present as the negative effects of the embargo.
I returned from Cuba more dedicated to fighting for socialism than before my trip. It was important to see that an alternative to capitalism can and does exist. It was also important to be on a trip that expressed solidarity and gave me a chance to genuinely experience what socialism can do for the people. The Venceremos Brigade gave me a glimpse into what we, as socialists, are fighting for. In the United States, where we so often find ourselves fighting against war, racism and other injustices, this glimpse is a helpful insight.
This article was first published in Liberation, the Newspaper of the US based Party for Socialism and Liberation
http://www.pslweb.org/liberationnews/news/venceremos-brigade-challenges.htmlTags: Latin America
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This post was written by Mike Chrisemer