Solidarity still needed to break blockade of Cuba

nnoc_0505A forum at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clark School of Law, entitled “Through Cuban Eyes,” discussed the blockade and current status of U.S.-Cuban relations, and what solidarity activists can do to fully normalize relations between the two countries. This April 22 event concluded the 2016 Days of Action Against the Blockade of Cuba in Washington, D.C., which took place starting April 18.

Keynote speaker, Cuban Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, stressed the need for solidarity: “In order to create the vision of the future, we all need solidarity.” Cuba is mourning the three Cuban physicians killed in Ecuador’s earthquake, but will not withdraw aid, but instead send even more doctors and experts to help.

The earthquake killed more than 600 people and injured thousands in Ecuador.

“For those who have doubts about the need for solidarity, we have to see what is happening around us,”  Cabanas continued. “And in those first world countries, most of the problems are fixed from an economic point of view. You have those who own a lot and those who have no resources for a decent life. With those people we need to create solidarity.

“Cubans of the last three or four generations have been born and educated with the principle that we have to show solidarity for others, because we have received a lot of solidarity from you, from many countries and many societies.

“One thing I want to emphasize, the blockade is still in place. … The core issue is still there. Large regulations and limits have to be overcome if we really want to have a normal relationship with the United States. … The sanction regime from 1962 and what the Helms-Burton law established — by the way, 30 years ago this year — is still there.”

Solidarity with Cuba and in Cuba

Among the forum panelists were Venceremos Brigade representative Jennifer Bryant and Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization Executive Director Gail Walker. Their organizations, as well as the Institute for Policy Studies, the National Network on Cuba and the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity — formerly the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 — carried out grassroots activities and advocacy on Capitol Hill. They also held informational forums at American University and the University of the District of Columbia from April 18 to April 22.

Others on the panel were attorney José Pertierra, noted author Stephen Kimber and two U.S. graduates from Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM): Vanessa Avila and Alicia Steele. Both Latina doctors expressed their admiration and gratitude for the opportunity to become medical doctors, which they otherwise could not have afforded in the class based elite U.S. medical schools. They emphasized Cuba’s holistic approach to medical practice, which emphasizes prevention and education as well as the mental, physical and social aspects of patient care.

As if to underline what the ambassador said of the unfinished normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations, only one of five Cuban speakers invited to the Days of Action — journalism student Jorge “Jorgito” Jerez — received a U.S. visa in time to participate in Washington on April 22, after missing earlier events in New York City.

A documentary film, “The Power of the Weak,” by German filmmaker Tobias Kriele, was premiered in the U.S.  The film presents the biographical profile of Jerez, who was born with severe cerebral palsy in 1993, at the height of Cuba’s Special Period, when Cuba lost its economic trade and aid following the collapse of the Soviet Union and other Eastern European socialist countries.

In short, the film emphasizes how a society built on socialism can provide health care and education free for all Cuban citizens. Such was the life of Jorgito, who is now a self-sufficient journalist in Cuba. His presentation and moving testimony at the forum illustrated the support Cuba provides for people with disabilities. Jorgito concluded his presentation, without reservation and with a strong note of conviction: “Without Cuba and its history, I wouldn’t be Jorgito.”

A full report and extensive photos of the 2016 Days of Action to end the blockade of Cuba will be posted at and