Supporters of revolutionary Cuba gathered at Fordham University Law School in New York on the weekend of March 24-26 to demand an end to all U.S. economic, financial and travel sanctions against the socialist island.
The National Conference for the Full Normalization of U.S.-Cuba Relations also demanded, through plenaries and workshops, that the U.S. get out of Guantanamo, an illegally occupied part of Cuba where the Pentagon imprisons and tortures its opponents, and stop all regime change programs against Cuba.
In opening remarks, Ike Nahem from the New York/New Jersey CubaSi! Coalition called for a moment of silence to honor people’s lawyer Lynne Stewart and Cuba’s historic leader Fidel Castro, who both died recently.
Standing ovations greeted two heroes at the conference: Puerto Rican independence fighter Rafael Cancel Miranda and Andres Gomez from the Antonio Maceo Brigade. Gomez has organized support for the Cuban revolution in Miami, a stronghold of often violent counterrevolutionaries. Underscoring the international scope of the conference, Canadian Network on Cuba co-chair Isaac Saney and other Canadians participated.
Featured speakers included many well-known Cubans. Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo, Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations, led the delegation from the Cuban U.N. Mission in New York. Representatives from the North American department of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) included its director, Sandra Ramirez, and Yanela González.
A special participant from Cuba was Miguel Barnet, a revered writer on the history of race in Cuba, president/founder of Cuba’s Union of Writers and Artists, and author of “Biografía de un cimarrón” (“Biography of a Runaway Slave”). A delegation from the Federation of Cuban Women and the Women’s International Democratic Federation participated in plenary discussions and workshops.
Unfortunately, representatives of the Union of Young Communists and the Cuban Workers Central Union had received their U.S. visas too late to attend.
‘What more can we do?’
In the opening plenary Sandra Ramirez of ICAP summarized the tasks before the conference in two questions: “Why is this meeting so important?” and “What more can we do in solidarity with Cuba?”
Ramirez emphasized the importance of “an inclusive solidarity movement where unity prevails. Those who respect the right of self-determination of the Cuban Revolution, respect our people and our sovereignty, should be welcome in the solidarity network. The diversity of sectors, background, ages and cities is a way to strengthen the movement and open possibilities of reaching areas that have had almost no contact with Cuba.”
She stressed that the campaign to lift the blockade must be focused inside the United States because that is who has imposed the blockade. “Cuba has not imposed any blockade or restriction policies on any country in the world,” she added. “We should multiply the demand to return to Cuba the territory illegally occupied by the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo, to denounce the illegal radio transmissions to Cuba and end the promotion of regime change programs aimed to promote subversive actions in Cuba.”
Ramirez spoke of the Days of Action Against the Blockade to take place in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11-16, emphasizing that while the U.S. blockade is the main obstacle to Cuba’s development, it also has consequences for people in the U.S.
Radio, television, print media and social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and blogs can counter the media campaign against Cuba and, she added, “should attract young people to this movement, because their fresh ideas will help us multiply the experience you all have accumulated. But we should speak their language and use their codes on social networks. They are eager to know more about Cuba.”
Ramirez expressed solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the fight for the rights of immigrants and Latinx people here in the U.S., as well as “the struggle of the Puerto Rican people, because we consider that the Puerto Rican people should be independent and free. Cuba celebrates the moment when Oscar [Lopez Rivera] will be back in Puerto Rico on May 17 and hope to have him in Cuba soon.”
Ambassador Rodriguez stressed “the sovereign right of the Cuban people to self-determination. It is a right respected by the Charter of Human Rights and international law. Part of that is our right to preserve our prosperous and sustainable socialist country. We are a socialist country and we will continue to be a socialist country.
“To have one party, the Cuban Communist Party, is a historic decision,” she said, preceded by “the Cuban Revolutionary Party formed by our national hero Jose Marti, who realized that the only way for Cuba to achieve independence was to unite all the forces fighting for liberation. The Cuban people have been united and led by our Communist Party. … The member states of the United Nations say very clearly there is no unique model of democracy; each country has the sovereign right to determine its political, economic and social model. Cuba has decided to have a socialist model with internationalism and solidarity.”
Rodriguez dispelled the illusion that having diplomatic relations with the U.S. means normalized relations. She pointed out that the U.S. still restricts travel to Cuba and that the blockade is still in place.
An important second plenary panel featured Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Marietta Ulacia, executive director of the Afro-Latin Jazz Alliance. The day after the conference, Baraka led a delegation from his city to Cuba.
Solidarity actions for Cuba
The final plenary supported ongoing projects, including the IFCO/Pastors for Peace caravan across the U.S. in April and its challenge to the travel ban in July; the 28th Venceremos Brigade travel challenge; and the newly established RESPECT organization that promotes ethical travel to Cuba. The plenary also adopted a call for united action against the blockade on the 17th of each month and coordinated actions in the days leading up to the United Nations vote next fall. For decades the U.S. had voted against resolutions calling for an end to the blockade, but abstained for the first time in 2016.
The closing plenary featured a video message from Gerardo Hernández, a former political prisoner in the U.S. who was freed on Dec. 17, 2014, at the time diplomatic relations were restored. Hernández, who had been serving two life terms plus 15 years, said he is now free in Cuba through “the power of solidarity.”
Wayne Smith, a former chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 1979 to 1982, sent a message on the importance of the conference “to help discourage any thought on the part of the new administration to move back in the opposite direction.”
A Saturday night rally to fight the blockade of Cuba featured Rafael Cancel Miranda and Andres Gomez. Drumming, dance and jazz cultural contributions celebrated the day’s work and discussion. Juanita Young, whose son Malcolm Ferguson was killed by New York City police in 2000, shared her impressions of a visit to Cuba last year at the invitation of the Federation of Cuban Women. This African-American mother’s warm feelings toward Cuba mirrored those of the special panel featuring Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Marietta Ulacia.
Live streaming of the event by videographers and streamers from the Peoples Video Network and the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party are available at youtu.be/qOZjYJOadMY (first plenary); youtu.be/TEK4Z04D84A (Cuban Ambassador to U.N. answers question on Palestine, economic situation and blockade); youtu.be/Zm-R4xneMsg (evening rally).
Photos: Brenda Ryan and Jon Flanders