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FIST youth visit Cuba, challenge travel ban

Published Aug 10, 2007 8:46 PM

Twelve members of the youth group Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) from San Diego, Raleigh, West Virginia, Denver, Boston, Rutgers University and New York City—together with five members of Workers World Party—traveled to Cuba from July 18-28 to defy the travel ban and to witness the gains of the socialist revolution.

In Cuba, the FIST delegation observed how a planned economy and centralized government following the path of socialist revolution have provided the necessary material conditions to carry out the process of the withering away of racism, sexism, homophobia and all forms of oppression, and for the building of a new human being.

U.S. activists from the Venceremos Brigade, Pastors for Peace, the U.S/Cuba Labor Exchange and FIST all traveled to the island to oppose the travel ban and participated in joint activities.

Surprising most in the FIST delegation, a Cuban representative told youth group members that FIST was the first socialist youth group from the U.S. in decades to officially travel to the island.

Meeting with Cuban youth leaders

FIST met with National Committee members of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) on July 23 to exchange ideas and to describe FIST’s work in solidarity with Cuba.

The UJC is a vanguard organization for young people in Cuba interested in joining the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) and exercising their politics to consolidate and deepen the revolution. With more than 690,000 members throughout the country and 52 committees, their main work is to defend the interests of youth and young workers.

The UJC is active in all realms where people under 30 years of age live, work, study and struggle. Following their slogan, “Estudio, Trabajo y Fusil”—translated as “Study, Work and Arms,” —the UJC decided that youth should be trained in armed struggle for one year before going to college. This training now includes women’s voluntary units.

The UJC represents all groups of youth from elementary, middle, high school and university levels. The Federation of University Students (FEU) is more than 80 years old and is a powerful voice responsible for university students’ rights. UJC also represents young artists and has many publication houses that provide free materials and resources to the expressive youth.

As FIST leader Larry Hales states, “Every Cuban is an artist.” The UJC also publishes the country’s second-most-read newspaper (after the CCP’s Granma) titled Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth).

After the revolution, Fidel helped to found the UJC to be able to constantly struggle against the challenges in society. It was first tasked with a literacy campaign where youth were sent into the provinces to teach workers to read and write. They later formed permanent schools for rural workers. After being attacked by the U.S. at the Bay of Pigs, the UJC was one of the first, along with the Committees to Defend the Revolution—to create armed militias to defend the revolution.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist Eastern bloc in 1989, more than 80 percent of Cuba’s foreign trade was lost overnight. In 1993 power outages resulted in Cubans having access to electricity for only 3-4 hours per day. Youth in the UJC went into jobs in construction to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure while maintaining their studies.

One of the major campaigns currently being organized by the UJC is the “Battle of Ideas.” Almost 80 percent of Cubans alive today have been born under socialism and many have come to expect free health care and education, while the struggles to defend these rights have begun to appear as things of the past.

The Battle of Ideas was designed in 1999 with more than 200 programs in education, health, construction and culture available to all children.

Part of this campaign required a decrease in class size from 40 students to between 15 and 20. Televisions were installed in the classrooms to help deliver messages more effectively and uniformly. Basically, it gave the population of youth access to more information and news with which to draw their own informed conclusions.

The Battle of Ideas has also organized to provide students with a living stipend while attending college. It provides college facilities in all provinces, saving travel and lodging resources by allowing students to continue living at home while studying. It has developed quality health facilities in the distant isolated provinces to provide better access for all the Cuban people.

Free medical care and medical education

FIST members, other U.S. delegates and proud parents and families from all over the world gathered in the Karl Marx auditorium in Havana on July 24 to participate in the graduation ceremonies for the Cuban-based Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). This graduation awarded more than 1,900 degrees, including more than 1,200 doctoral degrees.

ELAM educates and trains youth from oppressed nations all across the world, mainly from Africa and Latin America, providing them with a free education in medicine. Upon graduation, ELAM students are not asked to pay back tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts, like most U.S. students. Rather they are merely asked to provide health care to those without access in their home countries.

This graduating class was particularly special because it was the first graduating class and noteworthy also for including eight students from the U.S.

In their statement to the national and international media, the graduates said, “This is a dream come true: the dream of becoming doctors and helping people in need, helping those people who, like ourselves, don’t have enough money to access expensive health care service.”

Rev. Lucius Walker, head of the Pastors for Peace Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, highlighted the efforts made by the Cuban Ministry of Health and the ELAM to train youths from over 20 countries, including the U.S., Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.

The event was concluded by a warm speech from Dr. Roberto González, deputy minister of public health in Cuba, reiterating the Cuban dedication to the betterment of all of humanity. The minister said that 100 students from the U.S. are currently studying at ELAM, and that 18 more will be arriving in Cuba by August to take part in the remarkable program designed by the Cuban government.

The requirement for unity

FIST also attended a lecture by Professor Nico López of the School of Marxism and Socialism in Havana. The study of Marxism and socialism in Cuba is mainly tasked with attempts at understanding the failures that led to the collapse of the USSR and the practical problems faced by the Cuban Revolution.

The lecture mainly focused on understanding the implications of those practical problems which have arisen from the day-to-day evolution of socialism in Cuban society, within the context of the collapse of the USSR. As López pointed out, despite the many opinions which exist, Marxist theoretical work today is connected to the groundbreaking work of Karl Marx. Yet Marx’s legacy is not finished. In fact the kind of analysis that can be done today simply could not have been done in the past.

López also covered the importance of the youth to the Cuban Revolution. After 45 years of youth organizations in the revolution, it is clear that generational revolutionary experience is not uniform. The new generation has not lived under capitalism. The young people are living under the benefits of this revolution and need to be educated further, so as to transmit the values of the previous generation. To understand the political/educational work and to create this transmission, all institutions must be taken into account—family, school, etc.

The most important lesson from Professor López though, may have been on the importance of unity. He warned not to assume some teleological view of socialism as something that is predetermined. It takes will. “We need to talk in terms of alliances. Not temporary ones, but permanent ones. Real ones. Political unity cannot be achieved if we do not take into account what is real. Absolute unity does not exist. It is a political proposal. It lies in will.”

He went on to talk about the wisdom of José Martí, a leader in Cuba’s war of independence from Spain, in defining the Cuban idea of political unity. Martí insisted that unity does not mean to serve a single opinion; rather it is a prerequisite to political success.

Cuban Hip Hop artists

FIST members were invited to a panel discussion on Cuban hip hop hosted on July 21 at the Julio Antonio Mella International Encampment, where the Venceremos Brigade volunteers its labor in Cuba’s ongoing efforts to increase production for the benefit of the people.

Members of the Agencia Cubana de Rap (The Cuban Rap Agency), led mainly by Afro-Cuban women, presented on their current efforts to deepen the hip hop movement in Cuba.

Hip hop is currently being distorted by the wealthy U.S. capitalist record industry. But it originally arose in the South Bronx neighborhoods in New York City as a voice for the oppressed. Cuba, along with many unrecognized artists in the U.S., is maintaining this liberation legacy and is using it as a tool to defend the revolution. In fact, the Cuban Revolution supports these efforts enough to have created a national agency.

In 2002 the government formed the Agencia Cubana de Rap with its own record label and hip hop magazine La Fabri-k to help promote the art form on the island. Weekly radio and TV shows were launched.

La Fabri-k artists put on a performance at the encampment for the U.S. activists to enjoy the revolutionary beats and rhymes.

For more information about FIST, e-mail [email protected]

Mwaura and Strobino were part of the FIST delegation to Cuba.

Next: Visits to Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, Anti-Imperialist Tribune, Committees in Defense of the Revolution; and participation in “Reverse Travel Challenge.”