RATB brigade 2019 - Havana University Cuba
By Elias FB - Brigadista April 2019
At the University of Havana, we had an exchange with the University Student Federation (Federacion Estudiantil Universitaria, FEU). The FEU represents the interests of university students in various platforms. Cuba’s parliament has representatives elected from amongst the FEU, and during our exchange the students discussed the new constitution’s draft in local FEU meetings.
In Cuba, education is a right rather than a privilege. Everyone can access universities and efforts are made to eradicate inequality between regions and institutions.
Cuban higher education is free, while students’ right to housing and other basic needs are guaranteed. Students also receive a small allowance so that they don’t have to work while studying. Foreign students with scholarships such as those at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) are entitled to those same rights.
Britain today has some of the highest quality social care available anywhere in the world: homes run by Berkeley Care Group include a chauffeur-driven Mercedes for days out, well-equipped gyms and all-day bistro bars. Berkeley, however, caters fort less than 200 people and charges between £1,300 and £1,800 per week. The opulence of Berkeley and luxury providers like it is sharply limited to those who can afford to pay. Meanwhile, Age UK’s most recent figures estimate that in Britain, 1.4 million older people have an unmet care need. This is up 20% in the last two years, and more than 54,000 people have died in those two years waiting for a care package. And what crime have these people committed to be condemned to such a fate? Simply not being able to afford to pay in a care system where, ultimately, despite the guiding role of the state in the sector, profit reigns. Such pronounced inequality in social care could not stand in more stark contrast to the system of social care provision in socialist Cuba, to which RATB sent its fourteenth solidarity brigade in April.
by Ria O’ Grady
The triumph of the 1959 Cuban revolution overthrew the existing property relations in Cuba. In May of that year the new revolutionary government introduced its first Agrarian Reforms, expropriating idle and foreign owned, largely US, land to redistribute among those working it. Historically land had been reserved for the upper-class and imperialists, who had turned Cuba into a sugar-producing colony. The result was the loss of 90% of Cuba’s forests; destruction of ecology from monoculture and a reliance on imports. Further reforms subsequent to those in 1959 have solidified the process of worker ownership of land. Now in socialist Cuba any individual can apply for access to idle land, on the condition that they use it to produce, with a proportion of that produce going to the state to redistribute among society.
Such was the way the Leonor Perez agricultural cooperative, named after the Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti’s mother, was founded in La Lisa municipality, Havana province. We visited the co-operative on our brigade to learn more about Cuba’s commitment to environmental sustainability. The cooperative is one of four in the municipality and 88 in the province, providing to over 2,000 institutions and organisations across Cuba. It spans 179 hectares and is made up of 255 associates, grouping together local farms and farm workers. The main focus is on producing diverse crops, milk and livestock, though they also produce medicinal plants. Though the co-operative can sell its surpluses through private farmers markets, the primary function is to satisfy the needs of the state.
Jose Marti, the 19th Century Cuban national independence hero and revolutionary thinker said that ‘To be educated is to be free’. The importance of education has always been at the heart of the Cuban revolution – the 26 July Movement revolutionary programme declared: ‘We believe that true democracy can be attained only with citizens who are free, equal, educated and have dignified and productive jobs.’ From January 1959, the revolutionary government took steps to create a free and more productive education system. The 1960 literacy campaign recruited 300,000 young Cuban volunteers to live in the poorest rural areas teaching peasants and rural workers to read and write. Within a year every Cuban had achieved basic literacy. 37 schools were built in the first year of the revolution, compared to one school built in the previous 57 years. Free universal education up to and including university is a central pillar of Cuban socialism today, from specialist schools to support children with disabilities to far-flung solar-powered mountain schools teaching one or two children, education is for all.
Our brigade volunteered at a construction site in Guanabacoa, Havana that was working to rebuild over 8,000 homes destroyed by a tornado in January. Astoundingly, by the time of our visit in April, over 80% of the homes had already been rebuilt and the aim is to complete the rebuilding process by November! Where is the equivalent process for Grenfell? Plans for the new homes were made by the Ministry of construction in consultation with the community. Volunteer labour brigades are guided and trained by professional workers whilst municipalities are supported to produce whatever building materials they can. We saw first-hand, how recovered materials were being reused in building, whilst other workers produced cement.
In April 2019, Rock around the Blockade sent its 14th solidarity brigade to Cuba, celebrating 60 years of the socialist revolution. Our visit coincided with the inauguration of Cuba’s new constitution, supported by 86% of voters, produced by an outstanding exercise in participatory democracy in which 8.9 million Cubans took part. In our visits and exchanges, Cubans from every walk of life shone with determination to resist the US’s attacks on socialism and continue to construct a sustainable socialist society.
At a visit to a music school named after the Cuban composer Guillermo Tomás Bouffartigue, we learned about the exemplary education system in Cuba and how it is used to supply Cuba’s youth with musical education.
The school accepts any child that shows a particular aptitude toward music, an approach replicated throughout Cuba’s specialist art schools. The school is free for all, and children are provided with musical instruments and everything they need except for copy books and pens. There is a widespread effort to ensure that children with the dedication and talent are given a good musical education no matter where they live on the island. There are four such schools in Havana Province and the students undertake their usual school studies in the mornings and practice music in the afternoons.
We can contrast this with the level of access to musical education in Britain, where arts departments and facilities have been facing cuts as a result of austerity and a fifth of schools don’t offer music as a subject for 14-16-year olds. In capitalist Britain, a high standard of musical education is offered to a privileged minority of pupils and those outside of this circle face an uphill battle to access arts education, even if they can prove their ability.
In socialist Cuba, access to art and culture are seen as basic rights. Monica Maestri the principal of Guillermo Tomás, emphasised ‘the school responds to the revolutionary message of equal opportunities and possibilities for all’. This is despite the illegal US blockade which costs Cuba an estimated $12 million a day!
Collaborating with the ‘Send a piano to Cuba’ project, Rock around the Blockade donated £1000 of musical instruments and equipment to the Guillermo Tomas music school. The extra-territorial tentacles of the blockade froze ‘Piano to Cuba’ funds through Eventbrite and Stripe, so we were determined to deliver piano hammers for the restoration of a Grand Piano.
The 14th solidarity brigade to socialist Cuba was a resounding success, and the brigadistas who visited Cuba are now taking part in public meetings around the country to report back to people in Britain what they learned from the brigade. We would like to extend our thanks to all those who supported the brigade fundraising to make it a valuable and successful mission.
We are ready to share the lessons learned about socialism, sustainability and solidarity with people here in Britain. Below are the details of our currently arranged report-back meetings taking place in local areas:
Cuba: Saving lives across the globe, Friday 24 May, 6.30pm-8.30pm, The Wellington, 37 Bennetts Hill, B2 5SN Facebook event
Cuba, socialism and the environment, Saturday 8 June, 3pm-5.30pm, The Woodman, New Canal St, B5 5LG Facebook event
GLASGOW – Cuban youth today - still revolutionary, Sunday 5 May, 2-5pm, The Flying Duck, 142 Renfield Street G2 3AU Facebook event
LONDON – Eyewitness reports from Cuba, a sustainable socialist society, Wednesday 15 May, 7.30pm, The Union Tavern, 52 Lloyd Baker Street WC1X 9AA Facebook event
North London – Tuesday 28 May, 7.30pm-9.30pm, Oak & Pastor, 86 Junction Road N19 5QZ
East London – Saturday 1 June, 2.30-4.30pm, Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road E15 4DN
South London – Eyewitness reports from Cuba Wednesday 5 June, 7pm, Location TBC Facebook event
West London – Wednesday 12 June, 7.30pm, West London Trade Union Club, 33-35 High Street, W3 6ND
LIVERPOOL – Cuba report: capitalism is extinction, socialism is survival Sunday 19 May, 2-5pm, The Black-E, 1 Great George Street L1 5EW Facebook event
MANCHESTER – Eyewitness reports of the green revolution, Sunday 12 May, 2pm-5pm, Dulcimer Bar, 567 Wilbraham Road M21 0AE Facebook event
Socialism or extinction - Cuba confronts environmental destruction, Saturday 11 May, Brunswick Methodist Church, Brunswick Place, NE1 7BJ Facebook event
Cuba: resisting the new imperialist offensive on socialism, Monday 20 May, Good Space, Floor 2, Commercial Union House, 39 Pilgrim St, NE1 6QE Facebook event
Cuba: fighting racism and building a society for all, Saturday 8 June, 3pm, The Verb, Upper Level, Eldon Garden NE1 7RA Facebook event
NOTTINGHAM – Cuba: eyewitness reports of the revolution
Sneinton - Monday 6 May, 7.30-9.30pm, St Christopher’s Church, Trent Road NG2 4AL Facebook event
Hockley - Saturday, 25 May, 4pm-7pm, The Hockley Rebel, 9 Broad Street, NG1 3AJ Facebook event
Chesterfield - Sunday 9 June, 3pm-6pm, Chesterfield Library, New Beetwell St, S40 1QN Facebook event
Hyson Green - Wednesday 19 June, 5pm-8pm, Hyson Green Youth Club, Terrace St, NG7 6ER Facebook event
Hockley - Saturday, 20 July, 4pm-7pm, The Hockley Rebel, 9 Broad Street, NG1 3AJ Facebook event
Visit this page regularly and subscribe to the Rock Around The Blockade and FRFI mailing lists to stay up to date on future events we are planning:
This April, Rock Around the Blockade held its 14th solidarity brigade to socialist Cuba, celebrating 60 years of the Cuban revolution. 17 activists spent two weeks visiting schools, nurseries, grandparents’ groups, community centres and cooperatives. We held meetings with trade union officials, representatives of the Cuban women’s federation and journalists. In a political act to break the blockade we brought case-loads of musical instruments and children’s toys and donated over £900 to the repair fund following a tornado that tore through Havana in January. A major highlight was the opportunity to visit CENESEX – the National centre for sexual education and discuss with research specialist Anabelise Perdomo Caceres about Cuba’s approach to LGBT rights, including the new constitution and Cuba’s approach to trans-healthcare.
I am a trans woman who has been navigating the NHS care pathway for the last 4 years, so I was keen to find out how my experience compares with Cuba’s approach.