By Stephen Marks
HAVANA â 1995 has been declared the International Year of Jos Mart¡ and October 8 the possible date of a World Day in Solidarity with Cuba. These were among proposals adopted by the plenary session of the World Conference in Solidarity with Cuba late last year.
While much attention has rightly focused on the heroic blockade-running by the US Pastors for Peace, the conference also heard the reports of representatives of many poor Third World countries. Vietnam, for example, sent 5 million pens and 5 million notebooks as well as 20 tonnes of rice to Cuba last year. Vietnamese workers also donated one day of labour for the relief of floods in Vietnam and one day of labour in solidarity with Cuba.
Representatives of the 50-strong Indian delegation recounted how that country's rail system was used to transport donations to "Ships for Cuba" waiting at port. Representatives from friendship and solidarity organisations from such far-flung countries as Ghana, Bangladesh, Nepal, Zimbabwe, Russia, Mozambique and Angola also added reports on breaking the siege.
Proposals included the coordination of international actions against the blockade, such as the friendship caravans and "Ships to Cuba", and the organisation of regional and continental friendship and solidarity meetings. To help to create a common international image, the Actions Against the Blockade Commission proposed the design of a logo to identify all actions against the blockade.
Among other suggestions was the promotion of an international youth campaign and rock festival and the convening of a second world meeting. As well as practical actions, emphasis was placed on the importance of pressure applied through governments, parliaments, international forums and the UN to call for the lifting of the blockade. The need to promote trade, investments, tourism and other exchanges with Cuba was stressed.
The conference also condemned the blockades against the Iraqi and Libyan peoples.
While damaging the economy, particularly food production and transport, the blockade also has severe effects on many other aspects of Cuban daily life.
According to the president of the National Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC), Abel Prieto, Cuba has created a cultural tradition which reflects the daily life of the people and is part of their daily lives. From the earliest days of the revolution priority had been given to fostering groups such as choirs, libraries and theatre clubs in even the most remote mountainous regions of the country.
Speaking to a group of conference participants, Prieto observed that with the tightening of the blockade it has become difficult to obtain art and cultural supplies. Essentials such as guitar strings, paints, theatre lights, film celluloid and book and magazine paper are extremely scarce. This was frustrating not only for the performers, writers and artists but also for the public. Recently a Cuban group, "Mezcla", was refused a visa to perform in a US concert with famed musician Carlos Santana.
Despite such difficulties, culture remains a priority in Cuba.
Prieto stressed that not only had no school or hospital been closed as a result of the blockade, but that no cultural institution had been closed. As a demonstration of Cuba's continued commitment to the arts, he also pointed to the Latin American Film Festival, then just about to get under way in Havana, and the continued prestige attached to the Casa de las Americas literary awards.
The economic and cultural blockade against Cuba also hurts the country directing it, the commission was told. Some US conference participants claimed that as well as relieving Cuba, the lifting of the trade restrictions would also benefit and boost the US economy.
Japanese, European and Latin American firms are establishing joint operations in Cuba while US firms remain sidelined from trading with their close neighbour. While the presence of foreign, but not US, firms is obvious in Havana, it was still ironic to see that the T-shirts of the representatives of the Committees to Defend the Revolution who invited us into their communities, were emblazoned with the logo of Banamex, one of Mexico's biggest banks.