By Vinicio Molina
PERTH — The 17th Southern Cross brigade to Cuba has been finalised; 31 brigadistas from all over Australia and New Zealand will leave for Cuba on December 26. A number of unions Australia-wide have sponsored delegates to participate in the brigade and represent them.
Other unionists have decided to participate independently. In Western Australia, seven people are preparing their backpacks.
Why Cuba? Before the revolution led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, Cuba was the US's backyard casino. The Cuban people did not have equal access to education or health care; many couldn't find work. They lived in extreme poverty.
On January 1, 1959, the Cuban people overthrew the corrupt Batista dictatorship and set up a people's government, a major victory against US domination in Latin America and the world.
For the last 40 years, the US has not only tried to assassinate Castro, but has also imposed a criminal and inhumane economic blockade. This blockade has caused many shortages, of medicines and basic food items such as milk, for example.
In the 1990s, the Cuban government was forced to open its economy to foreign investment. The US's response was to introduce the Helms-Burton Act, which punishes countries that trade with Cuba. The United Nations has condemned the blockade each year for the last eight years, this year only the US and Israel supporting it.
Despite all the hardships, Cuba has sent medical teams around the world to work as volunteers. One thousand Cuban doctors travelled to Central America to help the victims of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
On November 16, Castro opened the Latin American School of Medicine. Students from throughout Latin America will be trained as doctors free of charge at the school.
In Cuba, health care and education at all levels are free, and everyone has the opportunity to work. Cuba has an independent trade union movement which protects the work force.
The main slogan of the 14th World Festival of Youth and Students, held in Havana in 1997, was: "500 million children live on the streets; not one of them is Cuban".
The brigades provide Cuba with important solidarity, both economically and politically.
The Australia Cuba Friendship Society has organised a Cuban party to farewell the WA brigadistas and to raise funds for a solar energy project in the province of Granma, which will power a local hospital.
The party will be on Saturday, December 11, from 7.30pm, at the Fly By Night Musicians Club in Fremantle. Malembe, a well-known Perth-based band, will perform. Speakers will include Jorge Fernandez, the Cuban consul. For more information, contact Vic Williams on 9337 1074.