By Jackie Coleman
HAVANA — Miami-based TV Marti has succeeded in broadcasting less than an hour of programs into Cuba since it started transmissions in March 1990. While Cuban technicians have been able to scramble its signal and thus block US propaganda from illegally appearing on Cuban TV screens, Cubans' only means of countering the slander that the US spreads to the rest of the world is by telling the simple truth.
"Slander campaigns and the truth about Cuba" was the theme of one of the commissions at the recent World Meeting of Solidarity with Cuba. The commission looked at the method and the nature of the lies, what Cuba's supporters can do to refute them and how to publicise the facts.
Recent US defamation has centred on allegations of lack of democracy and supposed human rights violations. The truth, however, is that Cuba is a nation struggling to maintain tremendous social gains in an extremely difficult situation caused by the US blockade. During the solidarity conference I had the opportunity to visit a farming cooperative and an urban community to see what these social gains are and how they are being defended.
Cooperatives are voluntary organisations of formerly private farms. The one I visited outside Havana grows potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, beans and bananas. The state buys 80% of its produce and distributes it to the population through a rationing system.
As foreign minister Roberto Robaina commented during his address to the conference, the Cuban people have taken the decision to share the little that they have between many, rather than to have a minority having everything. In this way the basic nutrition of the population is ensured by the state.
The remaining 20% of the cooperative's produce is sold in open markets and the profits divided among the members. At the cooperative and in fields on the way there, I saw oxen ploughing. The farmers call them "flesh and blood tractors". They are an everyday sight now due to the blockade and the loss of trading relations with eastern Europe, which has made it impossible to get spare machinery parts and enough fuel to sustain mechanised agriculture.
The cooperative members talked about these problems and the difficulties caused by the lack of fertilisers and pesticides and their attempts to come up with alternatives. However, after an initial drop in 1990, they have been able to maintain their production level.
The private farmers who have not joined cooperatives and are allowed to own up to 66 hectares face the same hardships. The president of the cooperative acknowledged the right of small farmers not to cooperatise, but stressed the great social advantages that come from being part of a cooperative. These include a state primary school, a health centre and a community meeting and recreation centre located on the cooperative, and the provision of utilities such as electricity.
In Havana I attended one of the parties hosted for conference participants by the Committees in Defence of the Revolution. These carry out activities such as community vigilance and development; membership is voluntary. In the block of flats at which the party was held, two families don't participate in the committee; the son of one of the families left as a "balsero" last August and is now at the Guantanamo US naval base. Nevertheless, these families were invited to the party, and one attended.
All housing in Cuba is state property and rented. I asked to see inside a flat and was shown one that although modest, had electricity, running water and a gas stove. It was a dream home for the majority of the world's population!
Cuba tries to inform the world of these and other aspects of its reality through media like Granma International newspaper, Radio Havana and videos, and through the work of organisations such as the Writers and Artists Union and the Institute of Friendship with the Peoples. With Cuba's limited resources, the collaboration of supporters in refuting slander and publicising the truth about Cuba is essential.
To this end the commission urged supporters to use alternative media spaces in their countries to speak for Cuba, provide material assistance to the Cuban media, promote the production of videos, undertake subscription drives for Cuban publications and distribute accurate published information.