Inhuman Cuban blockade has got to go!

By Rose and Emil Shaw, in People's Weekly World,
22 August, 1997

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Seven delegates to the 14th World Festival of Youth and Students delivered a joyous and moving report of their experiences to a crowd that included scores of people who contributed to send them to the July 28-August 5 festivities in Havana Cuba.

The delegates, ranging in age from 14 to 40, all reported the warmth and friendship from the Cuban people and a new perception of life under socialism. There was unanimous agreement that the U.S. blockade is inflicting great suffering on the Cuban people and that the struggle to end it must be redoubled.

Rosina, an 18-year-old high school graduate, said that the actual visit to a socialist country was an eye-opener. "I want to go back to my social studies teachers and tell them that they don't know anything about Cuba," she told the crowd that gathered in the headquarters of a progressive Latino organization here. She said tickets to cultural events in Cuba, such as ballet, are cheap and the performances first rate. The 12,750 delegates from 132 countries enjoyed some of that superb culture--an open air performance, for example, by the great Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez.

When her host family found out that she was a vegetarian, they went to great lengths to accommodate her, Rosina said. Jerome, a college student, was impressed with the fact that as their host family transported them to one of the conferences, they had stopped along the way to pick up an old woman and give her a lift. He also appreciated meeting with other people from around the world who were committed to social justice.

Sylvia, a health care worker and mother, went to Cuba with a lot of questions and came back with more questions. Speaking Spanish, she spoke to all kinds of people and got both positive and negative answers. Her major impression was that the Cuban health care system leaves the U.S. system way behind.

Yet they are short of medicine, because it is not cost- effective to trade with other countries besides the United States.

It was her impression that as far as education is concerned, the Cubans are practicing the ideas expressed in Hillary Rodham Clinton's book, "It Takes A Village," where the whole community focuses on the youth. "I was given the warmest welcome by the Cubans that I have ever had in my life. They told us that they welcome U.S. citizens. It is the U.S. government policies they have problems with." Jocelyn, a teen-age vocalist from Albuquerque, was very impressed with the fact that the Cubans teach career education at the elementary school level.

Jocelyn and Rosina performed on stage in Cienfuegos, where they sang a special song, "I Have Sisters in Cuba," and were so well received that Cuban television asked them to perform for rebroadcasts later in the day. Thus it came to pass that Rosina sang for the Cuba TV at 4 a.m.. Alicia, a college student who participated with the Venceremos Brigade, was most impressed with how the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution functioned. She compared it to local "Neighborhood Watch" committees. "It was like neighbors watching out for each other." She traveled around Havana and Cienfuegos province and helped in land cultivation and in the preparation of a terraced garden. The fact that the Cubans gave the U.S. delegation such a strong welcome was a high point of her visit.

Roberto, a veteran of the 1978 Youth Festival and one of the staff persons for the National Preparatory Committee, felt that the NPC was the best prepared of all the U.S. participating groups. Many delegates were not prepared for the festival experience. Yet the National Preparatory staff did its best to answer questions and foster unity among the American delegation.

All the New Mexican delegates were unanimous that the best part of the whole experience was staying with the host families, talking into the wee hours of the morning, asking and answering questions.

The New Mexican delegation had its inception when World editor Tim Wheeler spoke about his Cuban trip at the University of New Mexico in March and suggested that youth participate in the festival. From this developed a broad based sponsoring committee that raised $2,700 in four months' time, from a Pe na featuring Latino artists, and from donations solicited from a data base of over 800 people.

The New Mexico festival delegates plan to spread the word about ending the blockade by contacting the media and holding a special report-back meeting the middle of September.

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