IFCO solidarity delegation with the Cuban people

Cuba Journal Day 1&2: “Cuban people have balls!”

I need to try to summarize the last two days in Cuba in as few words as possible, but this will be difficult because so much has happened. Time moves particularly slow for me here because I do not have constant access to the internet and my phone to pass the time. This forces me to sit in every moment, in every second. When people talk to me I have to take in every sound, every syllable. I’ll try to make this quick.

Cuba is a beautiful place. It is the first place that I’ve been outside of the country but I still confidently want to say it’s probably one of the most beautiful places in the world. Not because it’s luxurious, or because everything is newly renovated and modern. In fact, it’s the opposite. Most things I see here are old. Things are rusting and the paint is fading. The beauty in Cuba is in the struggle. The sun refuses to stop shining, despite the blockade. The old cars on the highway, moving along and getting people from point A to point B refuse to stop chugging. The buildings don’t stop standing. It’s a place facing the threat of annihilation and refuses to surrender its beauty. And it’s all very real. I prefer it all much more than the sight of the poorly made McMansions which are so popular in the US.

In the US there is a lot of romanticization of Cuban people. They are either depicted as communist demons, or well to do, upstanding citizens who take every injustice with a smile. Not everyone here is smiling. Most people look normal. Some people just look tired. Who wouldn’t be tired after living their whole life in a country that is hanging on to a promise that its neighbor (The US) refuses to let be fulfilled.

On the street at night my new friends and I wander around trying to convert our Canadian dollars to pesos. We are looking for Cuban pizza and we find it at few different shops on the street. The street restaurants here look like hole-in-the-walls back home in the country so it’s a little familiar. If you own a restaurant in the US you most likely have a huge, flashing sign outside your store and large board where you can display the various things you sell. You probably have menus as well. That is not the case for most restaurants here in Havana. That kind of sign-making requires various plastics and mini pieces that can not be imported. Printing menus costs money, and when the people you serve on a daily basis are usually just your neighbors, you don’t need a menu. For many amerikkkans this would not be appealing because the act of eating out in the US is marketed as something that needs to be a full scale experience, not just something you do to satisfy your human need to eat. What I’m trying to say is that you really don’t need all that shit to enjoy a meal, the pizza was great.

I have made a new Cuban brother and sister, Rosbel and Yulieta. They are both Black Cuban journalists who are incredibly patient with my elementary school Spanish. I will write more about them later. Cuba is 100% without a doubt an African nation. There are Black people EVERYWHERE. The Cubans in Miami have largely been so successful in sustaining the narrative that Cubans are white because the people who stood to lose the most during the people’s revolution and fled to Miami were white. If anything, my delegation brought the whites with us! Being here also forces you to expand your definition of “blackness” as well. “Black” almost doesn’t do justice to it. These are African people, there is no way to deny it.

I have not encountered a single person who is forced to beg for money on the streets. Cuba is currently dealing with all kinds of shortages — food and gas both being on the list. But no one here is going hungry. That is because Cuba’s economy, unlike the US, is not geared toward making profits. The economy is centered around the needs of the people. What this means is that the people of Cuba have an economic plan (which they’ve voted on) that says in times of need, we will ALL tighten our belts and receive less or consume less, so that NONE of us go without. Can you imagine amerikkkans agreeing to live that selflessly? It might seem impossible but anything can be made possible with a revolution. This is not to suggest that people here live without pains. The US blockade on Cuba has created many many pains for the people in terms of getting their basic needs met. But the people here struggle with dignity. There is no dignity in US poverty because it is completely self-imposed. There is no reason for people to be homeless and starving in the US. The only reason poverty exists at home is because capitalism requires poverty. People struggle in Cuba because the same country that keeps us poor at home, has cut off their access to the rest of the world. Different people, same demon.

People in Cuba wear their COVID masks religiously. I can not put into words how committed they are to wearing masks. Coming from a country where people legit gather around to debate whether or not people should be “forced” to wear masks, it is a refreshing thing to not even have to think about. One of the benefits of their revolution was the creation of a culture that can confidently trust its science and medical sectors. Hand sanitizer is available everywhere, but most people aren’t just going to a Wal-Mart or Dollar Tree to keep buying new plastic bottles of the same thing. Many businesses just make their own or use PPE given to them by the Cuban government, which means most bottles are recycled and labeled with dates which indicate when they will expire. Nearly 100% of the eligible population has been vaccinated. I asked Yulieta if she was nervous at all about getting the Cuban made vaccine. I asked this question because there is so much debate in the States about whether or not people should get vaccinated. Our medical system is not Cuba’s so I personally understand the hesitation, but I wanted to see if there was a hesitation comparable at all in Cuba. There is not. Yulieta replied, “Why would I be nervous? The vaccine is a gift of the revolution!” Can you imagine Black folks in the US being that trusting of the amerikkan medical system? It will never happen. That is why we should spend less time berating each other about medical mistrust, and more time building a revolution.

The Cubans I have met talk about their revolution very openly and with a lot of pride. For educational purposes, I want to state that a revolution is the transformation of a society from the bottom up. My comrade Onye often talks a lot about how people just think a revolution is “a thing dudes do one time with guns.” Cuba is proof that is not true. I enjoy it so much that they are very normal people who are very militant about defending their revolution. It is very cool to be in a country where people say words like “socialism” freely in casual conversation. In the US still in 2021, identifying as a socialist or communist is taboo in a lot of circles. Words like “socialism” or “revolution” are not scary to the Cubans I have met because they can recall a time living under capitalism (as we do in the US) and they have seen the material benefits that waging a socialist revolution has brought to their everyday lives. It is the coolest thing to meet little old ladies who look like your high school librarian but can talk to you very gently and sweetly about why it is important to study communists texts and can tell you the entire strategy Fidel Castro used to defeat the US in the Bay of Pigs invasion.

I want to say a lot about Cuba’s advances in medicine. They are currently developing a number of drugs that African people in the States desperately need but will likely never have access to because we live in a country that is killing us and would never allow Cuba to help. They are developing a vaccine that will prevent amputations related to diabetes. They have 4 different medications being tested related to COVID — from nasal spray vaccines, to a treatment for people suffering with severe symptoms. I will say more about that later.

I want to say more about a conversation I attended today with young Cuban artists who talked about the fact that the Cuban government subsidized their pay during the pandemic. Many performers and dancers, for example, did not lose pay during the pandemic when theaters and performance halls closed because the government made it a priority to continue to pay them. Arts education is the first thing to go in the US when it’s time to make budget cuts. Budget cuts do not stop the US government from investing millions of dollars each year in attempting to sabotage the Cuban revolution.

On our first day we went to the Denouncement Memorial in Havana. This is a museum dedicated to remembering all of the acts of terror — physical and emotional, carried out against the Cuban people by the United States. There is a section of the museum where we stopped to talk about the number of organizers in Cuba who were killed during the revolution for simply participating in literacy campaigns in the countryside. A year after the Cuban Revolution began, all of the people of Cuba learned to read, so the sacrifice of those people was certainly not in vain.

I definitely cried a little bit today during a tour at a brand new museum in Havana, Centro Fidel Castro Ruz, dedicated to Fidel Castro, hero of the Cuban Revolution. During his lifetime, Fidel made it law that no one could ever name anything after him. He did not want streets or hospitals or airports named in his honor. In the US we name all kinds of things after men who have never done anything for anyone but themselves. The revolution was in 1959. Fidel died in 2016. It is just this year, 2021, that the people of Cuba have broken his rule just a little to finally create a museum in his honor. They saw this as a necessary thing to do because a new generation of Cubans is being born — a generation of Cubans who will have never had the chance to meet him. With the US constantly smearing and launching attacks against his legacy in capitalist media, Cuban people are now having to wage a war inside of their country to protect their youth from capitalist media. The museum is brand new and not open to the Cuban public just yet, so we were the first ones to see it. It’s a marvel.

One of the last stops on the tour is a dedication to the Program of the Revolution, the seven key issues that Fidel and the Communist Party of Cuba set out to resolve in Cuban society upon taking control of the country. All seven, from land reform to public education remain in effect in today’s Cuba. All seven are desperately needed in the US. A revolution is desperately needed in the US. Our problems will never be resolved by continuing to be content with “voting” in elections that we do not control. The museum is a tribute to Fidel, yes, but it is also a reminder that the Cuban society I see today, that society that refuses to surrender its beauty, is the result of millions of Cuban people coming together and deciding they would no longer be controlled by capitalism and imperialism. They fought a war against Spain, and then the most evil empire to ever exists, the the US, to free themselves and they continue to fight today to keep themselves free. I was talking to Rosbel after the tour about how bad Africans in the US need a revolution and he reminded me, “Cuban people have balls. American people need to have balls to accomplish what they want.”

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Salifu Mack is a Pan-Africanist and organizer with the All-African People's Revolutionary Party and the Lowcountry Action Committee in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.