Reflections From the 51st Venceremos Brigade

The first Venceremos Brigade came to Cuba in 1969, just ten years after the triumph of the Cuban revolution, making the VB the oldest Cuba solidarity group in the world. The Venceremos Brigade started when a group of young people living in the US offered to send doctors, lawyers, and teachers in support of the Cuban revolution and to protest US policy against Cuba. In response, Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro explained that Cuba didn’t need doctors, lawyers, or teachers from the US – they had their own. What Cuba needed was help harvesting sugar cane. And so the Venceremos Brigade did just that, sending its very first contingent of youth representing social movements from across the US to harvest sugarcane in the fields alongside Cuban comrades. From the very beginning, brigadistas were diverse in terms of age, race, gender, politics, and sexuality (the first brigades included members of the organizations like the Students for a Democratic Society and the Young Lords) but were united by their desire to act in solidarity with and learn from the beautiful collective project of the Cuban revolution. For over five decades now, we have continued this practice and action of principled solidarity, taking new contingents of the brigade to Cuba to work and learn along side the Cuban people year after year. 

The Venceremos Brigade’s goals are:

  1. End the US blockade of Cuba, all US-imposed travel restrictions, and all regime change programs
  2. End the illegal US military occupation of Guantánamo Bay
  3. Remove Cuba from the US State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
  4. Strengthen movements for justice in the US through exchange and collaboration with Cuba

What we learned and experienced

For the 51st Venceremos Brigade, our comrades at the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People (ICAP) put together an incredibly rich itinerary. Our contingent of over 70 brigadistas traveled the eastern side of Cuba for 12 days and during that time we saw and learned so much.

We visited children’s hospitals where we learned from world-renowned medical experts about precisely how Cuba successfully navigated the twin crises of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the genocidal US economic blockade. We weeded, spread manure, and harvested tomatoes to help support an urban garden. We met with queer and trans Cuban organizers and activists who described the systematic, long-term, grassroots work that produced the revolutionary new Cuban family code, one of the most progressive pieces of legislation in the Western hemisphere. We broke bread with the Cuban community of Caimanera, the island’s self-declared ‘first trench against imperialism’, which sits in the shadows of the US military’s illegal occupation of Guantanamo Bay and lives a day to day reality of high tech surveillance as a result. We experienced the truly vast African and Indigenous roots of Cuba’s revolutionary history and culture and also witnessed how Cubans of all ages are deeply rooted in that history and culture through practices of dance, song, and storytelling that are intentionally made accessible to everyone. We had an intimate face-to-face conversation with Alberto Lescay, Cuba’s national sculptor and designer of the famous Antonio Maceo monument in Santiago and learned about the uncompromising pan-African political perspective which is the foundation of his art. Above all, we witnessed and learned from the profound example of the Cuban people’s strength, dignity, and organization in the face of unending genocidal attacks. 

We saw and heard and read and felt so much that we often joked among ourselves about losing all sense of time. Though we were on the island for less than two weeks we felt that we had had a lifetime of learning and experiences. 

What we will do to carry the work forward

The Venceremos Brigade is not a tourist trip. It is a principled act of revolutionary solidarity with the Cuban people and their revolution. For that reason, we don’t just travel to Cuba to be passive observers— to take it all in and then go back home and go about our business. We travel to Cuba to learn as much as we can about their revolution, their society,  and the impact of the US blockade in order to continue the work of building the Venceremos Brigade and the Cuba solidarity movement. As members of the 51st Venceremos Brigade, we have made the following commitments to continue this work: 

We will continue to develop and strengthen the local committees of the Venceremos Brigade. These are regional formations of past and present brigadistas who help hold the work of the VB. They truly represent our base. We have commitments from brigadistas of the 51st to start local committees in Utah, the DMV, Virginia, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, and Florida. This is in addition to the local committees we already have in places like New Mexico, New York, Chicago, and California which will continue to focus on fundraising, retention, and recruitment for the brigade. Our goal is to ultimately have local committees in all 50 states in the US.

Additionally, we’re going to spread what we’ve learned on the 51st continent far and wide by organizing both virtual and in-person regional and national report backs. In the few weeks that we’ve been back, brigadistas energized and motivated by their experiences in Cuba have already written articles, participated in media interviews, and organized webinars speaking on what they’ve witnessed and inviting their communities to come to Cuba on future trips. We are excited to produce even more; come through for the New York local committee’s report back on Sunday February 26th and stay tuned for details about our national report back on Saturday March 18th.

We are also actively working to recruit and develop new leadership within the Venceremos Brigade, particularly the responsables who will hold the work of the Venceremos Brigade for the 52nd contingent and beyond. 

We also understand that the Venceremos Brigade is just one piece of a broader Cuba solidarity and anti-imperialist movement. We commit to continuing to build ties with the entire US-Cuba solidarity network— that means continuing our participation in the National Network on Cuba and our collaboration with our comrades at IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Cuba Si, Puentes de Amor, and more. The Venceremos Brigade also supports Cuba solidarity car caravans – mobilizations of cars, bikes, and pedestrians calling for the end of the US blockade on Cuba that happen on the last Sunday of each month – throughout the US and will continue to do so.

We are also working to connect the Cuba solidarity movement to other anti-imperialist struggles, particularly those being waged by nations who are currently bearing the brunt of US attacks. We understand that thanks to the organization, ingenuity, and diligence of our Cuban comrades and the global Cuba solidarity movement, that every day more and more people are beginning to understand why the attacks on Cuba must end. We also understand that we have the responsibility to make sure this growing consciousness blooms into genuine anti-imperialism which will fight to defend all nations under attack. Nations like Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Iran are also suffering the weight of US economic sanctions. Nations like Bolivia, Nicaragua, China have also faced repeated US back attempts to destabilize their nations and demonizing propaganda campaigns. Nations like Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Haiti have also suffered more than a century of US domination and occupation. Every single one of these nations enjoys a relationship of principled solidarity with Cuba. Every single one of these nations deserves our solidarity too. We understand that fighting for Cuba is one front in a global struggle and the Venceremos Brigade is committed to the principle and strategy of revolutionary internationalism.

Why we love and defend Cuba

The Cuban revolution is truly a model for the entire world. It is a beacon of justice and hope in a reality dominated by a cruel and barbaric economic system that threatens the existence of all life on this planet. Cuba shows us that even in the face of an enemy that seems invincible and all-encompassing, the resistance of the masses is not only possible but that it can be successful. That it is necessary. Hope will never be lost as long as the Cuban revolution survives. We, especially those of us living in the belly of the beast as well as oppressed people throughout the world, have a responsibility to defend Cuba, to learn from it, and to emulate its example. We must wage and win our own struggles for justice and fight where ever we live.

We are grateful for the opportunity to be in more than 50 years of solidarity with the Cuban people. And we look forward to 50 more years of collective struggle. We will fight until the blockade falls and we will dance and sing with our Cuban comrades when it does.

Hasta la victoria siempre. 

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Over the last four and half decades, the V.B. has given over 8,000 people from the U.S. the opportunity for a life-changing experience. While the trip has evolved over time, the Venceremos Brigade has always kept its format of work, educational activities, and travel. In addition, we remain committed to organizing the most diverse contingents possible; Brigadistas are young and older, of many races, nationalities, socio-economic classes, and sexual orientations.