Meeting strengthens Australia-Cuba friendship

By Hamish Chitts

On April 16-17, more than 60 members and supporters of the Australia Cuba Friendship Societies (ACFS) from across Australia gathered in Sydney for the annual national consultation. The consultation coincided with historic events, as the Cuban Communist Party met for its Sixth Congress to decide on long-debated adjustments to Cuba’s planned socialist economy.

The consultation heard reports from ACFS branches and sister groups throughout Australia on their achievements and challenges in building solidarity with Cuba over the previous year. Activities reported included film nights, public meetings, cultural events, raising money for projects in Cuba (including purchasing medical equipment for hospitals and technical equipment for universities) and their activities building the 28th Southern Cross work-study brigade to Cuba in January.

Every year, the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) organises solidarity brigades for groups from around the world. The programs are packed with visits to various parts of Cuba, visits to hospitals and schools, cultural activities and meetings with trade unions, women’s and youth organisations, as well as solidarity contributions by working on agricultural or construction projects. Since 1983, ACFS has been working with ICAP to organise the annual Southern Cross Brigades for Australian and New Zealand participants. In recognition of her excellent efforts organising this year’s brigade, Rhonda Andrews was re-elected as national co-ordinator of the 29th brigade, from December 28, 2011, to January 20, 2012.

The consultation also reaffirmed the ACFS commitment to raising awareness in Australia about the issues of greatest concern to the Cuban people and passed the following resolutions:

“This National Consultation of the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society demands that the sentences of the Cuban Five be quashed and that they be immediately returned to their families and their country.

“September 12, 2011, marks the 13th anniversary of the unjust imprisonment of Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonazales, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labatino and Fernando Gonzalez. Known today as the Cuban Five, these men entered the US in 1998 to monitor the activities of extremist groups in Miami in an attempt to protect Cuba from invasion and acts of terrorism. For 50 years these groups have engaged in violent acts against the Cuban people and anyone calling for a normalisation of relations between Cuba and the US. Between 1990 and 2000, there were 108 such attacks both inside Cuba and abroad targeting Cuban diplomats and in 1997 there were 10 bombings in Havana alone.

“In June 1998, Cuba sent the FBI specific information about the activities of these Miami-based terrorists, but instead of rounding up the terrorists, the FBI used the information to identify and arrest the Cuban Five, claiming it had uncovered a “Cuban spy network” despite knowing that the Five were only interested in Miami terrorists and not US government secrets. From the moment of their arrest, the Five were isolated and kept in solitary confinement for 17 months before being subjected to a politically motivated trial in Miami. Twelve jurors were chosen from a pool of 150, all of them asked about their views on Cuba. If any expressed opinions at odds with anti-Cuban ideology they were disqualified.

“In June 2001, after a six-month trial, the Five were found guilty on all 26 counts after only a few hours’ deliberation by the jury, which did not ask a single question despite the complexity of the case. The judge handed down horrific sentences, ranging from 15 years to double-life.”

“This 2011 meeting of the ACFS branches of Australia demands that the US government comply with the repeated UN resolutions to lift the illegal and inhuman blockade against the sovereign state of Cuba.

“In 1960, the US State Department recommended that, since “the majority of Cubans support Castro ... [and] there is no effective political opposition ... the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship … Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba ... Such a policy ... would call forth a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

“The direct economic repercussions on the Cuban people due to the application of the economic, trade and financial blockade by the US against Cuba until December 2008, calculated on a conservative basis, total US$96 billion. This collective punishment for not doing what Washington says is the prime obstacle to the economic and social growth of Cuba, as well as the recovery from three devastating hurricanes that hit Cuba in 2008. The blockade tightens every year as globalisation puts the world’s production of things like medical equipment in the hands of fewer and fewer multinational companies with headquarters in the US.”

The consultation fostered serious and thoughtful discussion at a time when Cuban solidarity is particularly important as Cuba’s enemies seek to sow confusion about the adjustments to Cuba’s economic plan approved by the Sixth Congress. The consultation was fortunate to have four excellent representatives of the Cuban people to answer questions and explain the adjustments and the situation that has made them necessary. They were the Cuban ambassador to Australia, Pedro Monzon, Sydney-based Cuban consul-general, Reinaldo Garcia, ICAP representative Ezequiel Morales, a long-time educator and interpreter for brigadistas in Cuba, and Sydney-based consul Maribel Begueri. All four complemented each other well, raised the level of discussion and furthered the understanding of those attending.

Cuba does not exist in a bubble, but in a world dominated economically and militarily by imperialism. This reality and efforts to advance Cuban society from mere survival towards a more collective society, based on Karl Marx’s principle for socialism of “from each according to their ability and to each according to their labour”, are the main forces driving the adjustments to Cuba’s economy.

Pedro Monzon stressed that in job management, as in many other aspects, Cuba is continuously striving to strike a balance between economic efficiency and social justice. Many inefficiencies remain, not only from past imperialist domination, but also from Cuba’s previous use of bureaucratic production models learned from the Soviet Union. Currently everyone in Cuba receives the same subsidised food ration regardless of how much they earn, even though a waiter at a hotel can earn more money in tips than an ambassador earns. Cuba imports close to 80% of the food consumed by its people at a cost of around US$1.5 billion per year, yet the island possesses a lot of fertile uncultivated land. In some places there are currently four or five people doing a job that could be safely and comfortably done by two or three, while chronic labour shortages exist in other occupations.

Much has been made of Cuba’s plans to remove half a million state sector jobs. Cuba is not capitalist Australia, where job cuts mean throwing workers on the scrap heap. Capitalism requires unemployment to create competition for jobs to keep wages down and profits up. In Cuba, work will be found for every worker in areas where their work is needed, including an expanded self-employed sector. No Cuban worker will be left unsupported.

This expanded self-employed sector is not “opening up for capitalist businesses” as some media hostile to Cuba have claimed. There will be no private bosses, private enterprises must be collective and all profits shared, and if the enterprise expands and needs more workers, they must be engaged as equal partners. Cuba is also bringing in a taxation system to ensure that no one becomes rich and to make those who earn more contribute more to state finances. This is a very different approach from capitalist countries, where the very rich get concessions and tax loopholes while workers pay the bulk of government costs.

Cuba’s socialism will continue to be an inspiration for workers around the world. As Ezequiel Morales told the consultation, “Our socialism will be everlasting and immovable”. H