A dozen youth and students from Australia, England and South Africa and two members from Lalit in Mauritius have concluded a revolutionary youth and student tour of the revolutions of Cuba and Venezuela. This fantastic experience was an initiative of the Sydney University Cuba-Venezuela Solidarity Club (CVSC).
The month-long trip enabled participants to learn in great depth about the revolutionary processes unfolding in both countries. The tour was organised in collaboration with the mass revolutionary youth organisations in Cuba and Venezuela – Cuba’s Union of Young Communists (UJC) and the youth organisation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (J-PSUV) led by President Hugo Chavez. Participants gained a view of these people-power revolutions very different from that of ordinary tourists. Their packed agenda included guided and translated tours of universities, factories, urban organic cooperative farms and the mass people-power organisations of both countries.
While there have been many brigades to Cuba over the decades, and to Venezuela more recently, the CVSC tour was unique in visiting both Cuba and Venezuela, allowing participants to understand the similarities and differences between these sister revolutions and their close ties of solidarity.
In Venezuela, there are many street murals depicting Che Guevara and other Cuba-related themes, including many of the Cuban Five, unjustly imprisoned in the United States for opposing terrorism. Similarly in Cuba, much attention is focused on events in Venezuela; trade relations between the two countries are helping to alleviate the effects of the 50-year economic blockade imposed by the US.
In Caracas, thanks to close collaboration with the J-PSUV, we were fortunate to receive a guided tour by a colonel of one of the barrio militias set up after the failed US-backed coup of 2002. The colonel, a military man and intellectual, was impressed enough by our solidarity to give us two hours of his time, answering questions in detail on subjects from corruption and crime to Venezuelan history, international politics and education.
A trip to the neighbouring state of Valencia took in a visit to a food factory, nationalised after it was caught hoarding food, and the El Palito refinery, one of the main battlegrounds of the oil industry lockout of 2002-03. One of the central political strategies for Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution is food security. Because of threats from capitalist enterprises that still heavily influence the economy, the government needs to ensure that public enterprises, such as the nationalised food factory, are able to fill the void that may be temporarily created if capitalist companies go on strike.
Another political strategy of the Chavez government is an education revolution to end the exclusion of students that existed before 1998. The Bolivarian University, housed in what was previously the headquarters of the largest producers of petroleum in Venezuela, holds classes until 10pm and is at the centre of the education revolution.
We interrupted a judicial studies class in which every single student had previously been excluded from the education system and who explained to us that the university aims to do away with the traditional system. They start with a critical view of society with the aim of ending the bourgeois state. The students explained that they don’t write a thesis but instead work on projects throughout the five years of their study. Right from the beginning in first year, the students participate in community work related to what they’re studying.
The Venezuelan leg of the tour ended with a solidarity exchange between the J-PSUV and CVSC and commitments from both organisations to continue to collaborate and to work towards another revolutionary youth and student tour in 2011.
No commercial advertising
A contrast between the two sister revolutions was evident as soon as our plane touched down in Havana. The complete absence of commercial advertising means the absence of the artificial massaging of personal insecurities and the bombardment of messages about how products for sale will help relieve these insecurities. This made for a very relaxing trip from the airport to our hotel, one that was built when Cuba hosted the Pan American Games in 1992.
The Cuban part of the tour began with a trip to Old Havana with our UJC guide, Malena, translating and explaining some of the historical highlights. We saw a big effort to preserve the historical buildings and restore them to their former glory, but it is slow work, mainly due to the lack of resources as a result of the blockade. We also visited the museum of the Committees in Defence of the Revolution (CDR), where we were given an enthusiastic lecture on the history of the Cuban Revolution by an older CDR leader.
Santa Clara, which is about 300km from Havana, was the site of one of the decisive battles of the Cuban Revolution, in which Che Guevara led a much smaller force of rebels against the town garrison and won a famous victory. It is now the final resting place of Che’s remains, and residents were excited for the upcoming July 26 celebrations that were to be held in Santa Clara for the first time in many years, and this time Che would be with them. We visited Che’s monument, where the celebrations were to be held, and saw the letter Che wrote to Fidel Castro in 1965 reprinted in its entirety as a stone monument. After a night out sampling the local cuisine and punk rock scene, we stayed overnight in casas particulares, which are houses whose occupants have a spare room to rent out.
Back in Havana we visited the Federation of Cuban Women, the mass organisations of high school and university students, and also the subeditor of Juventud Rebelde, the daily paper of the UJC. All three mass organisations are heavily involved in Cuban daily life and constantly promote the values of the revolution. We also learned about the great efforts the government exerts to ensure even the remotest villages receive information about what is going on in the country.
As Cuba is famous for its organic permaculture, we went to see Havana’s largest urban organic farm, which is a cooperative of more than 100. They regularly receive visits from all over the world to study what they do there, even including African heads of state. A very interesting discussion and tour ended with a glass of the locally produced sugar cane juice, which the cooperative makes available to the local community and is popular judging by the line-up when we were there.
Our Cuban adventure officially ended with a solidarity exchange between the UJC and CVSC with similar commitments as in Venezuela to ongoing work and collaboration. A few tour participants stayed on to witness the July 26 celebrations and to hang out along the Malecon, a broad roadway and seawall that stretches for eight kilometres along the coast in Havana and the source of glorious sunset photos.