Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cubans in the North East, 26-27 February

On 26 and 27 February the speaking tour arrived in Durham and Newcastle, involving over 450 people across four meetings. In Durham the Cubans spoke on the afternoon of 26 February at the NUM Miners Hall to over 60 people, who included local people, students, and some from as far as Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Many present signed up to RATB and expressed an interest in organising activities in their local areas. NUM North East Area Secretary Dave Hopper opened the meeting, welcoming the Cubans and speaking of the importance of solidarity with socialist Cuba in the context of the attacks received by miners and the NUM from the British ruling class in the last decades. Orlando Borrego spoke about his experience of mining in Cuba, and the voluntary work he had undertaken together with Che Guevara in Cuban sulphur mines. Despite Che's asthma, which meant he had to be regularly lifted to the surface to breathe, Che insisted that revolutionaries should not expect workers to do any work they were not prepared to do themselves.

On the chilly evening of 26 February Jesus Garcia and Yoselin Rufin spoke at Murray House Community Centre in the West End of Newcastle. The mostly working class audience of over 115 people stayed despite the cold for two and a half hours of talks and questions. Jesus outlined Cuba's system of government, including the electoral process based on grassroots debate over candidates and the continuance of elected deputies in their previous job and wage, preventing corruption and the development of a class of professional politicians. Yoselin spoke about the role of young people in the Cuban revolution, and the support given to university education, including free tuition and learning materials and money for expenses such as transport. A group of working class young people from the West End who have started production of their own community newsletter interviewed Yoselin after her talk about young people in Cuba, posing questions including the relationship of young people and the police in Cuba.

On 27 February Orlando Borrego and Jesus Garcia spoke at Northumbria Students Union to over 140 people. Borrego spoke at length on the economic ideas of Che Guevara and his critique of the Soviet Union's system, whilst Garcia spoke about the relationship of the social sciences in Cuba to wider society and the revolutionary process. Questions and discussion ranged from the situation of women and gay people in the revolution to human rights. Garcia dispelled the myths put forward by a leading local SWP member that gay people were imprisoned in 'concentration camps' in Cuba in the 1980s, explaining the reality of the programmes of education and support provided to those who developed AIDS, whether gay or otherwise, which have contributed to one of the lowest infection rates of HIV in the whole of Latin America. A Cuban spoke from the audience about his experience of working in prisons and the police in Cuba, and the approach taken by the revolution of support, education and rehabilitation of offenders. In response to the question of an audience member from Uganda on how she could develop a system as democratic as Cuba's in her own country, the speakers emphasised the dynamic nature of socialism as a process, and that Cuba had developed its system in the country's specific context. This meant that while people in other countries could learn from Cuba's experience, it would be misleading to imagine that Cuba could be used as a blueprint or model to be simply 'imported' to other countries.

On the evening of 27 February Garcia and Rufin spoke again in Newcastle, this time to a packed audience at the Star and Shadow Cinema. The speakers followed an excerpt of the film 'The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil', reflecting on the measures which Cubans developed to overcome the hardships of the Special Period following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The meeting was followed by a vibrant cultural event, with Bolivian musicians who spoke about the problems created in Bolivia by imperialism and the importance of Cuba in inspiring and supporting current movements of resistance, a salsa band from Newcastle University who presented the Cubans with a gift, and local hip hop band 27 Club.

It was inspiring to find 450 people in the North East keen to discuss seriously a living socialist revolution. Rock Around the Blockade aims to build on this in the coming months and work with its new members to establish regular activities across the region.

Viva Cuba!

Tuesday 26 February 2008, Miner's Hall, Durham

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Monday 25 Feb 2008, meeting report, University of Manchester, Stopford Building

120 students packed into Lecture Room 5 (capacity 50 seats) to hear Jesus Garcia speak about the political and electoral system in Cuba. People sat on the floor and even behind Garcia at the front. Garcia described the system of Popular Power and how the National Assembly, and Council of State worked. The students asked about Cuba's relationship with China and whether Cuba would take the same road; they asked about Cuba's relationships with the Zapatistas and what Garcia thought about the new communal councils being set up in Bolivia and Venezuela. One student also asked if Raul was Fidel's son.

Garcia explained that in China there were 200 million people who did not feature at all in the national census - anything could be done to and with these people and no one would be any the wiser. Cuba was different to China. For nstance Cuba was under a blockade, and the US had been trying to dominate Cuba since the 18th century when it 'bought' Cuba from Spain. A Chinese official had been reported telling Chinese people to wait 50 years for improvements in their lives - something a Cuban would never accept. China had chosen their own road, but Cuba could not introduce the market otherwise that would result in chaos.

Cuba had 'very good relations with the Zapatistas'. Raul was not Fidels son, but was in his position due to his history of struggle in revolutionary politics since the 1940s when he was still very young. He was in Moncada, in Granma in the Sierra Maestra, and even formed a second front in the eastern part of Cuba during the revolutionary war of 1950s.

Garcia did not know alot about the communal councils in Bolivia, but knew a bit more about Venezuela. He had his own views about them but would keep his own counsel. He recommended Martha Harnecker as someone who knew a lot more. He said the councils may be trying to create an 'alternative power' to Chavez due to feelings he was not doing enough.

Both meetings ended with a round of applause for all speakers.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cubans speak in Manchester, 24th February 2008

On Sunday 24 February 2008, 220 people filled the Hall and annex room of the Mechanics Institute in Manchester to hear Orlando Borrego and Jesus Garcia speak about Cuban socialism. Over 20 people had to be turned away due to fire regulations. Yoselin Rufin of the FEDERATION OF UNIVERSITY STUDENTS didn't speak due to illness.

Jesus Gacia described the system of Popluar Power in Cuba; he said he prefered this to the concept of 'democracy', a word that has been manipulated by capitalism. His description placed the Cuban people at the top of the heirarchy of power and the National Assembly, Cuba's 'parliament' at the bottom. He explained that the National Assembly was not a parliament in the way understood in bourgeois countries like Britain, and the members of the National Assembly, the Deputies, were not paid for being in the assembly, they had their own regular jobs for which they were paid. This prevented careerists from entering the system.

Garcia explained how Fidel Castro had no individual power to take decisions but had only the strenght of his 'authority' garnered through 50 years of struggle against imperialism. All decisions in Cuba were taken by the National Assembly or by national referenda, all governing bodies were subordinated to the 614 members of the National assembly elected every five years. He explained that there were constannt electoral reforms in Cuba, the first and most important being in Jan 1959 and in 1976 when the current system was started following a process of consultation and debate. The system was not perfect but was constantly being improved.

He attacked the idle statements of Raul taking over from 'his brother' as a statement intended to deceive, as if Raul was in his position because he was Fidel's brother. Rather, as Raul was the first Vice President of the Council of Sate and by law, as in many other countries, the VP takes over when the President is ill. He condemned the lies of British journalists who claim Fidel is a dictator and that now he has resigned (another lie, he never 'resigned') he 'can spend time with his economic failure and prison camps'. He asked what other country suffering hundreds of years of underdevelopment, would survive 50 years of economic blockade, economic warfare in fact, in the conditions in which Cuba found itself. How this could be decribed as economic failure was beyond him.

Orlando Borrego spoke about Che's economic ideas, his principles for building socialism. he claimed Chavez's comment about the 'road to socialism' was genius and best explained what was being done in Cuba. He explained how he and Che studied the economic system in the former Soviet Union and how Che disagreed with the Soviet comrades on their use of capitalist methods to solve the prolems of socialist construction. He said Che had explaine that you could not mix the two economic systems together as they were incompatible. If socialism developed with teh same tools as capitalism this would create a 'hybrid', and in economics, hybrid systems don't work very well. Socilaism can't apply the same methods as capital;ism or vice versa. Che was heavily criticised in the USSR for this position. Che's proposed socialist economic system was for Cuba alone and he made very clear that it was not to be used as a stensil for all other countries. Che's ideas for building socialism comprised of inreasing sociaist consciousness, building 'the new man' as well as increasing the quality of production so that the produce was of the highest quality, ideas since taken up by capitalism (such as the concept of Quality Control in production) but developed by socialism.

Borrego recommended that young people study Che Guevara and said that the youth of today all over the world considered Che one of the most inspiring people of the last century. According to Che 'socialism was the best option for humanity'.

Report of Rock around the Blockade Speaking Tour meeting in Liverpool 23 February

On 23 February, over 200 people packed into the Liverpool Students Union to hear Orlando Borrego, Jesus Garcia and Yoselin Rufin speak about Cuban socialism. They spoke about Cuba’s democratic system, the role of mass organisations such as the Federation of University Students, and about Che Guevara's immensely important theoretical and practical contribution to building socialism.

A mostly young audience listened attentively to the comrades. Questions to the Cuban comrades allowed them to develop their points in a concrete way. Of particular interest were discussions about the distinction between a bourgeois parliamentary form of democracy and the form of democracy chosen by the Cuban people to best serve their interests, and on the use of the death penalty in Cuba.

Jesus Garcia gave a very detailed account of the democratic structures and process in Cuba which completely answered media condemnation of Cuba as a dictatorship.

Orlando Borrego set out the ethical and economic principles that under-pinned Che’s concepts of the building of socialism. All affirmed that Fidel’s decision not to allow himself to be nominated for the Cuban Council of State would not affect Cuba’s socialist standpoint, pointing out that they were three generations of Cubans saying this.

Yoselin Rufin was proud to say that all the students in FEU, in which she is a member of the national council, totally support and demand socialism in Cuba.

On behalf of Rock around the Blockade, Hannah Caller stressed the need for those in the audience to get active in support of Cuba explaining why it was a necessary part of building a socialist, anti-imperialist movement in this country.

After four and a half hours of intense discussion and debate the meeting was as full as it was at the beginning. It proved that there is a serious interest in political discussion, and one that RATB in Liverpool intends to build on.

Public discussion at the Sumac Centre,Nottingham, 6-7.30pm, Friday 22 February 2008

After a successful meeting with academics and students at the University of Nottingham we drove to Forest Fields, a vibrant working class area on the other side of the city. The venue was the Sumac Centre, an independent social centre that uses its space for community projects as well as serving up vegetarian food, free internet access and lots of tea. This weekend there is also a meeing of the Earth First! network there, dicusssing and preparing for campaigns around climate change, as well as a group of people serving up delicious carribean food!

Around 30 people turned up, and the relaxed setting allowed us to dispense formal presentations and move straight on to questions from the audience. The first questioner cited the coverage of Cuba in the British Press, and the constant references to repression, and asked Yoselin if she felt she was living in a free society. She replied emphatically yes, refererring to her own experience as a member of the Federation of University Students (FEU) and the Union of Young Communists (UJC). She explained that the FEU participates in the day to day running of universities in Cuba, and all of the mass organisations in Cuba are represented in the Cuban National Assembly. The following discussion highlighted an important difference between political activism in Cuba in comparison with Britain: the latter often consists of campaigning against laws thare are imposed from above, without the particpation of ordinary citizens. In Cuba this is less common because new laws are introduced only after democratic consultation with all sectors of society. Other questions raised issues such as how tourism has affected Cuba, the effects of the US blockade and the United States' 'Track Two' policy. 'Track Two' is designed to encourage illegal immigration from Cuba, at the same time as obstructing legal immigration. Jesus Garcia highlighted the case of Posada Carilles, a self-confessed terrorist who is now walking free in Miami because the US authorities don't want to put him on trial, a clear example of the hypocrisy of the War on Terror.

Importantly, several speakers from the floor urged people not to think of this meeting as a historical or intellectual exercise, but to meditate upon the necessity of using the example of Cuba to build a socialist movement here. Jesus Garcia closed by talking about the importance of international solidarity with Cuba, which has isolated the United States and its aggression against Cuba: for the past 17 years the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly (only four countries voting with the US) to condemn the economic blockade of Cuba, but each year the US government arrogantly ignores the will of the international community.

Rock around the Blockade thanks the Sumac Centre collective for giving us a space to hold such a vibrant meeting. Hopefully those who came to the meeting will join the campaign and start to organise alongside others in solidarity with Cuba.

Friday, February 22, 2008

1st Video of Opening Rally at Bolivar Hall!

See you at the next event!

Cubans come to London – Socialism into the 21st century speaking tour

Rock Around the Blockade’s (RATB) 2008 Cuban speaking tour got off to a strong start on Thursday 21 February with a packed inaugural meeting at Bolivar Hall in London, hosted by the Venezuelan and Cuban embassies.

The Cuban ambassador, Rene Mujica, and minister counsellor of the Venezuelan embassy, Felix Plasencia, made introductory remarks and the meeting heard from Helen Yaffe of RATB and Bob Crow of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), which is sponsoring the tour. Cuban speakers Jesus Garcia and Orlando Borrego then addressed the meeting and took questions from the audience.

Bob Crow said that ‘today will be a cherished day for our union’. He contrasted the ignominious ‘battle of ideas’ which imperialism is waging, with the revolutionary, grass-roots Battle of Ideas in Cuba, saying that the reality is that a small island has for 49 years demonstrated that another world is possible. He expressed his absolute support for the tour and said he felt sorry for those who hadn’t got involved in it because they said it was some kind of sectarian enterprise, because it is they who are the sectarians and are missing out.

Helen Yaffe said that there are three key reasons why RATB is hosting this tour – to counteract the misinformation about the Cuban revolution that is circulated in Britain, by providing a platform for three representatives of Cuban socialism, who are part of the left tradition of Marx, Lenin, Che and Fidel, to give people in Britain a chance to cut through the counter-propaganda and have direct dialogue with Cubans so they can understand how a tiny island which is blockaded by the world’s most powerful empire, has achieved so much in the field of human development and progress and most importantly, to convince the audience who comes to hear the Cuban speakers, that we must change our own country and change the world. Revolution is not an event – it is a process, and one we can all be part of.

Jesus Garcia ( told the meeting that socialist development is a Battle of Ideas and that Cuba is permanently changing. He said that the people who say there is no opposition in Cuba are wrong. The opposition is the 11 million people in Cuba who oppose everything that is done wrong and are constantly demanding it be improved. When people talk about democracy in Cuba they don’t understand that Cuban society cannot be understood in terms of liberal democracy, because it is a new kind of society. The word ‘democracy’ has been manipulated and stolen.

In 1959 the revolution gave weapons to the people of Cuba. This was the ultimate act of democracy because the people could choose whether to defend the revolution or not. All questions of democracy in Cuba have to be approached by understanding that Cuban society is a new and different way of ruling society. We are trying to involve people in the process of reproduction of life and transformation to newer, richer human beings.

Orlando Borrego ( expressed his solidarity with the Venezuelan comrades, who reminded of the new revolutionary times of his youth. He spoke about Che, who he had fought alongside – in war and in peace. He said those who condemn Che today should know he was a man with a big, generous heart and great compassion. He studied intensively and made those around him study as well. He was a leader who led by example, not by talking and not doing. People will not accept leaders who talk about sacrifices but don’t make them themselves.

When asked by a member of the audience, what changes would take place ‘after Fidel’, Borrego responded by saying that Fidel is not retiring; he is not standing as president, but he will continue to write and contribute. And the world will continue to read and believe what he writes. Because in 50 years he has never lied.

Borrego said that the Cuban revolution is forever; socialism is for ever. But socialism is young. It is a babe in arms, not yet a century old. We have to perfect it and work on it. Nobody told us how to build it. There is no blueprint.

Orlando Borrego, Jesus Garcia and Yoselin Rufin ( will be speaking in Liverpool on 23 February. For details of this and all other meetings in the tour see