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.