Massachusetts Peace Action Activists Visit Cuba

Peace Advocate May 2022

Massachusetts Peace Action group with many of the activists we met in Cuba at our farewell party, April 10, 2022

by Cate Henning, with contributions from other members of the delegation

There is a strong link between war, the military industrial complex, and climate and survival, and our world needs every nation’s cooperation to mitigate if not totally avert climate catastrophe. The blockade against our close neighbor Cuba is out of sync and counterproductive; with all its scientific expertise, deep commitment to the common good, and friendship among nations, Cuba has so much to contribute to global peace and justice. 

In early April, ten members of Massachusetts Peace Action traveled to Cuba on an exploratory trip in friendship and support of the Cuban people. Merri Ansara, who is active in MAPA’s Latin America Working Group and who has lived part time in Cuba for several years, led MAPA’s delegation, which included three MAPA board members, the executive director, working group leaders, and student interns. 

During our week in Cuba we met with scholars, activists, diplomats, community leaders, Foreign Ministry officials, Cuban peace organizations, Palestinian medical students, and neighbors, and visited museums, health centers, government organizations, and a neighborhood development project. We worked closely with our host, the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), to understand the Revolution and social project of Cuba.

As a group, we came away with important impressions about how the Cuban social project relates to our work at MAPA, with new understandings of some of the issues we face as a global community. Our group made a strong determination that the US blockade of Cuba must be opposed and defeated, as well as all US sanctions used to curb the sovereignty of other countries. 

Our learnings, reflections, and collaborations will culminate in added energy in MAPA’s Cuba subgroup which is focused on ending the US blockade against Cuba, as well as efforts to inform and influence the projects of all of MAPA’s working groups. Below is a summary of our initial reflections and suggestions for this work. 

Climate & Peace

Our group met with the Director of Policy and Implementation at the Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment (CITMA). We also traveled to Ciénaga de Zapata in Matanzas, a province southeast of Havana, where we saw a state-protected area and learned from a CITMA agent about Cuba’s efforts to protect biodiversity. These meetings left us with two key takeaways for the Peace & Climate working group. First, ending the US blockade against Cuba is a climate concern. For example, the embargo presents many obstacles to Cuba’s rapid transition to solar energy. Second, we must push for the US to engage in global cooperation to address the climate crisis. Cuba and the US face many of the same climate threats and both countries have unique skills and expertise that should be shared to promote faster and more effective climate mitigation and adaptation. 

Fund Healthcare Not Warfare

Guaranteed, universally free healthcare, the prioritization of preventive and personalized care, and sharing medical expertise with the world are core to Cuba’s healthcare system. Our group visited a neighborhood’s family doctor and polyclinic and we came away with an understanding of Cuba’s tiered and coordinated healthcare system, as well as confirmation that the system successfully promotes the three aforementioned goals. One of the greatest accomplishments of Cuba’s socialized medical system is Cuba’s great successes with developing its own COVID vaccines. The highly organized health care system made it possible for Cuba to reach 94% of its people with vaccines, compared with the problems that our fragmented healthcare system has had with vaccinating people. MAPA’s Fund Healthcare Not Warfare group should consider how we can use what we’ve learned about socialized medicine and Cuba’s pandemic response to improve and clarify our specific goals for universal provision of healthcare in the US. The FHCNW group should also consider how it can organize the medical and public health community to stand against the embargo, which restricts Cuba’s access to critical medical supplies and limits the country’s ability to promote global health.

Nuclear Disarmament, No New Cold War, and Raytheon Anti-war

Our group met with Cuban peace activists, including Dorys Quintana, a member of the National Union of Cuban Jurists, and we learned that a ban on nuclear weapons and other destructive weapons is written into the country’s constitution. We also learned that Cuba is a signer of the Nuclear Ban Treaty and a part of the Latin American and Caribbean Organization working for nuclear disarmament. After meeting with local peace activists, our group concluded that MAPA should prioritize building relationships with peace movements in other countries to strengthen our collective efforts for nuclear disarmament, no new cold war, and an end to the military-industrial complex. 

Middle East & Forever Wars, Palestine-Israel, and Latin America/ Caribbean 

Johana Tablada, the Director of US affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations, gave us a harsh and honest overview of the impacts of the US blockade against Cuba, as well as the effects of US sanctions on other countries. We also spoke with three Palestinian medical students and the ICAP director of Africa and the Middle East about Cuba’s official foreign policy positions on global crises and about US imperialism accross the world, with a focus on the Middle East and Latin America. For example, we learned that it is Cuba’s official position that Palestinians have a right to their land and self-determination. This anti-imperialist policy is consistent with Cuba’s views and relationships with other countries, which is inspiring and indicative that MAPA’s working groups should work with Cuba on our aligned goals for international relations. 

Racial Justice/ Decolonization, LGBTQ & Economic conditions

On our trip we were invited to the home of Norma Guillard, a psychologist and leader in the AfroDescendent Women’s and the LGBTQ movements.  She told us that there is a countrywide program against racial discrimination, and that discrimination is against the law; but more education and laws are needed to address the racism that exists, especially with economic discrepancies.  One takeaway of our group is that racism, homophobia, and economic inequality, and the intersection of these injustices, still exist to some degree in Cuba, but the government works with NGOs and communities to bring about change.  Economic inequality is much less extreme than in the US;  the fact that healthcare and education are completely free of charge and that housing costs are minimal contributes to reducing inequality. Younger AfroDescendent Cuban women leaders with whom we spoke at a neighborhood meeting did not feel that they were being held back by racism in Cuba.  Women and men of the older generation, of different racial groups, were more of the opinion that there were still ideological and other forms of racism to be countered.

In the US,  Black, Brown and Indigenous people organize for their rights, and there is some solidarity across racial lines. However, racism continues to be systemically embedded in US society, from housing access, educational and work opportunities, health, discriminatory policing and incarceration. Cuba and the US share histories of enslavement of African and Indigenous peoples and colonization by Europeans, who are more populous in each country than are the descendents of original inhabitants and enslaved peoples.  We have more to learn about racism and colonization in Cuba and in the US and how to effectively challenge racism and the impacts of colonization.  

General Takeaways

Throughout this trip we met with local leaders in the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) and the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) at a neighborhood school, a neighborhood renewal project called La Timba, and in meetings with ICAP. From our discussions with them we learned that each neighborhood has a series of interlocking governmental structures that connect with the electoral commissions and other non-governmental associations, principally the CDR and the FMC. At the neighborhood level, local government officials and community organizers in the CDR and FMC work closely with the local doctor’s office, which is part of the national health system. These interlocking concentric circles of government and non-governmental structures ensure popular engagement in political processes and attention to populations and their needs. This system relies on strong community organizing and high levels of population engagement in governmental processes.  

Our conversations with these local leaders caused us all to reflect on MAPA’s organizing work and the ways we interact with different levels of government. The CDR and FMC leaders taught us that effective organizing is critical for change and gave us insight into successful organizing practices. These lessons will be helpful at MAPA, though it is important to acknowledge that without many political allies in government, and with a culture that overworks people and promotes individualism, growing people power for our work has its own unique challenges in the United States. Nevertheless, we will continue to improve our grassroots organizing, strengthen our political power, and build our partnerships and collaborations. 

Our group accomplished and learned so much over the course of a week. This is just a brief introduction to our reflections and suggestions. For more details about the trip and how we will connect our progressive struggles with those in Cuba, join our Cuba Trip Report Back on May 16 at 7pm.

— Cate Henning studies health science and environmental studies at Northeastern University, and is an intern at MAPA.