Aleida Guavara was in Glasgow on Friday, talking about the current situation in Cuba, Cuba’s place in the world and its vision for a society which prioritised people over capital. As the daughter of the famous revolutionary, I wasn’t sure what to expect – perhaps someone glamorous or flamboyant, definitely striking in some way, but she wasn’t – she looked just like any wee woman from Govan with a nice scarf.
Although Cuba was never colonised by the US, the revolution of 59 separated it from the US influence that is seen across the rest of Latin America. The Cuban Revolution was not a national liberation movement in any traditional sense of the word, but it did have elements which were part of an anti-colonial struggle in its broadest form – a resistance to the global hegemony that the US sought to impose on the rest of the world.
One of the main parts of her talk was the effect that the economic blockade by the US had on Cuban society. Not only unable to trade with a major economy only 90 miles distant, the pressure brought to bear on other countries in the region meant that produce that they were unable to produce locally had to be imported from distant countries, through many intermediaries and at far higher expense than necessary. All along the way, money that could have been used for the benefit of the Cuban people was siphoned off by international interests to keep the population at far lower level of lifestyle than needed to be the case. Regardless, the prioritisation of food, shelter and energy to all, coupled with universal healthcare and education enabled the Cubans to live without the kind of abject poverty, food and fuel insecurity and homelessness seen in other richer countries.
Each time a country is freed, we say, it is a defeat for the world imperialist system, but we must agree that real liberation or breaking away from the imperialist system is not achieved by the mere act of proclaiming independence or winning an armed victory in a revolution. Freedom is achieved when imperialist economic domination over a people is brought to an end.
For all Cuba has been independent now for over 50 years, refusing to capitulate to the demands of its powerful neighbour, yet it cannot escape its bullying. Cuba has suffered $975 billion in damages from the U.S. trade embargo since it was adopted in 1962. Nearly a trillion dollars that could have been spent on the welfare of its population, who live largely at a subsistence level. Yet despite this Cuba provides medical services for people in the rest of the world who suffer through the prioritisation of profit over people’s health.
Between 1963 and 2004, Cuba was involved in the creation of nine medical faculties in Yemen, Guyana, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Uganda, Ghana, Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, and Haiti. Since 1990, Cuba has provided long-term care for 18,000 victims of the Chernobyl disaster, and over 25, 000 Cuban doctors serve in countries suffering from a lack of trained medical personnel, as well as training doctors at low cost in Cuba, including over a thousand doctors from the United States, a country whose population suffers a severe lack of access to affordable medical care. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina killed over 1,500 people in the US due to a lack of preparation (Cuba was hit by the same hurricane, but suffered only two deaths), it offered over 1,000 doctors to assist care for the survivors, an offer that was turned down as the callousness towards the population of the region continued.
At one point she referred to being asked about the struggle for Scottish Independence, and mentioning that when in Scotland, she had been asked on a number of occasions the classic question – whether a small country like Scotland be economically viable on its own. Its a question that continually arises, particularly in mainstream discussions about Scottish Independence, “Are we too wee, too poor, two stupid?” is continually not only asked, but also answered, from both the “yes” and “no” camps. Guavara answered the bigger question – that it doesn’t matter. It is a question of whether we are prepared to join the international fight for the freedom that her father spoke of, or willing to capitulate in the interests of material comfort.
The ’59 revolution in Cuba didn’t bring about a socialist Utopia, not all of which can be blamed on the US and its allies. The protections of the ideals of the revolution in the face of an major and powerful external threat has seen elements of statism creep in to the Cuban constitution. The disgraceful treatment meeted out to the LGBT community in the 60s and 70s still echoes in the homophobia which is still in evidence, and the historical advantages of the white population lives on in the the latent racism which sees a bureaucratic system distribute responsibility differentially between Black and white.
And neither will Scottish Independence in 2014 give us such a Utopia, even if the aims of the radical independence are achieved. For full freedom from economic domination involves not only control over our own resources, but also a commitment to distributing them for the benefit of all.
Following her talk, there was a fundraiser held for the Radical Independence Conference: “In Deep, In Dance” (say it quickly!).
With the hints of the rhythmic protests of Africa, a female identified activity (dance) as opposed to the more masculine build/fight references that is usually used, the “deep” allusion to the fact that we want full independence, and a syllabic content which echoes the in-ti-fa-da chant of the currently best known anti-colonisation movement, it has got to be the bestest name ever for anything in the history of the known revolutionary universe.
Chelia Sandoval also talks of dance in the context of resistance, that we must dance not only between systems and structures, but between tactics. She highlights the situation of Black women, twixt and tween the dual systems of colonisation and patriarchy. Siding with their sisters to demand women’s rights and with their Black brethren for racial equality. In this intersection they learn fluidity, to move between their gendered and racialised identities, whilst keeping the other in mind.
The most contemporary instance of dance being political is the “Dont Dance with Israeli Apartheid” Campaign which boycotts Batsheva, an Israeli sponsored dance company, considered that states most advantageous cultural asset. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and the distraction of the free form spectacle is designed to distract from the restriction of movement of Palestinians. Palestinian solidarity activists around the world are ensuring that does not happen. The shocking decision of Edinburgh festival director to allow Batsheva to perform saw three days of protests outside the theatre, multiple disruptions of the performance by those angry at the treatment of Palestinians, burnt tickets as theatre goers realised the implications of the dance troup. For dance is something we should all do, to be able to move unrestricted and without fear, not only those who follow the music of the piper.
Cuba has made great strides, and it is an example for us to look to as how a small country with a near neighbour with a substantial empire can free itself from reliance on the protection racket that it offers. It is not perfect, but with over fifty years of experience of making their own music – imperfectly and sometimes out of tune – it can give us inspiration. Inspiration not to follow their orchestration, but to create our own. But to do that we need full independence. We need to be free of all of the shackles of empire.
Scotland – as a constituent member of the United Kingdom is not listed as a UN Non Self Governing Territory, and our status, with a devolved administration for major sections of home affairs brings into question whether we could achieve that status. It is ridiculous, for example, to compare us with Diago Garcia: for we have been complicit in empire and have reaped benefits from homeless, starved and brutalised peoples the world over. Our colonisation was gentle compared to many.
The Vienna Convention (1975) outlines the Representation of States in the Their Relations with International Organisations of a Universal Character. One of the main points of the treaty which was developed in response to the wave of de-colonisation of Africa was that states would not inherit the international affiliations of the coloniser state. It was a method by which to exclude third world countries from decision making bodies. Claiming status under the Vienna Convention is a critical element to a renunciation of empire. The recent squabble over whether an independent Scotland would automatically be part of the EU is red herring.
What do we want to inherit from our colonial legacy? Do we want to link with peoples across Europe on the basis of our shared geography and common benefit, or because such a link was advantageous to our coloniser state? Similarly with military alliances – regardless of the rights and wrongs of NATO – do we want to choose a military association on the basis of the choice made by our coloniser? If we will only get access to such hallowed organisations on the basis of our imperial legacy, is that access worth having?
Guavara finished her talk at the STUC with a song. Unfortunately I didn’t recognise it (although if anyone knows what it was, I’d be grateful if they would leave a comment), and suddenly she was transformed from the fiery revolutionary who spoke passionately about Cuba’s commitment to meeting the needs of both its own population and its international responsibilities, back to the wee woman that you might meet on the street one day and never give a second glance to until she stood up at the local Karaoke, perfectly ordinary slightly out of tune, to sing something meaningful and for an instant losing the Gaze.
In Cuba, they are still dancing, each step gaining them closer to freedom, even if the tempo is slow.
We must start our own dance.