Dancing between Cuba and Scotland

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.

Che Guevara

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.

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8 comments
NickD
NickD

"The two state solution is unworkable. Israel continues to build settlements on land which is notionally under the control of the Palestinian authority, meddles in the affairs of the Palestinian controlled areas including internal security checks and restrictions on travel outwith the state." ....and also - this isn't the two state solution, or an argument for why it couldn't work. This is military occupation / territorial annexation. And, having lived in Ramallah for close to two years, I am aware of what you describe....

NickD
NickD

I have no time for Finklestein, in general, or gurus of the left. But I agree with him that a single state solution is utopian and unachievable; and I do think there is often something messianic about much pro-Palestinian advocacy (and the contemporary left in general), as if this struggle is being worked out on some kind of metaphysical terrain where the actual histories and ideologies of the people in the region are totally irrelevant, and if the ethically "correct" position is adhered to long enough redemption will come. It definitely helps explain why people (of course men) like Chomsky and Assange get treated as prophets and saviors beyond reproach. Anyway....you mention Zimbabwe - yes; also, what about South Africa, now? I'm not suggesting that achieving a stable and just two-state solution is anything but a distant prospect, and increasingly that is becoming almost impossible to envisage. I'm not an optimist. Polls indicating this or that are not particularly helpful, without context. While I was living out there more and more Palestinians seemed to be talking about a single-state / civil rights agenda rather than two states, but this is understandable given the total transformation of the landscape by the settlements and the virtual impossibility of imaging them being dismantled and evacuated even if there was the will to do so. But if you're familiar with Israeli discourse / Jewish history, one-state is also impossible to imagine. You talk about "addressing" the issue of Jewish opposition. How exactly? In a paradoxical sense, I think realism is moving the Palestinians away from compromise and a similar dynamic operates on the Israeli side. In the past, polls have indicated a majority of both populations would accept a two state solution. The trust required for that, to the extent that it existed, has gone, among people who I believe were quite sincere about it before. For me, of a lot of bad options, pursuing a two state solution is still the best, and pursuing a single state solution (regardless of the wishes of Israeli Jews) almost guarantees a continuation and worsening of the status quo. I have heard some interesting ideas regarding a sort of binational / federal solution, with total freedom of movement / work for Jews and Palestinians, but residency being restricted to the areas defined by the 67 boundaries. In my opinion, that might address one of the major obstacles to the viability of a two state solution (that of fixed borders / restrictions on travel over the total area of mandate Palestine).

admin
admin

I watched Norman Finkelstein's talk in Glasgow, and I cant say I was that impressed. Probably because I dont think a two state solution is viable, its effectively partition - the partition of Ireland over a hundred years ago, and the partition of India has left unresolved colonial legacies. A binational solution is a possible alternative to a one-state solution, but both require the ending of the state of Israel in its current form. A majority of Palestinians support either a one-state or binational solution. The two state solution is unworkable. Israel continues to build settlements on land which is notionally under the control of the Palestinian authority, meddles in the affairs of the Palestinian controlled areas including internal security checks and restrictions on travel outwith the state. The fact that there is strong opposition to a one state solution from Israeli Jews is an issue to be address. In a post-Israeli Palestine, it would be unimaginable that memories of the horrors that Israel has inflicted on the palestinians would just vanish - and care must be taken not to end up in a Zimbabwe type situation with a liberator turned despot at the helm propped up by post-colonial fervour.

NickD
NickD

...and to repeat my question, given that you've indicated uncertainty about how a single state would work, and haven't described how it could come into being (given the strong opposition to it among Israeli Jews), why would you go along with a BDS strategy that has this as its end goal?

NickD
NickD

What I, or you want, isn't the point. Gestures of moral purity are irrelevant. I want a total end to all travel restrictions because I want an end to the occupation and a sovereign Palestine state. The question is, how is that going to happen? Your post is potentially misleading, and as such does a disservice to the Palestinians, because exaggerations deflect from what is actually happening, and how to end it. BDS as a "cult". Not my words, Norman Finkelstein's. Given his record of implacably hostile opposition to the Israeli occupation, that should give the movement pause for thought. I am against BDS, as I said before, because it does not call for two states (and for other reasons). The fact that it is a Palestinian led strategy does not mean that their supporters should agree with it. I am not paternalistic, of course - it is their struggle - but neither is my support unconditional.

NickD
NickD

Interesting about Cuba. I need to learn more about Cuba, beyond the basics. "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." This is potentially misleading. While of course not denying the very real restrictions on movement that exist, the implication here might be that Palestinians are subject to a total ban on travel abroad. Not the case. The Palestinian Ashtar theatre company performed as well as the Habima theatre of Israel at the Globe to Globe festival in London recently. Palestinian friends of mine from the school I worked at performed in London last year and France this year. A Palestinian dance troupe from Ramallah (also involving friends of mine) performed in Beirut last year. Just a few examples. For what it's worth, restrictions on internal movement in the West Bank have also been eased in recent years. How do these protests aid the Palestinian cause, given that they are necessarily aligned with the BDS movement, which supports a single state, and has been described by even a hardline critic of Israel like Finklestein as a cult? Given that you said that you have not comfortably resolved your own thinking about the viability of a single state, how can you go along with this strategy in good faith? Boycotts / protests of Israeli culture are a gesture of moral purity, not solidarity politics for Palestinian liberation.

admin
admin

It is worth pointing out that this campaign is led from within Palestine, as it falls within their guidelines for boycott http://www.pacbi.org/ " the implication here might be that Palestinians are subject to a total ban on travel abroad" "restrictions on internal movement in the West Bank have also been eased in recent years. " That just about says it all...there should *be* no restrictions on travel either internationally or domestically if Israel respected international agreements. Just because some are able to travel internationally, and the level of domestic harassment has declined (if that is indeed the case), that doesnt take away from the restrictions that are in place. I dont understand your issue with the BDS movement - "a cult"? Did you say the same about the boycott campaign of South Africa?

Murdo Ritchie
Murdo Ritchie like.author.displayName 1 Like

It was an inspiring meeting. In many ways the best explanation to a wider publkic about the fifty year blockade that arises from the supranational legislation of the USA. If you want to uinderstand "national independence" look at Cuba. I find many proplr who talk about Scottish national independence ialonhside that example almost missing the point and purpose of socialist struggle. You paraphrase Aleida Guevara as saying, "“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." Exactly. The call for Scottish independence comes nowhere near Cuba's sacrifice. To join NATO would only lock any country into a spiral of ever greater compliance to US supranational legal conformity. This is why it is not a peripheral issue. Scotland -independent or otherwise- is of very little significance in comparison to standing with Cuba in its example to the world. Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said he was both Colombian and Cuban as a statement of solidarity. If that was being said by more Scots or Britains then the tepid versions of nationalism even held held by the left would look as ridiculous as they often are.

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