"Building Revolution Across Borders"
Reflections on "El Che" 2017 Conference Vancouver, BC

 This is a report back written by members of the US Women & Cuba Collaboration about the 7th International Che Guevara Conference organized from October 27-29, 2017 in Vancouver, Canada. Deb Goldman and Moon “Luna” Vazquez were sepakers and participants in the conference. This report back will also appear in the next newsletter of US Women & Cuba Collaboration.

It was a crisp clear gorgeous autumn morning on October 28th when Moon (Luna) Vazquez and Deb Goldman headed up I-5 from Settle to Vancouver Canada where the US Women and Cuba Collaboration was invited to participate in a panel discussion on LGBT issues highlighting their Cuba and US Lesbian and Allies project at the 7th International Che Guevara Conference. They arrived at the conference in time to hear Gerardo Alfonso, legendary Cuban musician, speak on how through concerts and workshops he uses his music and lyrics to engage people, especially youth, in the context of current Cuban social and political issues, and how Race is at the forefront of these issues.

The entire conference was extraordinarily well organized by the Vancouver Solidarity Communities in Solidarity with Cuba. One main organizer Tamara Hansen is the author of 5 Decades of Cuban Revolution: The Challenges of an Unwavering Leadership, 2010. We felt very welcomed by the Vancouver Committee of amazing volunteers, many of whom were quite young. We were extremely honored to be able to present and participate in this conference which included an incredible lineup of distinguished Cuban, Venezuelan and Canadian presenters reminding us that in spite of the US blockade, Cuba’s accomplishments and unwavering loyalty to the principles of the Revolution are remarkable. The overarching theme of the conference was both honoring the socialist principles of the works of Che and celebrating the 1st anniversary of the death of Fidel Castro and his significant and vital impact around the world.

Among the guest speakers were Ms. Tania Lopez Larroque, Counsel General of the Cuban Consulate in Toronto and has been working for Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 17 years including posts in Mexico and Argentina. She gave keynote “Fidel &Che’s Legacy in Cuba today” and spoke throughout the 2-day conference including a special panel session on “Marxism, Communism and the Relevancy of Revolutionary Ideas Today”. She is young, a passionate, articulate and fascinating speaker. Other speakers included Mr. Luis Morlote Rivas from Havana, Vice-President of the Cuban Union of Writers and Artist (UNEAC) and member of the Cuban national assembly, another young person speaking fervently about the role of writers and artists in continuing to raise the collective social consciousness of the next generation of Cubans; Mr. Wifredo J. Perez from Caracas, Venezuela, Consul General of the Venezuelan Consulate in Vancouver who holds a degree in journalism and a doctorate in Information Sciences who has stood firmly since an early age in defense of the Bolivarian Revolution speaking about building solidarity with Venezuela; Helen Yaffe, an economic history Fellow at the London School of Economics, author of Che Guevara; The Economics of a Revolution 2009, frequent presenter at conferences and seminars around the world, was skyped in for a videoconference and spoke eloquently and accessibly on the economic history since the Revolution; to name just a few esteemed speakers.

The LGBT panel discussion on Saturday afternoon was extremely well received by the audience as well as the other presenters. The discussion was facilitated by AzzaRojbi, a young lesbian activist from Tunisia, now living in Vancouver, coordinator of Friends of Cuba against the US blockade and director of Vancouver Pride Society. The discussion started with the 40-minute documentary entitled “Mariela Castro’s March: Cuba’s LGBT Revolution”. It was a moving film emotionally charged with real, raw queer Cuban folks’ stories and experiences of discrimination, isolation and violence. To quote one of the older transsexual man in the film, “The revolution was totally homophobic, no room for Gays…” In the 1960’s thousands of gay men were forced into labor camps and doors were closed to them for paid work and education. Slowly, since the 70’s, the Federation of Cuban Women’s work on gender and diversity rights, and Cenesex (National Center of Sexual education) grassroots work in sex education and now Mariela Castro’s visibility around days against homophobia and transphobia have made great strides in addressing the rights of LGBT Cubans. In fact, Cuba is leading the LGBT rights movement in the entire world!

After the film Azza enthusiastically discussed her experience a year or so ago when she and her partner went to Cuba in May and participated in activities during the Days against homophobia and transphobia and met Mariela Castro who she described as a very humble down-to-earth woman who relates very well to all the people in Cuba. Moon did an excellent job briefly describing the history and work of the US Women and Cuba Collaboration and emphasized the work towards ending the US blockade of Cuba which drew lots of applause from the audience. Deb talked about her experience in Cuba meeting the Lesbian activist group Las Isabella’s in Santiago in 2012 and discussing with the group leader, also a nurse like Deb, on health issues faced by the queer community in Cuba and the US. She spoke about her favorable impression of how Cuba is unique compared to other countries in their willingness to listen to the people, admit and learn from their mistakes and facilitate community debates and discussions on the human rights of LGBT Cubans in all urban, rural and remote corners of the country in order to change minds. Moon then ended the talk with a passionate discussion regarding the work she has lead on the Cuba and US Lesbian and Allies Project under the umbrella of the US Women in Cuba Collaboration. The 3 of us answered a few thoughtful questions from the audience and then had to cut it short because the conference was running way behind schedule. What an honor it was to be able to participate and present at this wonderful conference. Viva Cuba!

Also present at the conference to remind us of the indigenous peoples of the land in Vancouver with prayer, song and some history of local tribes, and current social issues was Eagle Eyes, Hereditary Chief and Indigenous elder of Sechelt tribe and Chief Bob Chamberlin, VP Union of BC Indian Chiefs. At the official closing of the 7th Che Guevara conference, Kelly White, Coast Salish elder, teacher, broadcaster and longtime activist led everyone in a beautiful Salish traditional ceremonial way of governance. Kelly started by saying “we honor the special ones who the spirits brought here to share their crucial message.”

She invited our special guests from Cuba onto the stage draping them with amazing colorful blankets of protection of mind, body and soul, the healing, the umbilical cord of revolution. She went on to explain the history of the 4 directions in transformation and life in building revolution. “It is a time for us to listen”, she exclaimed. Kelly ended the closing ceremony with a dance called,“Evolution of the revolution in stepping forward”.