Cuba's Economic Reforms:
Capitalism or Socialism
November 2-5, 2012
Day 1 ~ Friday November 2nd
¡Volveran! “A Special Evening Dedicated to the Freedom of the 5 Cuban Heroes”
Fighting Against Terrorism & Fighting for Humanity
The opening night of the Che Guevara Conference was dedicated to the Cuban 5 Heroes, and the fight for their freedom. These five men, Ramon, Gerardo, Fernando and Antonio who are held in U.S. prisons, and Rene on parole in the U.S., are true heroes fighting for humanity even from inside their jail cells.
The evening was opened and welcomed by the conference MC’s, Tamara Hansen (Coordinator of VCSC and author of the book, “5 Decades of the Cuban Revolution: The Challenges of an Unwavering Leadership”), Colleen Glynn (VCSC Executive Member and Richmond Federal New Democratic Party President) and Aaron Mercredi (organizer with VCSC and organizer with the Indigenous Rights and Action Project). Over 120 people joined together for the opening night, at the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House in Vancouver. The event started with an explanation of the case of the Cuban 5 by Tim Louis, former Vancouver City Counsellor and long-time supporter and activist of social justice causes. Participants also heard two video messages of solidarity from the U.S., from Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban 5, and from Alicia Jrapko, coordinator of the International Committee to Free the Cuban 5.
After opening speakers and greetings, many hearts were touched by the short film “The Prisoner and the Bird” narrated by U.S. actor Danny Glover. The view of the life of one of the Cuban 5, Gerardo Hernandez, from behind bars was followed by another heartfelt narrative, this time a poem by Antonio Guerrero. The poem, from the book "Desde mi Altura", was read by Gisela Lara, a young Venezuelan activist and journalist.
Following the poem by Antonio Guerrero, participants then heard from special guest Antonio Guerrero Cabrera, the son of Antonio Guerrero and a member of Cuba’s Union of Young Communists. He spoke passionately about the heroism of the Cuban 5, and the need for the world to join the campaign to free these 5 Cuban men from the U.S. so they can return home to their people and their families.
Then the first musical performer of the evening, Réjean, had everyone singing along to Bob Marley’s songs of peace, love and freedom, including a rendition that was revised to demand the freedom of the Cuban 5.
Participants then were inspired by the words of Dr. Aleida Guevara, who appealed to people to get involved in the campaign and to expose the hypocrisy of the U.S. government in imprisoning the 5 Cuban Heroes.
The cultural elements of the program continued with beautiful poetry by a young Venezuelan revolutionary and journalist Eder Delgado, as well as hard-hitting poetry from the soul of VCSC organizer Shakeel Lochan. The next performer brought people to their feet with socially conscious Hip Hop from Joose Justice, a Vancouver artist who participated in the 2011 Hip Hop Symposium in Havana, Cuba. The final performance of the night was the powerful and romantic musical performance of Sangre Morena.
The beautiful evening dedicated to 5 Cuban Heroes ended with everyone chanting "Free the Cuban 5 NOW!"
Day 2 ~ Saturday November 3rd
The first day of workshops started out at the Russian Hall in Vancouver, where after enjoying the conference breakfast, participants took their seats for a film t open the day. The film “Ode to the Revolution” by director Roberto Chile brought tears to many eyes, and was an emotional and inspiring tribute following the many gains made throughout the Cuban Revolution.
Next the Cuban Consul General of Toronto, Javier Domokos, gave the Keynote Address of the day. Javier, a graduate of Havana's “Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales” has been posted in several diplomatic missions around the world including Turkey, Zimbabwe and Kenya, and during this time he has also worked for Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Javier spoke on “Where the World is Today and Where Cuba is in the World” and with many examples it was clear that the small island of Cuba occupies an important role in the world.
The first workshop of the day was “Cooperatives in Cuba: A New Revolutionary Path?” presented by Wendy Holm and Mavis Alvarez. Wendy Holm is a Professor of UBC’s International Field Studies in Sustainable Agriculture (Cuba), an economist, author and award winning journalist and sustainability expert, as well as the organizer of the Canada-Cuba Farmer to Farmer Project. After she spoke and presented a slideshow on her topic, participants heard from Mavis Alvarez, an agricultural engineer and educator who consults with Cuban family farming and cooperatives and a member of the national leadership of Cuba’s National Association of Small Farmers.
Following the workshop, musical performer Réjean had the whole hall singing along, smiling and laughing, before breaking for lunch.
The next workshop was on the topic “Cuba’s Economic Transformation: Causes, Challenges and Necessities”. The workshop was presented by Alberto Prieto, the Coordinator for North and Central America for the Central Committee of Communist Party of Cuba. Alberto was also previously the first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. His talk gave an in depth perspective to the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, the economic, social and political guidelines that came out of the congress and how and why they are being implemented.
The final workshop of the day was “The Dynamics of Cuba’s New Economic & Social Guidelines: Healthcare, Education & Culture in Perspective” In this workshop, participants had the opportunity to hear from Dr.Aleida Guevara. Aleida illustrated this topic with examples of the effects of the criminal U.S. blockade on Cuba, her own experience as a Cuban doctor, and with the principals of the Cuban revolutionary movement. She even demonstrated Cuba’s rich culture by dancing a traditional Cuban dance and challenging others to try it out!
Throughout the day, over 140 people participated in the conference, with a diversity of ages and from many ethnic communities. Some came to learn about Cuba for the first time, and many were long time supporters of Cuba. Participants were eager to bring their questions and comments to the floor during the discussion periods following each workshop, and the conference speakers were also eager to respond and expand on the points brought up in discussion. As the second day of the conference closed it was with high spirits from a dynamic and inspiring day of workshops and discussion, and enthusiasm for the next day of the conference.
Day 3 ~ Sunday November 4th
The second day of workshops started with the film “ALBA: Venezuela & Cuba” outlining the development of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the strong relationship between Venezuela and Cuba. Following the film, the Keynote Address of the day was given by Merli Vanegas, the Venezuelan Consul General in Vancouver. Merli is also a lawyer of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Legal Consultant founder of Citizen Power, and was a diplomat in Libya. Her address followed the topic “The Re-election of President Chavez and the Consolidation of Participative Democracy”
The first workshop of the day was on “Youth Today in Cuba and the prospect of revolutionary advancement within the new policies of the Cuban government” given by Antonio Guerrero and Alberto Prieto. As a young revolutionary in Cuba, Antonio had many perspectives to share and relate to both the the young and young at heart at the conference.
Before breaking for lunch, participants sung along to the famous song “Hasta Siempre Comandante” and other favorites played by Latin American musician, social justice activist and radio host Joaquin Ernesto.
The next workshop moved forward with the topic “The New Economic and Social Guidelines and the future of Cuba’s Socialist Project” given by Manuel Yepe. Manuel is a journalist and professor at the Superior Institute of International Relations of Havana. He was a leader of the underground July 26 Movement in Matanzas leading up to the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959. His analysis of the workshop topic came with his great experience and knowledge, from the Cuban revolution and his memories of working directly with Ernesto Che Guevara, up until today.
The third workshop of the day was on “Revolutionary Internationalism within Cuba’s Socialist Project vs. Socialism in One Country” and was presented by Ali Yerevani, the Political Editor of the Fire This Time Newspaper, Political Editor of the Battle of Ideas Press, and participant in the 1979 Iranian revolution. His talk delved into the political theory that Cuba's socialist project is built on, and how Cuba’s revolutionary internationalism contributes to revolutionary movements worldwide. He emphasized that Cuba’s profound Communist internationalist theory and practice is in direct conflict with the nationalist concept of socialism in one country as practiced by the former Soviet Union and its bloc worldwide. He put forward his analysis explaining how the Cuban Communist Party is the vanguard and leader of the worldwide working class struggle against capitalist and imperialist hegemony today.
The final workshop of the day was given by Dr. Aleida Guevara, on the topic “Are Che Guevara’s Ideas Relevant Today in Cuba?” The conclusion of Aleida's talk, through many personal and political examples was a resounding “YES!” and proved that Che Guevara's ideas are relevant today in Cuba, and around the world.
Day 3 brought together 150 people throughout the day. As in the first day of workshops, each speech was quickly followed by a line of participants behind the discussion microphone, as there was never a shortage of people who wanted to take part in discussing the themes presented by the conference speakers.
To summarize this very significant conference, Aaron Mercredi spoke on “What we have learned from workshops and discussion.” He put the Cuban Revolution and the Che Guevara Conference in a global perspective of the world economic crisis and the imperialist war drive, and how within this Cuba is leading the way to creating a better world. Tamara Hansen then wrapped up with the “Facts, Statistics, Framework and Outlook” and broke down the conference to “7 workshops, 2 keynote speakers, 5 special talks, 3 films, 4 musical guests, 4 poets and poems, all in one 5th Annual International Che Guevara Conference!”
As the conference came to a close, the MC's reminded participants that although the Vancouver portion of the conference was over, there was still one more day of the conference – taking place for the first time in Kamloops, BC the next day!
Day 4 ~ Monday November 5th
The conference speakers arrived in Kamloops at the Thompson Rivers University after a 350km drive from Vancouver, through the mountains of BC. The final day of the conference was opened by Darcy Robinson, an organizer with the Thompson Rivers University Socialist Club which organized the Kamloops event. He was followed by Tamara Hansen, coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba, who shared in opening the event. Over 170 people from Kamloops and the surrounding area of the Okanagan were in attendance.
The first workshop titled “The case of Cuban 5 Heroes Held in U.S. Jails” was presented by Dr. Aleida Guevara and Antonio Guerrero. Many people had heard about the case of the Cuban 5, and many more learned about the struggle for the freedom of the 5 Cuban Heroes for the first time, but for all question in the discussion was how to get involved in supporting the case of the Cuban 5.
The last workshop, “Cuba’s Economic Reform: Capitalism or Socialism” was given by Dr. Aleida Guevara, Alberto Prieto and Manuel Yepe, and encompassed many of the topics and discussions from the entire conference. The wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise of these three speakers made for a comprehensive final workshop, and participants followed the presentation with many thoughtful questions and discussion points.
The 5th Annual International Che Guevara was a great success, from the number of participants to the media coverage locally and internationally, to the significance of the topics discussed, to the invaluable contribution of all of the speakers, especially the six prominent Cuban speakers. Four days was not enough to cover everything that can be learned by people here in Canada and around the world about the gains and examples of Cuba's Revolution, from it's historic triumph in 1959, to understanding Cuba's continued socialist project as it implements the current economic measures and transformation. The conference provided an opportunity to learn from Cuba's example and leadership towards creating a better world, and an opportunity to join Cuba in this great effort!