Cuba marches forward despite the odds

HAVANA – It was the talk of the town here. Another day passed and the badly needed rain in Cuba’s central and eastern provinces did not come.

“We’re taking emergency measures to get water to the people and farms there,” one of our hosts told us. Drinking water is trucked into the area and irrigation measures for agriculture are some of the actions reported on the nightly news.

Another problem the Cuban people and their leaders face and another step they collectively take towards solving it. The Cubans excel at problem solving. They have to. They have had many problems imposed on them since their revolution in 1959. Problem number one being the U.S. blockade on the island nation just 90 miles off Florida shores. Problem number two is a very hostile and reckless administration in the White House.

Drought, new restrictions from the Bush administration and the accumulative effect of the 40-plus year blockade was the backdrop of an official Communist Party to Communist Party visit here. Led by its national chairman, Sam Webb, the Communist Party USA sent a delegation that also included Juan Lopez, chair of the Northern California Communist Party, and myself on the invitation of the Cuban Communist Party to have a party-to-party exchange. The last such meeting was in 1992.

The Cuban Party had a full program scheduled, including visits to schools, the Center on Sex Education, a Committee to Defend the Revolution (kind of a revolutionary neighborhood block club), meetings with trade unionists, Young Communists, and the families of the five Cuban heroes who are political prisoners in U.S. jails.

The new restrictions on travel to Cuba were very much on everyone’s mind. As of June 30 the Bush administration is increasing restrictions on U.S. citizens and residents from traveling to Cuba. The category of “fully-hosted” travel, the category under which we went, will be eliminated. Cubans in the U.S. will be allowed to travel and visit their family only once every three years. Money sent to families back home, a common practice for immigrants, will be severely cut back.

The Bush administration even goes so far as to define the Cuban family. Aunts, uncles or cousins are not in their definition.

“The irony of this new family definition is that accordingly the Miami family of Elian Gonzalez would not have been considered family,” Georgina Chabau Montalvo, one of our hosts, said. Montalvo was referring to the huge struggle, in 2000, to return Elian from his cousins’ custody back to his father’s in Cuba.

The struggle for Elian’s return resulted in a renewed commitment to deepen and expand the revolution here. With the President of Cuba – Fidel Castro – taking the lead, the “Battle of Ideas” took shape.

This “battle” is involving all sectors of Cuban society and it emphasizes meeting the individual needs through collective effort, especially in education, health, culture and guaranteeing everyone can live a productive life.

This new phase of the revolution is improving education and health services and thereby improving the daily lives of Cuban citizens. Although Cuba faces an extremely difficult economic situation, the country is committed to lowering class size, building new schools and universities and training more teachers, just to name a few of the projects. Education and health care have been and continue to be totally free. This includes doctor visits and hospital stays. School is free from day care through university.

The young generation is directing these projects. A UJC (Young Communist League) leader told us, “We are running over 170 programs. No problem can’t be solved. We are investing in our country’s human resources.” A UJC slideshow presentation leads off with a quote from Fidel: “The battle of ideas … means concrete deeds and achievements.”

Throughout the whole trip, while people showed concern about the reckless nature of the Bush administration – which many here said could include a military attack on Cuba – the optimism and confidence in their revolution was evident. The attitude of struggle against the inhumane policies of the Bush administration was inspiring.

Each place our delegation went, the Cuban people made it a point to say: We oppose the U.S. government’s policies, not the people of the United States. We want friendly relations, we want trade and we think the majority of people in the U.S. want the same.

Terrie Albano is editor of the People’s Weekly World. This is first of a series on Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations. The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org.