One RadFest workshop that drew the lively participation of about 30 activists was the panel on “Socialism in Cuba” featuring John Gilman.

Lease began by introducing Gilman, a celebrated activist and war hero who has made over 30 trips to Cuba since 1959, taking with him some 300 dignitaries and rank-and-file citizens. On a recent trip, he was personally commended by Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Gilman outlined the history of the Cuban Revolution and its achievements. He told how Castro antagonized monied interests in the Eisenhower administration by nationalizing the landholdings of the United Fruit Company, then declared 1960 the “year of literacy,” bringing literacy to over half the Cuban population. The literacy rate before the revolution had been 40 percent; today the rate is 99.9 percent.

Gilman equated the Cuban experience with the flourishing of human rights. “You don’t have death squads in Cuba. You don’t have people sleeping in the streets. Everybody has a ration card. Everybody gets fed,” said Gilman. “This is the system the U.S. doesn’t like because it shows an example to other third world countries.”

Lease added that many of the problems we have in the United States are not evident in Cuba. On a recent visit, he noted that race was not an issue the way it is here.

Those he spoke to in Cuba were also shocked at the enormous prison populations in the U.S. With 1.3 million behind bars, only Russia has a higher incarceration rate.

Lease, echoed by Gilman, discussed the history of terrorist acts against Cuba that have claimed over 3,000 lives. This motivated five Cubans to infiltrate and report on the activities of terrorist cells in Miami. The Cuban Five have now been imprisoned by the U.S. for this attempt to stop terrorism.

Lease read one of the letters he had received from Fernando Gonzalez, one of the Cuban Five who is imprisoned in Wisconsin. Gonzalez asked, “isn’t [Cuba] different from the way it’s depicted in the media here?”

– Gary Grass and Babette Grunow