Category Archives: Latin America and Caribbean

Cuban Futures Conference, London, October 2015


Rafael Hernandez addressing the Cuban Futures Conference opening plenary “December 17th and beyond” Embassies have opened in Havana & Washington, the Miami 5 are free, Cuba is off the terrorist list and Obama and Raul Castro shook hands. What’s next?

Members of the Socialist Labour Party attended the Cuban Futures Conference held at Congress House, TUC HQ in central London last Saturday, October 3rd 2015. The original Socialist Labour Party was set up by James Connolly who was also at one time a member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) alongside Keir Hardy. The name was revived in 1996 as a response to the removal of Clause 4 from the Labour Party’s constitution under Tony Blair. The leader of the SLP was, and still is, Arthur Scargill. This took Connolly’s Socialism on board and setting a distinctive tradition strongly opposing the social-democratic and neo-liberal trends in both the Labour Party and politics in general.


Bhagwant Singh, John Tyrrell and John Mcleod at the Cuba Futures Conference organised by Cuba Solidarity Campaign  

The SLP has been involve in two delegations to Cuba in the last decade. The first in 2008 was to attend the Conference Marxism in the 21st Century in Havana. It was then I became very much aware of a different perspective at work which was not confined to Cuba, but was having a far reaching effect on South American and Caribbean countries determined to counter the effects of their dominating neighbour to the north, the USA. Four years later it was apparent that joint organisations being developed like ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) were gaining momentum with Venezuela and Bolivia having elected Socialist governments and many others supporting the Cuban position, including Brazil and Argentina. Equador and Nicaragua also became prominent with their Ambassadors speaking at the London Conference giving testimony to Cuban achievement and leadership.

DSC00121SLP members in Cuba in May 2008 to attend the Conference Marxism in the 21st Century.        l to r Lily and John Mcleod, John Tyrrell, Shangara Singh and Sheera Johal


No one claims, least of all Cubans themselves, that they have found answers to issues confronting the world and humanity, but as speakers from a variety of backgrounds illustrated how Cuba was succeeding in many ways better than far wealthier states in health, in education, in food production and so on. This was against a backdrop of continuing sanctions in spite of the recent apparent thaw in diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US. Cuban speakers made it clear that they didn’t see a change in the United States intentions, rather a different approach characterised by “charm” rather than aggression. One told us the story of the frog and the scorpion when the latter, incapable of swimming to leave Cuba, asked the frog to carry him to the US. The frog replied that the scorpion would use its sting on him, to which the scorpion replied that he would drown if he did that. Half way across the scorpion did sting the frog who asked in surprise why he had done it. “That’s what scorpions do” came the reply.

Cubans are seeking five major outcomes from the rapprochement with the US, including the return of Guantanamo Bay. The release of the Cuban 5 from their long incarceration is seen as a major step forward, but on other other hand Cuban demands that the perpetrators of the terrorist act in bringing down a Cuban airliner, living in the United States, had not been brought to justice. The five Cubans were arrested after their attempts to do just that.

Cuba is characterised as a dictatorship and undemocratic by the standards of western governments with multi-party systems. However this needs to be countered by understanding how people are elected to govern at three levels: local, provincial and national. In practice it is far more democratic by being inclusive with a far higher level of voter participation normally found in the so-called western democracies.


John Mcleod receiving gifts, including a portrait of Che Guevara, from a street committee in Santa Clara, Cuba, on behalf of the Socialist Labour Party in 2008.

The SLP delegations have been welcomed on each of their visits by local communities with festivities taking place in the streets or buildings where they live. Doctors, teachers, police and others involved in provision of services are involved as are members of the community of all ages. In Santa Clara and Havana we were treated to street theatre, dancing and delicious local products including food and wine.

Speakers at the London Conference this year demonstrated Cuba’s achievements in health, exporting doctors and nurses, while maintaining a high level of care at home. Indicators of child mortality at birth was 6 per 1000 compared to 8 per 1000 in the USA. (In the UK it is 5 per 1000. It was pointed out that Cuba used the NHS as a model for its care system. It was hastily qualified to the NHS as it once was!)

Schools and clinics we visited were not lavishly equipped but clearly they manage to carry out excellent work. Gifts of even basic commodities were received gratefully. As the Cubans we met pointed out “we have little, but what we have we share”. DSC00163

Visiting a school in Santa Clara, Cuba, 2008


Visit to a centre for young people here seeing services demonstrating a rescue exercise. Fidel Castro used to visit regularly on his birthday.

The Conference was against a backdrop of events on and after 17th December, 2014 when there was an apparent thaw in relations between Cuba and its powerful neighbour to the north, the United States of America.

Later in April 2015 President Obama announced that Cuba is of the list of state sponsored terrorists.

So what of the future? How far have things changed? Cuban speakers were cautious believing that what they were seeing was a change in tactics by the US rather than a fundamental shift in their attitude to Cuba, aggressive posturing being replaced by a charm offensive. Cuba they still see as an undemocratic dictatorship as a one party state. The gains of the Revolution will have to continue to be defended, including “health, internationalism, educations, women’s rights”. Others, including the US can learn much from Cuba.


Arleen Rodriguez with translator on Cuban Futures. The return of Guantanamo Bay remains unresolved as does the Blockade and compensation for 50 years of aggression.

It was felt that the support of many South American and Caribbean countries was instrumental in convincing the US that a new approach was necessary, as was world solidarity seen here today.  It was noted that Obama still talks about “trading with the enemy” while Kerry referred to the relationship as “neighbours” rather than “friends”.  A resolution to end the blockade will be taken to the UN. How will the Obama administration vote? Cuba will not be going cap in hand but proceed with a dignified conscience to maintain a dignified sovereignty based on a record of solid achievement.

Food Sovereignty

There is an over production of food globally but around half, much expensively produced cost wise and environmentally, goes to waste. This adds to the cost. Locally produced food can be beneficial since it is easier for the consumer to identify the producer and transport costs are reduced as are CO2 emissions. It is not always the case that local produce is cheaper since it may be cost effective to transport out of season produce than store it in warehouses which may be at a distance from the producer, only to be transported to supermarkets again at a distance.
Struggling countries like Cuba may face huge bills importing food so they encourage more and more people to use unused space to grow crops. Havana, it is estimated, can supply food to about 50% of her people. For most cities a target of 10% would be a huge achievement.
In March 2012 a delegation from the Socialist Labour Party in the UK visited Cuba and saw local initiatives to grow organic crops for food and medicine. In January that year the SLP had put a resolution to the Party’s Triennial Congress in Blackpool which was remitted for further consideration. Four members of the SLP delegation: Andrew Jordan, President, Shangara Singh, West Midlands President, John McLeod, Brighton and John Tyrrell, West Midlands had a discussion on a site just outside Havana.
More recently the SLP held a day school at the Uplands Allotments in Handsworth, Birmingham, led by Malcolm Currie whose wife, Balbir, is Secretary of the Allotment Association. We discussed local initiatives on food issues, including local production and supply.

Fidel Castro speaks out about the duty to prevent nuclear war.

Fidel Castro has broken a long self-imposed silence in the Cuban journal “Granma” by drawing attention to the consequences of a nuclear war starting on the Korean peninsula. He speaks as a friend of North Korea and reminds them of ” a duty” to prevent that happening. Castro similarly spoke out when another potential threat to humanity, as Castro sees it, was under discussion: the environment.
Few politicians I can think of have the understanding, authority and wisdom shown by Castro. The United States still mark him out as a danger to the world.
As for understanding the two Korean states we have little chance of doing that from press reports, any more than we have been unable to see what underlies Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Israel and so on. We only begin to understand when it is too late so that Sunni and Shia communities are at each other’s throats following the intervention of dominating world powers have intervened. The legacy of imperialism and empire are not buried and dead, they are very much with us. Humanity as a concern is way down the priority list for them, so to see Castro speaking out comes as cool refreshment. Clearly he is addressing North Korea as much as the United States and all who could play a part should conflict break out.

Venezuelanaysis, April 1st 2013

On 1st April Venezuelanalysis reported on Venezuela adopting “US style democracy” and a whole lot of measures that were being taken to this end. Media would be flogged off to Rupert Murdoch so that they “wouldn’t talk to real people on the ground” but read off news from auto-cues. The big corporations that “know people’s needs better than they do” like McDonalds would be bought in along with Monsanto to advise on food reform. Donald Trump would be sold a golf course on the people’s land.
If that looks like a sick joke take a look at life around you. We’re living just like that!!!

R.I.P. Hugo. Long live the Bolivarian Revolution.

We are sad at the passing of Hugo Chavez after a struggle with cancer bravely fought. World leaders have acknowledged him as charismatic and controversial. He is controversial if you are caught up in the ways of Capitalism and dismiss the Socialist alternative where need replaces greed as the mantra for living. His contribution to the debate is huge and I suspect will continue to be a continuing force awaiting a wider recognition. His opponents will doubtless look for opportunities to destabilise the achievements of improving education, health, housing etc. to the dispossessed.
The significance of a black president in the United States has been a matter proclaimed as highly significant. The emergence of presidents in Latin American countries emerging from indigenous and black heritage has not been so regarded. They are comparable and have demonstrably brought representation of oppressed peoples far more effectively than Barack Obama in the United States. What do they represent to him? To the United States the emergence of Socialism in their own back yard will continue to be seen as a threat as the highly damaging blockade of Cuba well demonstrates.
Barack Obama’s tribute was measured and makes interesting reading:
“As messages of condolence came from many world leaders, perhaps the most significant was from Barack Obama. He said: ‘At this challenging time of President Hugo Chávez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the US remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law and respect for human rights.’ “ Guardian 6/3/2013
US were quick to lecture Venezuela on how to go about electing Chavez successor “democratically” as if his election had not been so. I remember ex President Carter’s foundation, which oversaw the Venezuelan process proclaim it as the most democratic seen anywhere! Prejudice will persist.

In South America the battle of need over greed is being won

As Equador President Correa retains his hold on the presidency decisively we once again see that the battle of need over greed is being won across the region. At the same time we in the west are losing big time as the world of banksters and corporate greed that are characteristics of Capitalism grind down the poor and vulnerable. Here is a different world view. (New York Times reports here. Note the sting in the tail!) cf Russia Today report.
Not that the western Capitalist media help understand. The question has been asked what if the NY Times covered US news as it portrays Venzuela? So it’s helpful to have sites like Venzuelanalysis tell us more to give a more rounded view, something vitally important to those who have been given access to health, education housing as a result of changes so far. No one is pretending that the battle over poverty has been won, but forces are at work to see that the process is reversed and a wealthy and greedy elite is returned to power.
At the same time Hugo Chavez, reported as dead by the ever hopeful western sources, has returned to Venezuela where he will continue to have treatment. As he leaves Cuba, Fidel Castro, also presumed dead many times over, writes to Chavez a letter of encouragement and hope: hope for all of us who wish to see the ascendency of need over greed.

Africa. Continuing exploitation or partnership?

Whereas China’s foray into countries across the continent look suspiciously like a new colonialism, there has been little notice taken of another emerging giant. Brazil, the dominating giant in South America, has been developing relationships with countries that were part of the old Portuguese empire and so share language allowing economic advances.
Relationships between Brazil and the Portuguese-speaking areas was fostered by President Lula. His expressed view was that this would not be a replay of exploitation with no benefit to African people. Unlike China, Brazilian firms employ local labour.

Continue reading

Vinales, Cuba

I am going backwards in writing about my stay in Cuba, which included a week meeting government officials and politicians. During the last few days I felt I had not seen any more of the country than when I first visited in 2008 to attend a conference in Havana. I took advice from the hotel agency and booked a trip to Pinar del Rio and Vinales, a tabacoo growing region.
The coach was filled with people from many different countries, and at first I didn’t pick up other English speakers. I later found my companions came for the UK (Shanklin in the Isle of Wight which I visited many times as a child), the US (Washington DC) and Canada. While I had met many coming from Canada in the previous three weeks, I was intrigued to know the reason for the visitors from the United States, given that direct flights are nor available and that US citizens can occur penalties for visiting Cuba, Otherwise their were Greeks and a young woman from Moscow who I found spoke excellent English. When I told her I visited Moscow in 1961 I felt she thought I was from a different world. I’d like to have found out a lot more about her reasons for visiting Cuba today. It appears that Russia maintains good relations with Cuba even though it is no longer a Socialist state,
Out of Havana, having done a round of hotels to pick up passengers we encountered a long range of mountains. The land was green and fertile with palm trees abounding. There were fields of rice. I was concerned about the availability of water in such an area. I knew that some places that introduced rice crops had wrecked the environment. The Indian Punjab is one such place where rice growing and fish farming is having a detrimental effect.
Our first break was to a small roadside shack where it turned out they were without a water supply. They had no coffee and no water, cans of beer was all that could be had, except for the young woman selling small sweet bananas. This meant we had to take a second break fairly soon.

No Popery here? The Pope in Cuba.

Pope in Cuba
A few months back the Pope arrived here in Birmingham to take forward the process of creating Cardinal Newman a saint. He travelled close to home as he passed through Handsworth. As Rev Ian Paisley might feel there would be places on earth that you would be safe from the attentions of the mighty pontiff. Not so, just as I and my colleagues taking part in a Socialist Labour Party delegation were about to leave Cuba the Pope decided to leave at the very same time. Our way to the Jose Marti airport in Havana was blocked and we feared our travel plans home. Our taxi stopped at a point where many were lining the streets so we joined them to watch. When there was no sign of him we returned to our cab just in time before a tropical storm erupted drenching those who had not retreated. We heard that he had stopped to meet Fidel Castro.
Pope Visits Cuba
Why was the Pope in Cuba, and what messages were sent by both sides. Watching the “impartial” BBC World Service at our hotel in Havana we learned that the Pope has come to tell the Cubans to allow its people freedom? In our three weeks there we did not feel that the government was restricting the people and no on complained about that. The only restrictions we saw were those imposed by the US in their continuing blockade which seriously affects the economy. It also compromises the internet so that I was unable to achieve a daily blog as I had intended. The internet cables surrounding the island are US owned so there is control over the system and wi-fi is virtually nowhere to be found. Nothing that works that is. The Hotel Havana Libre indicated that there was a connection but it failed to work. We also learned from the Beeb that Cuba remained “isolated”. As we knew Cuba provides doctors and teachers to many needy places, so those who have received their help don’t regard Cuba in that way. Cuba is a leading light across Latin America with countries such as Brazil and Argentina recognising the achievements of the Cuban revolution which ended the corrupt Battista government supported by US gangsters. In maintaining sanctions against Cuba it is the US that has few friends and can only call on Israel and a few other discredited governments to give support.
As we waited to get to the airport the Pope made a final address at the airport. It is published in Granma, as is the welcoming speech of Raul Castro on behalf of Cuba.
The BBC World Service ducked the issue of sanctions raised by Raul Castro. The Pope did not. Raul outlined the concerns of the Cuban government which respond to world conditions which don’t affect Cuba alone. Food supply and environmental issues are central concerns which were also raised with our delegation. We found our hosts to be very clear, open and honest about their situation and they welcomed support for their efforts in bringing about a just and fair society. Support from the Pope and his predecessor was warmly welcomed but does not signal a departure from the Socialist society of 50 years standing. I heard there are an estimated 3 million Catholics out of a population of 11 million. How many of those are practicing. Most people I spoke to seemed indifferent to the visit, except they hoped he would speak up for the unjust economic blockade, which he did.
Pictures from NY Times coverage.

If there’s any hope for the world it’s right here

While the western world has been busy meddling in middle eastern countries a new phenomenon has emerged in Latin America. States of various political hue have come together to work jointly to develop their economies.
“Caribbean and Latin American leaders vowed to bring their economies closer together as they sealed the deal for a new regional bloc in Caracas on Saturday.
The 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) includes Cuba as a full member and excludes the US and Canada, in contrast to the Washington-based Organisation of American States.”
Source “Morning Star” 3/12/2011.
Hopefully they will have in front of them the failed European model which was developed on the back of Capitalism as propounded and propagated by the United States. The exclusion of the United States and Canada and the inclusion of Cuba mark the organisation as something fundamentally different from the norm established by the dominating north of the continent.