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Cuba: Defeat The Blockade Without Waiting For It To Be Lifted

Above Photo: Rally in Los Angeles, July 17, 2021 in solidarity with the people of Cuba and Haiti. Ringo Chiu via AP.

Joe Biden has intensified the relentless U.S. attacks on Cuba, with disastrous results for the people of that nation.

But the Cuban people are determined to defeat the blockade regardless of U.S. actions.

Havana, Cuba — Over 1,300 delegates from 58 countries, representing 271 organizations, congregated here on May 2 to celebrate the “International Meeting of Solidarity with Cuba and Anti-Imperialism – 200 Years After the Monroe Doctrine.

”The conference at the Palacio de Convenciones was the closing event in a series of gatherings that, beginning on April 25, brought union activists and other friends of Cuba from outside the island together with workers and other Cuban citizens.

The goal was to acquaint international visitors with the growing systemic difficulties faced by the Cuban people due to the economic, commercial, and financial blockade the U.S. government has imposed for 61 years and to give them an opportunity to see first-hand the creative resilience with which many ordinary Cubans face the resulting scarcities and continue to resist.

In opening the meeting, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez detailed the broad context of Cuba’s current situation. “The pandemic,” he explained, “paralyzed our economy for two years.”

Then, he continued, came three disasters in succession: the explosion of a gas line that demolished the Saratoga Hotel in Havana; the lightning strike that destroyed part of the country’s largest supertanker port, oil depot, and fuel transfer station in Matanzas Province; and lastly Hurricane Ian, which did vast damage to the prime tobacco growing area of the island, devastating one of Cuba’s major agricultural exports.

“The United States is attempting to internationalize the Monroe Doctrine and to renew it after 200 years with policies of blockade, sanctions, political-judicial actions, walls, meddling, media blitzes, and wars,” Díaz-Canel explained.

Washington adopted the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 and has used it for two centuries to justify U.S. intervention in Latin America.

“The intensified economic, financial, and commercial blockade constitutes the main obstacle to the economic and social development of Cuba,” Díaz-Canel added, “and Yankee imperialism uses it as a tool to suffocate the Cuban people, to break their unity and confidence in the revolution, in socialism, in the party, and in the government.”

Nonetheless the Cuban people have “demonstrated their ability to grow in the face of these difficulties and, by force of will, solidarity, and unity, we were able to face them and move forward.”

Proof of this, said Díaz-Canel, are “the results of the three processes of participatory democracy carried out in just the last six months that demonstrate the confidence of the people in the Revolution, in the endless work of social justice it represents, and in the leadership of the revolutionary process. This was reaffirmed by the people when they approved the Families Code,[1]  the elections for delegates to the municipal assemblies of People’s Power and, more recently, the election of deputies that culminated in the constitution of the Tenth Legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power.”

“What do we ask of you, our friends around the world?” Díaz-Canel asked the delegates. “We believe that it is a priority to redouble the demands to condemn the blockade in all its forms and to keep showing that, despite the siege and pressure, it is possible for Cuba to advance and develop. But … we must ‘defeat the blockade without waiting for it to be lifted!’ And you, friends, who represent international solidarity with Cuba, are also an essential part of this challenge we share.

“It is also a political and ethical imperative,” he added, “to denounce the inclusion of Cuba on the spurious [U.S.] list of State Sponsors of Terrorism…. In addition to being arbitrary, unjust, and immoral, it has serious economic implications as well as a deterrent and intimidating effect.”

The Cuban president then reviewed a long list of solidarity and anti-blockade activities in Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and mentioned the growing popularity in the United States and internationally of the monthly Puentes de Amor [Bridges of Love] caravans.

Why socialism?

“In difficult times many ask: Why socialism in Cuba?” said Díaz-Canel. “Not everyone can withstand 60 years of economic asphyxiation that has been deepened opportunistically more than once. All this damages Cuban society and the Cuban family to such a degree that there is no shortage of those who say that we should renounce socialism.

“Why did the Cuban Revolution choose the path of socialism to prosper?” he asked. “Because it is the only alternative to capitalism; because it is the best way to give power to the people, to make decisions about the country and the future.

“The Cuban Revolution is not just the reaction of a people to an unbearable accumulation of abuses, after centuries of colonialism and 60 years of neocolonialism. It is the reaction of a continent and a world plagued by injustice, which is why we have never been alone in our struggle. You are an example of this!” said Díaz-Canel to prolonged applause.“

The supposed ‘Soviet satellite of the Caribbean’ survived the disappearance – not only economic and political – of the European socialist bloc,” he continued. “It survived the ideological dismantling and the moral collapse of political parties and organizations that were supposed to be a beacon. We were never a satellite!”

The Cuban president pointed to the “Special Period”[2]  after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a time when Cuban leaders also used a wide-ranging Rectification Campaign[3]  to correct errors revealed when “Cuba lost both its markets and socialist solidarity, [when] the empire and the former socialists got together to impose a double blockade on us.”Díaz-Canel concluded his remarks by highlighting the vital role played by the historic leadership of the revolution during those trials faced by the Cuban people:

“The generation that now carries the main responsibilities in the party, the state, and the Cuban government comes from that school, and we are convinced that yes, we can, and that yes, we will win the war!”

Participants then broke into five workshops: Anti-imperialist Unity vs. the Monroe Doctrine; The Rights of Workers and Youth in Defense of Peace and Sovereignty and Against Imperialism; World Women for Peace and Solidarity among Peoples; Challenges Faced by the Working Class in Today’s World; and the Struggles of Solidarity, Social, and Popular Movements for Just Causes.

The workshops discussed the challenges of the blockade and drafted proposals to include in the final declaration.

Fernando González Llort, president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), presented the final declaration adopted by the conference. It highlighted the crucial role that solidarity plays in the very survival of Cuba and its social project, but it also underlined the need to support other just causes around the world. The final declaration can be read here .

International guests visit Cuban worksites

In the days before the conference, delegations from different countries visited 14 different workplaces, each represented by a national union within the Cuban Trade Union Federation (CTC), which organizes over 90% of the workforce in Cuba.

This reporter visited a site organized by the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), where the delegation was treated to a rodeo and a demonstration of equestrian skills. It was followed by a meeting that included members of international delegations from Austria, Italy, Mexico, and other countries with leaders of ANAP.

The ANAP cooperative, an independent organization of Cuban food producers, is becoming increasingly important as the blockade restricts imports of food, fertilizers, and repair parts for farming equipment and machinery. It organizes international fairs to bring farmers and small food producers to Cuba to exchange know-how, explore avenues of cooperation, and promote trade in agricultural commodities.

Michael Vera, a member of the Los Angeles delegation and the Inland Boatmen’s Union of the Pacific, Southern California region, the marine division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), spoke at the ANAP meeting.

He highlighted three points central to the LA Hands Off Cuba Committee (LA HOC): “First, we need to influence trade unions and activists to pressure the U.S. government to take Cuba off the watchlist of ‘state sponsors of terrorism,’ to allow Cuba to participate in world banking systems.

“Second,” he said, “we need to develop effective strategies to work toward ending the unjust and inhumane 63-year-old embargo on Cuba. And third, we need to end any and all of the 243 sanctions imposed by the Trump administration that have created so much harm.”

CTC hosts internship for union leaders

A week-long internship organized by the CTC was also held before the May 2 solidarity conference. It gave participants a chance to discuss the state of the labor movement in the Americas and the historical importance of defending Cuba from Washington’s hostility. The 101 attendees included union leaders from 11 Latin American, Central American, and Caribbean countries, and — for the first time — a delegation from the United States.

The U.S. delegation included 37 unionists and working-class activists invited by the CTC and ICAP and organized by LA HOC. Among the participants were Chris Smalls, Derrick Palmer, Michelle Nieves, Jordan Flowers, and Gerald Bryson from the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) at the JFK8 Amazon distribution center in Staten Island; Mary Hill and other workers representing Carolina Amazonians United for Solidarity and Empowerment (C.A.U.S.E.) from the Amazon RDU1 warehouse in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Iván Baez from the ONT8 Amazon center in Inland Empire in California.

Other labor participants included Darwin Velasquez from the United SteelWorkers of America Local 675, Mike Vera from the Inland Boatmen’s Union, as well as members of the Service Employees International Union’s Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers Union and the International Association of Machinists.Teachers, students, and political and environmental activists rounded out the U.S. delegation — among them Mwezi Odom, representing the African Peoples Socialist Party.[4]

At the conclusion of the internship, a resolution was approved calling for international protests when the annual vote demanding an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba takes place next fall at the United Nations.

With the help of the groups Global Health Partners and Not Just Tourists, the delegation organized by LA HOC also delivered more than $40,000 in much needed medical aid and supplies to the Calixto Garcia trauma hospital in Havana, as well as foodstuffs such as powdered milk and high-protein foods. The group also donated about $5,000 worth of tech equipment to the CTC and ICAP, as well as art supplies and scientific instruments to Cuba’s National Aquarium.

The young activists on the U.S. delegation, which included members of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, the Palestinian Youth Movement, and LA HOC, as well as students and young workers, were invited to tour the University of Havana and to attend a meeting hosted by 75 members of the Federation of University Students (FEU) and the unions that represent university workers. The meeting discussed world politics, the state of the U.S. labor movement, and the campaigns for material aid for Cuba organized across the United States.

‘For our homeland, hands and hearts’

The planned highlight of all these activities was the celebration on May 1 of International Worker’s Day. May Day is the worldwide day of action for workers’ rights that traces its roots to the struggle for the 8-hour day in the United States and to the Haymarket massacre at a workers’ demonstration in Chicago in 1886. This year the motto of the celebrations in Cuba was “For our homeland, hands and hearts.”

For decades, May Day celebrations in Cuba have featured a massive march of hundreds of thousands in Havana as well as large marches in other major cities on the island.[5]

This year, due to severe fuel shortages caused by the U.S. blockade and intensified by the lightning strike that damaged the Matanzas oil depot, the rallies were organized on a regional basis (with no big delegations to Havana from outside the city) so that most people could reach one of the rallies on foot from home. The largest rally in Havana was planned for the Malecón, the avenue that spans the city’s waterfront, in front of the building that houses the U.S. embassy.

However, heavy rain and high winds the night before disabled or damaged many of the sound systems and other temporary structures set up at a number of the rally sites.

For these reasons, the May Day celebrations throughout Cuba’s 15 provinces were held on May 5. Reports in GranmaTrabajadores, and other Cuban media outlets covered many of these actions.

In Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second-largest city, about 300,000 reportedly marched. The city of Holguín saw a turnout of 200,000 with other municipalities in the province reporting an additional 240,000. A rally of 97,000 took place in Ciego de Ávila and more than 100,000 gathered in the city of Santa Clara. In Havana, the capital, six concentration points were reported, with well over 100,000 participating in the main rally at the Malecón.

These actions registered the support the revolution continues to enjoy among broad layers of Cuba’s working class.

Most international delegates to the May 2 conference had made travel plans to return home before May 5 and thus missed the delayed May Day celebrations.

After the announcement of the postponement, however, the 280 U.S. delegates were invited to celebrate May Day at the Palace of the Revolution on May 1. The surprise meeting included Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel; Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, general secretary of the CTC; Rogelio Polanco Fuentes, secretary of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party; leaders of the Union of Young Communists; and the director of ICAP, Fernando Gonzalez Llort, who is also one of the Cuban Five.[6]

The U.S. delegates reaffirmed their commitment to continue fighting to lift the blockade and to focus on upcoming actions. These include a planned June 25th protest in Washington, D.C.  (to coincide with local protests across the United States and internationally), demanding that the Biden administration take Cuba off the bogus list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism.”

Ferocious blockade continued by Biden administration

The Trump administration significantly tightened the U.S. blockade, adding 243 sanctions aimed at undermining the Cuban economy. On January 12, 2021, in one of his final acts, Trump added Cuba to the State Department list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism.”

The Biden administration has continued this punitive policy, which increases the obstacles Cuba faces when carrying out banking and commercial transactions with other nations. In addition, most of the Trump era sanctions remain intact and the Biden administration has added new sanctions of its own.

As the effects of the blockade intensify the privations across Cuban society, oil deliveries to Cuba from other nations have slowly decreased. Vital parts to repair Cuba’s aging electrical power system have also become harder to obtain. This has led to recurring electrical power outages and a severe shortage of fuel because the country is only receiving about 80% of its total needs.

Numerous closed gas stations, long lines of cars at the few open ones, and many shuttered storefronts can be seen throughout Havana. Restaurants and other small establishments announce shorter hours of operation on hand-written signs. Drivers often wait in a queue an entire day — and sometimes longer — to obtain about 20 liters of fuel on their assigned day.

There are many other indicators, big and small, of the deepening crisis — from the large groups of people seen walking many kilometers home after work because public transportation schedules are reduced, to the lack of paper napkins at most restaurants.“We have lived without for so long that now we laugh about the things we can’t find anymore,” said one of the facilitators at the CTC internship during a conversation about the lack of WiFi cards that people use to connect their cell phones to the Internet. “We have turned dealing with privation into an art form,” she later added wryly.

Cuba today faces what may be its most severe economic crisis since the “Special Period.” This is behind the ongoing exodus of hundreds of thousands of Cubans who have given up and left the island in recent years, attempting to migrate to the United States and other countries. At the same time, despite the increased hardships of daily life, the large majority of Cuba’s working people remain committed to defend their revolution and stand up to the bullying by the empire to the north.

Stepped up harassment by U.S. Homeland Security

According to eyewitness reports, U.S. Homeland Security agents harassed 15 delegates returning to the United States from Cuba at the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Newark airports — even though all had complied with U.S. Treasury requirements for legal travel to Cuba.[7]

Three members of the LA delegation, plus members of KIWA-LA (Korean Immigrant Workers Association – Los Angeles) and other organizations, including the National Network on Cuba (NNOC) and International People’s Assembly (IPA), were detained for hours, interrogated on the nature of their visit to Cuba, and then released. In some cases, U.S. agents took cell phones and rifled through luggage.

These acts of intimidation of U.S. citizens constitute a violation of civil liberties. They also show the arbitrary power exercised by Homeland Security agents.

On May 4, after hearing of the detentions at U.S. ports of entry, President Díaz-Canel tweeted a message of support to those detained: “Courage, young friends, we are with you. Thanks for your mettle, for supporting Cuba and for facing, right in the entrails of the beast, the hate of those who cannot stand the fact that the Cuban Revolution enjoys the support of the most progressive young people. We send you un fuerte abrazo [a strong embrace].”


[1]  See New Cuban Family Code: A Revolutionary Achievement  published by World-Outlook on October 17, 2022.

[2]  The “Special Period” was triggered by the abrupt termination at the opening of the 1990s of long-standing development aid from and preferential trade relations with the countries of the former Soviet bloc.

The Cuban economy was distorted, first by decades of U.S. neocolonial policy and then by unrelenting U.S. economic warfare against the island nation. In the first years after the triumph of the revolution in 1959, Cuba was left with few options beyond an almost complete integration into the economies of the Soviet Union and the countries in Eastern Europe that followed its example. This magnified the price that Cuban society paid with the disintegration of these regimes in the early 1990s, which caused a collapse of 85% of Cuba’s foreign trade, leaving working people on the island much more exposed and vulnerable to the growing crises of the capitalist markets.

This huge economic shock caused widespread shortages of food, medicine, fuel, and fertilizers. The dislocation required drastic shifts in the organization of the Cuban economy. It also exposed a sharpening economic and social differentiation within Cuban society.

[3]  The “Rectification Campaign” was a comprehensive process the Communist Party of Cuba initiated in 1986 to reverse the negative political consequences of economic planning and management policies modeled on those of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union. The Cuban leadership had adopted those policies in the early 1970s. By the early 1980s, this course had resulted in political demobilization and demoralization of layers of the working class in Cuba. Faced with this political disorientation, Cuban communists reached back to Ernesto Che Guevara’s arguments from the early days of the revolution — his criticism of the economic model of the Soviet Union and his proposals on how to build socialism in Cuba — ideas that had begun to be implemented in limited ways at that time.

Rectification included steps to reduce social inequalities and privileged living conditions for those in the upper strata of the government, party, and army bureaucracies; cutbacks in administration and management personnel; a crackdown on corruption; increased reliance on volunteer construction brigades to build badly needed hospitals, day-care centers, and schools; and full-time volunteer labor contingents to tackle larger projects such as building roads, bridges, and factories.

Rectification played a key role in the ability of the Cuban people to confront the devastating effects of the “Special Period.” By 1996, through disciplined efforts, the decline in industrial and agricultural production had bottomed out. Soon shortages of food and other essentials, while still severe, began to ease.

(For more information on rectification see also “Cuba’s Rectification Process: Two Speeches by Fidel Castro” in the magazine New International no. 6 .)

[4]  The FBI targeted the African People’s Socialist Party last year, carrying out military-style raids on its offices. Four of the group’s leaders were indicted on April 18 on bogus charges of “sowing discord, spreading pro-Russia propaganda, and interfering in elections within the United States.”

[5]  See ‘This Is Our Revolution’: 5 Million Turn Out for May Day in Cuba  published by World-Outlook on May 5, 2022.

[6]  The Cuban Five are Cuban revolutionaries framed up by the U.S. government in 1998 on charges of espionage. Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González were monitoring from U.S. soil the plans of rightist groups with a long record of armed attacks on Cuba. They spent from 13 to 16 years behind bars in the United States.

[7]  See also U.S. Agents Detain Youth Returning from Cuba , published by World-Outlook on May 6, 2023.

Originally published in Marxism-Leninism Today.

Duane Stilwell is a member of the Los Angeles U.S. Hands Off Cuba Committee (LA HOC). He joined an April 25-May 2 delegation to Cuba organized by the group. This article appeared in World Outlook, May 24, 2023.

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