2019 International Solidarity Conference in Cuba

Pic: Dunia Alvarez/Granma

by Jon Flanders

Once again this year I traveled to Cuba on a delegation that visited many interesting sites on the island, one of them being the huge May Day march in Havana. Cuba celebrates May Day as a national holiday. Participants get up extremely early in the morning, about 2am or so. Our delegation got up and out by 4am and arrived at the Plaza of the Revolution at 5am.

But Cuba’s May Day celebration doesn’t end with the march on May 1. The next day activists from around the world gather in the Karl Marx Convention Center in Havana for an international solidarity conference. A crowd of more than 1000 activists hear reports from around the world translated simultaneously via earphones located at every seat in the auditorium. This year’s conference coincided with the attempted coup in Venezuela, so delegates were desperate for any scrap of information about the unfolding events

The welcoming speaker was Ulysses Nasimiento, the head of the Confederation of Unions in Cuba, the CTC. He reported that six million people had participated in May Day marches around Cuba.  While the US government continues its campaign to isolate Cuba, including travel to and from Cuba, cde Nasimiento was able to report that the British union federation, the TUC, had invited a delegation of Cuban trade unionists to visit their upcoming convention.

Traditionally there are talks by the head of ICAP, the Cuban International Friendship body, and then a report by the Cuban foreign minister on their take on the current international situation. You can listen to the ICAP report here. The president of ICAP is Fernando Gonzalez, one of the Cuban 5, hence one of Cuba’s national heroes. He called for a big international solidarity conference for Venezuela and Cuba next November, recalling for some the big conferences of an earlier era, particularly the Tricontinental Conference in Havana in 1966. At that event, Fidel Castro said the following:

“In the coming years enormous dangers will weigh on our people’s heads to see the same degree that the revolutionary movement grows, a revolutionary movement that grows above all because of the example of the Cuban revolution, a revolutionary movement that grows and becomes gigantic because of Cuba’s example, because of Cuba’s victories, because of Cuba’s position against the enemy. It must be taken into account that when this nation defies that danger, this nation does not have millions of men under arms, this nation does not possess thermonuclear arms, because here we possess moral rockets and here (Applause) millions do not represent the infinite; the number of men is not infinite, but the dignity and the decorum of this nation is infinite.”

Now, 58 years later, Cuba is still here, still dealing with imperialism, still leading the way for the revolutionary movements of the world. This spirit lived and breathed in the Deputy Foreign Minister’s talk in 2019. In the last several years, since I have attended this conference, the Foreign Minister’s report was mainly an accounting of successful Cuban missions and initiatives around the world. This year Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Teresita González Fraga’s emphasis was on taking actions in defense of Cuba and Venezuela. The call to action over-rode the lists of Cuba’s diplomatic achievements. She was emphatic that Cuba would never rejoin the Organization of American States (OAS) and cited the increasing use of “lawfare” against the left, the imprisonment of Lula, the former president of Brazil being a prime example of the direction the right-wing in Latin America is taking.

Adnan Chavez, brother of the late president of Venezuela was the next speaker. He celebrated the defeat of the coup, which at the time of the conference seemed very much up in the air. He expressed confidence that Cuba and Venezuela were up to the challenge they faced.  He characterized the defeat of “Pink Tide” governments in Latin America as “circumstantial victories” for the right.  He said that “never again will Venezuela be an American colony. “ You can listen to his talk here.

The floor was opened up soon after the Chavez talk, and a number of international representatives had a chance to make brief presentations. The presenters included reports from the Communist Party of South Africa, the President of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), the French Communist Party, the Australian CP, the Workers Party of Brazil defending the imprisoned Lula, the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico and more.

The gathering also adopted a declaration which concluded with “Let us rise up against imperialist barbarism, for peace and a world without exploitation.”

It was reported that delegations from 103 countries were present. Of course not all of them had a chance to speak; the conference ended around noon, followed by a lunch in the vast dining area of the hall.  One of the keys to the survival of the Cuban Revolution has been its internationalism. The annual May 2 conference is an example of how Cuba leads in the worldwide battle against imperialism.

Jon Flanders is a retired locomotive mechanic and former local union branch president.  He is also a leading figure in the James Connolly Forum in Troy, a city that Connolly himself lived in during his years in the USA.