A number of students who participated in the meetings at the University of Hartford in Connecticut and Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts are interested in taking part in a July 22-30 Cuba-U.S. Youth Exchange being hosted by the Union of Young Communists (UJC), the Federation of University Students (FEU), and other Cuban youth organizations in Havana.
Students at both colleges are holding follow-up meetings to organize to attend. The youth exchange is being promoted as a way to overcome the barriers imposed by Washington's travel ban and embargo against Cuba, so young workers and students in the United States can learn about the revolution, and youth in the Caribbean country can gain an understanding of life under capitalism in the United States.
Martínez, 23, is a fifth-year law student at the University of Havana and a member of the National Secretariat of the FEU. Dueñas, 28, is a professor of journalism at the University of Havana and a member of the National Bureau of the Union of Young Communists.
At the Bridgewater State meeting, attended by 125 students and faculty members, the two answered a range of questions on Cuban culture, the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and freedom of the press in Cuba. The meeting was sponsored by a number of departments and the student organization La Sociedad Latina.
At a meeting with meat packers who are part of a union organizing drive at Kayem Foods in Boston, a worker from the Dominican Republic asked the youth leaders about measures Cuba has been forced to take, such as opening up the economy to tourism. "This brings with it all kinds of negative things such as prostitution, homosexuality, drugs. How do you stop these vices?" he asked.
"We are an underdeveloped country and need investment in order to develop our economy," Dueñas said. "Tourism is an important part of our gross national product today and without it we would have even less foreign investment. The problems of drugs, prostitution, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and people visiting the country who bring with them a culture of littering all have to be addressed."
"When trying to attract tourists, we seek to interest people in the history and culture of our country," he said. "We have also gained a better understanding of homosexuality. But this was not a result of combating the negative effects of tourism, but as a result of our education. In all societies there are people attracted to the same sex. We were able to have a Cuban discussion about this. It is reflected in television programs and in film. Before, homosexuals were looked down upon in our society; there is a lot of machismo. Now there is much less of that."
Dueñas explained that there have been "negative effects of legalizing use of the U.S. dollar and expanding the tourist industry" following the collapse of aid and trade with the former Soviet Union. "We have sought to counter the impact of these measures by having an educated society. Otherwise we face losing the revolution due to economic pressures."
"Can we be sure the opening up of the economy won't also mean political openings to reverse the revolution?" asked the Dominican worker.
"There is no guarantee," replied Dueñas. "But because the Cuban people are committed to a socialist course we can open up in this way for a time. When deciding what measures to take we always start with how best to defend socialism. I can't think of any other country where the economy came to a halt as it did in Cuba. We were all alone. We were totally dependent on the Soviet Bloc, which was one of our mistakes. There is no clearer proof than what we accomplished over the course of the last 10 years."
"We have made a revolution within our revolution," Martínez added.
Martínez told a crowd of 50 people gathered in the student center of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology April 6 that the continuity of the revolution is guaranteed "because the revolution was built by the people. Our enemies think that without Fidel Castro the revolution will disappear. But a leadership without mass support would not have been able to achieve what the revolution has achieved."
"Young people make up 50 percent of our country," Dueñas added. "The revolution is made by young people. At each stage of our revolution youth have been at the forefront. It was the youth who were at the center of the triumph of the revolution in 1959. It was youth who led the campaign against illiteracy. It was youth who confronted the health problems of the country. Youth took leading roles in agriculture, industry, and in research centers."
"Internationalism has played an important role in the formation of the youth," he added. "We were reeducated in problems facing other countries that we were no longer familiar with. We helped other countries in defense, health, and meeting other needs."
Luis Miranda, director of Casa de las Américas and longtime defender of the Cuban Revolution, welcomed the Cuban Revolution, welcomed the Cuban youth. Miranda noted that in the mid-1950s when Fidel Castro visited New York he promoted the Moncada program, the political program of the revolutionary forces in Cuba grouped in the July 26 movement.
Miranda noted that some in the United States at the time said Castro "must have suffered a blow to the head" for promoting the program that called for land reform and deep-going measures in the interests of workers and farmers in Cuba. But it wasn't just a pipe-dream, Miranda explained. The Cuban Revolution implemented the Moncada program.
Miranda ended by turning to the Cuban youth and saying, "You have very big responsibilities for Cuba and for all of humanity. I wish you success. And you should know that you can count on us here to always be by your side defending the Cuban Revolution and demanding an end to the embargo."
Supporters of the tour organized food and beverages for the evening event and everyone enjoyed a dance after the speakers had concluded their remarks.
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