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Vol. 74/No. 14      April 12, 2010

(front page)
Two Cuban students speak to
350 at meetings in Georgia
Militant/Dave Wulp
Yenaivis Fuentes Ascencio, left, and Aníbal Ramos Soccarrás, speaking, give presentations and answer questions at Spelman College in Atlanta March 23.

ATLANTA—Two Cuban students, Yenaivis Fuentes Ascencio and Aníbal Ramos Socarrás, began a month-long speaking tour of the United States here March 22. They spoke to about 350 people during their six-day stop in Georgia, addressing meetings and classes at Georgia State University, Spelman College, and Morehouse School of Medicine.

Over the next month they will be speaking on campuses in Minneapolis, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Los Angeles. A broad range of academic departments, professors, and student groups is sponsoring and financing their tour.

Fuentes, 23, has completed five years of study at the School of Medical Sciences in Guantánamo and is finishing her sixth and final year of undergraduate studies in Havana. She serves as the National Public Health Education Coordinator of the Federation of University Students (FEU).

Ramos, 30, is a third-year graduate student in surgery at the Manzanillo School of Medical Sciences at the University of Granma. He served one year in Haiti with a volunteer medical brigade and is a leader of the FEU at his school.

Their presentations about the Cuban Revolution today, its history before and after the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship in 1959, Cuba’s role in the world, and the attempts by the U.S. government to overturn the revolution have stimulated a wide-ranging discussion and exchange of views. This is the first U.S. tour of Cuban youth in nine years.  
History of Cuban Revolution
Fuentes began her presentations at several of the public meetings by describing the fight led by revolutionary forces at the end of the 19th century to get rid of slavery in Cuba and gain independence from Spain. Fuentes explained how the Cuban Revolution of 1959 built on the historical legacy of those earlier battles. She described what life was like before and after 1959 in education, health care, and the status of women.

Fuentes explained that illiteracy was widespread, especially in the countryside, before the revolution and there were only three universities and one medical school in the whole country. Illiteracy has been eradicated and today there is a medical school in every province. Some 100,000 young Cubans mobilized from late 1960 through 1961 as part of the revolutionary government’s effort to teach 1 million Cubans to read.

“Before 1959 most women worked in the home or as a domestic servant in someone else’s home,” she explained. “Today, women have the same rights as men and become doctors, teachers, and scientists,” among other jobs traditionally held only by males.

“Cuba is a country with a great desire to help other countries around the world,” Ramos told several audiences. “Cuban doctors, teachers, and engineers are working in internationalist missions in 40 countries throughout the world, with no conditions, no strings attached. And students from over 150 countries are studying in Cuba, all for free.”

Haitian-Cuban medical collaboration began in 1998 after a hurricane devastated Haiti, Fuentes explained. This past January, “when the earthquake hit Haiti, there were more than 400 Cuban medical personnel already there. There are now more than 1,000,” she said.

Ramos described Operation Miracle, a program sponsored by the Cuban government to set up ophthalmology centers run by Cuban doctors in Latin America and Africa. Those facilities have made possible eye operations for some 50,000 people without charge. “This is possible thanks to the Cuban Revolution,” he said.

“But since the first days of the Cuban Revolution, the U.S. government has attempted to destroy it,” he continued. “At first, by direct attacks and invasions, like at the Bay of Pigs. Then by bombings, assassination attempts on Cuban leaders like Fidel Castro, and the passage of different laws that reinforce the economic blockade.” Most trade with Cuba is prohibited by the U.S. government.

Ramos continued, “I was born with the blockade. And despite this difficult situation we have maintained our health care, free education, and social programs and we continue to move forward. We are not a rich country. The economic situation is not easy. We could advance much further without the economic blockade.”  
Support for Cuban Five
At every meeting, Ramos and Fuentes told their audiences about the case of the Cuban Five, who have been held unjustly in U.S. jails for more than 11 years for defending the Cuban Revolution. Ramos and Fuentes explained that in order to inform the Cuban government of plans against the revolution, the Cuban Five penetrated organizations in Miami that have a record of armed attacks and bombings in Cuba. “For this they were framed up on charges of espionage and jailed. Pressure by supporters of the Cuban Five from here and around the world helped to lower the sentences of three of the five and more pressure is needed so they can be released,” said Ramos.

Fuentes and Ramos made presentations to a meeting of more than 100 at Spelman College, a historically Black women’s school. The meeting was chaired by Alma Jean Billingslea Brown, English professor and director of African Diaspora and the World. At Georgia State University (GSU) they spoke to a similar number of people. That meeting was chaired by Héctor Fernández, Spanish professor and director of the Center for Latin American and Latino/a Studies.

At Spelman, the meeting began with greetings from Hadeya Sewer from the Caribbean American Student Association, Vladimir Cadet, president of the Student Government Association of the School of Public Health at Morehouse School of Medicine, and Jason Randall, vice president of Ujaama, a student organization at Clark Atlanta University.

At Georgia State, many students asked questions about life in Cuba. One student asked about anti-government protests in Cuba organized by the “Ladies in White,” and said that Cuba had a repressive government.

“The ‘Ladies in White’ are the wives and relatives of prisoners who are in jail for counterrevolutionary acts, not their ideas,” Ramos replied. “These prisoners were tried under the Cuban constitution and have the same rights as every other prisoner: the right to study, to health care, to vote, and the right to a job when released. None have ever been tortured or mistreated.”

“If everything is so good, why do people want to leave Cuba?” asked a young man at the Spelman College meeting.

Ramos explained the U.S. government policy of allowing any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil to remain here and not be deported like thousands of immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries. “This encourages Cubans to come to the U.S.,” he said. Cubans, like others from all over the world come to the United States in hopes of escaping the economic conditions created by imperialism.

“The U.S. Interests Section offers Cuban students scholarships to study in the U.S.,” Fuentes added, “promising them a free education. Why don’t they offer all this to students here in the U.S. or to students from Mexico, or other Latin American countries? Why offer this only to Cubans?” she asked.

Joining this discussion, many at the Georgia State and Spelman meetings spoke about the deepening economic crisis in the United States and the increasing attacks on working conditions and living standards here, as well as increasing tuition costs and student debt.

“What ideas do you have for people here who want to make the same kind of changes as you’ve made in Cuba?” asked one young man. “Revolutions are born from concrete historical circumstances,” replied Ramos. “The Cuban ideals are not a formula for the world. But it is very important to have the example of the Cuban Revolution. We are seeing those in the U.S. who are fighting for their rights and beginning to understand the nature of capitalism.”

While in Atlanta, Fuentes and Ramos were invited to a house meeting with a dozen young workers and several students from Central and Latin America. Some had taken part in a march in Washington, D.C., for legalization of all immigrants the week before. In an informal give-and-take that went on for more than two hours the Cuban youth learned about the working conditions, wages, and other challenges facing immigrants living and working in this country. Much of this picture was new to the Cuban youth and they had many questions for the workers.

The Cuban students also visited the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site to learn about the rich history of the Black struggle in the United States.

They joined a seminar with students in the Master of Public Health Program at the Morehouse School of Medicine. They were invited by Assistant Dean Dr. Patricia Rodney, and officially welcomed by Cadet of the student government. Students at this encounter wanted to know how the universal health care system was built in Cuba and how long it took. They also asked why a similar system can’t be put in place in Haiti. Ramos answered that a system like working people have in Cuba is only possible with a socialist revolution that makes health care a right and not a privilege or a commodity to be bought by those with the money to pay.  
Visit to Black farm area
On March 27 the Cuban students traveled to Valdosta, a small city in rural south Georgia, where a reception and lunch was held at the Serenity Christian Church. The event was cosponsored by the Valdosta chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the South Health District, Georgia Department of Public Health.

Two members of the staff of Georgia Public Health greeted the students and explained their work. Brooks County farmer Willie Head told them how his visit to Cuba in 2000 had changed his perspective on the world.

Head is a plaintiff in the class action lawsuit by Black farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for decades of discrimination that resulted in a disproportionate number of Black farmers being forced off the land. He has twice visited farmers and farm organizations in Cuba.

Head explained at the event that those who work the land in Cuba cannot have their land taken away from them; and that in Cuban society, farmers in alliance with the workers have a strong hand in the government. The revolutionary government established that, he said. This picture is in sharp contrast to the number of Black youth in U.S. prisons; the huge unemployment rate for Blacks; and the discrimination and loss of land that Black farmers in the U.S. face.
Related articles:
White House promotes latest slanders on Cuba
Oppose slanders against Cuba
Victory of Cuban Revolution dealt major blow to racist discrimination
‘Cuba and the Coming American Revolution’  
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