The brigade commemorated the revolutionary contributions of Ernesto Che Guevara, who fell in combat while fighting in Bolivia 50 years ago this month.
The largest delegation, 67 from the United States, traveled to Cuba as Washington was withdrawing most of the diplomats and staff from its Havana Embassy, alleging they were the targets of “sonic” attacks, and telling U.S. residents not to travel to Cuba.
“It was important that the biggest delegation was from the U.S., given the recent attacks on Cuba,” Ash Eberle, 20, a University of Minnesota student on the brigade, told the Militant Oct. 23.
Brigade members took part in four days of voluntary work — contributing some 2,500 person-hours of labor — clearing rocks, weeding and planting on farms here and in Sancti Spiritus in central Cuba, where Hurricane Irma damaged crops and delayed planting.
They expected to see evidence of the destruction wrought by the hurricane in September, the strongest to hit Cuba in decades. But what struck them most were the impressive results of recovery work in cities and towns, on farms and at factories, led by the revolutionary government and people.
“It’s important to take the Cuban reality back to the U.S. and tell the truth about what’s going on,” Eberle said.
In Villa Clara province brigade members visited Yaguajay Oct. 6, site of a decisive battle against the military forces of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in December 1958. The town was hard hit by Irma, but less than a month later houses were repaired or being rebuilt and streets were clear of debris.
Revolutionary Civil Defense system
A panel at Sancti Spiritus University the next day took up Cuba’s revolutionary Civil Defense system, responsible for mobilizing the government and the people to meet threats like Hurricane Irma. Speakers explained how the revolution’s values guide evacuation and recovery work. Many brigade members commented on the sharp contrast with Washington’s contempt for hurricane victims, from Texas and Florida to its colony in Puerto Rico.
For the first time in Cuba’s history, the entire national power grid went down, but teams of electricians from across the island were stationed in the central provinces to be ready to re-establish power as soon as the storm subsided.
Students and professors suspended classes to go to Yaguajay, said Luis Ernesto Cabellos, president of the Federation of University Students at Villa Clara University. “We joined in cleaning houses and neighborhoods, clearing trees, bringing belongings home. Then we helped decorate the communities.”
With characteristic internationalism, the Cuban government simultaneously sent electrical and health brigades to Martinique, Dominica, Antigua and Haiti, and offered to do the same for Puerto Rico. Washington didn’t accept the offer.
“What you have done in Cuba is so different from how the U.S. government has abandoned the people hit by the hurricanes,” said Milly Guzmán, a Puerto Rican brigadista from Hartford, Connecticut. “On behalf of the people of Puerto Rico, we thank you!”
Brigade members heard a panel on the legacy of Guevara Oct. 2 that included economist Orlando Borrego, Brig. Gen. Enrique Acevedo and Luis Gálvez, director of the Cuban Institute for Research on Sugar Cane Derivatives. All three had fought alongside and worked with Guevara in the revolution’s early years.
Borrego worked closely with Guevara when he headed Cuba’s Ministry of Industry, one of Guevara’s many central leadership responsibilities. Borrego recalled how Che rejected the economic policies of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, which he said were leading toward capitalism, not socialism. Che insisted that factory workers themselves could run industry as they gained consciousness and confidence implementing their revolution.
When the state, with the intervention of the workers, nationalized several hundred companies and needed new managers, Borrego recalled, “Che proposed that teenagers currently acting as literacy teachers in the Sierra Maestra mountains be assigned to take the management posts,” arguing they were imbued with revolutionary values and could quickly learn the technology.
Near the town of Pedrero in the Escambray Mountains, brigadistas met members of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution. They described how under Guevara’s leadership they were able to defeat Batista’s troops, leading to the decisive victory of the revolutionary forces at the Battle of Santa Clara. Batista fled the country Jan. 1, 1959.
“We had less than 300 men, the dictatorship had thousands,” said Tomás Sánchez Fernández, 80. “But we had a reason to fight hard.”
Sánchez thanked the brigadistas for the work they do. “We’ve had a struggle against imperialism, and we appreciate your struggles. We’re fighting for the liberation of the Americas!”
At an international solidarity meeting a few days later, Jack Buema, a brigadista from Zambia, said that many doctors there are Cuban volunteers. But most Zambians don’t know about the Cuban Revolution, and think of Che Guevara as an apolitical icon or kind of a rock star. “Now we can explain the revolution and who Che was,” he said.
“All out Nov. 1!” read a banner held by U.S. delegates at international night in the camp Oct. 13, encouraging brigadistas to build protests the day the U.N. General Assembly votes on a resolution to condemn Washington’s decadeslong economic war on Cuba. Simultaneous actions will take place across the U.S. and in other countries (see ad this page).
“The U.S. government’s economic war against Cuba continues, including their occupation of Guantánamo,” James Harris, a member of the Washington, D.C., Metro Coalition and of the Socialist Workers Party, told the solidarity meeting. “We can all work together to protest this when we return to our countries.” On Oct. 23 Cuba Solidarity in Albany, New York, organized a reportback on the brigade. Ray Parsons, Milly Guzmán and Tim Craine spoke of their experiences and the contrast between how the hurricane was met in revolutionary Cuba and Washington’s colony in Puerto Rico.
“We are organizing a Nov. 8 Twin Cities meeting,” Ash Eberle told the Militant, “and we’ll begin fundraising for the May Day brigade next year.”
Protest US economic war against Cuban Revolution!
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Oscar López: ‘Cuba gives us best example of resistance’
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