BY LAURA GARZA
"I think it's an exciting opportunity to meet Cubans - and this becomes an act of solidarity," said Leslie Cagan, describing the plans for U.S. participation in an international youth festival to be held in Cuba August 1-7. Cagan is one of four national coordinators of the National Network on Cuba (NNOC), which groups more than 70 organizations working to oppose the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
The "Cuba Lives" International Youth Festival was called by several groups in Cuba who issued a public invitation to anyone opposed to the U.S. government's hostile policy against Cuba to participate in the event. The festival, Cagan added, "is also an opportunity to meet young people from all over the world."
In a number of areas local committees that campaign against the U.S. embargo have begun plans to sign people up for the festival. Some of those planning to attend will be writing articles for papers or newsletters and are working on confirming assignments from local media.
Twenty-three sign up in Boston
Twenty-three people have signed up to go to Cuba from Boston. They include high school and university students, one worker from a textile mill, and others involved in Cuba solidarity activities.
"An invitation was extended to us by Kenia Serrano Puig-Since then we have done everything possible to organize a group that would travel to Cuba," explains a letter sent out by a group of students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. Serrano, a leader of the Federation of University Students in Cuba, spoke at the high school while on a recent tour of the United States. There are seven students from the school confirmed to attend the festival.
"In these crucial times, we feel that it is very important for young people to learn about Cuba in the context of the US embargo," their letter explains. "Finally visiting Cuba would enable us to compare different models of development, by looking at alternative strategies and methods. We feel in today's shrinking world it is vital for us to be able to make judgments and decisions based on what we ourselves see and learn."
On June 2, a fund-raising dance featuring local bands will be held to raise money to ensure that those who are in need of financial assistance can make the trip. Other events will include a benefit performance by Teatro Latino, and a brunch. Ingrid LeClerc, a central organizer for the delegation and a member of the July 26 Coalition, explained it is "important that youth have an alternative view and alternative experience. This festival will empower youth politically and culturally." She hopes to sign up 100 people from New England.
A unique opportunity
"The festival is a unique opportunity because people will spend half the week out of Havana and in one of the provinces. That's important. To get a feel for life in Cuba you need to do both, you need to visit the provinces where life is different," explained Cagan. Several provinces will host meetings to discuss a particular theme such as employment, education and childhood, and the environment.
"This is an important gathering and I encourage people to go and then come home ready to do a lot of work," to oppose U.S. policy towards Cuba, Cagan said.
A brochure inviting people to the festival has been sent out all over the world listing the program for the festival. Among the activities planned is a "March against the blockade" and a concert in Havana on Saturday, August 5.
In Los Angeles, activists in the L.A. Coalition in Solidarity with Cuba are working to broaden participation in the festival, and already about a dozen people are planning to attend. A recent event organized by the coalition showed the interest in Cuba and gave a boost to their efforts. More than 150 supporters of the Cuban revolution attended a May 19 event in celebration of the life and struggles of José Martí, the Cuban patriot killed in battle against Spanish colonial forces 100 years ago.
During the event, several participants signed up with the coalition to be a part of the delegation. Recently, the Los Angeles Coalition in Solidarity with Cuba formed a subcommittee to organize participation in the August Cuba Lives festival.
The May 19 event was sponsored by the coalition and was planned as part of an international day of solidarity with the Cuban revolution organized by the National Network on Cuba.
Cuban journalist Carlos Sario read some of Martí's poetry. Bill Estrada, a member of the Young Socialists, gave a presentation on the life and struggle of Martí. Other speakers included Rafael Mariano, chairperson of the Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP); Viviana Trujillo, a student at the University of California-Los Angeles who is planning to attend the festival this August; Manuel Criollo, president of the Student Organization of Latinos at Los Angeles City College; and Carlos Ugalde, a professor at Glendale Community College.
Events commemorating the life of Martí were organized by local groups in solidarity with Cuba in a number of cities, including San Francisco where 200 people turned out to hear the featured speaker, Manuel Nuñez, deputy chief at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.
Contributing to this article were: Karen Ray from Boston,
Laura Anderson from Los Angeles, and Eugene Craig from San
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