BY JOE YOUNG
MONTREAL - During the first week of their speaking tour in Canada that started on November 1, two young Cubans, Juan Carlos Frómeta and Raiza Rodríguez, met with more than 200 students at five meetings on campuses in Montreal. In addition they addressed about 50 delegates at the regular monthly meeting of the Montreal council of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) and met with a group of eight garment workers.
On November 7, Frómeta and Rodríguez spoke to a public meeting of 50 in Quebec City. And on November 9-10, they visited Drummondville, one hour east of Montreal, where they addressed a meeting of 60 at the city college and spoke to 80 students at the Marie-Rivier High School.
Juan Carlos Frómeta de la Rosa, 31, is the coordinator of the Americas section of the Union of Young Communists (UJC). Raíza Rodríguez González, 22, is a member of the National Secretariat of the Federation of University Students (FEU) and a graduate student of sociology at the University of Havana. Their tour in Canada is organized by the Montreal-based Cuban Youth Tour Committee. The Quebec leg of the visit was endorsed by a broad range of student, trade union, solidarity, and other organizations, including the Quebec University Student Federation and the Quebec College Student Federation.
In their opening presentations Frómeta and Rodríguez explained the crisis that was provoked in Cuba by the loss of trade on favorable terms with Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union. She outlined measures the revolutionary government has taken to confront shortages and boost production of industrial and agricultural goods that fell sharply in the early 1990s.
Sixty students attended an event at Edouard Montpetit College in Longueuil near Montreal. It was sponsored by the college student association, the Political Action Committee, the student newspaper Le Mot-Dit, and the teachers' trade union. A Cuban lunch was served after the meeting by the Student Committee of International Solidarity, which allowed participants to continue discussing with the two Cuban guests.
During the meeting, several participants asked about the importance of Ernesto Che Guevara for Cuban youth. Born in Argentina, Guevara joined the Rebel Army that led the successful war of liberation against the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba and became a central leader of the revolution. He held a number of important posts in the revolutionary government until 1965 before leaving Cuba to continue the revolutionary struggle first in the Congo and then Bolivia, where he was murdered by the Bolivian army in consultation with Washington after being wounded and captured in combat in 1967.
"We try to internationalize the image of Che for the youth of the world so that they can know someone who didn't just think of his country but also of ours," Rodríguez said.
At the Quebec City meeting, Rodríguez said this was her first trip outside of Cuba and that "for me this is an international mission." This event was organized by the Quebec- Cuba Friendship Association and supported by the local CSN, the student mobilization committees of St. Foy and Limoilou colleges, the Young Socialists, and others.
A recurring question was on the impact of some of the economic steps that Cuba has had to take given the collapse of trade, in particular on tourism. At Edouard Montpetit College, Frómeta said that Cuba has put a lot of emphasis in the development of tourism to get foreign currency, which is used by the government for importing medicines, oil, and other goods for social needs. "Tourism has had some very serious consequences," he stated. "A part of the population has tried to resolve their problems without working hard." Those who have access to foreign currency through tips at the hotels, remittances from relatives abroad, or other means have a much higher standard of living than many Cubans. "There is a minority who no longer have confidence in the revolutionary process. The economic crisis has given rise to social inequalities."
The UJC and other mass organizations are leading campaigns to politically counter the effects of the penetration of the capitalist market in Cuba. "We have succeeded in that the majority of workers in tourism give a part of their tips for social activities," Frómeta said at the University of Montreal meeting. "In this way we raised more than a million dollars for the fight against cancer." Consciousness that collective solutions benefit society, rather than profit for the individual, is raised in the process.
At the University of Montreal meeting, which was attended by 45 students, one participant asked about discrimination toward women and gays. "On the institutional level there is no discrimination on the basis of sex," Frómeta replied. "But prejudices persist in society. Our goal is to eliminate these prejudices." In reference to a Cuban film that dealt candidly with antigay prejudices, Strawberries and Chocolate, he remarked, "At the beginning of the revolution we committed a lot of errors concerning attitudes toward homosexuals. The film was made in this context. Some people thought that homosexuals had ideological problems. It was an error of the social process."
From Drummondville, the tour will continue to Toronto and London, Ontario, and then on to Vancouver, British Columbia. For more information call the Cuban Youth Tour in Montreal at (514) 938-1480.
Joe Young is a member of the United Steelworkers of America and of the Cuban Youth Tour Committee in Montreal.
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