Peace, Racial Equality and the US Embargo of Cuba

Bob Brown and Robin J. Hayes facilitated a Convergence Assembly at the 2013 World Social Forum in Tunis, Tunisia

Bob Brown and Robin J. Hayes facilitated a Convergence Assembly at the 2013 World Social Forum in Tunis, Tunisia

On our last day at the World Social Forum, we co-hosted a Convergence Assembly with PanAfrican Roots, the Cuban Institute for Friendship Among the Peoples (ICAP), the African Awareness Association and InterOccupy. The goal of the Convergence Assemblies is to create specific calls to action and find ways for communities from all over the world to build solidarity around issues that affect us as a group. Essentially, they allow for World Social Forum participants to digest the conversations, information and excitement of the last three days into concrete plans they can take home with them and implement.

We were excited to be a part of this aspect of the Forum because it gave us the opportunity to share the activism that is currently happening in the United States against the US embargo of Cuba as well as to promote an international conversation about the impact of US foreign policy on Black people around the world. The assembly offered us a unique opportunity to share parts of the film Black and Cuba with an international audience and gain their input. Bob Brown, formerly of the Black Panther Party and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, gave an informative, engaging presentation about PanAfrican activism.  We were thrilled to have a full house with representatives from Belgium, Cuba, Egypt, Canada, Kenya, the United States, Palestine, Tunisia, Germany, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Algeria and France.

We started the conversation with a discussion of the anti-embargo movement’s goals:

  • End the US embargo of Cuba because it violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the following ways:
    • It compromises Cuba’s right to sovereignty
    • It  violates American citizens the right to travel freely
  • Remove Cuba from the United States’ list of potential terrorist countries, and
  • Free the Cuban Five.

This spawned a dynamic discussion about the impact of the blockade on Cubans and Americans, specifically Black Cubans and Americans. Two representatives of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (CTC)  informed the assembly that Cuba estimates the blockade has cost the country approximately 1 billion dollars over the last fifty years. They understood the embargo to be the number one obstacle of Cuban development.  The blockade, which has an international scope, is  a “policy of punishment” that puts every country and visionary at risk because it violates the sovereignty of independent nations, according to the union representatives.

Robin J. Hayes met with other organizers involved with ending the US embargo of Cuba.

Robin J. Hayes met with other organizers involved with ending the US embargo of Cuba.

This progressed into an important conversation about race and racism. The two Cuban representatives made a distinction between the type of segregation that exists in South Africa and the economic discrimination that exists in the United States from the “social discrimination” they feel is still prevalent in Cuba. Though the policy of racism is illegal in Cuba, the two AfroCubans shared that there is a social stigma that cannot be erased by any official law. They felt that only time would work to eradicate this racism “over generations.”

Many people from other countries chimed in about how racism manifests itself in their cultures. It was interesting to hear from a few Tunisians, who do not identify as Black Tunisians, that they didn’t think racial difference was a large issue in their country. This was a different perspective than we heard from the Black Tunisians we spoke with who said they felt marginalized both socially and politically. The Tunisians who attended the assembly instead talked about discrimination in terms of class and religion. They felt that there needed to be more changes politically – perhaps even another revolution – to address some of the economic inequalities and to create a respectful culture of religious freedom. There were also many calls for PanAfrican unity but also an acknowledgement that racism does not manifest the same way throughout the world. Therefore, the solutions to ending racism will have to be internationally fluid. One activist from Kenya who worked with a Kenyan-Venezuelan solidarity organization summed up his feelings when he asserted there was an African Spring not an Arab Spring, West African struggle or South African revolution. In his opinion, we are all struggling against imperialism as brothers.

Many participants offered information about ongoing challenges to the US embargo of Cuba.  We encourage you to support human rights and get involved.

  1. Participate in the International Campaign to Free the Cuban Five – Begin with attending the “Series of Actions for Cuban 5” event in Washington, DC from May 30-June 5, 2013.
  2. Participate in Travel Challenges that protest travel restrictions between the US and Cuba.  The African Awareness Association is organizing a “Freedom Ride” Educational Travel Challenge featuring a Black History Tour of Cuba this July 2013. For more information email african_awareness_association@yahoo.com. Similarly, the Venceremos Brigade is hosting its 44th travel challenge this July.
  3. Participate in protests of the US embargo of Cuba. IFCO/Pastors for Peace is organizing a Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba this July that will challenge the US embargo with direct action.
  4. Encourage Americans to see Cuba for themselves. The organization Global Exchange offers licensed educational trips that allow Americans to engage in people-to-people exchanges with Cuba.
  5. Participate in the 9th Edition of Anti-Colonialism Week February 14-March 2, 2014. You can find out more information here or at @anticolonial on Twitter.
  6. Get and Stay in Touch.  Progressive Pupil will provide information about community organizing that forges racial justice and opposes the US embargo of Cuba on Facebook and Twitter as well as our blog. Like, follow or subscribe to stay abreast of actions and/or publicize the work in which you are engaged. You can also join our email list by sending any message to friendsofprogressivepupil-subscribe@npogroups.org.
Bob Brown of PanAfrican Roots talked about the importance of building a unifying force that can counter imperialist projects like the US embargo of Cuba.

Bob Brown of PanAfrican Roots talked about the importance of building a unifying force that can counter imperialist projects like the US embargo of Cuba.

We are encouraged that so many people from the international community attended the Peace, Racial Equality and the US Embargo of Cuba convergence assembly and were enthusiastic about solving the issues that are presented in Black and Cuba.  Participants were deeply passionate about the issues raised even if they weren’t from Cuba or the United States. The World Social Forum has shown us that there are so many people dedicated to ending the embargo and working toward racial justice. The activism we’ve witnessed the past four days has been inspiring and motivating. Thank you to everyone who provided positive feedback to us throughout the week. We had a blast in Tunisia and are looking forward to collaborating with all the wonderful people and organizations we have befriended.  Of course, we’ve already started preparing for the 2015 World Social Forum!

by Vedan

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6 Comments

  1. Joanne Bermudez

     /  March 31, 2013

    This is a topic that Americans know very little about, myself included. Their basis of knowledge I think still remains with the whole Bay of Pigs incident for the older people of the bunch; the younger people probably view Cuba as just another Communist country the US does not deal with. But isn’t China also Communist? And yet our economic and foreign policy relations with that country are intact. What exactly is the difference between these two Communist countries? If the US is to lead by example (a lesson we are still trying to learn) in an effort to move forward we should open a dialogue with Cuba to discover mutual goals and discuss how they can be achieved. Holding steadfast to archaic policies has resolved nothing, hurts many people, and serves to create a stagnant environment for both parties. Change is good!

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  2. Wren

     /  April 6, 2013

    Its unfortunate that the Obama administration wasn’t able to end this absurd policy that is laughable to almost every (or is it now Every) country outside our boundaries. My favorite moment of Hilary Clinton’s tenure as US Secretary of State was her night out dancing at a cuban restaurant… http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/hillary-clinton-drinking-colombia_n_1427821.html and I love to think it was symbolic on her part.

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  3. Samantha Erskine

     /  May 2, 2013

    I love the calls for PanAfrican/AfroLatino unity but agree that racism does not manifest the same way throughout the world, so the “solutions” to ending racism will vary internationally. And while the notion of “stigma” seems to cross international borders and generations, it seems more insidious in the United States. Because AfroLatinos in Latin America often self-identity on census forms, as well as socially, based on their national affiliations (e.g., Venezuelen, Cuban, Panamanian), and not on their their race and ethnicity, it seems difficult to build a Pan-AfroLatino movement…especially when people may reject the notion that racial inequality exists – in practice – in their country.

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