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Interview with traveler to Cuba: ‘It was like no other place we’ve ever been’

Interview by staff |
January 3, 2016
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Fight Back! interviews Jeff Westberry, who recently traveled to Cuba to participated in Fourth International Seminar of the World Peace Council.

Fight Back!: The Anti-War Committee Chicago recently put together a fundraiser to send activists to Cuba, could you please explain the purpose of the trip?

Westberry: Certainly. We went in order to attend the Fourth International Seminar of the World Peace Council. The theme this year emphasized the need to put pressure on the U.S. to close Guantanamo Bay and to assist in the political tasks of normalization of relations.

Fight Back!: Who else was in attendance?

Westberry: Three of us from Anti-War Committee Chicago as part of the United National Antiwar Committee, about 100 other Americans and 300 others from around the world, including Mexico, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Palestine, Tunisia, Colombia, Germany, Japan and many other countries.

The conference was overseen by World Peace Council President Socorro Gomes and General Secretary Thanassis Pafilis, also in attendance were officials representing the Provincial People’s Power Assembly of Guantanamo province and Jose Ramon Balaguer Cabrera, head of the foreign relations Department of the Cuban Communist Party.

Fight Back!: So what was the first thing you noticed about the country?

Westberry: When we arrived in Havana, the very first thing we noticed was the patriotism and the hope the Cuban people have for the future.

Cuba is not like the rest of Latin America. In 1959 they won their independence from the U.S. and this revolution has been an integral part of the culture ever since. Instead of pushing products, billboards will ‘advertise’ for socialism! Che Guevara is easily the most common image of a personality on the island, the Cubans are so proud of their revolutionary history, it was like no other place we’ve ever been.

Fight Back!: Do you think the Cuban youth support their revolution?

Westberry: Like I said, there is a lot of hope for the future in Cuba that doesn’t exist in the rest of the Americas. Young people are able to attend primary school to university for free, to receive free health care and to be guaranteed a place to live. Cuban people we talked to sometimes admitted to being curious about life in the capitalist world, but were quick to head back to Cuba when they realized their family in Miami neglected to mention homeless people and for-profit healthcare!

Fight Back!: Do you think there is a possibility that the restoration of diplomatic relations with the U.S. will reverse the socialist revolution?

Westberry: No, no, no. I understand some progressives hold the position that the Cubans are compromising their revolutionary principles, so I’m just going to take a minute to go over how absurd that is.

The Cubans have been demanding normal relations with the U.S. since the 1959 revolution, to finally allow for the re-opening of embassies and at the same time have the Cuban Five returned to the island is a huge victory and shows that the U.S. is negotiating from a weak international position, not a position of strength.

Further, with normalization underway it will be a better situation for pushing for further demands, such as the lifting of the U.S. blockade, which I hope to see in our near future.

Cubans are not going to see our health care system and want to emulate it, if anything the increased numbers of American visitors to the island will leave them asking questions like: “Why do we still have corporate healthcare in the U.S.? Why do we still have homeless people in the U.S.?”

Ultimately the normalization of relations holds fewer possibilities for imperialism than progressive humanity.

Fight Back!: What is the most important thing progressives need to know about Cuba?

Westberry: International solidarity is some of the most important work you can be doing right now. There were 100 Americans on the trip, but next time we would like even more.

We need to take our people’s movements further and make anti-imperialism a core principle of our movement against war, this is the way to lasting peace and this is what will end the military stranglehold on Cuba.

Fight Back!: Could you explain a little about what International solidarity looks like concretely?

Westberry: We should first of all echo the demands being put forward by our Cuban comrades since the process of normalization began: First, the U.S. should abandon the military base in Guantanamo Province; second, the U.S. should abandon the blockade; third, the U.S. should abandon any attempts at anti-socialist agitation on the island and finally, the U.S. should pay reparations to the Cuban people for the economic damage caused by the embargo.

Being positioned as we are, in the U.S., it is important to organize actions around the specific demands being pushed by the Cubans. For instance, we should support and build the demonstrations which take place in Miami to support the Cuban demand to abandon Guantanamo base.

These are concrete examples of international solidarity, and like the campaign to free the Five, I expect we will see tangible results very soon.