Friday, July 18, 2008

Sancti Spiritus - July 10th - understanding the revolution

thursday, july 10, 7:05, sancti spiritus

click here for an audio file with a song from a local choir, and words from revolutionaries who fought alongside che guevara in cuba's socialist revolution.

photos of the visit with the revolutionaries

photos of the cooperative farm collective

it's our last day in the province. everywhere we've gone we've been welcomed as heroes. yesterday we started by visiting a small village in the jungle where there's a memorial to che and those who fell during the revolution. it is one of the places that the revolutionaries stopped on their way to havana. there were four war heroes in attendance, and we had a chance to talk with them after a girls' choir sang.

they said che never left a man on the battlefield to die. if there was only a small amount of medicine, che would insist it be shared among all - enemies and allies alike. they were fighting for a better world, for an end to homelessness and hunger, and they lived their values all along the way. if it weren't for the huge oceanside resorts selling che t-shirts and key chains (we visited two of those today, one built in the 70s and one from the late 90s), one could almost believe that che is still alive today. he was a doctor, after all, and i'm sure that he would be proud of the cuban peoples' accomplishments in health care.

today we also went (our days and nights are very full) to a health clinic in trinidad. it was explained to us that there are doctors in each neighbourhood, usually one for each three cdr's (committees for the defense of the revolution) and those folks keep an eye on everyone in their community. they know who's who, they live in proximity to their patients. if someone requires a service they're unable to provide, they're referred to the local poli-clinic. there's an emergency centre at these places, also strategically located in various neighbourhoods and close to hospitals. they have various x-ray and other equipment - they're obviously impacted by the evil trade embargo - they're clean, with simple beds and small rooms.

across the street from the poli-clinic in trinidad is a building that houses something like what the newly forming victoria community health cooperative is hoping to accomplish. it's one place that people are referred for various alternative treatments - aromatherapy, physiotherapy, massage, herbalists, yoga, etc. if those folks can't help, there are always hospitals available. and it's all 'free,' paid for by the government which, i'm convinced, the people are able to influence - as long as they're in favour of upholding the values of the revolution.

i'm convinced that those who fought and died for the revolution were devoted to creating a better society. bautista's cuba housed the mafia (i've seen the hotel where al capone and the boys hung out, where a bomb was planted not too many years ago in an attempt to terrorize the cuban people into complicity). bautista's cuba had very high illiteracy, high infant mortality, low life expectancy. today, cubans' life expectancy is about 75 years (i don't recall exactly) and their other statistics show an incredible improvement over what was here before. what was here before was a capitalist government, concerned only with itself and its gambling/drinking money-grubbing friends. fidel and che and wilma (raul's wife, who died last year after establishing much for women) and the others were genuinely inspired to try and create a better world for all. sure, one of the old heroes from yesterday, in answer to a question from the caravanistas, said he was young and saw a bunch of people with guns moving towards some kind of exciting event and decided to join in (perhaps not really understanding what he was fighting for until he got involved with the action), but how many kids pick up guns for the excitement of it and discover all it's about is death and murder for the empire? these guys fought and died for something real, something that continues to live and breathe.

though there continue to be problems with economic inequality and housing, i believe che would, for the most part, be pleased that he did not die in vain. the evils of capitalism are slowly taking hold - i don't think che would much appreciate that his image is flogged, in the form of t-shirts and trinkets, in the resort hotels - but, in addition to the health care system which not only looks after its own people but trains and sends doctors from and to economically deprived communities the world over, the cooperative and community agricultural projects are undoubtedly an inspiration for the world. yesterday and today we visited co-ops - yesterday an agricultural cooperative with worm composting and some 60 labourers and three office staff, today a cooperative restaurant that served up another feast. all the food is organic, all the food on the island. since the 'fall' of the soviet union, there are no chemical pesticides and fertilizers. i've tasted some of the yummies fruits and vegetables ever. their insistence on roasting us pigs kinda makes me gag, but there's always rice and beans to keep me going, protein wise.

on the down side, is the way they're approaching tourism. it's like in british columbia where we know people travel from all over the world to hike our ancient forests, to have a real wilderness experience, yet the stupid government continues to approve massive resort 'developments.' i don't really see that they're 'developing' anything, i see them destroying a lot of beautiful wild places. same here. first we went to a massive seaside resort, designed and constructed to mimic the historical sixteenth century town of trinidad (using architects and builders from santa clara in cuba and materials from spain). the excuse was that additional revenue was needed after the collapse of the soviet block - cuba's only real trading partner since america imposed its trade embargo way back in 1961. but the resort was designed and built starting around 1998 - around the same time that the cuban five went to jail, and when elian gonzales was kidnapped) - and completed in, i believe the pr guy said, 2001.

next to the new spanish style hotel is a slightly older hotel, this one built in the 70s. we went swimming at their beach. the people in both hotels were very friendly and welcoming to us, as all the people who've greeted us have been. i doubt that many canadians and americans, except those from activist communites, know about the pastors for peace. here in cuba, in the remotest villages, people smile and nod when we say we're with los pastores de la paz. that's testament not only to the work these folks have done these past 20 years, but also to the distribution network that seems to ensure that people actually get what they need - hopefully. there is still some pretty severe economic disparity here, though nowhere near what we witness north america. caravanista greg said he met an impoverished man who claims to have been a political prisoner. when pressed for details, though, the man didn't offer up anything substantial. greg says he's met three or four of these folks who claim to have been political prisoners, but none of them have given any real good explanations for that. i asked if they've all appeared impoverished, these political prisoners he's encountered, but he said no, that hasn't been a consistent trait. it's tough to get all the pieces of the story without being fluent in the language.