Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cuba 09 - July 25th

today's the day before the anniversary of the battle that marks the beginning of the cuban revolution. apparently it was not a successful battle for the revolutionaries, but it did galvanize the movement. january 1st is the official anniversary, for cubans. the chiapas zapatistas also sparked their revolution on new year's day, in the year of the nafta.

during the afternoon, yesterday, we were bussed to a theatre to witness the premiere screening of the documentary film that filmmakers catherine and america, who joined us last year in mcallen, were working on. it's titled 'people to people: pueblo a pueblo and the producer, consuela, a cuban woman produced the film with financial assistance from her government and icap (the instituto cubano para amistad con los pueblos - icap, an organization established to nurture friendship with foreign organizations). although consuela's team has been working on the film for many years, and there was a definite historical story told about the pastors for peace friendshipment caravans, there was a lot of film footage from last year in mcallen and shutting the border and crossing the border and loading the shipping containers in tampico.

lucius, the founders of pastors for peace, was celebrated a lot yesterday. he was given a bouquet of flowers at the film opening. he was on stage at the graduation ceremonies for the latin america school of medicine (we were invited to attend those after the film screening). and he was also invited to speak at the william carey centre celebrations last night.

for me, yesterday was exhausting. finally, the body wins. it's simply not possible for humans to continue without sleep endlessly, so i had to surrender last night and i missed out on some of the welcoming party. we were a little off schedule, dinner was a bit late, and i was washing some stuff in the sink and getting prepared for our adventure to the provinces while some lovely young people were singing on the outdoor stage. i assumed there'd be lots more such music through the night, since the folks staying at the martin luther king jr. weren't there yet, but as darkness fell the program proceeded with various speakers and music dispersed throughout and, as the president of the national assembly, ricardo alarcon, spoke ..... i just couldn't stay awake and quietly removed myself to my room and i'm sure i fell asleep even before my head hit the pillow.

i know we were told to do all we can to stay awake at all events, regardless of how tired we might be, but last night i reached a point where it simply wasn't possible. i really was interested in hearing about the cuban five, impressed that such a high ranking government official cares enough about political prisoners to actually tell the story so emphatically, to impress upon us the significance of their plight and to encourage us to do all we can to convince the usa government to set them free. now. i listened intently for about 20 minutes. (cubans seem to have much longer attention spans than the average north american and are, no doubt, inspired by fidel's lengthy sharing). this morning i joked with my companeros that there's something about politicians, even cuban ones, that put me to sleep. i would have stayed and listened if i could have, really i would have, but last night my body won. i slept, and now i feel great.

we're at the icap centre, listening to a representative speak about the history of cuban/american relations prior to departing for the provinces. i've managed to set myself up on a little table near a plug in, and diana is holding onto my recording device so i can record and write and listen. at this moment the icap representative is talking about guantanamo, that there's talk about the usa closing guantanamo prison but keeping the land. this does not serve cuba's sovereignty. she's making it clear that she does not feel animosity towards the united states citizens, she's lived there and has friends there, but she's not all that thrilled (to say the least) with the bullshit and propaganda about cuba, and the usa inspired blockade that messes up cuban trade opportunities with all other nations.

as the icap employees poured bottled water into little plastic glasses for us, honoured guests, i asked our representative to clarify the procedure by which cubans can travel to other nations. for example, i said, one of my raging granny friends (and i mentioned that only so it'd be clear this didn't come from some right wing lunatic) who works for peace and justice, she has a granddaughter and a son in law here. prior to leaving she told me how difficult it was, dealing with the cuban government, to bring her granddaughter to canada for a visit. an invitation was required from the cuban government, and then a bunch of paperwork and a lot of money. our rep was quick to defend her government's policy, perhaps because criticism is still, even after 50 years, not particularly encouraged, and attempted to turn the question around and blame the canadian government for the travel troubles. sure, our government is goofy right now, there's no doubt, but it still bothers me that cubans are not able to travel unless they have an invitation. how's the average cuban supposed to get an invitation? our representative is very informative, very passionate, but earlier, when asked about foreign investment and our concerns that cuba will become just like everywhere else, nothing's off the table, she said, from the cuban perspective regarding the normalization of cuban/american relations. there's nothing the cuban government won't talk about with the american government, there are no restrictions. let's build a walmart, she suggested, and then see how the cuban people feel about it. "hey, i like walmart," she said.

maybe next new year's, in 2010, as the world begins to witness (if they pay attention and check the interweb) the massive movement against the philosophically misaligned corporate olympic disaster that will be imposed on the people of british columbia (the theft and destruction of wilderness, the further colonization and division of indigenous cultures, the privatization of public services, the increasing homelessness etc ...) maybe next year we can begin a new, peaceful and non-violent peoples' revolution, without walmart, in our home on native land.