Sunday, 21 October 2007

Spotlight on the Cuban experience

Sometimes I have good news to report. On 20th October – which is Cuba’s national day - I attended a prestigious event at Clwyd Theatre in Flintshire celebrating 25 years of solidarity between Cuba and Wales (Cymru Cuba).

“We’re proud that the Welsh Assembly has official government links with Cuba,” emphasised MP Elfyn Llwyd, highlighting the memorandum of understanding for cooperation in higher education, which has been developed by Welsh Minister for Education Jane Davidson in collaboration with Silvia Nogales, First Secretary of the Cuban embassy.

In contrast, explained Rob Miller, Director of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, our UK central government still does not have normalised relations with Cuba. Trade amounts to less than £4 million a year, despite assurances of “supporting open communications with Cuba rather than using an isolationist approach to influencing change” (Angela Smith). The impact on the Cuban people of the 40-year old US economic blockade continues to be officially ignored. In addition, international banks and other companies operating in Britain have been forced by the US to stop trading with Cuba – an act which both contravenes UK law and compromises our own sovereignty.

In spite of negative images of Cuba in the media, over 100,000 British tourists visit the island annually - not counting exchange visits, study tours and delegations of parliamentarians, trade unionists, academics and others. What do they find there? “People like us,” says Tyrone O’Sullivan, ex-miner chair of the worker-owned Tower Colliery in south Wales, “hard-working, good-natured, good at fixing things. Cuba still remains the example of what can be achieved by putting people first, of how ordinary people can change their own destiny.”

In summer of 2006 I got a little frustrated with the press coverage about Castro and wrote an article, archived on the Cynefin Y Werin (Wales Common Ground) website, called Cuba Sí: Let’s dream the impossible which began:

‘Cuba seems to be easy target practice for journalists these days: Fidel is dying, the revolutionary ideal is dead, communism is rotten and the vultures are circling. Soon the US will overrun the island, capitalism will be reinstated and the paradox which is Cuba will finally be resolved.’

Well, according to the speakers at Theatr Clwyd - and as I predicted - none of that has happened yet.

But what do the rest of us have to learn from the Cuban experience?

On October 10th London Metropolitan University saw the successful launch of the new International Institute for the Study of Cuba (IISC). At a time when Cuba is certainly facing a period of change, the IISC aims to provide an in-depth objective appraisal of the ‘social experience’ and to examine its holistic approach to development, particularly in the fields of education and health. IISC executive director, Professor Patrick Pietroni, former Dean of General Practice, who started mobilising resources for the institute just over a year ago, describes to me how ‘academics, managers and scientists in Cuba all seem to have an understanding of the social dimension of their work; an ability to link the macro to the micro and vice versa.’

The online, open-access International Journal of Cuban Studies - first issue due out in spring 2008 - will publish scholarly work on Cuba (and related topics) in all disciplines including science and medicine. So here’s the opportunity to develop some interesting ideas, for example: If the Cuban approach to development had been used in Africa rather than the World Bank model, would the continent be in much better shape? How is a caring holistic approach to housekeeping feasible when prevailing wisdom tells us that only market-oriented policies can bring prosperity? And how to explain the apparent contradiction that women are highly educated, economically independent and equally involved in community decision-making in Cuba, but not in so-called democracies like Mali?

His Excellency René Mujica Cantelar, Cuban ambassador to Britain, concluded his speech at Theatr Clwyd:
'We all need to address the issues of war, poverty, ecological disaster facing the world today, but it is not through weapons or market forces that we will overcome these challenges: it is through cooperation and solidarity.'

Read Cuba Sí. Let’s dream the impossible

Also read about the Caring Economy in Venezuela

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