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Issue #1674      February 25, 2015

Statement of the 32nd Solidarity Brigade from Australia and New Zealand

The economic blockade of Cuba was imposed by the USA in 1962. The brigade ran from December 28, 2014 to January 20, 2015 participating in an extensive program of events and activities organised by the Cuban Institute of Friendship (ICAP).

Solidarity: The Australian/NZ Brigade in Cuba.

There were 18 Brigade members aged from 24 to 77 from a diverse range of backgrounds and many different parts of Australia and New Zealand.

At the Julio Antonio Mella Camp the group participated in voluntary work in the camp and at a nearby farmer’s cooperative where we planted a field of tomatoes. We were impressed by the assistance provided to us by workers at the camp, ICAP staff, interpreters, medical staff and drivers who went out of their way to assist us.

In the days leading up to the arrival of the brigade in Cuba, on the December 17, 2014 US President Barack Obama announced that the US was changing its course on Cuba and as part of this change there was an exchange of prisoners between the US and Cuba. This resulted in the release of the last three of the Cuban 5; Gerardo, Antonio and Ramon in exchange for Alan Gross and another Cuban-American spy.

The release of the Cuban 5 came about in part as a result of a persistent and sustained campaign of international solidarity with Cuba, of which the Australia and New Zealand Friendship Association contributed by publishing their story and organising petitions, functions, writing letters to the Cuban 5 and protests outside the US consulate office, since their imprisonment and subsequent trial in Miami from 1998 to 2014.

With the release of the Cuban 5 the brigade then came to Cuba to celebrate their freedom. And we had the privilege to have an address by Fernando Gonzalez and he spoke of his experiences and we were inspired by his great courage after his 16 years ordeal. However with the iron fist in a velvet glove approach foreshadowed by the speech of the US President, Cuba and friends of Cuba all over the world know that their work is not over.

The first talks between Cuba and US government officials took place in Havana on January 21, 2015, and it is important for the world that the example of the Cuban Revolution and Cuban Socialism continue to shine brightly as a beacon of peace, justice and freedom throughout the world.

The 32 Brigade Cruz del Sur was able to acquire an appreciation of Cuban culture, society and economy through the excellent program organised by ICAP, through its main office in Havana. However a special mention must be extended to the ICAP office in Cienfuegos led by Eugenio and Reinaldo and their provincial government. In Cienfuegos we had comprehensive and extensive access to Cuban life.

We had a meeting with senior officials of the Cienfuegos Provincial Assembly of Peoples Power; we also visited a “committee for the defence of the revolution” and we had a street party. We visited the refinery “Camilo Cienfuegos” and the Vilma Espin “Escuela Especial de Atencion al Autismo” one of five special schools in the country. We learnt at the Policlinic, not only about the excellent health care system but also the effects of the US blockade, on how cruel it can be. eg children dying of cancer unable to be treated.

The Brigade had a meeting with the general secretary of the Federation of Cuban Women in Cienfuegos; one of the achievements of Cuba has been the overcoming of sexism and machismo. Also we met with representatives of the Federation of University Students and the Young Communist League.

We were also treated to a special expression of Cuban art, culture and entertainment from the Cuban National Ballet, (with the special appearance from the director Alicia Alonso; Club Tropicana and a performance by the Cuban youth from the Benny More Art School in Cienfuegos.

At Santa Clara ICAP Miguel and Iris organised a visit by foreign students from Medical and Engineering Universities from countries like Sri Lanka, Angola, South Africa, Palestine, Nicaragua, Argentina. We also visited the Che Memorial and laid flowers there. We spoke with combatants of the Cuban Revolution who fought with Che and Fidel and shared their experiences with us.

In addition the brigade had the unique opportunity to learn about the electoral process and democracy in Cuba from one of its elected members to the National Assembly, professor Miguel Enrique Chamonet of Caimito.

Finally Cuba is a special country on the world stage which has a social system where human well-being is placed before profit. Which is a shining example to the rest of the world.

The 32nd Brigade demands the end of the US economic blockade, closure of Guantanamo Base and return of the occupied area to Cuba and the removal of Cuba from the list of terrorist sponsors.

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