My name is Micaela Tracey-Ramos, and I am a UNISON activist in Wirral Branch, and I am Co-Chair of UNISON Northwest Young Workers. I was one of the UNISON delegates that went to Cuba as one of the 32 young trade unionists that went on the May Day International Solidarity Brigade. This experience was completely life changing and energised me to organise in Britain, not only in my union and workplace but against the illegal and inhumane blockade of Cuba.
The Inhumane US Blockade
The US blockade is a collection of US legislation which restricts Cuba’s ability to have trade and normal relations with the US, and in a lot of cases trade with other countries worldwide. When we were in Cuba we saw and learnt about many of the negative and inhumane effects that the US blockade had on the country including the effects that is has to basic provisions, health, education, and sports. The Blockade had a detrimental effect on the people of Cuba particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic where they struggled to access the equipment and at one point oxygen to tackle and treat sick patients during the pandemic. However, despite the blockade and the attempts from the US to crush Cuban socialism, the resolve of the Cuban people is strong, and people want to protect Cuban sovereignty from the US.
Campamento Internacional Julio Antonio Mella
For our first week in Cuba we stayed on the Campamento Internacional Julio Antonio Mella- Institute Cuban of Friendship with the people- which is an International Camp which was founded in 1972 situated in Artemisa and around 45 minutes away from Havana. The camp was founded as a place where international visitors came to understand the Cuban reality and in solidarity with Cuba. It was given the name Julio Antonio Mella named after a 26 year old who founded the Cuban Communist Party and was assassinated. On our first day at the camp, we laid flowers at his memorial to pay our respects and planted a tree.
Meetings at the Camp
We had several important talks and meetings whilst we were staying at the camp. On our first day, we had talks from various speakers about the US blockade and we had the president of ICAP (The Cuban Friendship between the Peoples Institute) Fernando Gonzale Llort who is one of the Miami 5 Heroes, who spent 14 years in US prisons for defending his country. It was inspiring to hear from him. He presented the British Cuba Solidarity Campaign with an award for the years of solidarity and activism in Solidarity with Cuba.
Another day we had talk from Gerardo Hdez. Nordelo who is national president of the CDR’s (Committees for the Defence of the Revolution) which are local community committees which defend the revolutionary project in the barrios and communities. On the same panel we had Diana Castillo, National organiser for the Union de Jovenes Comunistas (Young Communist League - YCL) and the first secretary of Artemisa CTC (Federation of Cuban Workers), Barbara. After we heard from the panel, we split off into three smaller groups- I chose to go and listen to Diana from the YCL. Here we got to ask questions about how the organisation and how they organise. I personally found this talk very inspiring about how young Cubans are continuing the revolution in Cuba and the work that revolutionary young people are doing for their communities and for the revolution. The YCL also played a significant role in delivering food to those who needed it during the pandemic.
Agricultural Work and Cooperatives
Whilst we were staying in the camp, we undertook agricultural work in the morning. This was work that needed to be done but also a symbolic gesture of our solidarity and friendship with our hosts. We did everything from raking the camp, weeding Yukas to collecting coconuts. The farm that I went to was a cooperative and once wages were paid, the profit was redistributed amongst all of the workers.
The Day before May Day we went to Labiofam a state-run business that produces creams and medication. They put on a show of singers and musicians for the union members ahead of May Day and kindly invited us to attend. The show was fantastic, and the atmosphere was celebratory and energetic. Imagine if our Union meetings could be like this!
May Day was the highlight of the trip. I felt so energised and inspired watching the May Day brigade with comrades from all around the world and seeing 1 million march people in Havana, the first May Day march since the Pandemic and over 5 million Cubans marching in the country. What stuck with me whilst I was in Cuba was how they value and respect their workers. May Day unlike other countries wasn’t a protest, it was a celebration of workers. There was a commentary the entire time going through all of the different unions and sectors and thanking the workers as they walked past the president and Raul Castro Ruz. The healthcare workers led the march and the end of the march ended with the students and young communists. I really can’t put into words how amazing it was to see workers all being celebrated and thanked for their efforts and is a huge contrast to Britain. It is truly an experience that I believe everyone should experience.
The day after May Day we attended a solidarity conference where delegates came from all over the world. There were talks on Cuba’s economy, the pandemic and Imperialism. The president was in attendance, and it was an important and inspiring conference. At the conference the director of the Cuba solidarity campaign Rob Miller was given the presidential order of solidarity for 40 years of activism and solidarity with Cuba. Very few people have been given this honour in Britain- so we were all very proud to witness this.
There was then a closing address by the President which laid out the challenges that faced Cuba to come and the global challenges that we face worldwide but also the achievements of Cuba over an exceptionally difficult time- post pandemic.
After May Day we travelled to Santa Clara- where Che Guevara’s remains lay. This was also where Che won the decisive battle of the revolution.
We visited the site of the armoured train- where Che and the rebels derailed a train full of Batista’s Officers and a considerable amount of weaponry- which was a bonus to revolutionary forces. This was a tipping point of the revolution and clear that after this victory, rebel leaders were heading towards Havana to take over the government.
Santiago de Cuba
After a long journey across the island, we reached Santiago de Cuba. Santiago de Cuba was where the 26 of July movement was founded and where Fidel Castro, Cuba’s national hero Josí Marti and revolutionary hero Frank País were laid to rest. This city was incredibly important during the revolution and where the initial assault on the on the Moncada Barracks by a small group of rebels, led by Fidel Castro took place. This attack- although unsuccessful- was the start of a strong revolutionary alliance and instrumental in the role and success of the Cuban revolution.
While we were in Santiago de Cuba, we visited Santa Ifgenia Cemetery and paid our respects to Fidel Castro and Cuba’s revolutionary heroes.
We then went to a neighbourhood organisation that taught dance and music to disabled children. The children and young adults performed to us and we then spent time dancing and enjoying some drinks.
In the evening we were invited to spend time with a local CDR (Committee for the Defence of the Revolution). This was a great evening where we got to know the local neighbourhood, share our message of solidary and dance!
The lessons I have taken away from this experience
Truly, this trip has been transformative for me. Being able to witness with my own eyes a society free from consumerisation, a society where people are looked after, where healthcare is free to the point of use, where housing is a right, workers are respected, and people have a democratic say in their own lives was incredible.
It has also shown me first hand the effects of the US blockade on the country and how it impacts Cuban’s infrastructure and access to basic provisions and its economy. However- I’ve also been lucky to witness the resolve and strength of the Cuban people in overcoming these challenges and continuing the revolution.
The president said to us at the solidarity conference which I felt was quite fitting was- the reason that Cuba has been able to survive as a country despite the years of cruel and inhumane blockade and the challenges of surviving under siege has been because of socialism.
It has motivated me in Britain to organise against the illegal blockade and against US imperialism worldwide and given me the hope and motivation to organise in my union and in my workplace. I also believe that it is my duty to tell the real account of the Cuban reality far and wide- especially given that over $1 billion are spent on media campaigns against Cuba and against depicting the Cuban reality.
Action for your branch.
A small gesture of our solidarity internationally would be if our branches were to all affiliate to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. You can affiliate here: https://cuba-solidarity.org.uk/get-involved/affiliate/ It is £40 a year- a small amount of money to pay but a show of our solidarity as trade unionists towards support the campaign to end the US blockade.
You can also sign up as an individual and support the campaign here: https://cuba-solidarity.org.uk/get-involved/join/.
I’ve really scratched the surface on what I experienced while in Cuba. If you would like to ask me any questions about my experience or you would like a speaker for your next branch meeting please email me at [email protected].
‘Solidarity is sharing what you have, not what you have left.’