Cuba: Time for real solidarity from the British left

If you’re a British trade unionist or a member of the Labour Party, where might you go to find news about Cuba? An obvious choice is the Morning Star, a newspaper largely funded by trade unions, which regularly runs articles about the island nation. Another is the website of the trade union-backed Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC).

You would learn that in recent weeks Cuba has developed its very own COVID vaccine that is over 90% effective with three doses. You’d also learn that the Biden administration continues with the vicious U.S. embargo, which is one of the reasons why Cuba needs to develop its own medicines. And Cuba famously has a good health care system, a model one in fact.

You’d also learn that the island would be opening an LGBT-friendly hotel for the first time. Its owner is quoted in the Morning Star as saying that the opening of the hotel “is a sign of the evolution of a Cuban society that is making progress in inclusion and support for the rights of historically marginalised groups.” This is of course good news, especially considering that the Communist Party was not always particularly friendly to LGBT people. (That’s putting it politely: for a long time, Cuban leaders like Che Guevara were quite homophobic, and LGBT people were brutally persecuted.)

Those two news stories, and several more about that American blockade, are pretty much the whole story — according to the Morning Star and the CSC.

Neither is reporting the news from Cuba that dominates the pages of the Guardian, the New York Times and pretty much every other mainstream news source this week. And that news is pretty remarkable. One wonders why the campaigners and journalists at what is described as “a lone socialist voice in a sea of corporate media” have missed the story.

And the story is this: for the first time in more than thirty years, ordinary Cubans have poured into the streets to protest government policies.

Demonstrations have taken place all over the island — demonstrations that never happened before, in which young people are playing a leading role. The demonstrators are furious that the Cuban economy is in crisis, that electricity only works for a few hours a day, and that people have to queue up to buy essentials.

As the Guardian reported, “The protests began in the morning, in the town of San Antonio de los Baños in the west of the island, and in the city of Palma Soriano in the east. In both cases protesters numbered in the hundreds. With millions of Cubans now with mobile internet on their phones, news of the protests quickly swept to Havana. By early afternoon, thousands marched through central Havana, chanting ‘homeland and life’ and ‘freedom’.”

There are videos online of protestors chanting “we are not afraid”. It’s inspiring stuff.

The Cuban government was not pleased. Police officers, both uniformed and plainclothes, arrested hundreds of demonstrators. According to one report, some younger protestors “tore up paving slabs and hurled them at police” who retaliated with ”pepper spray and beat protesters with truncheons.”

One Cuban activist, Carolina Barrero, told the New York Times that this “is the most massive popular demonstration to protest the government that we have experienced in Cuba since ’59” — referring to the year Castro came to power.

The labour movement and the left would normally support mass protests of this type. But not this time, at least not here in Britain. Here, unlike in Cuba itself, the regime still has a revolutionary aura attached to it, and there’s that U.S. boycott again — have we mentioned that?

Maybe what we need is a Cuba Solidarity Campaign that’s in solidarity with the Cuban people, including the ones now in the streets, rather than solidarity with the dictatorship.

This article appears in today’s issue of Solidarity.