50 years of Dynamism of the Cuban Revolution
2nd International Che Guevara Conference
June 26-28, 2009
On June 26th, 27th and 28th, 2009, the 2nd International Che Guevara Conference took place for the second consecutive year in Vancouver, Canada, hosted by Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC). While the 2008 conference focused on the idea’s of Che Guevara, this year's theme was “50 Years of Dynamism of the Cuban Revolution.” This years conference featured guest speakers as well as participants from across Canada, the US and Cuba, who took the over 250 participants through presentations and discussions which spanned both the historic and current aspects of the Cuban revolution, and how they have impacted revolutionary movements world wide, especially in Latin America.
Friday June 26th
On the opening night of the conference, Friday June 26th, participants were welcomed by the evening’s MC’s Aaron Mercredi, a VCSC organizer and editorial board member of the Fire This Time Newspaper and Colleen Glynn, also a VCSC organizer and president of the New Democratic Party (NDP) Richmond. The conference began with an Indigenous welcoming from Kelly White, a Coast Salish elder and activist, who spoke about the common struggle of Cuba and Indigenous nations, and welcomed the participants to the Coast Salish Territory with her drumming, prayers and call for “Viva Cuba!” The inspiration of the Cuban revolution was then expressed through the words of local poets Luis Velasquez and Shakeel Lochan. Tamara Hansen, Coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and co-chair of the Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC) then gave the conference opening address, and the conference was officially in full swing. With a warm welcome, the keynote speaker of the evening, Isaac Saney, was invited up. Isaac Saney is a professor at Dalhousie University as well as author of the acclaimed book “Cuba: A Revolution in Motion” and the co-chair of the Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC). He gave a presentation on the theme “Cuba: A Revolution in Motion & What We Need to Learn from the Cuban Revolution.” Accompanied by informative slides, Isaac Saney took participants through the immense progress that Cuba has made in the course of its revolution, in aspects of health, education, and other living standards. He also explained how Cuba has not kept these achievements to itself but with an internationalist perspective has sent tens of thousands of doctors and teachers to contribute around the world. After an enthusiastic applause, there was a lively discussion before the first day of the conference wrapped up.
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Saturday June 27th
The second day of the conference featured a full day of inspirational workshops, dynamic discussion periods and multimedia and film presentations. The second day was MC’ed by Tamara Hansen and Colleen Glynn, who began the day with an excerpt from the classic Cuban film “Lucia.” After the film, the first workshop of the day “Roots and Causes of the Cuban Revolution” was presented by Walter Lippmann, Editor-in-chief of the CubaNews. Walter Lippmann spoke about the US domination of Cuba for many years before the revolution, the July 26th, 1953 attacks on the Moncada Barracks led by Fidel Castro, and the launching of the Cuban revolution. The next workshop took off from where the last workshop left off, and went into “The Early Years of the Cuban Revolution: Guerrilla Warfare, Socialist Revolution, Challenges and Progress.” This workshop was presented by Jorge Soberon, who is the newly appointed Cuban Consul General in Toronto, as well as the former Second Secretary of Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. The workshop began with the film clip “La Revolucion Cubana en Imagenas” which showed the many early progresses and revolutionary campaigns, as well as attacks from the US military from 1959 to 1965. Jorge Soberon expanded on these topics and answered the many questions that participants had.
In the afternoon, workshops continued with “The Cuban Revolution and Women's Liberation: A Revolution Within a Revolution.” This workshop was presented by Lisa Valenti, who is the National President of the U.S.-Cuba Sister Cities Association and participant in all 20 Pastors for Peace Caravans to Cuba, including a successful hunger strike for 94 days to release U.S.-seized aid bound for Cuba. Although Lisa was not able to be physically present for the conference, she spoke live from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, via video link, and her talk was warmly received by the conference participants. The next workshop, “US Imperialism and the Cuban Revolution: Socialism, the Blockade, and the Five Cuban Heroes” was presented by Gloria La Riva, Coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five in the U.S. This workshop addressed the critical issues of the US attempts to destroy the Cuban revolutionary process, and the international efforts to defend Cuba’s right to self-determination and the freedom for the Five Cuban Heroes.
The second day of the conference closed with two films that showed the international impact of the Cuban Revolution. “Chavez, Venezuela and the New Latin America” was a documentary based on an interview by Aleida Guevara (the daughter of Che Guevara) with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. “Salud” took viewers through the many brigades of Cuban doctors who have traveled worldwide to contribute to healthcare on a global scale.
Sunday June 28th
The third and final day of the conference opened with a timeless film from the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, “A Cuban Story,” in which US actor Errol Flynn shares his experience of seeing Cuba change from a US playground to a proud and sovereign country.
The first workshop, “Cuba and Human Rights: Achievements and Fundamental Progress in Social Equality” was presented by Tamara Hansen and Alison Bodine, who is the project coordinator for IFCO/Pastors for Peace in New York and on the Editorial Board of the Fire This Time Newspaper. Due to political targeting from the government of Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency, Alison is banned from Canada for two years, and therefore was only able to be present via video link. This workshop covered the controversial topic of Cuban human rights, which imperialist countries such as the US and Canada often claims are violated. This workshop highlighted the real human rights that Cuba defends, including health, education, housing and food, rights which are not universal to citizens of the US and Canada.
The next workshop “The Cuban Revolution and Homosexual Rights: Revolutionary Leadership Rectifies Itself” also approached another topic clouded by imperialist misinformation, and showed the progresses and leadership that Cuba has taken in advancing homosexual rights. The presentation began with a short documentary about the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, followed by a film clip from the 2008 events in Havana for the International Day Against Homophobia. The workshop was presented by Nita Palmer, who is an organizer with the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver and on the Editorial Board of the Fire This Time Newspaper.
In the afternoon, the next workshop “Cuba: Participatory Democracy and Elections in the 21st Century” was presented by Arnold August, an acclaimed journalist and author of the popular book on Cuba “Democracy in Cuba and the 1997-98 Elections” and the upcoming “Cuba: Participatory Democracy and Elections in the 21st Century.” He spoke from his research and experience in observing the Cuba electoral system, and in detail explained how it is in fact an extremely democratic and inclusive process.
The final workshop of the conference was “Revolutionary Resistance and Recovery: The Collapse of the Soviet Union, the Special Period and the Tourist Industry” by Jorge Soberon. The workshop started with the poignant film “Desafio” which outlined this historic period. The presentation explained this challenging period which should have destroyed the Cuban Revolution, but which Cuba persevered through, and is now progressing forward from in many aspects of their revolution.
The conference remained true to the Cuban spirit of internationalism and solidarity, as during this weekend there was a right-wing coup d’etat against the democratically elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. Tamara Hansen read out a statement from Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba, condemning the coup, which was unanimously approved by the conference participants. (Click here to read the statement)
After three days of workshops, discussions, and multimedia presentations, the conference closed with a cultural celebration, which highlighted the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, as well as the 5th anniversary of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) with the beautiful music of local musicians and poets.
This conference took the historic 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution as an opportunity to discuss the many challenges Cuba has faced and the achievements they have made within these 50 years. The Cuban Revolution has influenced movements such as Venezuela’s revolution, as well as Cuba supporters worldwide such as those who took part in the 2nd International Che Guevara Conference. The ideas presented in this conference brought many people together from a great diversity of backgrounds and ages, some who have been Cuba supporters for decades, and some whose first experience of Cuba was this conference. The 2nd International Che Guevara Conference was a great success, and will continue in future International Che Guevara Conferences. Through all of the topics discussed in this conference, from the roots of the Cuban Revolution, to the continuing progression of their revolutionary progress, Cuba remains a beacon of hope for humanity in the struggle for a better world.
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Cultural Evening and Celebration of Five Years of the work of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba