International solidarity will be key to breaking the blockade of Cuba

With a new man in the White House, Cuba has a real opportunity to ease the 60-year US economic blockade on the island, but it will take more international solidarity to press change.

That was the message from Cuba Solidarity Campaign’s Natasha Hickman to UNISON Eastern international committee’s latest session on Tuesday evening.

She explained the great strides forward Cuba has made since the “brutal” US-backed Batista regime was overthrown in 1959.

The new government “instituted measures that transformed society” – on literacy, health, women’s equality, combatting racism and much more – “something the US has never forgiven them for,” Hickman said.

Despite an economic blockade aimed at bringing about “hunger, desperation and overthrow of government,” (in the words of then US assistant secretary of state Lester D Mallory in 1960) Cuba now has a higher life expectancy than many US states, spending more than half of its annual budget on education, health and welfare.

Hickman paid tribute to the legion of women who have led this transformation, pointing out that 53% of Cuban MPs are women, the second highest rate in the world, while women make up the majority of judges, attorneys, lawyers, scientists, technical, finance, education, heath and public service workers.

And she pointed to the heroic work of Cuba’s medical brigades, who have spent decades providing medical aid around the world. In the last year alone, more than 4,000 Cuban health workers have supported medics in 40 countries in the fight against Covid-19.

“Cuba is always first there when help is needed,” Hickman said.

But the achievements have come alongside a backdrop of incredible hardship, as outlined in recent report The War on Cuba, an except of which was shown to the meeting.

Donald Trump brought in the most severe sanctions since John F Kennedy started the blockade, as well as stepping up covert operations to overthrow the Cuban government.

Just before he left office, Trump even put Cuba on the state sponsor of terrorism list – for the crime of hosting peace talks between Farc rebels and the Colombian government.

So the election of Joe Biden provides an opportunity to relax the blockade and allow more visitors, and money, to the socialist island. But Hickman warns that there will be a powerful right-wing lobby opposing any detente and that relations with Cuba are not a priority for Biden.

“If it’s going to change, international solidarity will be vital,” she said.

“Cubans have resisted these attacks for 60 years and international solidarity has really helped them do that. It shows they’re not alone and cannot be isolated by the US.”

Hickman pointed to UNISON’s long history of solidarity with Cuba, particularly our sister union in health and local government, and urged more UNISON Eastern branches to affiliate to CSC to continue providing vital support to the Cuban people.

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