‘Cuba Yes, Blockade No!’
New York City
By Barbara Mutnick and Argiris Malapanis
“Cuba sí, ¡bloqueo no!” (Cuba yes, blockade no!) reverberated across Times Square this afternoon. About 300 people gathered here today to demand an end to Washington’s economic war against the Caribbean nation. Protesters then marched to the United Nations for a final rally across the UN building.
Organizers called the action to take place days before the upcoming UN vote to end Washington’s economic war on Cuba. This will be the 30th time the international body decides on a resolution introduced by Cuba. For the past 29 years, the overwhelming majority of UN member states have backed such resolutions calling for an end to the U.S. blockade. Usually, only the U.S. and Israeli governments oppose these resolutions.
The blockade is estimated to cost Cuba $15 million per day. On top of this six-decade-long economic war, former U.S. president Donald Trump imposed 243 new sanctions in 2017. Despite campaign promises to the contrary, the Biden administration has left the Trump sanctions largely intact and has added some of its own. These include reauthorizing the placing of Cuba on Washington’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism.”
About 12 similar events took place in other East Coast cities.
In addition to New York City, protesters here included delegations from Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, and upstate New York. Twenty-two activists, many of them Cuban American, came from Miami. Protesters from Connecticut had wind in their sails from having organized recently to get the Hartford City Council pass a resolution demanding an end to the blockade.
A large percentage of protesters were young. Members of many Cuba solidarity and political groups took part. They included Codepink, IFCO Pastors for Peace, the NY/NJ Cuba Sí Coalition, December 12 Movement, People’s Forum, and the Green Party. Several members of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) from Staten Island, New York, took part in the day’s events.
Salsa music resounded over a sound system. As the demonstrators chanted, exchanged experiences, and listened to speakers, many also danced.
About 15 right-wing Cuban Americans who support the blockade, most of whom traveled here from Miami, appeared early on as organizers were setting up for the Times Square event. A well-organized defense kept the right wingers at bay and prevented them from disrupting the rally. The police also kept the right wingers separate from the Cuba solidarity action.
Carlos Lazo, leader of Puentes de Amor (Bridges of Love), which has been instrumental in broadening the movement against the blockade across the country, greeted those in Times Square. “Thank you, thank you,” he said, “to everyone from so many places in the U.S. with all your varied ideologies who are here fighting against the criminal and inhumane blockade.”
Claudia de la Cruz, the People’s Forum co-executive director, told the crowd at Times Square: “The same government… that says Cuba is a terrorist state has 140 million of its own people living in poverty. It has become the wealthiest country in the world because of extraction, exploitation, and oppression.” Washington, she said, “has overthrown governments all over the world. The only ‘threat’ Cuba poses to the U.S. is hope. With its free and accessible health care and education and other policies, [Cuba] shows it is possible to put people front and center.”
After the brief Times Square rally, protesters marched east on 42nd Street, across Manhattan, to Ralph Bunche Park opposite the UN building, where they held a concluding rally.
Demonstrators carried a giant banner that read “End the Blockade” in English and Spanish — made and brought by the Miami activists.
The Rude Mechanical Orchestra — a New York City-based radical marching band and dance troupe — provided music and a lively beat throughout the day. Following the lead contingent that held a giant Cuban flag, the band members set the tone for the march.
Demonstrators held a variety of hand-made signs.
Demonstrators in New York march held many hand-made sings. (Photos: Argiris Malapanis / World-Outlook)
Denounce FBI harassment
Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin chaired the final rally across the UN.
Milagros Rivera, president of the Cuba Solidarity Committee of Puerto Rico, was among the first to address the UN rally. She was also a featured speaker at the People’s Church in East Harlem the night before the demonstration. A union leader in Puerto Rico, Rivera is also a brigadista — leading tours from her country to Cuba to strengthen ties between the two island peoples and to educate Puerto Ricans about the gains of the Cuban Revolution.
While ignoring the huge needs of the Puerto Rican people after the devastating impact of two major hurricanes, the U.S. government dispatched more than a dozen FBI agents at the end of August to harass and intimidate 60 Puerto Ricans. These activists had been part of the Juan Rius Rivera Solidarity Brigade to Cuba the previous month, or had worked with Puerto Rico’s Cuba solidarity committee. Not a single one of them spoke to the FBI agents, a policy toward Washington’s political police that Rivera urged everyone to follow.
At the UN rally, Rivera said she was happy to see “so many young people here, coming out in solidarity with Cuba. We know what the blockade has done to Cuba… Our job is to educate those who aren’t aware of what is happening in Cuba.” She added, “We here can count on the Boricuas who have learned from their travels to Cuba.”
Hebel Morales, a Cuban American from Miami, introduced Carlos Lazo.
“We Cuban Americans come to this ‘land of opportunity,’ and we say to the U.S. government: obey the will of the people of the other countries of the world,” Lazo said. “Please lift this inhuman and cruel blockade that you hold over the Cuban people.”
Other speakers included Jose Oro, a Cuban American who is a leader of the Hartford Cuba Coalition; Stella Frank and Bay Guzman of the Venceremos Brigade; Erin Feeley-Nahem of the Saving Lives Campaign, which sends medical and other material aid to Cuba; Angie Langdon, who spoke about an effort to get the New York City council to pass a resolution to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba; Jason Corley of the NY/NJ Cuba Sí Coalition; and Pete Seidman, a leader of the Miami Caravan Against the U.S. Blockade of Cuba.
Importance of unions joining anti-embargo movement
Tristian Martinez was the last speaker. Martinez is an ALU leader at JFK8, Amazon’s giant fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York. That’s the first facility of the U.S. retail giant where workers won a union representation election on April 1.
“I did not know anything about the struggles of the people of Cuba until being involved in labor,” Martinez told the rally. Through his own research and meeting people who knew about Cuba, Martinez continued, “now I know they have a better literacy rate than the U.S. and a better life expectancy! That’s incredible.” Understanding Cuba’s history and struggle to stand up to the U.S. blockade were important to him as a worker and someone of Puerto Rican and Vietnamese heritage, Martinez said.
As the event ended, Benjamin urged everyone to don white medical lab coats and be photographed around a banner that read, “Cuba Exports Doctors Not Terrorism.”
Later, many protesters met at a local restaurant to relax and talk about the day’s events. Officials from Cuba’s mission to the United Nations joined the reception.
Other activities during the week before and after the demonstration included a showing at the People’s Forum of “Mariposas en el adamio” (Butterflies on the Scaffold), a movie on the day-to-day life of Cuban gays and trans people by filmmaker Margaret Gilpin; a press conference about the resolution introduced by New York City council member Charles Barron to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba; and a showing planned for November 2 of the film “Cuba in Africa” by Negash Abdurahman. A “24-Hour Global Online Picket” — a virtual teach-in on Cuba — was also scheduled for November 2.
Subsequently, Belly of the Beast released video coverage of the New York City action (see below).
Belly of Beast video coverage of NYC march
By Mark Friedman
October 29 — “This is the largest coordinated effort… on an international scale. And we know Cuba needs it to get the boot of the U.S. government off their necks,” said Diana Cervantes, who chaired the rally here today along with Angelica Cardona of the San Diego Cuba Committee.
The protest of 125 took place at the U.S. federal building (Westwood).
Afro-Cuban musician Juan Carlos Blanco entertained the crowd with his conga drums at the opening of the event.
“We have achieved a unity never before seen in LA with 45 sponsoring groups and prominent individuals organizing and supporting today’s protest against the blockade,” said Linh Co, a leader of the Los Angeles US Hands Off Cuba Committee. The event’s sponsors include the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the Inland Boatman’s Union (the ILWU’s marine division), and the International Association of Machinists, she explained.
“The Los Angeles Hands Off Cuba Committee has been organizing caravans, public meetings with Carlos Lazo of Puentes de Amor [Bridges of Love] and collecting money for medical aid and food for Cuba,” Co continued. “The people of Cuba need our continued efforts to end the blockade, force the U.S. to remove Cuba from the list of nations supporting terrorism, and end the 243 Trump/Biden sanctions.”
“We passed a resolution against the blockade and gave $10,000 for medical aid to Cuba,” said Floyd Bryan, representing the ILWU’s southern California district. “Recently we hosted a meeting for Lianys Torres, Cuban ambassador to the Unites States. Cuba needs to be off the state terrorism list.”
“The inland boatmen’s union stands firm in its conviction to support the people of Cuba and denounce U.S. policies that bring such devastating harm to the Cuban people,” said Mike Vera, business agent of the ILWU’s marine division. “Recently our Regional Executive Committee passed a couple resolutions to this effect.”
These resolutions call on the federal government to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism; urge Congress to pass legislation that would lead to the normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba; and remove all U.S. trade and travel sanctions against Cuba, Vera explained.
James Lafferty, the National Lawyers Guild president emeritus in LA, told the crowd: “The U.S. has caused the loss of billions of dollars for the Cuban people with the blockade and sanctions. They have paid journalists not to tell the truth about Cuba… but the Cuban revolution will succeed.”
A delegation from the Palestinian Youth Movement joined the event. Amir Jadallah spoke on their behalf. “We understand that the U.S. war on Cuba is to undermine their socialism and national liberation,” Jadallah said. “Cuba has supported international resolutions defining Zionism as a form of racism. There are Palestinians studying medicine in Cuba at the Latin American School of medicine [ELAM].”
‘I studied medicine in Cuba’
“I studied medicine in Cuba,” recent ELAM graduate Steve Singh told the crowd. “My teachers told us about their international missions and service in Angola and elsewhere. In the United States, amputations due to diabetes, especially amongst Black and brown people, are rampant, while Cuba has medicines and techniques to prevent them, but this is denied entry [to the United States] due to the blockade. Not being able to import these and other medicines is a social justice issue.”
Carlos Sirah, an Iraq war veteran and local leader of the Black Alliance for Peace, also addressed the rally. “The Black Alliance for Peace along with this coalition calls for the immediate end of the blockade,” he said. “We call for the end of the constant meddling in the affairs of Latin America, the Caribbean — and Haiti… Imagine the United States putting someone on the terrorist list — the biggest terrorist in the Western Hemisphere, the biggest terrorist in the world…, which has effectively and materially put a burden on Cuba in terms of limiting the amount of resources it can bring in.”
Johanna Cervantes, a founder of the LA US Hands Off Cuba Committee, described the recent harassment of Cuba solidarity activists by Washington’s secret police. “Despite the harassment of a LA Cuba Committee leader by the FBI, and FBI intimidation of Puerto Rican Cuba solidarity activists, we shall stand tall and proud in defending Cuba’s right to exist and to fight till Cuba is off the U.S. ‘terrorist list’ and we have ended the blockade,” she said. “We shall not be intimidated.”
Cassio Mendoza, a young Cuban American and former leader of the LA Hands Off Cuba Committee, is now the communications director of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) in Staten Island, New York. That’s where the ALU won the first ever union representation election at an Amazon facility on April 1. “I, ALU president Chris Smalls, and other ALU leaders have spoken at rallies like this around the country,” Mendoza told the rally. “[W]e shall continue to do so,” he added. “I appreciate the ILWU being here. All trade unionists need to push their unions to take a stand against the illegal actions against Cuba.”
Medical aid to Cuba
One aspect of the rally was to raise money for Global Health Partners’ medical aid for Cuba. Ysabel Gonzalez, a local leader of Codepink, gave the fund pitch.
“Cuba has a national healthcare system, which is free of charge, focused on prevention, and fully accessible to the population,” Gonzalez said. “Cuba has also developed and produced its own medicines and highly effective vaccines. They have immunized over 90% of the population against COVID-19.”
Gonzalez explained how Global Health Partners and other groups sent 6 million syringes to Cuba during the pandemic. While the country developed its own vaccines it had no syringes to inoculate its own people due to the blockade. “We showed our gratitude to Cuba for the help and solidarity they have given to so many people in so many places worldwide,” Gonzalez continued. “We recently raised $1,000 for anesthesia machines for the Calixto Garcia trauma hospital in Havana.”
Cuba suffered from a recent fire at the Matanzas fuel depot, impacting electricity production and causing blackouts, Gonzalez pointed out. “Help came immediately from Nicaragua, Venezuela, Mexico and Turkey,” she said. “The U.S. promised help but gave nothing. Then Hurricane Ian hit, destroying 14,000 homes…but causing only a handful of deaths. But when Ian hit Florida, there were scores of casualties. It is our turn to stand up and help Cuba, as they have helped the world.”
Other speakers included Mark Gaynor (Democratic Socialists of America), Michael Novick (National Boricua Human Rights Committee), Nancy Lawrence (Peace and Freedom party), Ellie Garcia (Socialist Workers Party), and John Parker (Socialist Unity Party). A large delegation of youth from the LA Movement for the Advancement of Socialism took part in the event.
The rally ended with a spirited demonstration through the Westwood/UCLA area.
A video of the march posted on Twitter can be seen here.