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May 31, 2013

Canadian-Cuban friendship network reaffirms solidarity

A young Canadian activist learns about Cuban history
on the 21st annual Che Brigade
From May 18-20 delegates from across the country participated in the Sixth Convention of the Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC), reaffirming their commitment to deepen and strengthen the Canada-Cuba solidarity & friendship movement.  Held in the Toronto City Hall, representatives from 21 member organizations were joined by observers and special invited guests, including the President of the Cuban Institute for Friendship Amongst the Peoples (ICAP), Kenia Serrano Puig, His Excellency, the Cuban Ambassador to Canada Julio Garmendía Peña,  the Consul General of Cuba to Canada Javier Domokos Ruiz and other Cuban and Canadian guests.

      The Convention began with a tribute to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías. Delegates rendered homage through a poignant poem by Cuba based anthropologist and journalist Susan Hurlich read by internationally known playwright and actor Brian Gordon Sinclair, and a moving video of the profound personal relationship of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, centred on the song El Regresso de un Amigo (The Return of a Friend) by Cuban singer  Raúl Torres.  During the course of the Convention, delegates also stood for a moment of silence to mark the passing of Marvin Glass, a founding member of the CNC and co-chair from 2002 to 2008.

      Following the tribute to Hugo Chavez, ICAP President Kenia Serano,  and His Excellency Ambassador Julio Garmendía Peña emphasized the importance of the Canada-Cuba solidarity movement to Canada-Cuba relations, and the role it can play  in strengthening and deepening these relations, ensuring they remain based on mutual respect and equality. Serano also highlighted the importance of the upcoming Third World Conference in Solidarity With Cuba to be held in  Havana from October 27-31, 2014. Messages of greetings were also received from La Table de Concertation de Solidarité Quebec-Cuba and the United States National Network On Cuba, warmly wishing the Convention success.

Several young Brigadistas fresh from three weeks working on the 43-member Che Guevara Volunteer Brigade, along with brigade coordinator, Dave Thomas, enthusiastically talked of their experiences in Cuba. In addressing Canada-Cuba relations, John Kirk (Dalhousie University), provided an overview of the long established Canadian ties with Cuba. He expressed concerns about the Harper regime’s attitude to Cuba, which contrasts sharply with the high esteem in which  Canadians hold Cuba.   A message of support from Carolyn Bennett (MP for the the constituency of St. Paul's in Toronto) was also read to the delegates.

Jorge Garcia Orgales (Global Affairs Department, United Steel Workers) and Dave Bleakney (National Representative, Canadian Union of Postal Workers) discussed Canadian Unions & Cuba Solidarity, stressing the importance the unions place on Cuban solidarity and, in particular, on the campaign to make sure all Five Cuban Heroes being held in U.S. jails are freed. They outlined their  close collaboration with Cuban unions and emphasized the need for closer cooperation with the CNC. Local CNC organzations were encouraged  to continue collaborating with unions in order to develop closer working relationships.

      Extending over two sessions, the discussion of the ongoing economic and social measures being adopted in Cuba proved of considerable interest to delegates and observers. Isaac Saney (Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s Universities) gave a detailed elaboration of the unfolding renovation and updating of the Cuban economy, followed by Miguel Figueroa, (National Leader, Communist Party of Canada) who spoke on his recent visit to the island.  The Cuban guests enriched the discussion, stressing that these changes were taking place within the process of the renewal and continuity of the Cuban revolutionary and socialist project.

Extensive reports by the CNC executive and CNC member organization were presented covering the two and a half years since the Fifth Convention. The reports illustrated the breadth and depth of Canada-Cuba solidarity activities from Vancouver to Halifax.  Highlights of the accomplishments are the CNC's fundraising hurricane and earthquake relief for Cuba and Haiti, which raised over one million dollars, the  tour across Canada of Cuban Dr. Jorge Balseiro and the People's Tribunal and Assembly held in Toronto last September 21-23.  The scope and diversity encompassed a variety of arenas, from political work with parliamentarians, municipal councillors and unions to cultural performances, plays and festivals to ongoing information meetings, pickets and leafleting.

       CNC delegates resolved to continue their efforts to mobilize Canadian public and political opinion to end the U.S. economic blockade of the island and to challenge and break the wall of silence and disinformation erected around the Five Heroes. Delegates adopted  several resolutions,  which reaffirmed their commitment to continue the struggle to free all of the Five Cuban Heroes unjustly incarcerated in the United States for defending their country from terrorism. Special attention  was also paid to other areas of ongoing work including among others, the highly successful Ernesto Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade and Cuba For Haiti and Hurricane Relief Campaigns.   The Convention also committed to support the upcoming symposium Africa's Unknown War: Apartheid Terror, Cuba & Southern African Liberation to be held at the University of Toronto on September 27 & 28. 2013, and to ensure vigorous Canadian participation in the Third World Conference in Solidarity With Cuba to be held in Havana from October 27-31, 2014.

     Delegates elected a new executive to implement the Convention's decisions and realize the work plan for 2013-2015: Laura Chesnik,  Julio Fonseca, Vincent Guihan, Elizabeth Hill, Peter Noble, Isaac Saney and Saleh Waziruddin.  The executive subsequently selected Elizabeth Hill and Isaac Saney to continue as  co-chairs. Isaac Saney was also re-appointed National Spokesperson, with Laura Chesnik resuming the position of Secretary and Elizabeth Hill that of Treasurer.

      The exciting and full three-day program reflected the rich and dynamic Canada-Cuba solidarity & friendship movement, which has been in existence for more than fifty years. A movement rooted in the overwhelming respect of Canadians for Cuba’s right to independence and self-determination, and a profound admiration for what the Cuban people have accomplished despite facing the unceasing aggression of the United States.  This respect and admiration have forged unbreakable ties of friendship and solidarity between the people of Canada and Cuba.

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