January 9, 2014

A Taste of the Ernesto Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade

By Peter Miller 

The Ernesto Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade is a highly recommended trip for workers, students and progressive-minded people in Canada.

The trip is organized by the Canadian Network on Cuba, that represents organizations throughout Canada that do Cuban Solidarity work, and also organized by ICAP, the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the People, that puts together a very well organized trip for the "Brigadistas".  The trip often helps motivate Canadians to continue work as Cuban solidarity activists, and makes many realize the importance of fighting for socialist revolution in Canada.

Last year, I attended the Brigade and it exceeded my expectations.  Brigadistas get the opportunity to work some mornings on cooperative farms and urban farms, along with other volunteer work. The work is modest and not too strenuous but important to show that Brigadistas do not come to Cuba as tourists but as activists fighting to support the Cuban revolution.

2012's Brigadistas

Along with volunteer work, Brigadistas get the opportunity to learn about Cuba’s society. Last year those who participated in the Brigade learned about the Cuban economy from a Cuban economist; the Cuban education system from Cuban teachers and students; the Cuban health system from doctors; Cuban cooperative farms from farmers; the work of the Young Communist League of Cuba from young communists; the work of the Federation of Cuban Women from its members; Cuba’s political system from an elected representative of the National Assembly of People’s Power; Cuba’s law system from a judge; Cuba’s student unions from students; Cuba’s workers unions from workers; and much more.  

We toured the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) that trains students from all over the world to be doctors, free of charge. Along with training doctors from around the world, Cuba sends doctors around the world. For instance, Cuba has Cuban doctors in Venezuela right now and doctors were sent to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in that country, (Canada’s response was shamefully to send troops). Cuba even rushed to send doctors to provide relief for people harmed by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, but US imperialists refused this offer of solidarity from the Cuban people.

Some Brigadistas from 2013 in Havana
We learned how Cuba's socialist system has true democracy, unlike what is said by corporate media at home. Cuban candidates are nominated to the National Assembly of People’s Power by Municipal Assemblies. There are no money-run election campaigns in Cuba. Instead people are nominated and voted in by their constituents. Public Solidarity Organizations like trade unions, farmer’s organizations, student unions, and the Federation of Cuban Women also elect people to the National Assembly. As a result, workers are in power in Cuban governments. Teachers, nurses, and other workers in the National Assembly do not sell out working people in Cuba, unlike in Canada where elected politicians make six figure salaries and often collaborate with the capitalist class, (if they aren’t already capitalists themselves).

Brigadistas had the opportunity to learn much more. For instance, despite the US Blockade on Cuba, wait times in Cuban hospitals are much less than in Canada, no Cuban is without a doctor, and education all the way to the tertiary level is free. We also learned more about the struggle of the Cuban 5, anti-terrorist heroes of the revolution, jailed by US imperialism for infiltrating terrorist organizations in the US that threaten Cuba’s national security 
and who have regularly bombed the island killing thousands of Cubans since the 1960s.

We had the opportunity to participate in the May 1st rally in Havana with other delegations from around the world and with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Cubans. In one town on the Island of Youth, the Cuban people showed their appreciation of Canadian delegates when a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution hosted a huge block party for Brigadistas. Here we got to mingle with Cubans and learn more about their everyday lives and their commitment to socialism.
One young man I met was learning English and emphasized to me the importance of combating western media’s lies about the Cuban revolution. Like others, he is proud that people around the world support the Cuban Revolution. Moments like these with Cuban people were genuine moments when people of two different parts of the globe learned from one other and expressed solidarity.
The last thing I would like to say about the Che Brigade is that it was inspiring. Hearing from committed comrades in Cuba can really help us further commit ourselves to building progressive mass movements back home.

From this snippet view of the 2013 Che Brigade, I hope you are inspired to join the 2014 Brigade.
If you are interested you can visit the website for more information and register for this year's Brigade!

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