UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Report of Latin America 2013 ¡Adelante!

This weekend's 9th Annual Latin America ¡Adelante! conference paid moving tributes to three giants of the progressive revolutionary movement at the weekend. The deaths of Nelson Mandela and Hugo Chavez and the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Salvador Allende brought sadness but also hope to over 500 delegates packed into Congress House in London.

It was Mandela’s death that inspired Victoria Brittain to reflect on hearing Fidel Castro commit at Harare in 1976, Cuban support for Angola “until the end of Apartheid”. With this being the 25th anniversary of the Cuban forces decisive victory over South African troops at Cuito Cuanavale she warned, “that the threat of any different political path is exactly the same today for the USA, as it was in the cold war”. 

George Galloway MP picked up that theme by praising Hugo Chavez and warning that the latest attempts to destabilise Nicholas Maduro in Venezuela bore striking similarities with what happened in the past in Chile. He also reflected on the Cuban victory and the fact that the first country and person Mandela visited after his release from prison was Cuba and Fidel Castro.

Whilst calling for solidarity with people abroad he stressed our duty to fight colonialism at home and condemned the “Gilbert and Sullivan farce of pensioners dying here from lack of heating whist we expend £100’s of millions to defend the rights of 2,300 settlers to live in the Malvinas”. This was later echoed by Alicia Castro the Argentinean Ambassador who reminded delegates that Mrs Thatcher had talked to the military dictatorship from 1986 -92 about the Falkland islands future but this government will not even talk to the democratically elected government today. Calling for nothing more than support for the opening of a dialogue between our two countries she was warmly applauded.

In a workshop on Cuba writer Arnold August told delegates that ‘something was in the air” as regards to the case of the Miami Five. For the first time ever, both the Alan Gross family and 66 US Senators are calling for a humanitarian solution to this crisis with no preconditions. Whilst it is too early to believe an end could be in sight, it is now critical that we create the “jury of millions” to put even more pressure on Obama to act. That is why the Voices for the Five Campaign www.voicesforthefive.com  is so important along with the International Commission of Enquiry into the case, to be held at The Law Society in London on the 7th and 8th of March next year.

In a letter to delegates, the Five expressed “our deepest feelings of gratitude to all our friends in the UK, for fifteen years of solidarity and support”. George Galloway thought it ironic they thank us – as fighters against terrorism and heroes to the Cuban people we need to step up our efforts to thank them . “We have a duty to free them from their unjust incarceration in the United States” he said, as he urged everyone to get involved in this historic initiative. Rene Gonzales in his first trip outside Cuba since his release from jail will attend the Commission and there will be social and cultural events as well as the legal enquiry. Details will be available via the Cuba Solidarity Website in January.

The joy of any Latin America conference is the breadth of discussion and debate. The sadness is that you cannot attend all of the 21 workshops! With every country represented and an incredible line up of speakers from politics, academia, journalism, solidarity campaigns, trade unions, embassies and culture it is an amazing melting pot of ideas and inspiration. With solidarity stalls delegates can avail themselves of unique gifts and merchandise and join campaigns.

Watching a film on the recent student protests in Chile and hearing from survivors of the 1973 coup you understand why it has so much relevance and importance today. Sadly the 20,000 rich families in Chile still maintain their position by controlling every aspect of the life of the majority of the population. The private education system means 85% of costs are met by families regardless of income. It is a system in which the “reproduction of inequality and the reproduction of privilege is real”

Film Director Roberto Navarette made clear “Pinochet was not just a dictatorship, it was the imposition of a whole new economic model” and whilst thousands of individuals suffered from imprisonment and torture the whole society still suffers today.

Carlos Fonseca from the FSLN in Nicaragua spoke of the changes taking place, which have seen his country go from the 4th most unequal in the region to the 3rd most equal as a result of social and economic programmes. It is why Daniel Ortega won re-election with 62% of the vote but he stressed that this would not have been possible without the support of the Bolivarian and Cuban revolutions. In the Morning Star, made available to delegates free of charge by UNISON, Unite and RMT, he talks about many of the achievements of the Sandinista Government since 2007.

Jairo Diaz from the Patriotic March took the opportunity “to denounce the humanitarian crisis we are living in Colombia”. With one of the largest economies they also have the highest levels of inequalities in the Americas, but the people are not sitting back. They are organising in the face of fierce and brutal repression and continue to need the solidarity and support by the UK to strengthen their resistance.

Rodrigo Chaves from Venezuela and a former advisor to Chavez praised his former leaders legacy as “inside our constitution”. He highlighted the difficulties in driving through redistribution in an economy 97% dependant on oil revenues and the importance of not only winning elections but taking control of the finances.

Promising not to lose their social benefits or the social state they have created for the people, he decried the onslaught in the western media about problems in the economy. The 50% of GDP that goes on social programmes to benefit the majority will not be handed back to a minority he said “that want bigger and fancier cars or dresses or more private companies”. Calling for not only solidarity with Venezuela, but also ‘citizens revolutions’ in every country in the world in order to ensure that ‘another world is possible’ he has greeted with huge applause.

In the Cuba workshop Ambassador Esther Armenteros talking about changes to the Cuban economy declared “we will not go through shock therapy” and Dr Tony Kapcia agreed, explaining how Cubans excel in having debates and negotiations at all levels in order to achieve consensus before important decisions are taken. Steve Ludlam talking about the recent proposals for a new Employment bill highlighted the fact that on being proposed, over 2.7 million workers have participated in forums to discuss the bill and 171,000 comments have seen modifications, rejections and additions throughout the process.

It is always a real pleasure hearing this level of detail about changes to the Cuban system and to have the truth explained. Steve highlighted the infantile lies and deceit you can find on counter revolutionary blogs like Havana Times by reference to the fact that the right to work is guaranteed in the Cuban Constitution.

Celine Meneses from Ecuador spoke passionately about the changes taking place in her country and invited delegates to visit and see the immeasurable environmental damage done by Texaco from 1964 and 1992. Now part of US giant Chevron the company spilt no less than 71 million litres of toxic oil wastes and 64 million litres of crude oil on more than 2 million hectares of Equadorian Amazon. It is this unprecedented environmental disaster and the harm to health of the residents that they are fighting to address.

As always it was left to Jeremy Corbyn MP to close conference. Having spoken at every one so far he praised the organisers – specifically the Cuba Solidarity and Venezuela Solidarity Campaigns and all of the 50+ speakers for their achievements and level of discussion they bring to debates. 

Reflecting on the forthcoming debate in the House of commons on Mandela he said, like so many at conference, he would remember his courage and commitment to peace, justice and sharing. He would “close his ears to the appalling hypocrisy of the Tories” who had nothing to say when children were massacred at Sharpeville or Steve Biko was killed.

He praised Alicia Castro’s thoughtful and sensible proposal for dialogue on the Malvina’s as evidence of what this whole event was about.

He condemned the Chilean “laboratory and experiment that ruined so many lives and families” but praised Venezuela for showing that change can be achieved. Seeing parallels with food queues before the Chilean coup and the destabilisation process underway in Venezuela today he asked whom do we remember? “Allende and Jara, Chavez and Madura” he said to cheers.

He concluded by saying we are all victims of Chile’s neo liberal laboratory. Whether in Greece or Portugal or here, in the UK, as one of the 1 million people out of work and receiving no benefits. Condemning the abuse of the disabled and sick and the cuts to benefits he derided a culture where the only thing that matters is the markets balance sheet.

He urged us all to learn the lessons, stand firm in our beliefs and give our solidarity to others – against Free Trade Pacts, against militarisation and US imperialism, and for an end to austerity. As ever it was a powerful message of hope and a great way to end a wonderful day.