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Thanking Cuba and the Five


On Saturday January 15, a broad, enthusiastic and united event took place at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley California to thank Cuba for its many contributions to human kind. Over the years La Peña has hosted numerous events related to Cuba and this one was filled to capacity.

Under the theme “Thanks Cuba for setting the standard for the world to follow” a number of local groups and activists from the San Francisco Bay Area organized the event to celebrate Cuba’s solidarity with the peoples of the world and the 52nd anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.

Sierra Thai-Binh, from the Venceremos Brigade chaired the evening event. People from the audience responded with a moving and loud applause when she dedicated the event to the memory of Reverend Lucius Walker Jr who passed away last September.

The recently re-elected Mayor of Richmond, California, Gayle McLaughlin, delivered a welcoming message and went on to explain how Cuba gives us all a glimpse at a society being built on human needs instead of profits. She said that the changes needed in the United States will be difficult to achieve without a revolution.

The next presenter was James Early, Board member of the Institute for Policy Studies and Cultural Director of Heritage Policy at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington DC who put into context the economic changes taking place in Cuba. Early reiterated that while Cubans are taking up these changes people in the solidarity movement should offer their support to the process.

The highlight of the evening came from 2 young doctors who recently graduated from the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). Along with thousands of students from Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean, Melissa Mitchell and Revery Barnes received their education free thanks to Cuba. They are 2 of 57 students from the US who have graduated from ELAM and they were there to tell their story. Mitchell explained that, “After 7 years I am the product of international solidarity. Despite the difficulties of being trained with minimal resources we worked and studied collectively and always found a way when there was no way.”

Revery Barnes explained that upon graduating from ELAM she joined the Cuban medical team in Haiti. “Working in a country with a collapsed healthcare system was a real eye opener but Cuba along with Venezuela is working tirelessly to help create a new healthcare delivery system there.” In Cuba the ratio of doctors to patients is around 1 to 150 but currenly in Haiti there is 1 doctor to every 10,000 people.” Also speaking on the Cuban system of health was Diane Appelbaum, a director with Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC).

Pablo Menendez from the known Cuban band Mezcla told the audience that it was surprising to come to the Bay Area directly from Cuba and see such an out pouring of solidarity towards Cuba. Menendez sang a couple of songs with lyrics that illustrated the contradictions of the US blockade of Cuba.

Alicia Jrapko from the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 added to the theme of the evening by thanking the Cuban 5 for their dignity, their example, and their resistance. She narrated a brief anecdote about a group of Cuban 5 supporters who last week in Miami paid for a month to have a billboard that read ‘Free the Cuban Five’. In a conversation with Gerardo Hernandez, one of the Cuban 5 serving 2 life sentences in Victorville California, she gave him the great news about the billboard, and he said “lets see how long it will last”. The billboard lasted just one day and upon hearing the news Gerardo said “I knew it. If a simple expression of free speech like this could not exist past one day, how could it be possible that we could have gotten a fair trial in Miami?”

The audience then had the opportunity to watch 5 minutes of the new documentary by Saul Landau, “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?”followed by Landau answering some questions about the launching of the film. The program ended on an up note with the audiece singing a popular Cuban song with the refrain, “Cuba how beutiful is Cuba, those who defend it love it more.”

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