Latin America 2006 was held at Congress House, headquarters of the TUC in December. 500 people came along. They heard from an impressive range of speakers including celebrated author Tariq Ali, Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, former US diplomat Wayne Smith, journalist Victoria Brittain and Colin Burgon Member of Parliament.
The conference came at a very special moment for Latin America. The same weekend witnessed the historic elections in Venezuela that were to see Hugo Chavez returned as President with such a massive public vote. The very same day as the conference saw the double celebrations in Havana for Fidel Castro’s 80th birthday and the anniversary of the Granma Landings.
All these events can be seen as a massive affirmation of the sweeping political changes that are changing the continent. In fact the mood of optimism infected the conference in central London and discussions were very much focussed on the future developments for the region and the need to defend the gains being made.
In a unique and exciting plenary session conference heard from voices from across the continent: Zelmys Dominguez Cortina, Political Counsellor from the Cuban Embassy, spoke about the positive feeling that despite the threats from the US in the guise of the report of the Commission for a Transition to a Free Cuba, the Cuban people were united in their determination to defend their revolution. Cesar Navarro, Head of the MAS group in the Bolivarian parliament brought greetings from the people of Bolivia and made an impassioned speech urging international solidarity with the Bolivian people and the Government of Evo Morales.
Right to Left: Ken Gill Chair of CSC, Colin Burgon MP,Harold Pinter, Cuban Culture Counsellor Silvia Blanca de Mujica, Cuban Ambassador HE René J. Mujica Cantelar and Rob Miller, director of CSC
In a special video message, Augusto Montiel, brought greetings from the Venezuelan National Assembly on the eve of the elections. In contrast to the developments being seen in many countries of the region, Aida Avella, former Colombian Congresswoman from the Patriotic Union, highlighted the severe problems her people are facing in their struggle for social justice.
The conference covered a broad range of themes and the key issues facing the peoples of Latin America in their struggle for sovereignty and against the effects of neo-liberal economic policies, which have so impoverished the continent over recent years. In doing so it has helped to strengthen the various solidarity campaigns in this country.
Francis O’Grady, Deputy General Secretary, TUC brought greetings from Britain’s trade unionists and expressed the position of solidarity with the struggles of the people of the region.
Huge thanks must be given to Southern & Eastern Region TUC who did so much to make this event possible
One of the most interesting contributors was Wayne Smith, former Head of US Interests Section, Havana. It was both refreshing and inspiring to hear a former US diplomat being so outspoken and honest:
“US policy (on Cuba) is so stupid, so counter-productive and against the interests of the US that it’s an embarrassment. I was determined to help my country to find its way back to a sane policy.”
Wayne Smith contributed to a session on Cuba, USA and the War on Terror where he explained the hypocrisy of US policy.
“In 2001, after 9/11, Cuba offered to open its air space to US planes and expressed a willingness to work with the US against terrorism. I hoped that this would lead to a more harmonious approach by the US. But this was not to be.”
Colin Burgon MP reported on a recent visit to Cuba by the All Party Group on Cuba.
“The mood of the Cuban people was absolutely solid in the face of the celebrations taking place in the streets of Miami” (in response to Castro’s ill health). …. “There was a calmness and a readiness to face the future with confidence”.
Harold Pinter and Victoria Brittain
In probably the highlight of the day, Harold Pinter, Nobel Prize Winner, author, playwright and political activist, gave a thought provoking lesson in the absurdity of US foreign policy over many years. He read out a statement by US General Smedley Butler made in 1933 after 33 years of active military service in the Marine Corps.
“War is just a racket, conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses….I was a racketeer and gangster for capitalism. I helped to make Cuba a decent place for the nationalists to collect revenue. I helped with the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.”
In doing so he showed just how US policy has not really changed in its constant recourse to military action to protect the profits gleaned from imposing policies favourable to US business interests in other people’s countries.
Pinter ended by making clear his admiration for the people of Cuba and the example they have set.
“Against that background we can measure Cuba’s remarkable achievement and pride. Cuba is the inspiration of the spirit of independence and resistance which exists in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.”
Download the Latin America 2006 conference programme: http://www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk/LAC2006/LA06ConfProg.pdf