National Network on Cuba Meeting Notes
October 19-21, 2018
The 2018 meeting of the National Network On Cuba was held on October 19-21, 2018 in Minneapolis. All events took place at Augsburg University. The Minnesota Cuba Committee worked along with members of the Augsburg faculty to provide excellent meeting space and resources. We were joined at all events by Miguel Fraga First Secretary of the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC. Unfortunately ICAP representatives were unable to participate in person due to the U.S. imposed difficulties in requesting and obtaining travel visas. Nonetheless, ICAP North American Director, Sandra Ramirez, was with us via a taped message in which she was able to express not only greetings but present some of the challenges and priorities for the coming period.
The weekend opened with a reception on Friday evening that included a presentation of Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen’s “No Sé Por Qué Piensas Tú” read by Augsburg Professor Michael Kidd, greetings from MN Congressman Emmer, and words from Secretary Fraga, Gary Prevost, of the Minnesota Cuba Committee, Gail Walker NNOC co-chair, and attended by NNOC delegates, members of the Augsburg community, local activists, and a city council representative.
Also participating in the events was the NNOC Treasurer, Don Goldhamer, who has conscientiously served in that capacity for over 25 years, and was attending meeting as his final as treasurer. We all are appreciative of his long service to the NNOC and to the Cuba solidarity movement.
The business meeting took place on Saturday and Sunday, October 20 and 21 with voting representatives from 28 NNOC organizations among the approximately 60 attendees. There were also several Augsburg students and community activists present. Augsburg University faculty members; Sarah Degner Riveros and Mary Laurel True were with us for the weekend and were a great resource to all. Three groups applied for NNOC membership and were unanimously accepted: Witness for Peace, Autonomous University of Social Movements (AUSM), and Detroit Association of Black Organizations (DABO).
Election for co-chairs and treasurer was held and Cheryl LaBash, Alicia Jrapko, and Nalda Vigezzi for re-elected without opposition. John Waller will begin as Treasurer in January, 2019. Again, we thank Don Goldhamer for his many years of service as treasurer and for his contributions to the network.
The Financial Report was presented and accepted without comment. The bank balance prior to this meeting was $6336.
We then heard from Sandra Ramirez, North American Director of ICAP, via video presentation who talked about the challenges facing Cuba in the coming period, also the upcoming UN vote, the successful visit of President Diaz Canel to NYC and his meeting at the Riverside Church. Sandra sent information about travel opportunities during the upcoming anniversary of the Revolution and the founding of the City of Havana as well as encouraged participation in the May Day Brigade and the 50th Anniversary of the Venceremos Brigade.
This was followed by a presentation about the Venceremos Brigade’s 50 years of solidarity by Rachel Ibrahim, Justina Walker, and Malcolm Sacks of the VB. Three travel options are being offered for this special travel challenge in July, 2019 and hopefully 300 people from the US will participate. Among the needs are funds and legal volunteers. An unexpected but successful $1000 match was generously offered by Tom Hanson of AUSM. Thanks to the matching grant the VB raised $2000 at the meeting.
The next panel focused on local and state resolutions against the blockade. There are currently 9 cities that have approved resolutions. Peter Miller talked about the process working with Brookline, MA town meeting and Lisa Valanti from Pittsburgh reviewed via skype their process and also proposed an umbrella committee to collect resolutions which she will help facilitate. Marcy Shapiro from the Minnesota Cuba Committee reported on their successful efforts. Charlie Serrano reported on his work with elected officials focusing on what we are missing by not having relations with Cuba and he will continue to identify Congressional members and key talking points. The proposal to form an umbrella group to work on resolutions at the local level was approved by a vote of 24 in favor and 3 opposed.
During the lunch period, a group met to discuss and form a subcommittee to develop a platform to allow members to better communicate. The proposal was approved by a vote of 19 in favor and none opposed.
Miguel Fraga, First Secretary of the Cuban Embassy then spoke about the need for more communication and information about Cuba and NNOC members ability to assist in that. The Embassy has lost 60% of the staff but can continue to achieve results through social media, university visits, etc. He talked about the new Cuban President and his visit to the U.S. as well as the process for the new Cuban Constitution which will be voted on in February, 2019. He mentioned the 73% of the U.S. population that support better relations and the ELAM graduates who upon returning to the U.S. as physicians can talk about their experiences. In May, 2018, 200 Cuban artists from all genres presented at the Kennedy Center in DC. There are important collaborations taking place in cancer and diabetic treatment, in culture, sports, and agriculture. There remains no proof or findings of the “sonic attacks.” The new Constitution was drafted, approved by the National Assembly, and is being analyzed and discussed across the island before the February, 2019 referendum. The Constitution will provide for new governmental structure, presidential term limits, marriage equality, among other changes. At present, although there is a great public will in the U.S. for better relations, legislation in Congress is not a priority for elected officials.
The following panel: “A Dialogue on Race” included perspectives from Alberto Jones who stated that Cuban citizens see themselves first as Cuban and then as Blacks and pointed out that there has been more progress in the past 50 years than the previous 500. He gave an example of an Afro-Cuban Guantanamo family whose members have been able to attain careers as doctors and engineers, etc. something unthinkable prior to the Revolution. Rosemari Mealy spoke via skype and emphasized that the topic of race should be part of delegations’ programs in Cuba. She talked about the history of white supremacy in Cuba and that the Revolution transposed that dynamic. She recommended two books for further analysis: “White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism” by Robin DiAngelo and “Race in Cuba” by Esteban Morales. August Nimtz talked about the necessity to prepare delegations for Cuba given that identity is very different in Cuba than in the U.S. and that we bring preconceived ideas based on our own experiences. Cuba did not go through a civil rights movement in the manner of the United States. Two students from Minnesota who had recently participated in a women centered delegation to Cuba also offered their perspective that Cubans are in charge of their revolution and we are not there to educate Cuba and that it is up to Cubans of African descent to deal with the issues. All the panelists spoke to the need to prepare people for travel by discussing race, economy, and imperialism.
The next topic concerned an idea for a Spring 2019 National Conference on Cuba as agreed upon at the Spring 2017 National Conference in NYC. The NNOC co-chairs proposed that there be a national conference in Washington DC which due to the variety of resources and communities there that could be included in the agenda. There was considerable discussion concerning the choice of DC or New York and what each location could offer. Also ideas were presented about the purpose of the conference and the follow up of the conference. Discussion was tabled due to lack of consensus.
Member Group reports began for organizations that would not be present on Sunday:
Altruvistas: focus on trips and programs all over the world with emphasis on ethical socially responsible travel. They have a tour for labor organizations in 11/18. Solidarity takes many forms with many communities such as yoga delegation in 2/19.
African Awareness Association: 20 years of bringing people to Cuba with an emphasis on the historic relationship with Cuba. Next delegation to Cuba 12/18 with focus on areas of interest of the African community and African solidarity. Part of Pan-African movement.
The Saturday evening cultural program was another opportunity for the students of Augsburg to experience Cuban culture. The Minnesota committee presented an award to Felino de la Pena celebrating his 97 years and history of solidarity with Cuba. The group Charanga Tropical with Rene Thompson's dancing was a tremendously successful and enjoyable part of the evening.
Sunday morning began with the short video produced by Dominio Cuba on the so called “sonic attacks”.
The unresolved proposal for a 2019 conference in DC was withdrawn due to absence of consensus.
This was followed by short reports on upcoming projects and events:
IFCO/Pastors for Peace: the annual travel challenge was postponed until November 2018 and all is now in order to travel through Toronto.
African Awareness Association: Next delegation to Cuba 12/18 with focus on African presence in Cuban culture and history
UN vote: Demonstrations planned in 8 or 9 communities in U.S. and Canada. In NYC plan to try to get into visitors’ gallery and rally at the Cuban Mission. Encourage other cities to hold actions. DC plans rally at White House. Urge people to post messages on Facebook.
Witness for Peace: Upcoming delegation 12/17 focused on agriculture, food justice, environment and popular education.
May Day Brigade: Based on success of past delegations. Will take place for 15 days at Mella Camp; hoping to have 200 people from U.S.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent on member reports, actions, and projects.
Minnesota Host Committee reported on annual film festival of 6 films with 75-200 people at the showings. Had presence at counterrevolutionary art exhibit. Coordinated visit of First Secretary Fraga to MN to meet with business, educational political sectors. They have done Congressional work, obtained a resolution in the City of Minneapolis and are now working on resolution in St. Paul.
Venceremos Brigade: 50th brigade planning as presented previously; $2000 in cash and pledges received at NNOC meeting.
DAVO: Working with Detroit City Council, labor movement, letters to the editor, radio shows, support for IFCO caravan.
Seattle Cuba Friendship Committee and US/Cuban Women Collaboration: hosted 2017 NNOC meeting; worked with New Hope Baptist Church on delegation to Cuba; organic agriculture delegation in spring 2019; film showing of Dare to Dream; works with Physicians for National Health Care; filmmaker of “Raza” on race in Cuba and U.S. 4/19.
July 26th Coalition: Political/cultural events; support Alan West Duran’s book “Cuba, a Cultural History”, Griselda Aguilera tour, report back on May Day Brigade, supported IFCO caravan, building for VB, presence at LASA in June 2019.
International Committee for Peace, Justice, and Dignity: completed Days of Action in DC in September with focus on literacy and education, collaborated with Puerto Rican educator, film showing of “Maestra” and “Lucha Si”, Congressional visits, send off for IFCO caravan, twitter campaigns, use of short videos of Dominio Cuba.
NY/NJ Cuba Coalition: coordinated Griselda Aguilera tour in many cities, July 26th event with NY State Nurses Association, support of 9/26 event with President Diaz Canel, UN actions, support FMC delegations in NYC, tour to Cuba to celebrate 60th anniversary 12/28-1/6.
Witness for Peace: 35 years of work; permanent presence at the MLK Center, speakers tours of Southeast US with representative of MLK Center.
Proximity Cuba/IOEC: 10% reduction in educational travel, working in mid-South, Board is based in Memphis, working with National Civil Rights Museum.
Albany Cuba Solidarity: Attended Diaz Canal meeting in NYC, presentations with Arnold August, hosted and helped coordinate meetings with Miguel Fraga in Albany area, Griselda Aguilera tour, May Day report back, planning program for 60th Anniversary, ongoing work with nurses, organizing for LASA conference,
AAPRP: participated in Pan African conference in Ghana, Black Oakland, film festival, African Liberation Day, May Day report back, barbershop talks, 2020 youth delegation, talks in San Jose and LA.
AUSM: Cuba program with 125 Universities in the U.S. Programs with SUNY in Mexico and Cuba.
Task Force on the Americas: cooperative projects with AAPRP, fact finding delegations to Latin America, newsletter, working for 3 years with Resumen news agency to publish a weekly bulletin.
IFCO/Pastors for Peace: continue battle with IRS, organized celebration marking IFCO’s 50th anniversary, continue work with progressive pastors; there were five ELAM grads at the last graduation in July and IFCO brought down nine new students earlier this month to begin their studies; continuing to organize delegations including one that will bring down youth from the South Side of Chicago in November; publish Cuba Buzz, helped to coordinate visit of Cuban President to NYC and program at Riverside Church.
Chicago Cuba Coalition: work on health, education, democracy. Literacy campaign tour with Griselda Aguilera; support nurse and MD from Cuba in IL, planning celebration for 60th Anniversary.
Wisconsin Coalition: hosted Griselda tour, hosted caravan, ongoing support for 2 ELAM students, working on resolutions, film festival.
IPS: book events with Arnold August and Phil Brennar, support to Days of Action.
CLAR: 25 years working on travel with schools and businesses, legislation in Congress, planning tour of trans cultural workers to U.S.
SWP: door to door organizing and speaking about the meaning of the Cuban Revolution to workers in U.S.
DC Metro Committee: support of the embassy, Griselda Aguilera tour, program on “sonic attacks”.
Justice for Cuba Coalition: report from NNOC scholarship recipient who participated in May Day Brigade.
African Awareness Association: Radio program: Africa on the Move; Africa Speaks frequent Cuba related topics.
Final remarks: Miguel Fraga. Next year the 60the anniversary of the Cuban revolution will be celebrated; 100th anniversary of the Cuban Embassy, 500th, anniversary of City of Havana, 50th anniversary of the VB. Certain of victory in United Nations. Aim for 60 resolutions to mark 60th anniversary. Solicit photos for Oct 31 and January 1/ unblock Cuba. We will continue to work together.
Meeting Resolution was again distributed and has been approved and circulated.
See photos of weekend generously shared by Bill Hackwell here .
Again, thanks to the Minnesota Cuba Committee and much appreciation to outgoing treasurer, Don Goldhamer.
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