Devan C. Tasa, News Editor Ω
On Nov. 5, TRU played host to the last day of the fifth annual Che Guevara Conference, whose featured speaker was Aleida Guevara, a paediatrician and the daughter of revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Approximately 120 people attended the event, held at the Irving K. Barber Centre.
Organized by Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and the TRUSU Socialist Club, the first three days of the conference were held in Vancouver.
“We’re here to talk about how Cuba, a small, Third World, developing country, is able to provide free education and free health care for its people,” said Tamara Hansen, VCSC’s co-ordinator, “while the government of Canada keeps having to cut all of the budgets here, in a very wealthy country.”
On the final day of the conference, there were two workshops. One focused on the plight of five Cubans arrested by the Americans. The Cubans speaking at the conference said the five were in Florida to keep an eye out for terrorists and drug traffickers in the Cuban exile community while the American government said they were spies and conspiring to commit murder.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has said in a 2005 report the five Cubans, being tried in Miami, did not have a fair and objective trial.
The other workshop focused on Cuba’s economic reforms, which include removing restrictions from private business and allowing Cubans to buy and sell houses and vehicles.
These new market-based reforms don’t mean Cuba is going capitalist said Manuel Yepe, a professor and revolutionary leader. In the current economic crisis, capitalist countries like the United States have been enacting centralized solutions, so the opposite is true for Cuba.
“They resorted to the bail out of the banks. They had [a] centralized solution,” he said. “I’ve never heard anyone say because of this, the United States is heading towards socialism and communism.”
These reforms are necessary because of the global economic downturn, a reduction of prices for Cuba’s main exports, the fall of the Soviet Union, low productivity and the embargo enforced by the United States, said Yepe.
It was the embargo that caused Aleida Guevara to express anger. She told the audience it increases costs for basic items such as food and blocks vital drugs that could cure fatal illnesses.
“A little baby, eight months old, is condemned to die and the reason is because she was born inside a socialist [country.] This is what it means to blockade the people of Cuba,” she said through a translator.
If the embargo were lifted today, the lives of Cubans would be “80 per cent better,” Guevara said. For instance, in order to get powdered milk, the Cubans have to get it from New Zealand instead of getting it cheaper from the closer United States.
Justin Terwiel, a recently graduated TRU business student, said he was at the conference to listen to new perspectives and hear about the economic reforms. At the point he was interviewed, he only heard about the five arrested Cubans.
“I’m really open to seeing what they speak about, but I’m here with an open mind and I can’t judge that until they finish their presentation,” he said.