Cuba/Cuba Solidarity

Los Angeles Medical Aid for Cuba Meeting Draws Diverse Crowd

By Mark Friedman

LOS ANGELES, July 16, 2022 — A diverse crowd, representing more than a dozen organizations, streamed into a meeting here today to raise medical aid for Cuba. The Elliott Caine jazz trio entertained approximately 65 people as they entered the McCarthy Memorial Church in LA’s Black community for the event. 

Carlos Lazo was the featured speaker. Lazo is a Cuban American, organizer of Puentes de Amor (Bridges of Love), and leader of the international caravan movement demanding an end to the U.S. blockade of Cuba. The Los Angeles Hands-off Cuba Committee sponsored the event.

Brenda Lopez, co-coordinator of LA Hands Off Cuba Committee, opens July 16 event. (Photo: Screenshot from Cuban TV video)

Brenda Lopez, co-coordinator of the LA Hands-off Cuba Committee, opened the program. Lopez described the history of the committee and her “activism that began after returning from Cuba” in 2019 where she participated in an international environmental conference. “Seeing the need to educate people because lots of people know nothing about Cuba,” she said, “we were determined to form a committee that had not existed in LA in more than a dozen years. This meeting shows our successes in attracting and involving youth, especially Blacks and Latinos.”

Pastor Eddie Anderson welcomed participants on behalf of the McCarthy Memorial Church. The church has existed since the 1930s, he said, adding that the issue of Cuba “is important to us for our mind and body to nourish the soul and the mind of the African diaspora.  This is the third time you have come here, and we welcome you anytime.”

“Honestly, I didn’t know much about Cuba before this meeting, so I set about to learn about the embargo and the blockade,” said George Funmaker, at the start of the program. Funmaker is a member of the Ho-Chunk and Dakota nations and a leader of struggles by Native Americans for land and water rights. He explained how indigenous people have been the victims of the same policies that Washington now uses against the people of Cuba.

A diverse crowd, representing more than a dozen organizations, attended medical aid for Cuba meeting in Los Angeles on July 16, 2022. (Photo: Screenshot from Cuban TV video)

Guadalupe Cardona spoke next. Cardona is a member of the United Teachers of LA (UTLA) and the National Education Association. She also chairs the Raza Educators of Los Angeles. She described the fight for ethnic studies and the importance of everyone seeing themselves in the context of their own history. Cardona and the president of the UTLA are the targets of a lawsuit by rightist and pro-Israel forces for promoting the inclusion of Palestinian rights and history in LA schools. She is also a supporter of Cuba. “Our goal is to get teachers unions to support an end to the embargo,” she said.

College professor and epidemiologist Bita Amani has taken her public health graduate students to Cuba for three-week courses for years “so they can witness a different type of medical education, a humanitarian model,” she said. “The reason why we go is because all communities deserve dignity and so our students are schooled to see the priority of public health in a country where there is no shortage of doctors, unlike the United States.  Cuba is an example of medical internationalism and the students who come to Cuba from U.S. communities have a lower life expectancy than people in Cuba.  They see… the impact of the blockade up close.  Cuba has medications for diabetes that prevent amputations but are unavailable in the U.S.” 

Amani ended by promoting the current medical aid campaign launched by Saving Lives and Global Health Partners. The campaign aims to raise $125,000 for anesthesia machines for the Calixto Garcia trauma hospital in Havana, which has 23 operating theaters and only four anesthesia machines.

Message from Cuban Mission

The audience was treated to a special solidarity message from Lianys Torres, Chief of the Cuban Mission to the United States. The message read as follows:

“On behalf of the Embassy of Cuba in the United States, I would like to send a warm salute to the LA Hands Off Cuba Committee for organizing this event as well as every organization present today with the intention of supporting this noble campaign. I also want to send a warm greeting to Carlos Lazo who represents those Cubans who want to see their country thriving and not suffering under a cruel blockade.

“Raising funds for anesthesia machines and other surgical equipment for Cuban hospitals as part of the Saving Lives campaign is another show of the immense solidarity that unites the peoples of Cuba and the US and will allow a lot of people to have access to the surgical procedures they need and cannot have at this point.

“As a Cuban, I want to express my gratitude to all of you for tirelessly calling for the lifting of the blockade as well as for your participation in the ‘Puentes de Amor’ Caravans every month. People like you are responsible for the truth about Cuba being known in this country and the work you have done in achieving resolutions calling for the end of the blockade in cities as big as LA is amazing… because it shows Cuba is not and won’t be alone in its fight for social justice.”

Sandra Ramirez, North American director of Cuba’s International Committee of Friendship with the People (ICAP), also sent a solidarity message.

Vincent DeStefano, a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union, spoke against Washington’s efforts to seek the extradition to the U.S. of Wikileaks leader Julian Assange.

Megan Foronda, regional coordinator of the Filipino group BAYAN, who was also representing the International Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, also spoke. “We look to Cuba because they want and continue to fight,” she said. Foronda pointed to a common history of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. “U.S. tax dollars sent to the Filipino government lead to killings of activists and the same kind of violence that we see in the U.S. attacks on Cuba,” she noted.

New activism led largely by young people has been a highlight of union organizing drives at Amazon. Chris Smalls, interim president of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) in New York, sent a message to the meeting. Smalls is a leader of the fight to win union recognition at JFK8, the company’s giant warehouse in Staten Island, New York, where the ALU won a landmark victory in a union election on April 1. Since then, Amazon has refused to recognize the ALU as the legitimate representative of the workers.

Michael Rich, a leader of the LA committee, recounted the history of the ALU organizing drive. The union vote at JFK8 helped “inspire other workers at places like Starbucks, Delta flight attendants, Google, etc.,” Rich said.

“I stand firmly with the Cuban families and the LA US Hands Off Cuba Committee in our call to break the blockade and end the six-decade long embargo,” Smalls said in his message. “Organized labor must do more to end this human rights disaster.” 

‘We show who we are by what we do’

“We show who we are by what we do,” Carlos Lazo told the rapt audience. Lazo had earlier spoken at an organizing meeting of 100 sponsored by The Committee for Human Rights in LA (CHIRLA) and attended the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) LA convention.

“We do not care if you are from the right or the left.  We want to build a movement to end the blockade,” Lazo said. “Any decent person can favor an end to the blockade. From Seattle to Cubans in Miami we recognize that the embargo is hurting people.  We have organized to bring medical aid to Cuba. Most recently, I learned of eight Cuban children that needed liver transplants, which could not be performed because the fluid needed to keep the integrity of the liver in transition was unavailable. No company wanted to sell it to us, even the company in Germany. So, Mexico agreed to help us out to save their lives.”

Carlos Lazo, leader of Puentes de Amor (Bridges of Love), addresses July 16 medical aid for Cuba event in Los Angeles. (Photo: Mark Friedman)

Lazo recounted a bit of his own history. “As someone who was jailed in Cuba for illegally stealing a boat to come to the U.S., and then being a U.S. army combat medic in Iraq and seeing the U.S. devastation to the people there, I swore I would fight for bridges between Cuba and the U.S., bridges of love,” he noted.  “We are campaigning here now with Global Health Partners in Saving Lives to raise money for anesthesia machines desperately needed in Cuba. If there is a caravan in your city, go there.”

Those present contributed more than $1,250 towards the national goal of 125,000. Jiddou, a graduate of the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Cuba, now a new practicing physician in the LA area, made the fund pitch. To contribute, go to: Life-Saving Medical Supplies for Cuba – Global Health Partners.

José Prado, Cal State professor of sociology at Dominguez Hills, reviewed the history of Cuba’s healthcare system and its international efforts to provide medical assistance to millions in semicolonial countries. Cuba has better health indexes than all neighboring countries and compares well with those of Europe and the United States, he said. Prado pointed out that Cuba has “more doctors per capita than Los Angeles County and has sent 130,000 healthcare professionals primarily to the global south and active delegations of the Henry Reeve International brigades and other contingents of ‘white coats’ in 51 countries.”

Other speakers included Fanny Ortiz of the Venceremos Brigade in Los Angeles; Linh Co, a young Vietnamese representing LaMAS; Lawrence Reyes, who spoke on behalf of the Puerto Rican Alliance; Tsukuru Fors, a Japanese American who is a founding member of Pacific Asian Nuclear-Free Peace Alliance; and a representative of the Midnight Bookstore in Whittier. Moderators also read a solidarity greeting from the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party.

Camilla Saab also addressed the meeting through video, seeking support for the case of her husband, Alex Saab. In the message, Camilla explained the injustice of actions by the U.S. government against the people of Venezuela and Alex Saab, while he was on an international mission to secure aid for Venezuela. Saab, a Colombian-born businessman, was on a diplomatic mission to Iran when his plane was detained during a refueling stop on the African archipelago state of Cape Verde. He was arrested there in 2021 and extradited to the United States, where he is facing trumped-up charges of laundering money on behalf of the Venezuelan government.

Call to action

Cindy Duran, a young Chicana active in the fight to defend women’s reproductive rights, met the LA US Hands-off Cuba Committee at a recent march here in defense of a woman’s right to choose abortion. The committee had a table at the action and its members distributed flyers pointing to the gains of women in the Cuban Revolution and the fact that Cuba has had free, safe, and legal abortions for 60 years.

In closing the event, Duran gave a call to action, reading from resolutions adopted at the recent Workers Summit in Mexico. That event included representatives of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, which Washington excluded from the Summit of the Americas it hosted in Los Angeles in June.

The action items include:

  • Promoting a campaign to hold an International Day of Action (at U.S. embassies around the world) in solidarity with Cuba to be held when the U.N. General Assembly meets to condemn the blockade against the Caribbean Island.
  • Expanding the “Bridges of Love” (Puentes de Amor) program to other countries and coordinating actions around the world on the last Sunday of each month in the form of caravans or other activities.

As part of the international anti-blockade movement, the LA committee is organizing a caravan on July 31. It will assemble at MacArthur Park at 10am, drive through East LA, and conclude with a celebration at Ruben Salazar Park. “This is how we involve people. Join us,” Duran said. “Go to our website for details.”

Coverage of the event by Cuban TV can be seen here.

Mark Friedman is co-coordinator of the Los Angeles US Hands Off Cuba Committee.

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