Cuba/Cuba Solidarity

Belly of the Beast Tour Broadens Support for Ending U.S. Blockade of Cuba

By Duane Stilwell

LOS ANGELES, CA — “I’ve been investigating how U.S. sanctions affect us in Cuba,” said Liz Oliva Fernández. “I want to understand why the U.S. government is doing this to us.”

The award-winning Cuban journalist, who lives in Cuba and whose work is based there, was addressing a meeting of about 100 people here on November 6. The gathering, sponsored by the LA Hands Off Cuba Committee and other organizations, was part of a nationwide tour across the United States. The tour is aimed at promoting two soon-to-be-released documentary films by @BellyofTheBeastCubaUphill on the Hill and Hardliner on the Hudson.

Belly of the Beast is a “U.S.-based media outlet that tells Cuba’s untold stories through hard-hitting journalism and stunning cinematography,” according to the group’s website.

The tour by Oliva Fernández is helping expand support for the campaign to end Washington’s economic war against Cuba.

The new films build on previous work by Belly of the Beast. In 2020, the media outlet released the award-winning documentary series The War on Cuba, highlighted in the publicity of Oliva Fernández’s current tour.

Liz Oliva Fernández, Cuban journalist for Belly of the Beast, in front of U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba. (Photo: Screenshot from Episode 4 of the documentary The War on Cuba)

This six-part series, accessible on YouTube, chronicles the relentless U.S. government campaign, launched after the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, to asphyxiate the Cuban people in order to overthrow their revolution and stamp out its example.

“The U.S. blockade has been around for more than 60 years,” Oliva Fernández notes in Episode 2 of The War on Cuba. That episode traces the origins of the U.S. embargo to the infamous Mallory memorandum of April 6, 1960. It is named after its author, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Lestor Mallory. The one-page memo succinctly laid out the rationale and goals of U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Citing the increasing popularity of Cuba’s revolutionary government, which led the people of the Caribbean island to carry out a thorough agrarian reform and other measures benefiting the nation’s working people, the document stated: “The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.”

The memo then recommended “that every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba… denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation, and overthrow of government.”

‘Biden’s Cuba policy not new’

“Biden’s Cuba policy is not new,” Oliva Fernández emphasized during the screening of Uphill on the Hill at the November 6 meeting.

November 6 meeting at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in downtown Los Angeles drew about 100 people. (Photo: Mark Friedman / LAHOC)

The War on Cuba documents the cumulative impact of the measures enacted by successive U.S. administrations to foment discontent in Cuba and increase the chances that internal unrest could lead to “regime change.” The unending cascade of these measures makes it clear that U.S. policy will remain in place as long as the Cuban people refuse to submit to Washington’s dictates.

The White House under Trump enacted some 240 new sanctions, which the Biden administration continued, while adding its own punitive measures, Oliva Fernández points out.

“For the Cuban people,” says Oliva Fernández in The War on Cuba, “it doesn’t seem to matter if the U.S. president is Trump or Biden, Republican or Democrat. In the end, the war against Cuba is the same.”

After an in-depth look at Cuba’s internationalist medical missions around the world, Oliva Fernández notes: Some people say the blockade isn’t a big deal, that our economic problems are only caused by our [the Cuban] government, or by socialism. If that is true, why don’t they lift the blockade?”

Belly of the Beast launched Oliva Fernández’s tour on October 3 to promote the two new films that will soon make their debut.

Uphill on the Hill scrutinizes the role of the U.S. politicians who have most vehemently promoted the 62-year-old U.S. blockade against Cuba.

Hardliner on the Hudson focuses on one of those politicians, U.S. senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey. Menendez is now facing a federal indictment on charges of bribery and extortion and being an agent of a foreign government.

Together with the War on Cuba, these documentaries show the increasingly suffocating impact of the interlocking and ever-more far-reaching U.S. sanctions on the daily lives of the Cuban people.

Wide interest in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles segment of the tour took place November 6-8. It included engagements at six universities: California State University Long Beach, California State University Dominguez Hills, Scripps College Claremont, University of California Los Angeles, University of Southern California, and Charles Drew Medical Center.

The LA visit also included appearances at several classes of two local high schools.

In addition, the Cuban journalist was interviewed on three radio programs and for the newsletter of the LA Federation of Labor (LAFT), which includes 300 union locals representing 800,000 workers. Leading up to the tour, the LAFT published repeatedly in its newsletter the flyer for the Nov. 6 meeting, providing advance publicity for the event. Oliva Fernández also attended a reception at a regular meeting of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local Lodge 1484.

Liz Oliva Fernández at a reception with members of the International Association of Machinists Local Lodge 1484 in Los Angeles on November 7. (Photo: Mark Friedman / LAHOC)

These included IAM Local 1484; Konstantine Anthony, the Mayor of Burbank, California; the LA chapter of BAYAN, a coalition of Filipino organizations; the UHURU 3 Defense Committee; CODEPINK; the Harriet Tubman Center; LA Hands Off Cuba Committee; and Bita Amani, a professor of epidemiology at Charles Drew Medical Center who regularly takes her students to Cuba to study the preventative and community-based Cuban health care system.

Kevin Kucera, the IAM District 190 Area Director and Business Representative in Los Angeles, sent a written message that was read to the meeting. “As members of the LA Hands Off Cuba Committee, we have been working to educate our members; to get the resolution passed by the Los Angeles Federation of Labor to remove Cuba from Washington’s list of nations suspected of terrorism,” it said.

“For six decades, Washington has done everything possible to destroy Cuba, to finance right-wing terrorist attacks on the island and their people, to malign Cuban internationalist doctors and prevent the many other forms of international solidarity that Cuba offers other countries,” Kucera’s message continued.

The blockade, Kucera concluded, “hurts workers here too by denying the free flow of culture, science, and importing of some of their unique medicines. U.S. efforts are ultimately to overthrow the Cuban government by making conditions on the island as bad as possible resulting in economic emigration and trying to foment a movement to overthrow their elected government.

“We stand with you today as an act of solidarity, with Cuban trade unions that have formed a unique relationship with you, young labor and political activists, who continue to organize, to strike and to bring the issue of ending the U.S. blockade of Cuba into the labor movement.”

“Cuba,” she said, “is fighting a war of ideas! This threatens a system that cannot tolerate the truth.”

National tour

The tour brought the issue of the U.S. blockade of Cuba for the first time to many of the approximately 500 people who participated in the three days of activities here, including many youth. Dozens of new people signed the mailing list of the LA Hands Off Cuba Committee to be informed of upcoming Cuba solidarity activities.

The national tour began in Baltimore, Maryland. Oliva Fernández has also made stops in Washington, D.C., New York City, and cities in Massachusetts, Louisiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. After the stop in Los Angeles, the tour proceeded to cities in Washington State, New Mexico, and Florida. It is scheduled to conclude on November 20 with a stop in Puerto Rico

The tour itinerary and related information can be found on this website.

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