¡Cuba Sí, Bloqueo No!

A report back from the first ever Democratic Socialists of America delegation to Cuba, and how it ties into DSA’s broader program of anti-imperialism

by Aron Ali-McClory,National Co-Chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America

“I feel human again.”

Those were the words of a delegate from Michigan who was visibly emotional after Mariela Castro, the Director of Cuban National Center for Sex Education, led some 43 DSA members in both a minute of silence for Gazans, but also in chants of “Free Palestine!”

Castro’s response to the delegate: “We all have family in Palestine.”

This highly emotional exchange of solidarity and humanity represented a broader set of themes that I and others experienced on DSA’s first delegation to Cuba, at the tail end of this past October. On a fact-finding mission to examine the conditions in Cuba that had been created by decades of an illegal embargo imposed by the United States, we exchanged with Cubans at all levels of society, from deputy ministers to workers at local bars, and everyone in between.

Forty-three members of DSA traveled to Cuba with the delegation, including elected officials, labor organizers, Cuba solidarity activists, and general members. As a national Co-Chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, I not only stood as one of six members of DSA’s highest elected leadership (the National Political Committee) in attendance but also as one of four YDSA members chosen to represent a youth perspective on the delegation.

The purpose of our delegation was simple, albeit transformative: to not only stand in solidarity with the Cuban people against the blockade, but to ultimately model what a normalization of relations could look like between the people of the United States and Cuba. 

To me, this delegation represented a deeply powerful manifestation of DSA’s ongoing anti-imperialist and socialist internationalist program, which has included solidarity with movements from Japan to Palestine and everywhere in between. In Havana, I was able to see firsthand both the successes of the ongoing albeit imperfect Cuban Revolution, but also the inherent contradictions of trying to build a better world just 90 miles from the most powerful empire in history.

The takeaways were remarkable. The Cuban healthcare system — free for all citizens — is deeply integrated into the community-centered society. Despite the illegal U.S. embargo, Cuba continues to innovate at a breakneck pace. Delegates heard from Cuban scientists about their extremely effective COVID-19 vaccines, lung cancer treatments, and much more. 

We heard from various figures about the ongoing reforms in Cuba, including the recently passed family code and constitution which gave Cubans unprecedented LGBTQIA+ rights and empowered women and children within domestic situations. 

We also exchanged with various Cubans about their response to the climate crisis, how their education system works, how they prepare for and respond to national disasters, and so much more.

Though, these exchanges didn’t only highlight the successes of the Revolution- but the shortcomings it has suffered as a result of the illegal embargo. 

The combined impact of the pandemic and the U.S. embargo have caused deep economic pain in Cuba, which was reflected not only in the visible lines for gasoline that we saw, but also high prices for goods we take for granted here in the U.S., like canned tomatoes. 

We heard stories from the Cuban height of the pandemic in 2021, where the U.S. actively prevented Cuba from importing oxygen and ventilators from foreign countries and companies, threatening them with sanctions. It was clear that despite the resilience of ordinary Cubans and achievements of the Revolution, that the U.S. embargo still had deep seated effects on the entire country. After just five days in Cuba, it was clearer to me than ever that we must end the illegal U.S. embargo on Cuba.

My experience as a delegate to Cuba — a place I had heard so much about, but as it turns out, knew so little about — transformed my vision for what freedom from capitalism could look like, but also how we can begin to dislodge the imperialism that emanates from the heart of empire in which we live, work, and play. There is a blueprint for how this work can be done, thankfully, and DSA is helping to lead the way.

In the few weeks before our delegation, the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza rapidly intensified after the events of Oct. 7 in Israel. 

DSA — harnessing its unique status as the largest socialist organization in the country — was able to rally over a hundred thousand phone calls to Congress demanding a ceasefire in Palestine and the end of U.S. military aid to Israel. 

This campaign, dubbed No Money for Massacres, has tangibly shifted Congressional opinion on the war, especially as it becomes more evident that the situation in Palestine is not only caused by Israeli apartheid, but is increasingly what can only be characterized as a genocide.

This kind of anti-imperialist work is core to an effective and rigorous program of socialist internationalism, and it is exactly the type of work that can help end other projects of U.S. imperialism around the world, especially the illegal embargo on Cuba. 

Indeed, the gears of change are already turning. Following anti-embargo resolutions passed in major cities from Chicago to Minneapolis, New York state legislators sent a letter to the Biden Administration on Oct. 30 calling for an end to the embargo. This effort, of course, was spearheaded by DSA legislators and allies.

Emotionally, being able to travel to Cuba was like a breath of fresh air. This isn’t to say that Cuba is a utopia, but rather that the general tone of the country is a step ahead of our conditions in the United States. We may have the excesses of a capitalist empire, but it cannot make up for the solidarity, compassion, and drive for betterment that I found constantly throughout my time in Cuba. 

I am hopeful that this delegation not only represents an important inflection point in the movement against the embargo, but against imperialism generally. ¡Cuba Sí, Bloqueo No!

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