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 A diverse crowd, representing more than a dozen organizations, streamed into a meeting here to raise money for medical aid for Cuba and to show opposition to the US Blockade. As the approximately 65 people entered the McCarthy Memorial Church in LA’s Black community, they were entertained by the Elliott Caine jazz trio. 

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 US Hands-off Cuba Committee sponsored the event. 

Brenda Lopez, co-coordinator of the committee, opened the program. Lopez described the history of the committee and her “activism that began after returning from Cuba” in 2019 after participating 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 which 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.” 

Brenda Lopez, Co-Chair LA Hands Off Cuba committee

Brenda Lopez, Co-Chair LA Hands Off Cuba committee

Pastor Eddie Anderson welcomed participants on behalf of McCarthy Memorial Church. The church has existed since 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 Chunk and Dakota nations and a leader of struggles by Native Americans for land and water rights. He gave examples of how indigenous people have been the victims of the same policies that Washington has used against the people of Cuba. 

Guadalupe Cardona, a member of the United Teachers of LA (UTLA) and the National Education Association (NEA) spoke next. 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. 

Carlos Lazo

Carlos Lazo

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 U.S. 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.” She 2 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 embassy 

The audience was treated to a special solidarity message from the Lianys Torres, Chief of Mission of the Cuban Embassy. 

“On behalf of the Embassy of Cuba in the United States, I would like to send a warm salute 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.” 

Vinnie De Stefano, of Assange Defense-LA.

Vinnie De Stefano, of Assange Defense-LA.

Vincent DeStefano, a board member of Assange Defense-LA, spoke Washington’s efforts to seek the extradition to the U.S. of Wikileaks leader Julian Assange. “What do Cuba and Assange have in common? Both face US outright lies, and like Cuba, Assange has been pilloried as has WikiLeaks. If Assange is convicted it will be a major blow to free speech here and internationally.” 

Megan Foronda, regional coordinator of the Filipino group BAYAN, who was also representing the International Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines. “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 US attacks on Cuba”, she emphasized. “We are here to celebrate Cuba’s example of sending support to others during the pandemic. US Hands Off Cuba!” And the crowd agreed. 

New activism led largely by young people has been a highlight of the union organizing drive at Amazon. Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), 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, tying the ALU up in NLRB hearings for weeks already. 

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. 

Right prior to that election victory, Smalls spoke at an international conference against the US blockade of Cuba in NYC. 

“I stand firmly with Cuban families and the L.A. US Hands Off Cuba Committee in our call to break the blockade and end the six-decade long embargo,” Smalls message said. “Organized labor must do more to end this human rights disaster.” Sandra Ramirez, North American director of Cuba’s International Committee of Friendship with the People (ICAP) sent a strong video solidarity message, recognizing the importance of public meetings in helping to end the US blockade 

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 part of the the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) LA convention. 

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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’ve organized to bring medical aid to Cuba. Most recently, I learned of 8 Cuban children that needed liver transplants, which could not be performed because the fluid needed to keep liver integrity 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.” Prensa Latina

Lazo recounted a bit of his own history. “As someone who was jailed in Cuba for illegally stealing a boat to come to the US, and then being a US army combat medic in Iraq and seeing what the US devastation to the people there, I swore I would fight for bridges between Cuba and the US, 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.” "Abogan por el fin del bloqueo a Cuba en Los Ángeles" on YouTube:

The fund pitch raised more than $1,250 towards the national goal of 125,000. It was motivated by Cuba’s Latin American Medical School (ELAM) graduate, Jiddou, now a new practicing physician in the LA area. To contribute, go to: Life-Saving Medical Supplies for Cuba - Global Health Partners (ghpartners.org) 

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. Cuba has “more doctors per person 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. “The brigade was created in 1969 as an anti-imperialist, multi-generation, multiracial effort to end the blockade and travel restrictions and get the US out of Guantánamo.” The “Workers Summit,” which featured central leadership of the Cuban Trade Union Federation (CTC), passed two important resolutions to help guide the international anti-blockade movement. 

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Linh Co, a young Vietnamese woman representing LaMAS, told the crowd “My parents left Vietnam after the US defeat and the beginning of the socialist transition” but she was politicized in the US by seeing what capitalism causes. “We are in solidarity with Cuba. It is an example for the global south and for those of us in the belly of the beast. I salute the people here and the Saving Lives Campaign…it shows that Cuba is not alone.” 

Lawrence Reyes, spoke on behalf of the Puerto Rican Alliance. “We have a strong common history with Cuba in fighting the foreigners. The Obama administration installed a junta to gentrify Puerto Rico, to wipe out social services, break the unions and intensify its colonization. We, like Cubans will not be begging on our knees.” 

Tsukuru Fors, a Japanese-American a founding member of Pacific Asian Nuclear-Free Peace Alliance and a Japanese American who supports ending the US blockade of Cuba and advocates for one united Korea. “Japan was imperialist, so I lobby here to end the Korean war which is not over. During Che Guevara’s 1959 visit to Japan the Cuban delegation secretly took a midnight train to Hiroshima (over the objections of the Japanese government) to witness what US rulers did to an innocent population, killing more than 360,000 (with continued radiation affects still today-mf).. Che wrote about his experience in Hiroshima in an article, "Recuperase Japon de la tragedia atomica (Verde Olivo, 19 October 1959) 

“The LA Bus Riders Union supports third world revolutionary struggles”, Danny Martinez told the assembled. “We want people to dream, our strategy center is training people to fight the war against our communities.” On behalf of the Union, they donated generously to the Saving Lives campaign. 

A video message by Camilla Saab seeking support in defense of Alex Saab, was sent to the meeting. In it she explains the injustice of the actions against him and the people of Venezuela, by the US government while he was on an international mission to secure aid for Venezuelans; also, like Cuba, fighting US sanctions, aimed at bringing down the government. 

Also participating in the meeting was the Midnight Bookstore in Whittier. “The first thing you see on our wall is a large portrait of Che Guevara, as our main inspiration remains the Cuban revolution and the amazing spirit of the Cuban people who've carried that revolution since. We are here today, standing in solidarity with the Cuban people to end the blockade.” 

Yet another solidarity greeting. The “Southern California members of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party (AAPRP) stand in resolute solidarity with the Hands Off Cuba Coalition against the violent and illegal embargo of Cuba. 

Look to Cuban contributions in Angola, South Africa, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, for examples of Cuban medical, engineering, and military brigades have for decades traveled the reverse course of those transatlantic European slaving ships which brought Africans to the Caribbean centuries ago. Cuba is a strike against the same US and western domination bearing down on Africans worldwide.” 

Lawrence Reyes

Lawrence Reyes

Call to action 

Cindy Duran, a young Chicana active in the fight to defend women’s reproductive rights, met the LA Hands Off Cuba committee at a recent women’s march in the area 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, 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 included representatives of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua that Washington excluded from the Summit of the Americas it hosted in Los Angeles in June. These include: 

  • Promoting a campaign to hold an international day of action (at US 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 coordinate actions around the world on the last Sunday of each month in the form of caravans or other activities. 

Los Angeles will have a caravan, as part of the international anti-blockade movement, on July 31, at 10am, assembling at MacArthur Park, driving through East LA, for a concluding celebration at the Ruben Salazar Park. “This is how we involve people. Join us,” Duran said. “Go to our website for details.” 

Photos by Raz Kua Che