Sunday, 14 March 2010


david's thoughts

Its’ now just over a year since the Havana 9 all arrived back from Cuba. The two week delegation seemed to last a lifetime but still seemed to be over too fast.

I am 28 years old and the time I spent in Cuba accounts for 0.14% of my life but I miss Cuba as if I grew up there. So what do I miss?

I miss Eddie frantically flicking through his phrase book every time a Cuban said “Hola” to him.
I miss hearing a government official talking about wanting to help people and actually believing him!
I miss Bill and Steve reenacting ideological battles of bygone days between The Communist Party and Militant over a mountain of empty Bucanero cans.
I miss hearing about a country sending thousands of their men and women overseas to heal people rather than drop bombs on them.
I miss hearing Alison’s conspiracy theories about Cuban Secret Service Agents in Pinar Del Rio trying to spirit us away to a salsa bar.
I miss Danny’s talent for non verbal communication and fake photo shoots.
I miss hearing Social Workers being called “Doctors of the Soul”.
I miss David our translator laughing at us putting on Revolutionary hats and hiding among the potted plants for pictures.
I miss Morag’s obsession with geology and salsa.
I miss a country where local food growing cooperatives donate a part of their crop to local schools just because it’s the right thing to do.
I miss Landy, our other translator, bamboozling us with political questions about “What influence did Gramsci have in the formation of the SSP’s ideology?”
I miss the serenity of reverence of Che Guevara’s Memorial.
I miss trying to think of insightful questions about canned tomatoes.
I miss trying to learn Salsa (Remember Kevin! Uno, dos, tres, uno, dos, tres).
I miss the warmth and strength of the ordinary people we met at the CDR.
I miss the billboards, the Malecon, the rum, the cigars, the rum (did I already say that?),

I miss Cuba!!
David McClemont

Tuesday, 19 May 2009




Sunday, 22 February 2009

La Conchita
Tues 10th Feb

The Conchita brand is something of a national institution with its range of juices, sauces, and canned goods featuring in the majority of Cuban kitchens. Its canning factory is source of pride for the Pinar del Rio and employs around 550 local people.

On arriving at the factory, you’re struck by the political murals, particularly the one at the entrance reminding everyone of the ongoing campaign to free the Miami five. We were met by the director (and a glass of their own pineapple juice) who showed us around the site and introduced us to some of the workers. Unsurprisingly, La Conchita was affected by the massive hurricanes last year and work was continuing on repairing their facilities. However, their crop yield seemed to have increased with the soil apparently becoming more fertile as a result of the weather.

During most of our visits we have asked how the US blockade has affected things. The response tends to be that while the blockade no doubt hampers life and prevents the economy from reaching its potential, the political will is there to ensure that Cuba will not be defeated and we have seen ample evidence of how enterprises and public services are getting by impressively. This was our first visit where we could see it having an impact. The factory is 60 years old and much of its technology is old- the blockade is prevented from importing the necessary equipment for modernising and expanding production.

That said, production is continuing to increase, and with 10% of profits going back into the factory’s facilities (the other 90% to the government) they are confident that they can continue to make gradual changes to keep things ticking over. How much easier things would be though if they didn’t have to operate with their hands tied behind their backs.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Fidel’s meeting with Michelle Bachelet

During her recent visit to Cuba, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet met with Fidel for approximately one and a half hours.

In his "Reflections," Fidel highlighted his satisfaction at the Chilean president’s friendly visit.

We present our readers with photos of the occasion.


Friday, 20 February 2009


Our second full afternoon involved a meeting with social workers at one of Cuba's four training school on the outskirts of Havana. The journey to the social work school was memorable because we were all still very much taken by the billboards celebrating 50 years of revolution or calling for 'Victory for Socialism' that dotted the motorway.

The Cuban Social Workers we met represented each of Cuba's regions. I was struck by the relative youthfulness of the Social Workers (turns out the average age of SW'S in Cuba is 24) and surprised, to say the least, that they appeared to be wearing t-shirts advertising what they were! Turns out they are highly visible (and don't have lynch mobs chasing them) within their communities and are also encouraged to return to where they grew up once they have completed their training. We exchanged stories about how Social Work was often scapegoated by the media and government in Scotland and how communities, or sections within communities, often regard Social Workers as 'the enemy'. Hence why a social work 'uniform' wouldn't necessarily be popular amongst Scottish social workers.

Cuba's dedicated Social Work Service is only 9 years old, hence the young average ages of S.w's. Functions carried out by social workers now, were previously carried out by the Federation of Cuban Women.Currently there are 42,000 Social Workers in Cuba who describe themselves officially as 'Doctors of the Soul'! They make a moral commitment to work as social workers for ten years (this isn't compulsory though !). It did sound a bit evangelical to me but I don't live in a society that operates a form of socialism and therefore shapes individuals and motivations differently.

The biggest undertaking they have achieved is the weighing and measuring of all children under 16. This was done in the earlier part of the decade and gave a comprehensive overview of the health of the nation's young people. This undertaking was partly as a result of the 'Special period' in the 90's, a period of severe shortages, rationing and subsequent health problems due to the collapse of the Soviet block and thus an 85% drop in foreign trade.

Three Golden Rules are applied to social work in Cuba 1) Be friends with everone in your community 2)Never work with statistics, know people's names 3) Never wait to be asked for help, seems reasonable to me I thought. They have seperated some of the more difficult tasks that Social Workers are often directly involved in e.g. involvement in taking children into care, thus allowing them to retain, in their words, a friendlier and more trustful relationship within their communities. A combination of time, magnified as everything was in translation, and lack of understanding about their System prevented questions being asked that scratched beneath the surface though, questions such as 'who makes these difficult decisions?

The meeting was enjoyable and boded well for the rest of the trip as the people we met seemed open, friendly and ready for a bandolier of questions in English. I was too shy to ask for a social work t-shirt as we'd only really just arrived and were unsure of the protocol, if the meeting had been at the end of the trip then I would have definately begged, borrowed or stolen one to wear to work.

Thursday, 19 February 2009


Unusually, the lunch today is a formal occasion, in that we are dining with Oscar Martínez Cordovés, deputy head of the international relations department of the Central Committee of the the Communist Party of Cuba (Cubans like their titles !!!) and Teresita Trujillo, Official of the Foreign Relations Department of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. the first thing to say is that meeting Teresita is always like meeting an old friend and Oscar, despite his position is friendly, down - to- earth and chatty. This is going to be the most informal of formal lunches !!

Our hosts are interested in information about the SSP and we discuss our upcoming conference, where Luis Marron will address the party on the 50 anniversary of the Cuban revolution. they want to know what issues we will be discussing and we outline some debate we have had on our election strategy and changes in our party structures over the last couple of years.

For the delegation, one of the big questions is , what would the Cubans like us to do when we return to Scotland - Teresitas reply ? "I have a list !!!"

Oscar and Teresita went on to explain that solidarity with Cuba is very important and they thank the SSP for its support but that would not be enough if people in Scotland did not have the information about Cuba and, maintaining contacts with the central committee directly and through Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign is vital. Teresita explained that a practical example of this would be for us to contact all US senators and representatives with a Scottish background or family history, to give them information about the appeal process of the Cuban 5. At home, contact with our own MP's, MSP's and MEP's would put the pressure on the political establishment in the UK to support the return of the unjustly imprisoned Cubans.

The delegation were quite pleased that there was a practical direction that we could all channel our enthusiasm when we get home. We were told earlier that this SSP delegation was an unusually large delegation (9 people) and that we have stayed for a longer period of time (15 days) typically a delegation is 2-3 people and come for 2-5 days. we have been occupied with many meetings, information gathering and travelling, but still we have only scratched the surface, but with all the political stuff comes so much kindness from our hosts that one of the delegation has coined a new phrase joining holiday and delegation to describe our trip as a "holigation" which I think sums up the trip nicely.