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.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


At around 6'4" and taller than most Cubans, the president of the Alimar urban agriculture project, that we had come to visit cut an imposing figure in his camouflage work gear and gaucho hat.

as we gratefully gathered in the shade of the projects' café we were glad to accept another of the small intense coffees we have come to appreciate at each visit. clearly accustomed to international visitors and obviously a very busy guy he got straight down to business.

The project is a co-operative, democratically run, producer of food and medicinal plants. The president, along with the executive committee are elected by the members in a secret ballot for a five year term. The co-op is able to provide, fresh organic fruit, vegetables etc a a low price to the people in the surrounding community. employing 170 workers, who receive shares in the co-op, the salary is 4 times higher than the average salary.

The president outlined the importance of changing attitudes and raising the status of working on the land, professionalising a job that was traditionally viewed as unskilled and unattractive.

As we have travelled through the different regions of Cuba, we have noticed smaller urban co-ops. a minimum of 6 friends or neighbours in an area. the land is leased free of charge and tools and seeds are provided to help these groups make a start.

He said " food production is of vital importance in Cuba" . Through necessity the huge state farms were broken up, during the "special period" in the 1990's and today between 70% and 80% of all agricultural land organised under some kind of co-operative system.

historically, Cuba was the biggest sugar growing country in the world, but when the soviet bloc collapsed , so did Cuba's ability to export her crop and had to go through a period of diversification which had a huge impact on food production around the country leading to food shortages.

Now food co-ops, like the Alimar project, help provide some of the local community's needs , giving food to the local schools and nurseries but also provides for other community development including employment, access to financial loans, free meals three times a day for workers and training paid for by the profits of the co-op. but unlike other co-ops. Alimar, receives EU funding, but has rejected funding where the criteria could not be agreed on however, the two remaining EU partners are respectful of the projects aims and continue to fund the project without interference and as the co-op president said," one of the biggest frustrations for we Cubans is that we know the way but lack the resources"

The Cuban rebels' attack on the armoured train in Santa Clara has been given a new found fame recently due to the first part of Steven Soderberg's two part biopic of Che' Guevara. This gave our tour of the battlefield (complete with original wreckage and recreations) a new twist as the guide was keen to point out the historical inaccuracies of the film. I wouldn't have wanted to be Steven Soderberg at the films Cuban premiere when some of the original combatants showed up and started pointing out where they were actually standing slightly to the right of at no point crouched down during the course of the battle. An example of the inaccuracies in the film, was that the train is only five carriages long, seventeen less than the actual number. This detail may seem petty but when it was explained that these twenty two carriages full of soldiers, weapons and ammunition was captured by only twenty three men, it does sound far more impressive. Although the photograph of Batista's soldiers when they realised they had just surrendered to a handful of bearded, cigar smoking guerrillas a fraction of their own number indicates that they did not appreciate the audacity of the plan. One of the surprising details of the attack on the armoured train is that despite derailing a train by ploughing up the tracks and prolonged gunfire afterwards there were no fatalities in the incident, something that pleased the pacifist wing of the delegation. The location of such a historic monument in the heart of the town, in the original place where the battle took place helps to keep history alive in Cuba and helps to keep the sense of revolution an ongoing process even fifty years after the fall of Batista.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

thanks to all those who have left comments - we have been getting our cuban hosts to read them !! and the occupation of glasgow uni has been passed on to the university students union here in havana and to the university of pinar del rio.

hasta siempre la victoria

They like their titles in Cuba.

To ascertain the role of women in the Cuban revolution and indeed in wider Cuban society, the SSP spoke to Eneyda Lopez Peralta who has the very impressive title of Head of International Relations of the Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba in Villa Clara.
The province takes in the town of Santa Clara which is of course famous as the final burial place of Che Guevara.
His remains are located in a monument in the town along with those of 34 other revolutionaries who died fighting alongside Guevara in Bolivia.
One of these included a woman named 'Tanya' and it is her and a host of other women including Celia Sanchez - one of Fidel Castro leading comrades - and Vilna Espin, a founder of the womens organisations in Cuba, who Eneyda refers to when explaining women's part in shaping Cuban history.
Standing at just over five feet, Eneyda Lopez Peralta exudes warmth and affection.

However, once the topic turns to politics it is clear this 'Guevara gran' retains a great deal of revolutionary zeal.
"Women have always played a prominent role in the history of the Cuban struggle," Eneyda explains in very expressive and animated terms.
She continues, "It goes all the way back to the wars of independence with the Spanish, to the struggle with the Batista dictatorship in which individuals such as Melba Hernandez and Heydee Santamaria played crucial parts and were involved in guerilla warfare.
"And women's' influence in Cuban society continues to this day."
The statistics do paint an interesting picture.
For a country often accused of being macho, Cuba appears to have an impressive number of women on prominent and influential positions in its society.
In general employment, less than two per cent of Cuban women are unemployed.
Women account for:
Almost 64 per cent of all general doctors.
Over 51 per cent of all researchers.
Over three quarters of all social workers.
Over 25 per cent of the self employed.
In education women account for 65 per cent of all university graduates of which over 45 per cent are technical and professional graduates and 40 per cent are scientists.
The political and legal institutions are no less populated with women making up over 43 per cent of the parliament of which 38 per cent are in leading positions and 30 per cent of vice ministries - though disappointingly they account for only 12 per cent of Cuban ministers.
Over 70 per cent of all attourneys in Cuba are women, over 60 per cent are judges, and 47 per cent are judges in the supreme court.
Eneyda concludes: "When I think about what woman have done for Cuba and what they are achieving, it makes me proud to be a woman in Cuba."



Just as the weather seems to be a hot topic of conversation back in Scotland, it is also the case here in Cuba.
However, the chat does not concern the blanket of snow currently covering Caledonia, but the hurricane which devastated Cuba in September 08.
Winds of up to 140 mph wreaked havoc across the entire island, leaving scars in the shape of ripped off roofs visible to this day.
The weather - or rather the hurricane - is what we mainly hear about when Marbel Pilotes Hernandez, a member of the Executive Bureau of the Provincial Party in Pinar del Rio, welcomes the SSP delegation to the area.
The province is the most western in Cuba with a population of 731,000.
Two of its main industries are agriculture and tobacco, which makes it easy to understand why the people of this area share the Scottish fascination with the weather.
Joining Marbel Hernandez is Nestor Rodriguez Maury, a member of the Provincial Committee of the Communist Party.
He says through an interpreter: "We have seen on our news how the weather is affecting the UK.
"We had a similar severe weather experience with the hurricane.“
He is far too polite to point out that the current Scottish experience is merely an inconvenience and that it has not left our country devastated, but it's one we are aware of.
Marbel Hernandez continues: "Over 113,000 homes were damaged and 30,000 were completely destroyed.
"Naturally our agriculture was severely affected but we are recovering."
Other interesting nuggets of info we learn about the province include the fact it has one doctor for every 215 people and 100 per cent of its students finish their studies.
Following the welcome we head off into central Pinar del Rio, for a tour of the area.
The day concludes with us (well some of us. Okay me and Steve) drinking ridiculously cheap rum until 4am before Alison chases us off to bed.
Like the hurricane, there is a heavy price to pay afterwards.

The Appliance of Social Science

The INPUD factory in Santa Clara has been producing domestic appliances for the country since it was opened by Che in 1964. Today it can boast that at least one of its products- coffee makers, pressure cookers, ovens, fridges, fans- is in every home in Cuba.

However, it's not been straight forward over the 45 years. They were hit hard during the special period due to a lack of raw materials, 90% of which used to come from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. However, given the lack of availability of petrol, the factory was re-equipped and the workers retrained to make bicycles, which contributed to its continued productivity and met a new need.

During the visit, we met Ruperto Chinea Martinez who has worked there since it opened and is known to his colleagues as the 'Father of the Factory.' He talked about the feeling of belonging to a family and the satisfaction of benefiting directly from something they have produced themselves.

We next met with Pedro Manuel Mendoza, the General Secretary of the Trade Union in the factory. He explained their role in ensuring that the health and safety of the work force and some of the other benefits they have secured such as medical facilities, full payment during times when the factory is unable to open (eg following hurricanes), and its own educational facilities where workers can study, amongst other subjects, for a degree in industrial engineering.

We also met with the Marketing Director, Marisel Montero Lago. She explained that she had studied at university before starting work on the shop floor of the factory. When asked how much more she earns in what we would consider to be a senior management role her answer was quite surprising. "My wage is capped at 500 pesos per month. [Workers on the shop floor] can earn up to 800 pesos, but that's only fair because they're doing the producing."


During the latter part of the Cuban Revolution, Che' Guevara, with little over 300 men under his command, liberated the city of Santa Clara. This was a pivotal point in the revolution as it left the path clear for the rebel army to march upon Havana and hastened the departure of the dictator Fulgencio Baptista who fled the country soon after, taking refuge in Franco's fascist Spain. The people of Santa Clara have never forgotten their liberator and the city is a fitting location for his final resting place. The Che' Guevara memorial is everything it should be, striking and imposing yet dignified and respectful. The large statue that stands atop the memorial complex is a symbol of his connection to Santa Clara. It gazes towards the mountains from which he and his brave guerilla fighters approached the city and wears a sling just as Che's had on that day to cradle his broken arm. The statue is cast from bronze many of which came from objects personally donated by the citizens of the city to be melted down and included in the formation of the statue.

Below the statue a complex houses a museum dedicated to Che' and also his mausoleum. The museum is filled with many of Che's personal belongings and photographs less well known than Alberto Korda's iconic picture. It allows an insight into the man who became a legend. When entering the mausoleum the reverential atmosphere is striking. The room is filled with green vegetation, decorated with a smooth stone floor and intricate wood panelling in the ceiling which is somewhat lower than would be expected. All of these ingredients combine to create the serene enclosed atmosphere of a jungle. The memorial is not just the final resting place of Che' but also for the brave guerillas that died with him in the jungles of Bolivia. Their faces are carved on stone markers behind which those whose remains have been recovered are interred. Che's marker stand forward from the wall in front of his comrades, symbolically leading his men even after death.

As a socialist it isn't really the done thing to have heroes. However I find it difficult to think of any other way to describe how I feel about Che' Guevara. The visit to his memorial was one of the most profound and emotional experiences of my life and is the closest thing to a religious experience that I am ever likely to encounter. Che' remains a symbol of defiance for millions around the world and as long as there are people willing to fight against poverty, tyranny and inequality then the spirit of Che' Guevara will live on, hasta victoria siempre!

David McClemont
Thursday 5th February

Good Health!

With an average life expectancy of 78.2 years and an infant mortality rate of around 2 in a 1000, the advancement in health care is one of the proudest achievements of the Cuban Revolution. This morning we were taken to visit the Chiqui Gomez Polyclinic, one of eight in Santa Clara, to see first hand some of the work they do.

Most of the polyclinic patients are referred there by a family doctor to see a specialist and, because they are much more localised than the hospitals, they are much more convenient for the patients. However, they are also available to walk-in patients and emergency facilities are ready if required.

Among the areas we were able to see were the dental facilities, complete with fully modern equipment and 24 hour emergency care. As in Scotland, patients are encouraged to attend every 6 months for check-ups; unlike Scotland, patients are not charged for the privilege.

Of course, one of the most impressive aspects of the Cuban health system has been their ability to share these resources with other countries including Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Angola. When asked why they did this given the scant resources available, Clinic Director Pedro Ruiz Alvarez told us that, as doctors, they believe that poor health care anywhere was "ethically unacceptable."

In Pinar del Rio, where I am as I update this, there is one doctor to 215 people, compared to a UK average which is closer to one for every 500. It is this investment in 'human resources' to which Pedro credits the success of the system. The blockade obviously has an impact on their resources, but he insisted that they were learning to live with it, adding, "In the long term, the blockade will be more of a loss to the [US] government."

Our first meeting of today was at the national headquarters of the federation of Cuban women(FCW) , where we met with Ana Milagros Martinez, who is head of international relations.

The federation is an NGO which is the national body for the advancement of women in Cuba and involves more than 4 million women. following the 4th world UN conference, a national plan of action was adopted.

Ana outlined the main areas of work carried out by the FCW. The FCW have established a woman's study centre in Havana which offers training and education in gender studies and other subjects relating to women's issues. These are not only accessed by Cuban women but by many others throughout Latin America.

Ana spoke next about the FCW's role in the promotion of women in decision making. for example, women in parliament make up 43%, whilst 47% of the judges and 71% of all attorneys are women.

The FCW interact with other women's organisations, academia, and women in the media. They produce educational materials and publish a 3 monthly magazine for women and also one for young girls.

Another vital part of the FCW's work is community work. This is undertaken through a national system of "counselling houses" of which there are 175 throughout Cuba. These centres offer support and advice on a diverse range of issues. They are a space for women and their families, introduced in the early 1990's in response to that difficult period of time for Cubans. They offer a range of services, advice and support on domestic violence, parenting skills, HIV, sexuality and family problems.

After there was a discussion about women's role in the Scottish Socialist party and in Scottish life in general and finished with an invite from the federation for a group from the woman's network to come and visit soon !!!

The Cubans are clearly hell-bent on acclimatising us to the political situation before our bodies can get used to the extreme heat as on day one, meeting one, we are to meet the central committee of the Communist Party. No pressure then.
As we all brought formal wear for such an occasion, the shorts and t-shirts remain in case for a little longer as shirts, ties, dresses and kilts are worn instead.
We set off convinced in our own heads we each resemble the fine figure that adorns porridge boxes. However, the looks from ordinary Cubans suggest we are more Charles Haughtry in Carry on Up the Kyber and it's more 'good grief' than Scottish beef.
To add to our identity crises, our meeting turns out to be an informal discussion with Teresita Trujillo, the secretary of the CP's international committee. It is no less informative as the two hour meeting proves to be completely fascinating.
Even though we are accompanied by our translator David or 'Davide', Teresita speaks perfect English and his services are not required.
She explains in depth the situation Cuba currently finds itself in and the period it has just come through.
She tells how following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Cuba's battle to adjust to the situation with the loss of much of its income and market, the country spent the best part of a decade simply trying to survive and protect the gains of the revolution.
This led to some economic reforms which resulted in to some concessions to the private sector particularly with regards to farming.
Once Cuba came through what is referred to the 'special period' the government felt sufficiently empowered to look at social planning within Cuba.
It has now in the process of improving and upgrading Cuba's infrastructure, dealing with roads and transportation.
Being international secretary, Teresita also dwelt on the international situation, however other topics discussed included climate change, the global credit crises, Cuba's political system, education and the political situation in the UK and Scotland, which she knew a great deal about.
Asked on how Cuba's political system involves ordinary people, she explained how trade unions and work places are all consulted and invited to amend government legislation.
Following the meeting we are given a tour of the Jose Marti museum and some of us also decided to visit the hugely impressive museum of the Revolution.
It is then back to our unimaginatively named 'Hotel 41' for our evening meal - the amount of food bestowed on us is frightening and actually leads to us asking if we can get less.
Like all good Scots, we then head for the pub and meet some very friendly Cubans who ply us with beer, Cuba Libre and salsa steps.
When the tab arrives, the reason for their hospitality beams on us all like the morning sun through an un-shuttered hotel window.
We empty our pockets and wander back to the hotel with faces longer than Fidel's with his beard at its grandest.
Our acclimatising is clearly not restricted to sun and socialism.


sorry to all the comrades that were expecting daily updates - access , technical difficulties ensued and the communist party have keeping us on our toes with 2-3 meetings a day so loads to tell you all but have got the companeros to write some stuff up about some of the meetings. sufice to say we have been treated extremely well and have seen and met many amazing people. a special mention to david and Landy our guides ( and friends) and Happy birthday to landy (26 today)

still not solved all of the tech problems so cant upload any photos at the moment. and will try and work how to cut and paste on cuban computers

fingers crossed !!!!!!!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009


2.30 am Sunday morning . Time to go to pick up Morag and head off to Glasgow airport. Fairly smooth run through apart from the M8 closed in the middle of Glasgow and a short but confusing diversion. Arrived just before everyone else started to arrive. Check-in was fairly painless as I had used the on-line check-in facilities.

The flight to London was quite quick but felt a bit sick on the way down so a cabin crew member gave me a travel sickness pill which seemed to help. Gatwick . That's where the problems began.

First of all we arrived early so our stance wasn't free , we were directed to another one but when we got off there was no wheelchair assistance and we had to cross to the other terminal, which we did as fast as we could, when we got there the (very unhelpful and grumpy) person on the desk told us the the flight booking was closing and that we were lucky we were getting on !!!! "didn't you know you had to be here 90 minutes before the flight?" that would be a no !!! when we explain about the wheelchair assistance not turning up. we were told that the assistance were up on the next level. lift broken - two flights of stairs - very helpful !! the rest of us were told to run or we wouldn't make the flight.

Gate 19, a 5-10 minute jog was full of people when we got there, we checked in and Morag, Steve and Alison arrived a few minutes later by buggy. we all made it !!

Then we waited, and waited , and waited. all told in the lounge and sitting on the plane, we left over two hours late but at least we were on our way!! the cabin crew were really nice and seem to be giving us food every 5 minutes but it still felt much longer than the 10 hours.

we arrived in Cuba 2 1/2 hours late and were met by David (pronounced daveed) who is our interpreter. he met us off the plane and took us through customs were we were marched to the front off the queue to our total embarrassment and the other tourists consternation, who had been standing in the queue for some time.

we collected our baggage and were taken out to the minibus. Here we met our driver and Landy our official from the Cuban communist party. A quick stop at an hotel to change our money into Cuban dollars and then on to our "communist party facilities". it was a small complex of rooms which were really comfortable and we each got a room to ourselves apart from steve and Alison , who we requested a double room and Danny and David who i guess were unlucky!! the only criticism that we have so far is that they feed us too much - 3 courses for breakfast, lunch and dinner. so we had to ask that they give us something light for lunch. Monday's lunch included lobster, which was a bit unexpected. the puddings are a bit strange too, the first night we had mango coulée with a slice of Edam-type cheese in it. it was a bit bizarre to say the least although separately delicious !!

we have a little get together in the bar after dinner to talk about the first couple of days events and our role in them. we reckoned that the meeting with the central committee tomorrow will be formal, although we are not sure the format of the meeting. we opt for smart formal dress, ie kilts suits etc.