'Venceremos, Venceremos'-The Will to Cut Cane
Socialism cannot exist if there is not a change of heart bringing about a new fraternal attitude toward humanity, both of an individual nature in societies in which socialism has been constructed or is being constructed; of a world scope in relation to all the people who suffer from imperialist oppression.
WE LEFT for Cuba on December 5 feeling like rats leaving the Titanic. Fred Hampton had been murdered the night before; when we stopped in Chicago on route to Mexico City, the Chicago Tribune ("An American Paper for Americans") screamed out to us in 100-point type that the apartment of Bobby Rush, Minister of Defense of the Illinois Panthers, had been broken into by heavily armed police less than 24 hours after Chairman Fred and Mark Clark had been shot down in their beds a few blocks away. O'Hare Airport, filled with bored businessmen and saccharine-voiced stewardesses, was a grotesque symbol of the society which allows the murder of black revolutionaries to always be labeled "justifiable homicide."
The Mexican airport greeted us with a heavy dose of colonial atmosphere: Yanqui colonial atmosphere. Dark-skinned Mexicans handling the bags, light-skinned Mexicans behind the counters in ties and jackets speaking English. Multinational corporate fingers all over-Avis, Hertz, Coca-Cola, Haig and Haig. The FBI hit us at customs with lots of Nikons and flashbulbs, stood us up against a wall in groups of five and then got our names and addresses down. After all this we almost ran onto the Cubana Airlines DC-7 (left over from Batista's regime) for the flight to Havana.
Twelve hours later, after an hour and a half bus ride in the middle of a moonless night to our cane-cutting camp and a little sleep, we sit in the open-ended recreation hall, really just a long thatched roof on stilts, for an orientation rap from Javier, the director of the camp.
"You've broken the imperialist blockade," he tells us, "to help us in the ten million ton sugar harvest and to learn about the daily activities of the Cuban Revolution and its problems. But most important you will learn how we are creating the New Man. We believe it is not enough to build a communist economy, you must build a communist man at the same time."
He goes on to say the "will to cut cane" is what guarantees success in work and that the 216 of us will be divided into seven brigades for the daily seven-hour work routine.
"This harvest," he finished, "is dedicated to the heroic Vietnamese people. We want you to know that we are willing to offer our own blood for Vietnam if it is necessary." International solidarity to the Cubans means a hell of a lot more than carrying an NLF flag.
The next day and every day after that for six weeks we were awakened at 5:30 a.m. by Cuban music on the PA system-loud and fast tunes with a lot of percussion and with lyrics usually about the sugar harvest or Vietnam. After breakfast, we'd walk together in brigades out to the cane fields.
At first it's hard, boring work cutting cane. Grab a long, thin stalk with your gloved left hand, chop it in the middle with your machete, snip off the leaves at the top, then bend down and separate the lower half of the cane (where the plant is thickest and there's the most sugar) from the soft earth with a few short flicks of the wrist. Make sure your machete is free of dirt and go to the next stalk.
All over the island 300,000 men and women are doing the same thing, 80 per cent of them are not professional cane-cutters. They come from all kinds of work: near our camp a brigade of cigar and cigarette workers and one made up of people from the Health Ministry were cutting. In all cane-cutting camps, all material necessities-food, lodging, clothing, recreational facilities, and a small medical clinic with both a doctor and a dentist in each camp-are provided completely free. This is true at all agricultural work places and in many factories also.
The Cuban people are hard at work, but with most of their physical needs provided free to all, they are not working to pay for enough "things" to live on. The only incentives used in Cuba are moral ones. People understand and speak to you all the time about how their work in the current ten million ton harvest will speed the day when the cutting of cane will be completely mechanized. Workers in all the different sections of a sugar mill we visited (which was owned by Hershey Co. before the Revolution and now is named after Camilo Cienfuegos, a leader of the R?bel Army in the war against Batista) put up big red banners in English for us stating how proud they were to be a part of the ten million ton harvest. Practically the whole labor force of the sugar mill was working extra the day we were there-a Sunday-to honor the birthday of Antonio Macco, a black general of the Cuban rebels fighting for independence from Spain in the 1890's.
We were reminded that all the work being done was voluntary, and the workers' enthusiasm as they spoke to us and the higher production achieved that day confirmed the fact. Later in our trip we traveled to Camegucy, 600 miles east of Havana, and met sixteen-year-old girls who were planting coffee and picking fruit ten hours a day and continuing their education at night. They often volunteer to work extra hours, they told us, so that more people can be free to work in the sugar harvest.
THE CUBANS see the success of this harvest as a test of their Revolution. Cuba in 1970 will produce three million more tons of sugar than the economy ever produced in any previous year. This achievement appears even more significant when you know that the one seven million ton harvest was in 1952, when sugar was really the only Cuban export worth mentioning (besides cigars) and tens of thousands of hungry cane-cutters who could find work only during the four-or five-month harvest had to work fourteen or fifteen hours a day for an average daily wage of 80 cents. Now the entire economic organization is incomparably better, and there are grappling machines to pick up the cane and trucks with huge carts attached to them to carry the cane instead of the ancient little horse-drawn, wooden-wheeled carts to take the cane to the mill.
Central planning of the harvest and scientific agricultural methods have increased the potential sugar yield immensely. When there were thousands of different owners of canefields throughout the island, each landowner would try to get his cane harvested when he could get the greatest profit for himself. This practice usually resulted in bad use of the land and a disastrous harvest every other year. Now that the whole nation's production of sugar is regulated rationally, the only barriers to a higher yield of sugar are caused by Nature. With a hemispheric blockade led by the United States attempting to strangle Cuba, the success of this year's harvest will be a resounding defeat for American imperialism. With this in mind Fidel and the Cuban Communist Party have promoted the formation of Vietnamese, Korean, Bulgarian, Russian, and Danish brigades as well as one made up of Latin-American exiles to cut alongside the Cuban people in a truly international endeavor.
The Vietnamese brigade is the most important. Composed of five young fighters from the Peoples' Liberation Armed Forces of the South and five workers from North Vietnam, they are heroce all over Cuba. Fidel, who cuts cane at least four hours every day, has cut with the Vietnamese three times; wherever they travel they receive the biggest ovation of anybody on the island and kids I talked with in schools during our tour of the island kept asking us about the "combatientes Vietnamitas." The Vietnamese, who have fought imperialist invaders since the birth of Christ and who have lost close to 1,000,000 people fighting the U.S., are now leading the world-wide battle against the Nixons and the Rockefellers, the Westmorelands and the Lodges-men who have blocked the progress of the millions of inhabitants of Asia, Africa, and Latin America for years in order to make the world safe for U.S. corporate expansion. As part of a photo exhibit in our camp about the Cuban Revolution there were these quells from Che:
The peoples of the three continents focus their attention on Vietnam and learn their lesson. Since imperialists blackmail humanity by threatening it with war, the wise reaction is not to fear war. The general tactics of the people should be to launch a constant and firm attack on all fronts where the confrontation is taking place. . . . There are no frontiers in this life-or-death battle. We cannot remain indifferent to what is happening in the world; a victory in any country over imperialism is also our victory, and the defeat of any nation is a defeat for all. The practice of proletarian internationalism is not only the duty of the people who are struggling for a better future; it is also a sheer necessity.
WE WORKED hard for six weeks, cutting a lot more cane than the Cubans ever expected. After we celebrated reaching the goal of one million arrobas (25 million pounds) of cane cut, one of the 59 Cubans who had worked with us commented that before we started work he thought we'd be "messes rather than million-aires" in cane cutting. With 39 hours of work a week, traveling outside the camp had been limited to walks into Aquacate, a little town 2 miles away and bus tours on Sundays to beaches and other places.
One Sunday we drove in our yellow-and-blue Czech bus (called wa-wa in Cuba because of the sound of the horn) to the Harvana "Green Belt" where coffee. rice, citrus fruits, and many types of vegetables are being grown for the needs of the population of the capital city and the surrounding province. Havana Province historically has been an economic burden on the rest of the nation. One out of every four Cubans lives in the Province: but before 1959 it was always completely underdeveloped agriculturally since Cuba's Yanqui corporate chieftains preferred to invest in the vast expanses of the other less-populated provinces. The purpose of the Green Belt is to change that situation. In a decade Havana Province will be self-sufficient in most foodstuffs. Much of the work in the Green Belt is being done voluntarily by the very people who will benefit directly from the development, the residents of the capital city and its suburbs.
At one stop we got out and joined hundreds of smiling, energetic people of all ages and both sexes who were filling black wax-paper bags full of dirt and placing a coffee seedling in each bag for later germination. It was a hot day but lots of people were talking animatedly and singing. They seemed to see it as a weekly outing and only a portion of the work that thousands of others in the canefields and in factories were also involved in. There are no financial rewards for this kind of labor, just a colorful pin to wear and the feeling that you are participating in growing your own food and the food that will feed everyone in your country.
We also stopped that day at the first "school in the fields," the forerunner of the kind of education all kids from 13 to 15 will be getting in the years to come. In addition to a full schedule of classes (including English) each student has one hectare of land on which he is responsible for growing and harvesting a crop. The teachers work with the students in all the various processes of agricultural production from fertilization to replanting. In this way kids grow up experiencing a harmony between intellectual and practical work. They are taking an active part in Cuba's great task of economic development, and they'll grow up to be adults with a wider consciousness of both mental and manual labor because of it.
OUR last two weeks in Cuba were spent traveling all around the island, from the city of Havana to the easternmost province of Oriente. The first day we had a free afternoon to spend in the capital. I started to walk with some friends to the old part of the city, but as soon as we got off a main boulevard, kids started to come from everywhere to talk to us. Everybody we saw had on clean clothes in good condition and looked as healthy as white teenagers from Newton. The contrast with my memories of Guatemala and Mexico was amazing. And the way people related to us, and this was true all over Cuba, was as equals. Immediately kids of thirteen and fourteen, girls as well as boys, would come up to us in the street and ask us questions to start a conversation, overjoyed to get the chance to discuss their schools, the careers they wanted to pursue, and to find out about the revolutionary movement in the United States. They all knew about the Black Panther Party and SDS, wished us luck in pressuring Nixon to pull out of Vietnam and liked to compare their cane-cutting averages to ours.
I was continually surprised at the self-confidence and frankness of almost every Cuban I met. My meager knowledge of Spanish was little problem since every new acquaintance would listen patiently to my attempted phrases, trying to guess what I was trying to say if I wasn't able to put it in intelligible language. In Havana all the kids we met had seen our brigade in newsreels in movie theatres, and in film clips on TV. They loved to talk about how the Cuban national baseball team had beaten the American team for the world amateur championship this past fall in Santo Domingo (a sports team not widely reported in the U.S. media) and broke out in big smiles when we told them how much we liked Cuba and that we had come to help them in the harvest.
Havana itself looked pretty sturdy, no inner-city slums or decaying buildings, but the city looks rather under-populated. The emphasis of construction and manpower is in the countryside where Cuba's natural wealth is being developed and where volunteer brigades made up often of young people born in large cities are learning to live, work, and study collectively. (Even Cuban TV is involved in the development of the countryside. Regularly scheduled variety shows frequently are televised live from cane-cutting camps and sugar mills with the workers from each particular location the audiences and active participants.) In this way. Cuba is avoiding the ??emend??s hardships and dislocations caused in non-socialist Third World nations by the steady exodus of former peasants and agricultural families into urban areas, economically and culturally unable to absorb them, thus leaving the rural expanses with a severe shortage of labor which lowers food production and increases the hunger of the population.
The Isle of Youth
After Havana our destination was the Isle of Pines, a seven-hour ferry ride off the southern coast of the main island. On our way into the harbor, several boats brimming with teenagers floated by us waving bouquets of flowers and singing and shouting at the top of their voices. On dry land, the welcome was overwhelming. Our buses became the main exhibits in a human parade through the small town next to the port. Old people in rocking chairs waving vigorously from their porches and everyone else lining the streets - applauding, chanting "Venceremos, Venceromos" over and over again, and singing revolutionary songs; some girls jumped on our buses and give us bags of candy, and all along the route to our hotel every Cuban we saw-on tractors, on foot, in other buses-waved and smiled as if we were long-lost relatives. We realized for the first time that our support in daily work for the Revolution had earned us a place in the Cuban family.
The next day, after sleeping in a hotel that some unlucky American businessman had finished building just four days before the military triumph of the Revolution, we were taken to see the Isle. The Isle of Pines used to be the biggest jail in Cuba. Radical journalists, student leaders, and union organizers were prisoners there along with burglars and other less political "criminals." The few agricultural projects on the island were all owned bly a group of four or
five millionaire families who kept their workers sentenced to life terms of illiteracy, malnutrition, chronic illness, racisin, and powerlessness. Now the large majority of the jails are museums or have been converted for use as school buildings.
And the Isle of Pines is now the Isle of Youth. Thousands of kids from all over Cuba have come to the Isle for two-year periods to grow citrus fruits and to raise cattle. But just as important they have come to build the first communist community in the world. The plan is to climinate money on the island in the next decade and, right now, most of the agricultural work is being done by young people who work in brigades, live collectively in work camps where all their needs are provided free, and run most of the island's affairs. The leaders of the Communist Party on the island are all in their twenties.
And to understand the kids who work on the Isle of Youth is to understand the future of the Revolution. We spent a few hours talking to the members of a brigade called "The Followers of Camilo and Che" who were selected from the best young workers in Havana province. Don't get the wrong impression from the word "selected": to be a member of the Followers is considered a great honor by all the kids we met around the island. The life of a Follower is Spartan and deeply involved in understanding the politics of world revolution. They get out of bed at 5 a.m., have a political education class (reading and discussing the writings of Che, Marx, Lenin, Fidel, and others) for an hour after breakfast and then work in the fields still 7 p.m. They are in charge of a few thousand acres of grapefruits, tangerines, and guavas; so they have become skilled in every phase of citrus fruit agronomy including grafting techniques, fertilization, and testing fruit varieties, After dinner, they talk about the news in the daily paper and on the radio and then they may see a movie, study, or go to bed.
After running down this schedule, the sixteen-year-old Cuban I was talking with insisted that the brigade could work harder and longer, but that they'd only been together for a little over a month and so were taking it easy for a while. He had a pretty accurate idea of what was going on in the U.S. politically and told me that both of us were fighting in the same war against American imperialism, only the locations of the fronts was different, he said.
In everything he said and in the relaxed but strong determination in which he spoke about his goals being the same as the goals of the Revolution and that its problems were his problems, I began to grasp why the Cuban belief in the development of the New Man is so central to the entire revolutionary process. The young people we met all over Cuba are the freest and happiest people I've ever met. They feel free because they recognize the necessity of doing exactly what they're doing for the welfare of the people of Cuba and for the example it is setting for the people of the whole world. Because they are showing that men and women can work for the collective good of society and not for private profit; because they are demonstrating every day that economic development can only occur by destroying a class society, young, Cubans have a perpetual joy and enthusiasm about their lives that can only come about through a true understanding of the reasons for human misery and a complete agreement with the methods being used to end it.
Playa Giron-The Bay of Pigs
From the Isle of Pines we went back to the big island for twelve days of concentrated touring and visiting. First we traveled to Playa Giron, known more familiarly to Americans as the Bay of Pigs, where 1500 mercenaries, armed and directed by the U.S. and provided with air cover by U.S. planes, were easily defeated in less than 72 hours by an armed Cuban population. In a museum there, we saw Sherman tanks, U.S. Army heavy machine guns and mortars, and a picture of Adlai Stevenson, the left liberal representative of a liberal government, telling the Security Council that the United States government had no involvement in the invasion; while at the same time CIA officials were directing the short-lived intervention. The Cubans have characteristically marked the site of "imperialism's first defeat in the Americas" with the construction of a school at Playa Giron where the bloodiest fighting took place in April, 1961. Historical sites in Cuba are not left as sterile monuments but are usually turned into schools; the Cubans think the best way to honor fallen heroes is by having children study and learn to carry on the Revolution that others died to defend.
And on we traveled to Orient, where in the Sierra Maestra, Fidel began thirteen years ago with a force of twelve men to make the Cuban Revolution. We stayed at the University of Santiago de Cuba for four days in a dorm with female medical students who couldn't understand how Americans in the U.S. could tolerate having to pay for medical care and medicines. We visited a new housing project with pastel-colored pre-fabricated panels, a free day-care center like those all over Cuba where infants from the age of 45 days are cared for while their parents work, and a primary school on the grounds of the project. As in all housing built by the Revolution, no one in the project pays any rent. Within six months, all rents will be abolished in Cuba.
On our last day in Oriente, we went to the Moncada barracks in the center of Santiago. On July 26, 1953, 135 Cubans with a strong love for their countrymen and a burning hate for tinhorn dictators with rich American friends tried unsuccessfully to capture the barracks in an attempt to spark an insurrection which they though would topple Batista's government. There is a huge school now in the long, pink building with seventeen-year-old bullet holes still pock-marking its walls. That day the fourth-graders had filled a bulletin board with a photo exhibit of Vietnamese children. A few pictures showed kids staring blankly at the camera, their flesh grotesquely disfigured by Dow's napalm, but most of the shots were of boys and girls dancing in a circle, making pungi sticks to trap U.S. soldiers, or working in the rice-fields. On top of the pictures was a strip of paper with the words, "Children are born to be happy."
Cubans are working to make that homily into the world's reality.