'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:

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