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Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

May 1st in Cuba: No Compromise!

May 1, 2017 |

By Isbel Diaz Torres

From a previous May Day. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — A Cuba without Fidel and a Raul Castro who nobody knows what he’s been doing in the last few months, is getting ready for the May 1st march, on International Workers’ Day. The offensive from the official media has been the usual, overwhelming, full of empty, decontextualized, grandioso phrases that lack any substance. It bores and distresses us.

In the square, a batallion of plain-clothed young soldiers, led by older soldiers dressed in their uniforms, are monotonously practising how to move their red scarves up and down to the beat of Guantanamera, over and over again.

My neighbors and people on the bus are already beginning to make the same old ironic jokes: “Hey, wait for me so we can go to the march together…”, “If you see someone wearing a red T-shirt, that’s me…”, “Let’s meet where we did last year…”, etc, always referring to strategies to sidestep their employer’s censorship, who promote commitment signature sheets and other out-dated forms.

Even though Cuban workers don’t share a real class spirit, it’s true that they would have more than enough reasons to shout demands in the middle of the march: poor wages, no right to strike, no right to a Collective Bargaining Agreement in the private sector, no right to free union association, unable to participate in companys’ decision-making process, and many others.

However, they won’t do anything more than what they usually do: walk with banners in colored blocks, saying whichever slogan comes to the delirious public speaker on duty’s mind, jump about energetically in front of any TV camera, and keep an eye out for a way to escape via Paseo Avenue’s side-streets, so as not to suffer a march that has no real purpose.

However, in a changing Cuba, like the one we have today, people need to take on a more active and skeptical approach, if we don’t want those in power to slowly sell off our country piece by piece.

The Bouygues Batiment International company (the second in the list of the greatest private companies in France), as well as having won the license to modernize and manage Jose Marti International Airport, has also hired hundreds of Indian construction workers and building experts (instead of Cubans) to finish off the Manzana de Gomez Hotel.

The cost of every unskilled Indian employee was around 1,600 USD per month (3.4 times more than the average salary in their own country, and more than 40 times the average salary in Cuba).

Maybe Indian builders will march this May 1st all content, but wouldn’t this discrimination be enough reason for Cubans to protest in Revolution Square?

Why did the military men from the Gaviota Tourism Group give into French pressure? Is it because they, along with the International Kempinski Hotels Group, are receiving financial returns from this luxury hotel?

However, concessions don’t stop there… According to statements I received from an employee at Puerto Carenas, the bust of Julio Antonio Mella (yes, the young Cuban who was presumably shot down by Communists in Mexico), was recently taken from the heart of Manzana de Gomez, because this was also one of the foreign investors’ demands, not wanting to mix business with politics.

In short, workers will march for a Cuba which is becoming more and more capitalist, consumerist, more discriminatory and more non-ideological, on the morning of May 1st.

Cuban TV has told us about what happened in Chicago in its normal manipulative way, leaving out the nature of these protests, and saying that there was an anarchist among the witnesses who helped to bring the eight labor protesters to trial.

Today, we know that there were countless acts of manipulation, threats and bribery at that trial so that people would say ridiculous things about conspiracies; but the Cuban government decided to mention that there was an anarchist among the traitors.

How low bureaucrats from the Cuban Communist Party have stooped!

Nevertheless, the story is even more shocking. Since 1885, there was a political flyer that was circulating among US workers, going from hand to hand, which read:

“One day of revolt – not rest! (…) A day on which in tremendous force the unity of the army of toilers is arrayed against the powers that today hold sway over the destinies of the people of all nations. A day of protest against oppression and tyranny, against ignorance and war of any kind. A day on which to begin to enjoy ‘eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will.'”

Today, the Cuban government has made the working day more flexible and in its new Labor Code, it approves working days that are longer than 8 hours, which the Chicago anarcho-syndicalists lost their lives for.

On the eve of that May 1st in the US, the anarchist newspaper Arbeiter Zeitung, led by August Spies, published:

“Bravely forward!  The conflict has begun. An army of wage-laborers are idle. Capitalism conceals its tiger claws behind the ramparts of order. Workmen, let your watchword be: No compromise!”

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  • Carlyle MacDuff

    But the Castro supporters who write in these pages will deny that Isbel Diaz Torres is relating reality. They choose either through ignorance, innocence or indifference to believe the Propaganda Department of the PCC and to support the repression of the Cuban people. But, they do not choose such conditions for themselves, preferring to sit in the comfort of the capitalist world and to take advantage of the free speech which is permitted there but denied to Cubans.

  • Dan

    I share your concern about a possible slide or descent towards a free ,market system in Cuba. But you’re kind of picky as far as the Haymarket version given by the speaker goes. In the USA May 1st was changed to Loyalty Day, and you’d be hard pressed to find a Yuma on the street who ever heard of the origins of the day, much less hear anything about it from our millionaire leaders.