An excellent new book explores exactly what the concept of international solidarity means to Cuba, says BOB ORAM
Exporting Revolution: Cuba’s Global Solidarity by Margaret Randall (Duke University Press, £20.99)
HURRICANE Irma brought into sharp focus the astonishing reality of Cuba’s internationalism. Even while nature’s horrific power pummelled the island, Cuba was dispatching 750 health workers to neighbouring countries to help them.
As Margaret Randall states in her book Exporting Revolution: “In Cuba, we have a country that has given — and continues to give — more than its share of morality, expertise, talent, heavy lifting and concrete aid to peoples everywhere.”
Her lack of boundaries as a poet and author allow her to tackle one of the biggest stories about the island, not just with detailed history but also with personal interviews which deliver an insight into both why and what internationalism means for Cuba.
It’s both informative and incredibly moving to hear the feelings and experiences of individual participants.
Quick to nail the accusations levelled at Cuba for years by the US, Randall reinterprets the book’s title to “free it from its cold war aura” and acknowledge its legitimate meaning. Following the path first laid out by “the apostle of the Cuban revolution” Jose Marti, it is Cuba’s conception of the nation in its broadest sense as “humanity” that underpins its internationalism. Randall writes: “Unlike powerful nations occupying weaker ones at will for geopolitical gain or in order to take possession of their natural resources, Cuba’s international outreach constituted a new and far-reaching model of solidarity.
“That solidarity continues to be seen in the revolution’s extraordinary humanitarian aid and disaster relief.”
She details Cuba’s extensive achievements abroad in a host of policy areas — healthcare, disaster relief, education, the arts, liberation struggles and sport and shows clearly how Cuban overseas personnel in every field are careful to respect local cultural customs and policies.
In doing so internationalism becomes a pillar of revolutionary identity and she argues it has strengthened revolutionary solidarity at home when they return.
In addressing the meaning of internationalism when compared to nationalism, it is inevitable that the author makes comparisons with the US under Trump.
“Fundamentalist bombast has taken the place of humanity and reason and we have racist fear, unending war, an increased number of hate crimes, and mounting gun violence as a result,” she states.
“Perhaps the opportunity to experience difference — other people, other cultures and customs — and knowing that one must function within parameters of respect for that difference, makes Cuban internationalism the best antidote to the sort of extreme nationalism that hovers at the uneasy edge of most modern societies.”
Randall studies internationalism through poetry’s perspective but in doing so she succeeds and shines a light on novels, short stories, poetry and essays that she describes as the beginning of a genre of internationalist writing worthy of further study in itself.
Cubans who have used their writings and artistic expressions as a way of sharing experiences that others may not have been able to grasp has shed an important light on the revolution’s motto: “We give what we have, not what we have left over.”