Aleida’s visit started at the University of Nottingham where pure serendipity meant that she was able to charm and sing to assembled academics at the bi-annual Cuba Research forum. She made reference to the human effects of the blockade and rich mix of cultural and ethnic heritage that the Cuban people share, including the statistic that 70% of the population has an element of indigenous genetic make-up.
A brief visit to the Robin Hood statue followed as this had been a dream of hers from childhood to visit Nottingham, the home of the mythical hero.
So to the meeting, held at the Refugee Forum, it had attracted much interest and by 6:15 it was clear that the room would be full, about 250 in a room meant for 70. About 50 at least got turned away or had to wait for some time to get in. The first thing Aleida did was give away her chair so someone with a greater need could use it.
Luis Marron spoke first, encouraging everybody who had not already done so to join Cuba Solidarity and get their organisations to affiliate. He spoke too about the solidarity work he had been involved with particularly in the trade union movement while posted here.
Aleida spoke without notes and with humour, clarity and passion for her cause, that of the revolution, the return of the Miami Five and for Cuban sovereignty. For instance on the blockade she said it was easy to speak on this but it is more difficult to experience it especially when a child needs medicine that Cuba could pay for but cannot get because a patent is held by the US.
On terrorism (let’s remember that the meeting was on 11th September, the anniversary of not just terrorism in the US but also the bloody coup against the popular Allende-led government in Chile) she asked whether or not bombing a civilian airline was terrorism or similarly poisoning water supplies or introducing infectious diseases or launching seaborne invasions. This was why Cuba had to infiltrate and get information on terrorist groups operating from the US. So on the Miami 5 she simply demanded that the US obeyed its own laws and followed a proper judicial process. However, progress on this and on the blockade would only come from pressure of people and international solidarity. On intervention and regime change she asked, who gave the right to western nations to intervene and interfere in the internal affairs of developing nations.
She ended by surprising us once again by singing beautifully from a poem from Jose Marti: to a dear friend you must give a white rose but also to an enemy a white rose should be cultivated from the heart.