Cuba Hurricane Relief and Reconstruction Fundraising in Canada:
A Huge Success from Coast to Coast!
By Tamara Hansen
Since August 2008, Cuba has been hit by five tropical storms, three of which hit Cuba as Category three and four hurricanes. The cost of the destruction inflicted on Cuba during the 2008 hurricane season was over $10 Billion. According to a report issued by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) after Hurricane Paloma (which hit Cuba on November 8, 2008), “in the housing sector, in Santa Cruz municipality, over 4,000 houses are reported to be damaged. In the seaside village of La Playa, more than 400 out of a total number of 440 homes were totally destroyed, accounting for 91% the houses. In Santiago de Cuba province, because of the flooding of the Contramaestre and the Mogote rivers, some 7,000 farmers and four school centers in the area of Arroyo Rico are cut off. Due to rise of the Avispero River, some 4,700 villagers of La Plata, La Magdalena and Ocujal del Turquino are isolated.”
Despite this devastation, the spirit of the Cuban people and their resolve to rebuild was strong. In her article, Cuban journalist María Julia Mayora wrote, “Paloma causes devastation but…It is fortunate that we have a Revolution”. As Cuba rebuilds and reconstructs, the world community is continuing its work to fundraise and to help the heroic Cuban people with some of the costs of the hurricane damage. These efforts are of huge importance to Cuba and are a great chance to raise awareness about the gains of the Cuban revolution (See “Cuba After the Hurricanes: How Socialist Cuba Confronts Hurricanes and Natural Disasters – A Comparison with the US” in this issue).
The Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC), a network of over 20 Cuba solidarity groups across Canada, was one of the main forces in Canada calling for support and coordinating fundraising at this important time.
On February 19, 2009, the CNC declared its campaign a great success, after collecting over $400,000 from across Canada for the 2008 Hurricane Relief and Reconstruction Campaign. In a press statement made by the CNC, they explained where this money would go. “In consultation with the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa, the CNC has decided to help the devastated Isla de la Juventud. We have been in contact with authorities in that Special Municipality, and they have indicated that the district known as the Veintiséis de Julio (26th of July) would be an appropriate focus of the help in housing reconstruction that we could provide. The people there have extended an invitation to Canadians to come to see and be thanked for what they have done so far and what they will be doing to help the people of the Isla de la Juventud.”
The campaign was not only about aid, but was also a political campaign, as the government of Canada initially only offered Cuba $400,000 in aid. The CNC proved that if the solidarity movement can raise this much, than the government of Canada must provide more!
It is also important to remember that this $400,000 was not collected from a small group of wealthy individuals, or major money-making companies, but was collected piece by piece, event by event, from various unions, solidarity groups and generous individuals. Below we have compiled reports from some of the great events organized across Canada.
One of the first events organized in Vancouver was on October 3rd. Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) called this emergency event after the announcement that an emergency reconstruction brigade to Cuba was being launched by Pastors for Peace. This event featured video footage from hurricane-ravaged Cuba, live musical performances, and a dynamic report back from five organizers who traveled to Cuba during the summer with the Pastors for Peace Caravan. The second event, also organized by VCSC, was a celebration and commemoration of the life of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, 41 years after his assassination. This event featured an inspiring documentary about Che’s live, live Latin American songs of struggle from both Ramon Flores and Joaquin Ernesto, along with food, speakers and poetry. Both of these events were very successful, bringing out over 140 people and raising over $1,300.
VCSC was also a part of an emergency committee formed in the Latin American community in Vancouver to organize a broad-based fundraiser for Cuba. The Para Cuba Con Amor Committee organized a day-long celebration and radio-thon to bring out the Latin American community as well as others in support of Cuba. Many different political organizations, church groups and cultural organizations came together to volunteer for the day, including 14 organizers with VCSC and the Free the Cuban 5 Committee-Vancouver. The Para Cuba con Amor Committee set a goal of raising $10,000 at the radio-thon. The event featured over 30 live musicians, food from across Latin America, and dancing. The successful event not only brought out between 1,700 and 2,000 people, but also exceeded expectations by raising $15,184.91 towards hurricane relief and reconstruction in Cuba.
Another successful Vancouver event was organized by the Canadian-Cuban Friendship Association – Vancouver and the Pe?a Latinamericana on October 18th. The event featured two visiting Cubans, Mariano Bonet (the director of the National Institute of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Microbiology in Havana) and Juan Silvio Cabrera Albert (a professor at the University of Pinar del Rio). Both gave their accounts of the strength of the Cuban people facing the hurricanes. The event was attended by over 170 people and raised approximately $2,000. This was a part of almost $20,000 that has been raised by the CCFA-Vancouver since September.
In Alberta, the Canada-Cuba Friendship Association – Calgary (CCFA-Calgary) hosted a very successful Cuban Fiesta, on Saturday October 18, with close to 250 people in attendance. From this and other wonderful fundraising efforts the CCFA-Calgary has donated $7210 towards hurricane relief and reconstruction.
In Manitoba, the Latin American Folk Arts Council, the Cuban Cultural Association of Manitoba and the Manitoba-Cuba Solidarity Committee organized an event that fundraised over $3,500.
Very importantly, Winnipeg City Councilor Russ Wyatt, in conjunction with the Cuban Manitoban community assembled a team of enthusiastic community members to create the ‘Cuba/Haiti Hurricane Relief Committee’ which has begun organizing a fundraiser event for hurricane reconstruction in both countries. On November 14th, their event will highlight Cuban culture, featuring a live band, Zona Franca (direct from Havana), a local Cuban dance show, a Cuban cigar roller and food prepared by Cuban chef Lazaro Sangroni. Money from this event will be donated to the Canadian Red Cross.
On October 28th the CCFA-Kingston organized a fundraising dinner at the Rivermill Restaurant. The evening collected $4,500 for hurricane relief and featured a talk by Merilu de la Luz B’Hamel, Minister-Counselor at the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa. She gave a moving account of the ongoing difficulties facing Cubans after the hurricanes, thanking people across Canada for their friendship, support and solidarity.
On October 21st the Kingston City Council passed a heartfelt motion urging people in Kingston to help Cuba recover from hurricane damage by donating to the CCFA-Kingston and CNC fundraising campaign. Through this important work and some other donations the CCFA-Kingston has raised around $11,000 towards this important drive.
In Toronto the response to raising funds for Cuban hurricane relief and reconstruction has been vast. Many groups from many communities have contributed to this vital cause.
On Sept 12th, Toronto Forum on Cuba (TFC) and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) organized a cultural evening to protest 10 years of unjust imprisonment of the Cuban 5 being held in US prisons. More than 90 people came together and raised $1,000 towards the Hurricane relief fund.
A Cuba Hurricane Relief Committee formed in Toronto which organized a fundraising evening on Friday September 26th. This featured many great and dynamic cultural performances from Tonatzen, Las Sanjuaneritas with Indigenous performances from Mexico, Bolivia and Guatemala, Benny Esguerra, Stolen from Africa and more.
On November 3rd, Havana House Cigar & Tobacco and the Dubois Charitable Foundation hosted a Cuban hurricane relief dinner. The evening included the opportunity to delight in four new cigars launched by Cuba this year.
The CCFA-Toronto has also participated in organizing a few lively events, including a Café Cuba evening, which showed a program from Cuban television documenting the violence of the hurricanes and the damage caused. The event also included a talk by Harold Hosein, from the Canadian Committee for Restoration in Cuba after the Hurricanes.
A communiqué written by Toronto Forum on Cuba entitled, “Cuba Hurricane Relief: Muslim Community Sets Example”, outlines some of the great work accomplished by the Muslim community and TFC. According to the report, the Islamic Society of York Region and their supporters gathered together on the 27th day of the holy month of Ramadan and collected $30,000 for Hurricane reconstruction in Cuba. This was the first initiative by the Muslim community and is being followed up with the collection of materials needed for restoration efforts.
One of the most creative fundraising ideas has been the Nova Scotia Cuba Association’s 2009 calendar. Sold for $15 each, 50% of the proceeds are being donated directly to Hurricane reconstruction in Cuba (info: www.nscuba.org). Their association has also already raised more than $6,000 through many events, including a silent auction at the Los Primos Havana Nights Gala. They are committed to continuing this fundraising in the coming months.
On October 25th, La Table de Concertation de Solidarité Québec-Cuba (TCSQ-C), began a fundraising campaign along with “Alternatives.ca”, a non-governmental organization for solidarity and development. Their first event was a successful benefit concert “Candles for Cuba” featuring many local musicians to help Cuba after the devastation of the Hurricanes.
We Must Struggle and Work!
Despite huge obstacles in their way, the people of Cuba are continuing to rebuild, striving for and creating a better future for their people and their country. The Cuba solidarity movement around the world must be there to show support and lend a helping hand to Cuba at all crucial times. The Cuban government and Cuban people have been generous in their volunteer work, helping and building a better life for many nations and countries around the world in 50 years since the triumph of the Cuban revolution. Let us continue to stand on guard, ready to help Cuba, as we know that renewed strength and fundraising will be needed with the hurricane season in 2009. As Fidel said in 2006, shortly after announcing he was stepping down as commander-in-chief of Cuba, “We must struggle and work.”
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