UPEACE delegates attend to the International II Conference in Cuba
La Habana, Cuba. 25th - 28th January, 2016. UPEACE professors and student in the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies participated in the II Conferencia Internacional on the theme “Con Todos y para el Bien de Todos” (With All and for the Good of All) held at the Palacio de Convenciones, La Habana, Cuba on the 25th to 28th January, 2016. This second International Conference was held as a forum of plural thought bringing together 750 delegates (government leaders, policy makers, academics, researchers, NGOs, activists, youth leaders) from 50 countries to dialogue on the challenges and problems in today's world. The conference also attracted delegates interested in Cuban national hero Jose Marti's ideas about the construction of a better world and in light of the serious dangers facing humanity.
In the conference, Prof. Toh Swee-Hin and Prof. Virginia Cawagas shared their ideas on Catalyzing Solidarity, Cultivating Peace: Toward a Culture of Transformative Education where they critiqued the dominant paradigm of education that reproduces a neo-liberal economic, political, and social order reflecting structural violence, elite-centered “democracy” and social-cultural hierarchies. They offered an education for a culture of peace that develops critical consciousness and empowers peoples to engage in personal and social action in the building of a peaceful world for all humanity and all parts of the planet. In particular, their presentation highlighted the need to catalyze solidarity within and between the global North and global South as an indispensable element in a culture of transformative education.
Informal conversations with delegates from Cuba and many other countries helped the UPEACE delegates gain a deeper understanding of the relevance of Jose Marti’s ideas to the building of a world grounded in principles of justice, equality, freedoms and solidarity.
The UPEACE delegates from the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, Prof. Toh Swee-Hin (Department Head & IPS Coordinator), Prof. Virginia Cawagas (Peace Education Coordinator) and Amabella Lapiz Carumba, (MA programme in International Peace Studies) shared with the UPEACE community some highlights of the conference and lessons learned related to the theories of peace and conflict that underpin our academic programmes.
Specific issues discussed with the UPEACE community included the core philosophical and revolutionary ideas of Jose Marti and relevance to the building of a world based on justice, freedom, self-determination and solidarity; the case of the “Cuban Five,” their detention in the US and subsequent or negotiated release; Cuba and the United States relations and implications for Cuba’s “socialist” model of “development”; keynote addresses by the Brazilian liberation theologian Frei Betto and former Uruguay President Jose Mujica; the Annual Youth Torch March, Havana urban and countryside glimpses.
In this regard, the UPEACE delegates learnt during our visit that the cooperatives sector is being expanded and strengthened, including in the non-agricultural sector. Cooperatives promote values and practices of social collaboration and equitable sharing of benefits in contrast to an individual profit-centred private sector development model which while being gradually facilitated in Cuba, needs to be carefully monitored. On a trip outside Havana, we also met and dialogued with a group of Cuban agricultural cooperative members who shared stories of their daily lives and work as farmers.
The conference featured an opening keynote speech by the Brazilian liberation theologian and critical friend of Cuba, Frei Betto, who emphasized the key role of ethics in development in this vital period of thawing of US-Cuban relations. He called on delegates to seek solidarity and good over competition and greed. He warned of the potential impact of Cuba’s economic transition on promoting consumerism that undermines spiritual values of independence and solidarity. Challenging government officials not to be take advantage of the changes to maintain or increase their privileges, Betto hopes that Cuba will not become schizophrenic, embodying “socialist politics” and “capitalist economics”. In his view, “socialism in a country is measured not by the presence of a political party or project but by the rights of its citizens to share in the fruits of nature.”
The closing address was given by Jose Alberto "Pepe" Mujica Cordano, the 40th President of Uruguay between 2010 and 2015. A former member of an anti-capitalist guerrilla movement, the Tupamaros, President Mujica was imprisoned for over 10 years under the repressive military dictatorship that ruled Uruguay in the 1970's and early 80's. As President, he exemplified a simple lifestyle, rejecting residence in the Presidential palace, driving himself around in an old VW Beetle and donating nearly 90 percent of his presidential salary to charity. In his passionate speech, Mujica said that “someone cannot claim to be a progressive while living like a bourgeoisie.” Progressives “should be prepared to suffer the same hardships of the people who …need liberation” Civilization is “solidarity and inter-generational,” in his view, for “if one does not take action to build solidarity with future generations, then one can become entrapped by the dominant paradigm and system”. He also argued for the need to revitalize education and not reduce it to “training”. His final words that “humanity is not for sale” received a standing ovation from the conference delegates.
The UPEACE delegates returned to Costa Rica with a better understanding of the issues and challenges facing Cuba’s efforts to continue to build an alternative “socialist development” path, but we also have many questions and thoughts on the complex and critical choices facing the Cuban people and society in this period of transition.
Sofía Cortés, Communications Officer
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