[act-ma] 12/06 Organizing from the grass-roots in revolutionary Cuba: The Experience in one working-class community

July 26th Coalition info at july26.org
Wed Nov 18 08:07:19 PST 2015

*Organizing from the grass-roots in revolutionary Cuba: *

*The Experience in one working-class community*

*Maritza López* and *Hildelisa Leal,* community organizers from Balcón 
Arimao/La Lisa, are also trained popular educators working on issues of 
race and  gender empowerment, and  activists in Cuba's  Neighborhood 
Network of Afrodescendants.

Sunday Dec 66:30 PM

Encuentro 5
9A Hamilton Place (near Park St. T)

Sponsored by the July 26^th Coalition

*The following article gives background on their work.*

CasaComunitaria “Pablo Freyre” (Balcón Arimao, La Lisa),July 13-15, 2012

Maritza López McBean isthe leading organizer at the /“Pablo Freyre” 
Community House/ in Balcón Arimao, district of La Lisa,a working class 
neighborhood on the periphery of Havana.The Balcón Arimao Casa 
Comunitaria was the location of a three day workshop held last July, 
organized and led by community membersto highlight issues of race and 
racism in Cuba. The workshop had a two-pronged focus: The 1912 founding 
and subsequent violent government suppression of the Partido 
Independiente de Color (Independent Party of Color) as a major marker in 
Afro-Cuban history, and the particular challenges faced by Afro-Cuban 
women throughout Cuban history and since the triumph of the revolution 
in 1959.“Many over there (in the US) think that these topics only get to 
be debated in ‘official’ institutions like the UNEAC (National Union of 
Cuban Writers and Artists)”, said López McBean.

As to how the decision was made to hold a three-dayworkshop on that 
subject, she explains: “The theme was proposed, as it is for all such 
activities at the Casa Comunitaria, to our own organizing committee made 
up of the most diverse community residents. (…)One of the neighbors had 
brought up an article from the /Militant/ (May 24, 2012 issue), a 
newspaper being regularly received at the Casa Comunitaria,covering the 
debate on the Independent Party of Color at a conference organized by 
the UNEAC. She had mentioned it to her grandson –living in the US– who 
asked her if the topic gets broader coverage in Cuba, and she had not 
known what to answer. That has been the major reason why, at the 
Organizing Committee, we decided to address the discussion of the 
Independent Party of Color together with that of the challenges faced by 
Afro-Cuban women in the next workshop.”

In all three days, numerous presenters (all of them Afro-Cuban, and the 
vast majority of them, women) addressed issues of both marginalization 
and empowerment in the long struggle for equality and rights waged by 
Afro-Cuban men and women. One entire day was dedicated to education 
about and discussion of the rich historical lessons to be drawn from the 
founding and annihilation of the Independent Party of Color. Other 
panels centered on the past and present challenges faced by Black Cuban 
womenin the spheres of work, cultural representation,gender equality and 
sexual orientation, and of legal protections, among others. In the 
presentations, some panelists drew from their historical expertise, 
while others spoke from ample personal experience. Among them were 
historians, a psychologist, a chef, a sports instructor, gay activists, 
cultural promoters, a journalist, a hairdresser, and a lawyer. The vast 
majority came from either Balcón Arimao or similar communities.

 From 10AM to 3PM over the three days, the Casa Comunitariawas at 
overflow, with 30 to 40 people occupying all the available chairs in the 
meeting area, while many others listened from the outside, clustered 
near the front door. Lively discussions with the audience followed each 
panel presentation and tended to continue, informally in smaller groups, 
for much longer. The audience was predominantly local, with children, 
young people, and many adults and elderly members. An offering of food, 
drinks, and live music was provided by community residents. “The fight 
against racial discrimination is a topic that, for various reasons, had 
not been part of the public debate, and even though it had not been 
forgotten, it is very necessary, first because of the moral consequences 
it has, and also because the enemy is always ready to attack us from the 
flanks offered by our insufficiencies,” says López Mcbean.

Balcón Arimao is located on the periphery of the historical working 
class neighborhood of La Lisa, far from the architecturaltourist 
attractions of Old Havana, and from the vibrant cultural, commercial,and 
social life ofVedado and other such areas in the city. Part of a string 
of emerging communities at the fringes of older and more established 
urban neighborhoods, Balcón Arimao suffers from many of the material and 
social problems of settlements where temporary emergency housing –in 
many instances for people displaced by hurricanes– have become permanent 
places of residence, with neither the advantages of an organically 
cohesive community, nor the benefits of previously planned urban 
development.Housing is deficient, streets are in bad shape, and there is 
a lack of sufficient recreational areas, and of environmental education 
and care. Today, its over 20,000 residents still rely on the same water 
and sanitation systems put in place for the 2,000 residents Balcón 
Arimao had in 1947. Although all of them have amply benefited from the 
openings for cultural, educational and material advancement, and from 
theradical equalizing racial and gender thrust of the Cuban Revolution, 
the weight of historic disadvantages are made more acute by the 
hardships of material constrains,and the yet unresolved challenges faced 
by the revolution.These communities still have proportionally higher 
indicators for crime, domestic violence, prostitution, and school dropouts.

As epicenter for community action, the Casa Comunitaria exemplifies the 
way neighborhoods such as Balcón Arimao can organize themselves to 
confront those challenges, and of the various layers of broader support 
provided for that task by state institutions, political structures, and 
nongovernmental organizations. All initiatives of the Casa Comunitaria 
are both /run/ and /led/ by the residents.Their activistswork with all 
branches of the local government to promote the necessary change, in 
many instances having had to learn to push against the accumulated power 
of local religious leaders,official cultural promoters, andpolitical 
leaders who –according to Maritza López– may be“very revolutionary but 
are stuck in their particular ways of doing things.”The Casa activists 
act in tandem with the area’s /Popular Councils/ (the most grass-roots 
structures in Cuba’s political system).Through nongovernmental 
institutions like the/Martin Luther King Center/, they have sought and 
received training in promoting more “horizontal” forms of leadership in 
neighborhood-based initiatives, and have become part of a network of 
similar such undertakings in other parts of Havana and across Cuba. From 
national programs set up by leading Cuban urban planners at the /Grupo 
para el Desarrollo Integral de la Ciudad/ (Group for integral 
Development of the City), they have received training in linkage of 
local government resources, technical knowledge and expertise of urban 
planners and advisors, and organized members of the community, to 
address issues of improved housing and public areas. From the /Pedro 
Kouri Institute of Tropical Diseases/, they are advised on how to set up 
and run their own prevention campaigns. The network is broad and varied.

The Casa Comunitaria in Balcón Arimao is the natural space for 
neighborhood formal activities, from children’s after-school programs to 
classes of the local /Older Adult University/, among many others.It is 
also where community members routinely meet to discuss issues of concern 
that are not readily taken up by other local institutions—likeyouth 
delinquency,prostitution, racism, and homophobia.Events like this 
three-day workshop are emblematic of a capacity of average Cubans for 
collective actions towards educating and organizing themselves to face 
their challenges.

*Activists from the /Casa Comunitaria/ who will be in Boston December 5-7*


*Nombre*: */Damayanti Matos Abreu/*


*Nombre*, */MSc. Hildelisa Leal Díaz.Jubilada/*.

Licenciada en Ciencias Biológicas. Máster en Didáctica de la Biología. 
Educadora Popular. Permacultora. Coordinadora de la Red Barrial 
Afrodescendiente.Profesora Auxiliar de la Universidad de las Ciencias 
Pedagógicas: “Enrique José Varona”. Colaboradora del Centro Memorial 
Martin Luther King. Colaboradora Grupo de Reflexión y Solidaridad “Oscar 
Arnulfo Romero”. Colaboradora de los Talleres de Transformación Integral 
del Barrio de La Habana.        Coautora. Biología 4 Parte. Libro de 
texto 10 grado. Ed. Pueblo y Educación. 2003Concepción y Metodología de 
la educación popular. Cuaderno de trabajo. Editorial Caminos. 
2003Colaboración en la selección de textos y confección de la guía para 
coordinadores de  la FEPAD*, de los módulos Concepción y metodología de 
la educación popular, Trabajo comunitario, Trabajo grupal y Género. 
CMLK. 2002-2011Coordinadora de Procesos de Formación desde la educación 

*País de residencia.*Cuba.


*Nombre*: */Maritza López McBean/*

Estudiante de Licenciatura en Ciencias de la Religión. Instituto 
Superior Ecuménico de Ciencias de la Religión, “Rafael Cepeda”. 
Seminario Socio teológico de Matanzas.

TrabajadoraSocial. Especialista Principal del Taller de Transformación  
Integral del Barrio, Consejo Popular  Balcón Arimao. Directora Casa 
Comunitaria “Paulo Freire”.  Coordinadora de la Red Barrial 
Afrodescendiente. Colaboradora del Centro Memorial Martin Luther King.  
Grupo de Reflexión y Solidaridad “Oscar Arnulfo Romero”. Coordinadora de 
la Red de educadores populares de La Habana, Nodo Lisa, Playa, 
Marianao.Colaboración en la selección de textos y confección de la guía 
para coordinadores de  la FEPAD*, de los  módulos Concepción y 
metodología de la educación popular, Trabajo comunitario, Trabajo grupal 
y Comunicación. CMLK. 2002-2011

Coordinadora de Procesos de Formación desde la educación popular.

*País de residencia.*Cuba.

FEPAD: Formación de educadores populares acompañados a distancia. 
Modalidad diferente de formación. Curso a distancia no orientado a 
personas individuales, sino a grupos. Una modalidad pedagógica para auto 
conducir procesos de aprendizaje, pero con la compañía novedosa del 
equipo de educación popular del Centro Memorial Martin Luther King.

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