“This discussion has changed my mind about homosexuality. Now I understand what my lesbian friend went through. When she graduated from medical school in Cuba, she cried. She told me that she could live her life the way she wanted to when she was in Cuba. But now she would return to Honduras as a doctor and would have to hide her lifestyle, hide who she is.”
These were the words of a young woman wearing the medical school bata (white shirt) who identified herself as Honduran. The Honduran medical student spoke at an open forum which was part of the International Day Against Homophobia (May 17, 2012) in Cienfuegos, Cuba. The forum featured Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro, who is director of the National Sex Education Center.
Mariela Castro & Barbara Chicherio March Against Homophobia, Cienfuegos, Cuba, May 17, 2012. Photo by Don Fitz.
Castro is internationally recognized for her successful effort to overcome resistance to offering sex education in Cuban schools and her current attempt to have gay marriage legalized in Cuba. About 500, including many medical students, attended the forum at the Medical University of Cienfuegos. We were part of a group of 15 who came with the “Gender and Health Care” program offered by Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC). 
The day before, we had traveled to Cienfuegos by bus from Havana and were greeted by initial celebrations against homophobia. They included five “social network workshops.” Our group broke up and picked workgroups based on our interests: Gay Men, Men and Diversity, Lesbians, Youth or Transgender.
The Men and Diversity workshop had been going on for a few minutes when we walked in. The group leader wrote on a large tablet while group members shared stories of victimization as gay individuals in Cuba. The group of about 40 related how they had been rejected, ignored, ridiculed or attacked. We then divided into smaller groups to prepare skits role-playing hostility against gays expressed at home, work, education or in the media. Group members willingly and eagerly expressed themselves. They were also learning how to run workshops in their own towns as a means of helping others articulate their feelings and share their experiences.
Men & Diversity workshop, Cienfuegos, Cuba, May 16, 2012. Photo by Don Fitz.
In some ways, the workshops were much like those in the US. Even though it was hard to follow the fast-paced and word-clipping Cuban Spanish, it was clear that an emotional intensity pervaded the room. Every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Cuban knows of the years 1965–68 when homosexuals were grouped with counterrevolutionaries and sent to obligatory work duty with UMAP (Military Units to Assist Production). Although the practice faded out by the 1980s and the massive HIV education campaigns in the 1990s treated homosexuality as a fact of life, the scars remain.
March Against Homophobia
May 17 began with the “March Against Homophobia” down Cienfuegos’ beautifully historic Paseo del Prado. Just before it started, a British TV crew interviewed our MEDICC coordinator, Anna Dorman. Several in our group recognized Mariela Castro and went to have their photos taken with her. While walking over to lead the parade, she motioned to Dale Mitchell (director of a Jamaica Plain agency which provides services to elders in their homes) and Barbara Chicherio (president of the Green Party USA). They were among those who joined her in holding the multi-colored gay banner at the head of the march, which seemed to stop at every other corner for press photos.
Two of the 1000 marchers towered on stilts above the rest. Soon, we were not just walking but chanting and dancing down Paseo del Prado, accompanied by drums and trumpets. A few wore bright pink shirts. Others sported t-shirts with a double male insignia.
One man who must have been 70 or 80 was overjoyed that Americans were a part of Cuba’s gay rights parade. With perfect English and only a slight accent, he said that he had fought with the US Army in the Korean War.
There were at least as many onlookers as marchers. Many had a very doubtful, almost frowning look; but faces often turned to smiles as they waved to a marcher they knew. Not everyone smiled, though. Some were heard to make comments like “Why do they bring this crap here?” “Damn queers,” and “They will make our city look dirty.”
The contradiction between past and present, between government policy and social reality left a deep impression on those who participated. Our MEDICC translator, Georgina (“Yoyi”) Gómez Tablo, said “This is important to me — my best friend died of AIDS. This shows we are doing something right. It makes me proud of being Cuban. It is so good to be part of a large group in favor of human rights.”
The MEDICC medical consultant, Maricela Torres Esperón, added “There is a tradition of machismo not just in Cuba but in all of Latin America. People should not be defined by their sexual orientation. I am glad that the government was in favor of the demonstration.”
It is a time of tremendous social transformation which could make Cuba a model for all of Latin America. As Anna Dorman observed, “It is so powerful to be a part of something at a time when the culture is in transition. It is inspiring to see Cubans taking on the liberation of gays and we are here participating with them.”
Walking tall at March Against Homophobia, Cienfuegos, Cuba, May 17, 2012. Photo by Don Fitz.
Medical University of Cienfuegos
After lunch, we heard Mariela Castro direct the open forum at the Medical University of Cienfuegos. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the forum was that basic questions were so frequent. Many in the audience had absorbed myths and wanted answers. “Why are people homosexuals?” “Is homosexuality a disease?” “Do we need to cure it?”
Mariela Castro proved highly skilled at addressing their questions. One person asked how she could justify the cost of sex change operations given that Cuba has such extreme financial stress. She answered the man by illustrating how devastating it would be to spend your entire life feeling that you were in the wrong body. “How would you feel if you woke up one morning to find that you had large breasts? And how would you feel if your penis were to shrink up and become a clitoris?”
Another wanted to know why, as a heterosexual woman, she would be so passionate about sexual orientation. Ms. Castro responded that her mother, the late Vilma Espín, had founded and led the Federation of Cuban Women and devoted her life to bringing gender equality to Cuba. Extending that to full LGBT rights is Mariela Castro’s way to honor her mother and honor the revolution.
MEDICC, Cuba and Revolutionary Transformation
We would not have been able to see any of this without the coordination of MEDICC, which does research and offers a wide array of programs to increase understanding of Cuban medicine. Our week long program included five days of intense participation, learning and conversation. We arrived in Havana and begin by interacting with staff at the semi-rural 4 Caminos University Polyclinic. After visiting a neighborhood doctor’s office (consultorio) we heard a general overview of the way the Cuban medical system approaches gender and health issues. The next day we visited a clinic specializing in natural and traditional medicine, heard of Cuba’s approach to the HIV epidemic, and toured the museum at the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine.
At the middle of the week, we heard a detailed talk on Cuba’s National Maternal and Child Care Program, rode the bus to Cienfuegos, and participated in the social network workshops. The next day was the International Day Against Homophobia activities, including the march down Paseo del Prado, forum with Mariela Castro and evening “Gala,” a dance performance against homophobia. The final day began with a trip to a maternity home (where women with high risk pregnancies stay) and return trip to Havana.
This array of activities, typical of MEDICC’s educational programs, was interactive and hands-on.  A mix of lectures, tours, discussions, forums, marches and performances offers the wholeness of a gestalt that would be missed by experiencing one part in isolation. It concretizes the reality that medical care is not a static structure but is a dynamically unfolding and developing relationship between science, education, practice and culture.
Understanding Cuba’s gender health requires exploration into the joys and prejudices that accompany changing gender roles within Cuban society. The International Day Against Homophobia is like the rebirth of a revolution that turned its back on human respect. From its earliest years, the new Cuba devoted itself to providing health care, housing, education, employment and gender equality as basic rights. But at the same time, the revolution’s own actions reinforced the homophobia that it is now struggling against.
Cuba learned from experience that gender health means placing emphasis on groups at risk. Thus, special attention is now being paid to maternal and child health, those with high risk pregnancies, and those with sexually transmitted diseases. Cuba has also learned that gender health requires an emphasis on preventive medicine through neighborhood consultorios, polyclinics and traditional and natural medicine. But gender health must transcend these (meaning including and going beyond). Cuba has found that a revolution in health care cannot be complete if people are excluded from social acceptance due to their sexual orientation.
As it changes its laws on homosexuality, Cuba is becoming a model for challenging machismo throughout Latin America. But historically ingrained prejudices cannot be overcome by laws alone. In Cuba, the LGBT community is marching through the streets, demanding an end to ridicule and exclusion. This openness by the victims of prejudice is necessary for closing the gaps in the medical system and fulfilling the humanitarian goals of the revolution. A revolution is nothing if it fails to be an ongoing process of social transformation.
Don Fitz produces Green Time TV in St. Louis and is editor of Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought, which is sent to members of the Green Party USA. He can be reached at email@example.com
Jacquelyn Omotalade is Senior Program Manager for California Pacific Public Health Training Center which seeks to strengthen the technical, scientific, managerial and leadership competencies of the public health workforce. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. The 15 included 11 participants and a MEDICC coordinator from the US and a translator, liaison and medical consultant from Cuba.
2. MEDICC programs include topics such as Nutrition, Agriculture and Health, Integrative Medicine, Healthy Aging, Rural Health, Children’s Health, Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation and Health, and Climate Change and the Environment. For information about its programs see http://www.medicc.org/ns/index.php?s=19 or contact MEDICC Program Manager Elena Huezo at email@example.com or 510-350-3053.
Cuba’s gay rights march led by Raul Castro’s daughter – video. (May 18, 2012). The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2012/may/18/cuban-gay-castro-daughter-video
Gorry, C. (July, 2011). Cuban maternity homes: A model to address at-risk pregnancy. MEDICC Review, 13 (3), 12–15.
Reed, G. (April, 2012). Revolutionizing gender: Mariela Castro MS. MEDICC Review, 14 (2), 6–9.
Sweig, J.E. (2009). Cuba: What everyone needs to know. Oxford University Press.
For another video of the May 17 march in Cienfuegos see http://www.perlavision.icrt.cu/index.php/sociedad/77-sociedad/7851-debaten-en-cienfuegos-acerca-de-problemas-generados-por-la-homofobia,
by: W. T. Whitney Jr.
With appeals all but exhausted, the only hope for relief of unremitting judicial
abuse of the Cuban Five lies with President Barack Obama. Supporters of the
Cuban Five are demanding that he issue a presidential pardon and free them.
Stephen Kimber, Canadian journalist and author of a forthcoming book, “What Lies
across the Water: the Real Story of the Cuban Five,” says the prospect of
improved U.S.-Cuban relations is also grim, and that nothing will be settled
until the Cuban Five political prisoners are released.
Solidarity activists worldwide say the U.S. judicial system railroaded the Cuban
Five defenders against terrorism to prison. Both the United Nations Commission
on Human Rights and Amnesty International have slammed U.S. judicial
proceedings. Yet after 13 years four of the men remain in jail and one of them,
Gerardo Hernandez, is still the object of special abuse.
Ramon Labaniño and Antonio Guerrero are serving 30 and 22-year terms
respectively. Fernando Gonzalez is nearing the end of his 19-year sentence on
lesser charges. Rene Gonzalez, sentenced to 15 years, was released on parole.
But why is Gerardo Hernandez serving two life sentences plus 15 years?
Life sentences against Labaniño and Guerrero for conspiracy to commit espionage
were reduced on appeal. Hernandez has a life sentence on the same charge still
intact. His other life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder also remains.
It’s clear that the U.S. government has taken special pains to inflict harm upon
For example, U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard in Miami, the judge who presided at
the trial of the Five in 2001, on May 15 freed Yuby Ramirez after 12 years in
prison. Lenard ruled that Ramirez was the victim of incompetent counsel.
Ramirez, like Hernandez, had been serving a life sentence for conspiracy to
commit murder. Ramirez confessed she had participated in a plot consummated by
drug trafficking bosses to kill a government witness. If Ramirez can go free,
why not Hernandez?
Hernandez gets special treatment in other ways. The additional burden of a
murder conspiracy charge was filed against him came late in the trial of the
Five. In demanding the charge go forward, Judge Lenard overruled the
prosecutors’ reluctance to pursue it on grounds of lack of evidence. In fact, no
evidence has ever been presented indicating Hernandez knew about Cuban plans to
down two Brothers to the Rescue planes on February 24, 1996. Four pilots died in
the Cuban attack, carried out by military aircraft.
Brothers to the Rescue is a Cuban exile organization that had been illegally
entering Cuban air space to drop leaflets. The Cuban government complained
repeatedly to the U.S. government about these incursions before the shoot-down
As analyst Saul Landau recently pointed out, the claim that Hernandez caused the
deaths by alerting the Cuban government of the upcoming flights is meaningless.
The U.S. Air Force notified the Cubans that the planes were on the way. Jose
Basulto, the Brothers to the Rescue leader, had proclaimed his flight plans
The U.S. government is refusing the request of Hernandez’ attorney in a
still-undecided habeas corpus plea that the National Space Agency release
satellite maps expected to show that the planes had indeed entered Cuban
airspace. If that was the case, then the murder conspiracy case against
There is, of course, one major instance in which all the Cuban Five prisoners
gained special treatment. In early 1998, Cuban security officials delivered to
FBI personnel visiting in Havana reams of material gathered by the Cuban Five
and other Cuban agents working in Southern Florida. The FBI thus gained
considerable evidence as to terrorist plotting in Florida, past and present,
against Cuba. They learned that a boat docked in the Miami River was laden with
What happened is that on their return to Florida, the FBI ignored evidence
implicating private paramilitary groups in their bailiwick and instead arrested
the Cuban agents. That was the work of Hector Pesquera, the newly appointed FBI
head in Miami.
The new book by Stephen Kimber provides details on Pesquera’s role. The local
FBI head embarked upon a crusade to persuade a reluctant U.S. Justice Department
to arrest and prosecute the Cuban Five, even interceding personally with FBI
director Louis Freeh to secure authorization. Pesquera, widely known as a friend
of powerful, right wing Cuban-American families in Miami, even boasted on radio
“It had been he who changed the focus, and instead of the spies spying, he
presented accusations against them.”
In mute testimony to his softness on terrorists, Pesquera ended his FBI office’s
investigation into crimes committed by Cuban exile plotter Luis Posada. Pesquera
arranged for disposal of documents in the case of Posada, who had engineered the
bombing of a fully loaded Cuban passenger plane and hotels in Havana.
Pesquera has recently been appointed police chief of Puerto Rico.
from PEOPLE’S WORLD
By Saul Landau
Less than 3 years ago, Cuban authorities arrested Alan Gross, who had an almost $600,000 contract with DIA, Inc., to carry out a USAID program in Cuba.
At his Havana trial, Gross heard Cuban authorities present his trip reports in which he revealed how he supplied a pre-selected group of mostly Jewish Cubans with sophisticated and illegal technology.
Gross smuggled the parts into Cuba “piece by piece, in backpacks and carry-on bags.” These included “laptops, smartphones, hard drives and networking equipment,” wrote Desmond Butler. “The most sensitive item, according to official trip reports, was… a specialized mobile phone chip that experts say is often used by the Pentagon and the CIA to make satellite signals virtually impossible to track.” (Associated Press, February 13, 2012)
With Gross’ sophisticated SIM card the group could also defuse signal tracking. His secrecy was not intended to keep Cuban officials from learning Jewish matzo ball recipes.
The U.S. Agency for International Development funded the operation as part of its “democracy promotion” plan “to provide economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. Gross, however, identified himself as a member of a Jewish humanitarian group, not a representative of the U.S. government.” (Butler)
On May 11, 2012, some three months after Butler’s article appeared, State Department Press Briefing officer Victoria Nuland fielded a question.
“Yesterday, Josefina Vidal, a Cuban official …said [on CNN] that they’ve conveyed some kind of offer to the U.S. Government on the release of Alan Gross. Is there any possibility at all of negotiation on that front?
NULAND: “Go back to an interview Secretary Clinton gave to CNN…. There is no equivalence between …convicted spies – [in the 1990s, Cuban agents infiltrated exile terrorist groups in Miami to stop their terrorism in Cuba. The agents fed their information via Havana to the FBI who after years of using their data arrested them. In 2001, a jury convicted and a judge sentenced them to draconian terms] – in the United States, and… an assistance worker who should never have been locked up in the first place.”
Did she not read Butler’s piece?
“So we are not contemplating any release of the Cuban Five, and we are not contemplating any trade. The continuing imprisonment of Alan Gross is deplorable, it is wrong, and it’s an affront to human decency. And the Cuban Government needs to do the right thing.”
QUESTION: “Why is it okay to talk about trading with the Taliban but not with the Cubans for a U.S. person that’s been in jail and is in poor health?”
MS. NULAND: “There’s no equivalency in these situations, and the Cuban Government knows that. This is a matter of a sitting government [the Taliban governed Afghanistan before U.S. troops invaded in 2001] having locked up an assistance worker on no basis whatsoever. …I mean, our view is he did nothing wrong.”
Ignoring facts in Butler’s AP story the State Department insists Gross “was distributing laptops and standard computer equipment to help the Jewish community access the Internet.”
In fact, however, as La Alborada reported, Gross was establishing an infrastructure for an encrypted satellite-communications system to spread unrest in Cuba and permit U.S. supervisors to build democracy. “Gross as its expert operator, was only a cover-up based on Gross’ being Jewish and an active supporter, in the U.S., of B’nai B’rith, presentable as a kind of Jewish Santa Claus for Internet-deprived Cubans of his religion.”
Cuba did not arrest Gross for “trying to help fellow Jews share religious and cultural information; he is in jail for being an agent of a foreign country in a program intended to destabilize …the government of Cuba.” (La Alborada – May 14)
Why do we have a press if government officials don’t read or refer to it? Even reporters ignore it. Wolf Blitzer either faked ignorance or was uninformed when he interviewed Hilary Clinton and Alan Gross.
But Desmond Butler read Gross’ trip reports as did “USAID officials [who] received regular briefings on his progress, according to DAI spokesman Steven O’Connor.”
Butler shows how in order “to avoid airport scrutiny, Gross enlisted the help of other American Jews to bring in electronic equipment a piece at a time. He instructed his helpers [Jews on religious trips to Cuba] to pack items, some of them banned in Cuba, in carry-on luggage, not checked bags.” (Butler)
In her May 11 press briefing Nuland “categorically reject[ed] the charges against him, and the fact that he’s been locked up …with no cause.” She also forgot to read, Judy Gross’ (Alan Gross’) wife – statement to a TV reporter. “We know now that he [Alan] did break Cuban law. He did not know that until he got to Cuba and was arrested. (WJZ, CBS Baltimore, May 9, 2012, interview with Vic Carter)
Please send a copy of your interview to Secretary of State Clinton, President Obama and their press officers. Then, in front of the White House and State Department, hold up the key “Alan-did-break-Cuban-law” sentence on the off chance someone might notice. Lots of luck.
For a variety of reasons, a compromise that the Obama administration seems to have brokered – with whom we do not know – has badly backfired and compromised some pretty important principles. It comes as no surprise that this story is about an egregious misstep on Cuba.
By way of background, the Latin America Studies Association (or “LASA”) will meet next week in San Francisco. LASA, the most important organization of scholars who study the region, stopped coming to the U.S. for its meetings because the U.S. would not grant visas to Cubans who wanted to participate and it decided not to return to the U.S. until the problem was fixed.
Or so it thought. For next week’s conference, approximately 80 Cubans were invited and applied for visas so they could enter the United States to do so. According to this afternoon’s White House Daily Press Briefing, of 77 received applications, 60 have been approved, 11 were denied and 6 are pending – for a conference that begins just some days from today.
Who got selected and who got rejected? Mariela Castro Espín, the renowned champion of gay rights who heads the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, who previously visited the United States under a visa granted by the administration of George W. Bush, was among those Cubans allowed entry to attend LASA next week.
But Soraya Castro Marino, who came to the U.S. in 2010 as a visiting scholar at Harvard was, according to The Washington Post, “found ineligible this time because her presence would ‘detrimental to the interests of the United States’.” Rafael Hernández, a scholar who also taught at Harvard and the University of Texas, Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban Ambassador to the European Union, Oscar Zanetti, the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a scholar at American University, and several others who had previously received visas from the administration over the last several year were denied visas now – because their presence would be detrimental to the U.S.
The Obama administration is enforcing no consistent principle for determining who should enter and attend LASA. If decision makers thought welcoming some and turning away others would win them plaudits they were sadly mistaken.
Phil Brenner, a professor and Cuba scholar at American University, called the decisions “arbitrary, shameful, and cowardly.” He observed that many of the scholars denied visas “have a history of advocating for improved relations with the United States.” Ted Piccone, an official at the Brookings Institution who was expecting Carlos Alzugaray at an upcoming event, called it “baffling. I wish I knew what their thinking was.”
If the administration’s strategy was to buy cheap grace with the hardliners who oppose any dialogue or engagement with Cuba by denying visas to some of Cuba’s most open and incisive intellectuals, this was a total failure.
As the Miami Herald reported, the decision to issue a visa to Mariela Castro, President Raúl Castro’s daughter, drew “irate criticism” from Cuban Americans in Congress.
Senator Bob Menendez said the U.S. government and LASA should not be “in the business of providing a totalitarian regime, like the one in Cuba, with a platform for which to espouse its twisted rhetoric.” Senator Marco Rubio called the decision an “outrageous and enormous mistake.” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called the decision “beyond comprehension.”
The administration was wrong to compromise not just because it satisfied no one or because no one “gave something to get something.” It was wrong because the compromise was truly detrimental to the interests of the United States.
The U.S. has a policy of punishing Cuba because we object to features of the Cuban system that limit the rights of travel and expression. The policy has accomplished none of its stated objectives for half a century. Our government undermines whatever moral credibility the policy has left by stopping intellectuals from Cuba – who think freely and speak openly about repairing the U.S.-Cuban relationship – from traveling to our country so they could participate in an academic conference…for goodness sakes.
Is it possible that one Cuban invited to attend LASA could utter what Senator Menendez calls “twisted rhetoric” if given the chance? Perhaps. But we think our country is strong enough to withstand the shock. And even if what the Cubans have to say isn’t controversial, we should be committed to their right to come and speak. That is, what might call, the American way.
Obama should reverse the denials and welcome them in
may 18 – Center for Democracy in the Americas | PO Box 53106 NW | Washington | DC | 20009
by Richard Grassl
The thoughts herein concern a study of Cuban society from a contemporary and
historical viewpoint gained from newspapers, books and television while in Cuba.
The purpose is to interpret and inform so that Americans can understand better
the relation between Cuba and its neighbor contain the seeds of change to end
the blockade and construct the consensus to overcome foreign affairs conditioned
by ill-intentioned politicians.
Since 1898 the United States has waged a dirty war against the Cuban people to
conquer a population aware with expectations of freedom and independence. While
those years of dreams were crushed during a false Republic, no effort was
avoided to deceive and defeat the Revolutionary sentiment forged within the
Apparently, Cuba’s history of struggle could raise the hopes of other peoples to
become independent and achieve respect, dignity and recognition. A specter so
close to the capitalist frontier was incomprehensible before 1959. The question
that arose how to reverse this tendency became the subject of foreign policy.
The empire was worried and changed their tactics because its dominance was
threatened by participatory democracy and popular reform in Cuba.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the war took on greater emphasis to
isolate Cuba. Political and economic sanctions applied through diplomatic
channels were used when extremist methods backfired. In 1996 the Helms-Burton
law passed. It was a measure to gain favor with despotic elements who fled Cuba
to control Cuban American votes from electoral-rich Florida. The
extraterritorial nature of this legislation was based on narrow self-interest.
Anti-Cuba politics had become a business.
The strategy to interfere in the sovereignty and self-determination of other
Latin American countries (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, etc.) may have emerged as
an outcome of policy that took root long before the Cuban Revolution. The
illegal occupation of Cuban territory (Guantanamo) and military expansion in
Columbia are symptoms of the same contradiction inherent in expansionist foreign
policy noted above. Some people call this pacification; but, it is not what
happens seriously in society today. At present, freedom lives in socialist
Cuba. Media manipulation, lying or malicious propaganda to colonize Cuba
through intervention and blackmail have failed for 54 years.
Jose Marti understood the deep-seated desire of the US government to possess
Cuba. When Cespedes freed his slaves at La Demajagua (1868) and Antonio Maceo
delivered the Cuban oath at Baragua, the path to the necessary war (1895) was
laid by a new Revolutionary party. The continuation of this struggle led to the
formation of the Communist Party of Cuba (1925) which fomented the Revolution of
1933 and the Constitution of 1940. Only until the undisputed victory of 1959 to
extend a program of justice, honor and freedom to all workers, poor, educated or
aware that a better world is possible did the crisis of Capitalism achieve a
The greatest success of the Cuban Revolution has been to protect the future of
all peoples by means of world peace, solidarity, diplomacy, negotiation, trade
and national preparation against external threats and terrorism. Despite
hostility and tension, only fierce determination and continuity of struggle by
revolutionary combatants made possible the development of Cuban society toward
the social, political, cultural, educational and technological level that it now
The best meaning of that battle is the example of the Five Cuban Heroes
imprisoned unjustly in the USA for 13 years. Their struggle to expose a war by
a secret government against sovereign, independent peoples is recognized by the
entire world. Acknowledgement of this fact by the Obama administration would be
a step forward in international relations long awaited by the world community.
They will return!
from Cubanews ( yahoogroup )
By Noam Chomsky
From Nation of Change
Though sidelined by the Secret Service scandal, last month’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, was an event of considerable significance. There are three major reasons: Cuba, the drug war, and the isolation of the United States.
A headline in the Jamaica Observer read, “Summit shows how much Yanqui influence had waned.” The story reports that “the big items on the agenda were the lucrative and destructive drug trade and how the countries of the entire region could meet while excluding one country – Cuba.”
The meetings ended with no agreement because of U.S. opposition on those items – a drug-decriminalization policy and the Cuba ban. Continued U.S. obstructionism may well lead to the displacement of the Organization of American States by the newly-formed Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, from which the United States and Canada are excluded.
Cuba had agreed not to attend the summit because otherwise Washington would have boycotted it. But the meetings made clear that U.S. intransigence would not be long tolerated. The U.S. and Canada were alone in barring Cuban participation, on grounds of Cuba’s violations of democratic principles and human rights.
Latin Americans can evaluate these charges from ample experience. They are familiar with the U.S. record on human rights. Cuba especially has suffered from U.S. terrorist attacks and economic strangulation as punishment for its independence – its “successful defiance” of U.S. policies tracing back to the Monroe Doctrine.
Latin Americans don’t have to read U.S. scholarship to recognize that Washington supports democracy if, and only if, it conforms to strategic and economic objectives, and even when it does, favors “limited, top-down forms of democratic change that did not risk upsetting the traditional structures of power with which the United States has long been allied [in] quite undemocratic societies,” as neo-Reaganite scholar Thomas Carothers points out.
At the Cartagena summit, the drug war became a key issue at the initiative of newly-elected Guatemalan President Gen. Perez Molina, whom no one would mistake for a soft-hearted liberal. He was joined by the summit host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and by others.
The concern is nothing new. Three years ago the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy published a report on the drug war by ex-Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia calling for decriminalizing marijuana and treating drug use as a public-health problem.
Much research, including a widely quoted Rand Corporation study of 1994, has shown that prevention and treatment are considerably more cost-effective than the coercive measures that receive the bulk of funding. Such nonpunitive measures are also of course far more humane.
Experience conforms to these conclusions. By far the most lethal substance is tobacco, which also kills nonusers at a high rate (passive smoking). Usage has sharply declined among more educated sectors, not by criminalization but as a result of lifestyle changes.
One country, Portugal, decriminalized all drugs in 2001 – meaning that they remain technically illegal but are considered administrative violations, removed from the criminal domain. A Cato Institute study by Glenn Greenwald found the results to be “a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.”
In dramatic contrast, the coercive procedures of the 40-year U.S. drug war have had virtually no effect on use or price of drugs in the United States, while creating havoc through the continent. The problem is primarily in the United States: both demand (for drugs) and supply (of arms). Latin Americans are the immediate victims, suffering appalling levels of violence and corruption, with addiction spreading through the transit routes.
When policies are pursued for many years with unremitting dedication though they are known to fail in terms of proclaimed objectives, and alternatives that are likely to be far more effective are systematically ignored, questions naturally arise about motives. One rational procedure is to explore predictable consequences. These have never been obscure.
In Colombia, the drug war has been a thin cover for counterinsurgency. Fumigation – a form of chemical warfare – has destroyed crops and rich biodiversity, and contributes to driving millions of poor peasants into urban slums, opening vast territories for mining, agribusiness, ranches and other benefits to the powerful.
Other drug-war beneficiaries are banks laundering massive amounts of money. In Mexico, the major drug cartels are involved in 80 percent of the productive sectors of the economy, according to academic researchers. Similar developments are occurring elsewhere.
In the U.S., the primary victims have been African-American males, increasingly also women and Hispanics – in short, those rendered superfluous by the economic changes instituted in the 1970s, shifting the economy toward financialization and offshoring of production.
Thanks largely to the highly selective drug war, minorities are dispatched to prison – the major factor in the radical rise of incarceration since the 1980s that has become an international scandal. The process resembles “social cleansing” in U.S. client states in Latin America, which gets rid of “undesirables.”
The isolation of the U.S. at Cartagena carries forward other turning-point developments of the past decade, as Latin America has at last begun to extricate itself from the control of the great powers, and even to address its shocking internal problems.
Latin America has long had a tradition of liberal jurisprudence and rebellion against imposed authority. The New Deal drew from that tradition. Latin Americans may yet again inspire progress in human rights in the United States.
By Saul Landau
I sit on a gray plastic chair, facing a tiny, gray, plastic table and another empty, gray, plastic chair, waiting for Gerardo Hernandez in the visiting room of the maximum-security federal pen in Victorville, California. Next to me, in similar seating arrangements, a middle-aged black man speaks to a woman, presumably his wife; other black men talk to their spouses. Two kids run from the “children’s room” to their Dad to get a caress.
Four guards chatter and observe the visitors and inmates. No contraband must be exchanged and no “excess touching.”
Gerardo emerges, reports to the guards. We hug. Gerardo talks about ideas to force the National Security Agency to release its vectored map of the Feb 24, 1996, shoot down of two Brothers to he Rescue planes by Cuban MIGs. The government charged Gerardo with conspiring to commit murder because he allegedly – the government offered no evidence – passed the flight information to Cuban authorities knowing they would shoot the planes down (how would a Miami-based agent know of high level decisions in Havana?).
The Cubans maintain the MIGs fired their rockets at the intruding planes over Cuban air space. U.S. authorities insist it happened over international airspace. If the NSA map sustains Cuba’s claim then Gerardo, who purportedly delivered the date and time of the fatal flights to Cuban authorities, committed no crime. The prosecutors offered no proof that Gerardo delivered this information. Hollywood would portray the Miami courtroom scene with the prosecutor telling the jury: “I don’t got to show you no stinkin’ proof.”
Indeed, Gerardo’s defense lawyer showed that Basulto, the head of Brothers to the Rescue, had already announced the date of the flights, and several U.S. officials also knew of his plan. The FAA had even advised Cuban authorities of the impending flights. Facts don’t matter when a jury and judge understand that a “wrong” decision could result in their houses getting burned down.
The NSA refused defense attorneys’ subpoenas to deliver their vectored maps during the trial and appeals: “National Security,” the two deadly words not found in the Constitution or the Bible, constituted their reason (excuse) for not delivering the documents. What could force the NSA to comply? We had no answers, but the question will linger.
Other questions still bothered me. What had motivated the FBI to arrest him and his fellow Cuban agents? After all the Cuban agents had fed the Bureau juicy morsels related to terrorist activities, including the location of a boat on the Miami River loaded with explosives. The FBI commandeered the boat before it sailed for Cuba – or blew up in Miami.
“Hector Pesquera,” replied Gerardo. He became the Agent in Charge of the Miami Bureau and immediately focused his attention away from the terrorists and onto the anti-terrorists. After the jury handed down guilty verdicts at the trial of the Cuban Five, Pesquera proudly boasted to a Miami radio station that “he was the one who switched his agents’ focus from spying on the spies to filing charges against them.” (See, Stephen Kimber, “What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five”, an e-book from Amazon)
Indeed, Pesquera persuaded Justice officials to refocus attention from exile terrorists in South Florida and onto the Cuban intelligence agents who had penetrated the terrorist groups. The case ‘never would have made it to court’ if he hadn’t lobbied FBI Director Louis Freeh directly.” (Kimber, p. 286)
Ann Bardach reinforced the view of Pesquera’s key role in turning the FBI from investigating terrorists to investigating anti-terrorists. Bardach and Larry Rohter wrote two stories in the New York Times in July 1998, in which Posada Carriles, a notorious Cuban-American terrorist admits his mastermind role in a series of bombings in Cuba to discourage foreign tourism. One of these bombing killed a young Italian tourist whose father is suing the United States for sponsoring terrorism.
Bardach told me about her surprise when Pesquera answered her question on Posada by saying “lots of folks around here think Posada is a freedom fighter.” Pesquera, friendly with ultra right exiles, terminated the investigation of Posada, and shredded his file. Even as Pesquera focused the FBI on destroying the Cuban agents web, thus reducing the Bureau’s information supply on terrorism, 14 of the 19 participants in the 9/11 attacks trained in the area without FBI scrutiny. Pesquera seemingly escaped scrutiny for his apparent lapse. (“Trabajadores,” May 22, 2005)
Gerardo and I switched subjects to Alan Gross’ interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Gross, convicted in Cuba of activities designed to undermine the government, which AP reporter Desmond Butler documented, whined about his life in prison, the food, his window had bars on it and he had only been able to receive visits from U.S. Senators, Members of the House, Foreign Presidents, religious groups and a day with his wife. He complained conditions in the Havana military hospital were downright prison-like.
Worse, ignoring Desmond Butler’s reporting and former National Security Council official Fulton Armstrong’s devastating op ed in the Miami Herald (Dec. 25, 2011), he proclaimed his innocence, insisting he only wanted to help the Jewish community get better internet access. For this he smuggled in equipment (documented by Butler) and got paid almost $600,000 from a company contracted by USAID. And Blitzer, who should win the journalism award for best stenographer, didn’t ask him about any of the facts Butler and Armstrong had raised.
We hugged goodbye. Gerardo raised a triumphant fist before returning to his cell. I walked into the dry desert wind, to the car and the road, down 5,000 feet and 40 miles to the Ontario, California airport with a chance to think about justice and injustice, again.
Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. His WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP and FIDEL are available from cinemalibrestudio.com
It was during the 7th colloquium in Holguin for the liberation of the 5 Cuban
patriots unjustly imprisoned in the US for their counter terrorist activities
that a friend, comrade, veteran campaigner and documentary film-maker, Bernie
Dwyer, explored concepts of what heroism in the 21st century might mean.
We were in Bayamo on a fringe meeting about media and tactical economic shock
warfare and we were in the company of Cuban and international men and women of
considerable courage and experience. As our meeting began news was filtering
through about the first incidents of US backed imperial aggression against Syria
in the present ongoing regime change intervention.
One member of the Lebanese resistance with our group, inspired by el Che and his
older brother had, at the tender age of seventeen survived a gun battle with the
invading Israeli armed forces in which three of his comrades had fallen dead.
Alone he took out 4 of the Israeli troops including their battalion officer but
was later captured when his escape was hampered by a bullet wound he had
received. He subsequently spent 17 years in prison, often without medical
treatment and without even one visit from family or friends. Were it not for
being “fostered” by the mother of a Palestinian prisoner he would have been even
more desperately alone and isolated. The tale and circumstances that lead to his
eventual release are equally enthralling, as is his present serene and almost
spiritual disposition, but those tales are for another day.
My interest in and knowledge of the Case of the Cuban 5 increased and developed
in tandem with my knowledge of and interest in the country itself and by the
time I had become active in a campaign for their liberation, albeit in a
somewhat isolated and limited way, I was for all intents and purposes living
here in Cuba. There are many Irishmen and women who identify with prison
struggles and savage miscarriages of justice.
I have been in communication with the 5 since 2007 and as my activity and
comprehension increases with time so does my regard for each of these
individually and collectively remarkable and magnificent men (amazingly despite
their absolute isolation from each other consistent with Guantanamo torture
manual guidelines). I am at ease with my understanding of true heroism in this
It will be hard be hard to communicate so in words, perhaps even harder to
conceptualise it without some direct experience, but the following might give
some idea as to what I mean.
It is heroic to volunteer for national service in times of conflict and need and
to willingly and comprehensively prepare yourself for whatever you might be
called upon to do.
Fully briefed and aware of the risks, it is heroic to undertake dangerous
missions behind enemy lines and to infiltrate hostile terrorist cells selflessly
in the service of your homeland to protect her citizenship from attack.
It is heroic to respond with dignity, clarity, patriotism and unflinching
courage to unjust and horrendously excessive political sentences, despite
understanding what they will mean to family and personal life.
The dock speeches of each of these five patriots are moving and profoundly
insightful and important. Gerardo Hernandez’s words, that his only regret was
that he had only one life to offer in the service of his homeland, ring as true
today as they did then.
Throughout the years and at regular intervals all the sentiments expressed at
those first sentencing hearings have been heroically reiterated and reinforced
without the slightest hint of dilution or disillusionment.
It is heroic to not be even slightly bitter or pessimistic despite being victims
of unspeakable injustice, abuse, torture and imprisonment for in excess of 13
It is heroic and patriotic to emerge from a prolonged spell of solitary
confinement in the “hole” in Victorville high security penitentiary and say
that, despite being physically ill at the time this arbitrary punishment was
imposed without reason, it was worth it simply to have heard your Commander in
Chief speak on your behalf.
It is heroic to not have cried when faced with the deportation of your beloved
wife, unable to embrace or console her despite her being almost within your
grasp but to have shed tears openly and unashamedly when in the presence of the
children’s theatre group who performed about and for you.
It is heroic to have expressed for Valentines Day 2012, in a surprise TV
programme for your respective wives or mother true, profound, tender, romantic
and enduring love of a type it would be easy to be cynical about had it not been
so undeniably moving and authentic to the many fortunate enough to have
witnessed its beautiful expression.
It is heroic to unceasingly resist the most powerful, evil and harmful empire
humanity has ever confronted with smiles, poetry, paintings, learning, political
cartoons, self-development, love, insight, teaching, graduation and potent
writings through which the truth does indeed set yourself, spiritually, if not
It is heroic to dedicate a life to the right of nations to be sovereign,
independent and free to exercise their chosen systems of governance and rule.
It is heroic to stand up, cost what it may, for what you know and believe to be
good and true and it is heroic also to never speak of or advocate vengeance or
armed reprisal despite suffering cruel oppression and incarceration.
It is heroic to face daily sacrifice, struggle and hardship with manly and
patriotic stoicism and strength.
Heroism is not a word that, outside of Holywood movies or Marvel Comic books,
ought be used lightly or thoughtlessly. But it is a word that ought be uttered
when it is what only and best describes remarkable acts of courage, decency and
dignity in the face of unimaginably dangerous and hostile odds and
circumstances. It is a word that rightly belongs with the names of Ramon, Rene,
Gerardo, Antonio and Fernando. It is an honour and a privilege to have been
present to know of and act for such men, whose greatness and heroism is often
manifest in humility, normality and dignified silent fortitude.
May 10, 2012 Sean Joseph Clancy