Archive for January, 2015

Take Cuba off the Terrorist List

January 29, 2015

Drop the Label
Take Cuba off the Terrorist List
The new US-Cuba talks are a refreshing burst of sunshine in the 54-year dismal relationship between neighbors separated by a mere 90 miles. The nations negotiated a successful swap of prisoners. The onerous travel restrictions the US government placed on just visiting the island are starting to crumble. Embassies in Washington and Havana will soon be opened. Rules designed to ease trade are being written. But despite this long-awaited meltdown of US policies that added to the island’s economic woes but never succeeded in tumbling Cuba’s communist government, a portion of the Cold War edifice remains intact: Cuba is still on the US terrorist list.

This list, reserved for countries that have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism”, is a very short one. It doesn’t include Saudi Arabia, the country that accounted for 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 and has been responsible for spreading extremist Wahhabi ideology throughout the Middle East. It doesn’t include Pakistan, a country that has long been a staging ground for Islamic terrorists and on the receiving end of US drone strikes for the past decade. It certainly doesn’t include Israel, a country Amnesty International called “trigger happy” for using “unnecessary, arbitrary and brutal force” against Palestinians. It doesn’t even include North Korea, a country that recently threatened to bomb the “White House, the Pentagon and the whole US mainland.”

Of the world’s 196 countries, only four are included: Iran, Sudan, Syria….and Cuba.

The US government first put Cuba on the list three decades ago, in 1982, accusing the island of providing a safe haven for members of the Basque separatist group ETA and Colombia’s FARC rebels. It also accused Cuba of providing political asylum to Americans facing criminal and terrorism charges. In 2006, the State Department added that Cuba opposed the US-led war on terror and made no attempt to “track, block, or seize terrorist assets.”

Over the years, these accusations have faded as Latin American dictatorships were overthrown and leftist groups started using the ballot instead of bullets to gain power. In Columbia, where decades-long fighting between government and guerrilla groups persists, Cuba has become an internationally recognized and appreciated mediator hosting peace talks. The ETA called a ceasefire in 2011 and said it would disarm. And despite US accusations, after 9/11 Fidel Castro roundly condemned terrorism, refused to harbor individuals wanted for terrorism, and signed onto all UN-sanctioned anti-terrorism treaties.

In its 2013 Report on Terrorism, the State Department admitted that Cuba’s links to ETA have become more distant and that Cuba has been hosting negotiations between Colombia’s government and FARC rebels. It also mentioned how there has been no indication that the Cuban government “provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”

Most people around the world would find it very strange that Cuba would be on a “terrorist list,” as it is most known worldwide for exporting doctors, musicians, teachers, artists, and dancers–– not terrorists.

Cuba’s continued inclusion on the terrorist list has become a stumbling block in negotiations. While both sides have been upbeat about the recent talks, Cuba has complained and demanded to be removed from the terrorist list. The Cuban government considers it insulting and unfair; it also notes the United States has repeatedly supported terrorist acts and harbored terrorist fugitives, such as Luis Posada Carriles, convicted in absentia of the bombing of Cubana Flight 455 in which 73 people were killed.

Inclusion on the terrorist list is not just political jousting; it adds an extra burden to the economic restrictions associated with the long-standing US economic embargo, especially on the banking system. All banks engaging in financial transactions with Cuba are subjected to tedious US screenings to ensure that terrorist money does not enter the US. Banks dealing with countries on the US terrorist list be slapped with major fines, such as the huge $8.9 billion penalty that French bank BNP Paribas paid last year for dealing with Cuba, Sudan and Iran. Most foreign banks–even when engaged in perfectly legal transactions with Cuba, weigh their options and decide it’s not worth the hassle.

But change is in the air. Following the December 17, 2014 agreement to restorerelations with Cuba, President Obama instructed the Secretary of State to launch a review of Cuba’s inclusion on the list and provide a report and recommendation within six months.

If the recommendation is to remove Cuba from the list, the President would have to submit a report to Congress 45 days before the new decision would take effect. The report would have to ensure that Cuba had not provided any support for international terrorism in the preceding six months, and then offer guarantees that it would not do so in the future.

The decision to lift Cuban sanctions lies in the hands of Congress, but taking Cuba off the terrorist list is an action the President can take (he can also free the Guantanamo Bay prisoners who have been cleared for release–– but that’s another issue). Cuban diplomats says they cannot conceive of re-establishing diplomatic relations with the United States while Cuba continues to be considered a sponsor of international terrorism. President Obama’s next executive action should include removing Cuba from the list–– join us by sending him that message now.

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights organization Global Exchange. She lived in Cuba for four years and is the author of several books on Cuba, including No Free Lunch: Food and the Revolution in Cuba Today.,

Cuba Détente

January 28, 2015

Obama Renounces an Insane Policy, But What’s Next?
Cuba Détente


“I do not expect the changes I am announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight.”
— Barack Obama, Dec. 17, 2014

President Obama’s Dec. 17 statement (,) announcing changes in U.S. Cuba policy was a mixture of historical truths and catch phrases drawn from the catalog of myths about Cuba and U.S. policy goals.

The first round of rule changes, announced by Jan. 16 by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), was significant in the areas of trade and banking. At the same time, much of the language is drawn from the old justifications for regime change. (Let us put aside the hypocrisies in Obama’s speech such as the instruction — coming from a country where labor unions have been systematically destroyed — that “Cuban workers should be free to form unions.”)

In his speech, Obama reworked Einstein’s famous definition of insanity to support his partial abandonment of the half-century attempts to destroy the Cuban revolution. “I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” said Obama. (If he means that the policy he has supported for six years is insane, what does that say about him?)

Nowhere in the speech did Obama renounce the longstanding U.S. commitment to regime change in Cuba or even acknowledge that it ever existed. While implicitly recognizing that the use of sanctions to achieve political results had failed, he continues to pursue them in Korea, Russia and elsewhere. One day after making the Cuba speech, he signed a bill imposing sanctions on Venezuela alleging that the government of President Nicolas Maduro had violated the human rights of protestors during violent anti-government demonstrations last February. The demonstrations were led by right-wing representatives of the Venezuelan elite who have long been backed by the United States.

We should note that the phrase about doing the same thing for over five decades and expecting a different result is incorrect. True, five decades ago the Eisenhower administration broke diplomatic relations with Cuba, but since then his 10 successors, who account for 14 presidential terms, tried a variety of other “things” besides cutting diplomatic relations. There were the commando raid things launched from U.S. territory by Cuban exiles burning cane fields and sugar mills and the CIA-trained underground blowing up movie theaters and shopping centers. Then of course, there was the Bay of Pigs invasion thing by an exile expeditionary force landing in a swamp. That was a really big thing. With that failure came Bobby Kennedy’s Operation Mongoose thing, which was expected to be a let’s-get- it-right-this-time do-over of the Bay of Pigs disaster.

Since the 1962 Missile Crisis, there have been endless “democracy promotion” things financed by CIA front organizations. There have been clandestine anti-Cuban shortwave things broadcast from all manner of conveyances — yachts, balloons, zeppelins, airplanes. Leaflets, books and pamphlets of every kind were surreptitiously sent to Cuba in tourist luggage, in diplomatic pouches, hidden in hollow trees and even dropped from airplanes. Then there were the hit-and-run attacks from speedboats shooting up Russian ships, Cuban fishing boats, coastal hotels and hamlets.

Alan Gross, pretending to bring computer equipment to synagogues in Cuba that didn’t need them, is only a recent and not the last example of the often ludicrous plotting of various U.S. government agencies. Currently, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is at the forefront of the regime-change program. Obama did not mention the Gross thing but revealed that he would have proposed détente earlier had Cuba not imprisoned him.

Obama has it backwards. It’s not the “thing” that needs to be changed but the desired “result.” His new policy direction does not promise to end imperial bullying or to accept Cuban independence and sovereignty. Why else would he say the new thing he has in mind “will promote our values through engagement”?

Making the crime fit the punishment

To justify the long hostility toward Cuba, the United States has created a Cuba that never existed; a tropical gulag of indiscriminate terror where hordes of political prisoners rot while a cartoon dictator recites hours of his political poetry to a captive audience.

It is not surprising that the external and domestic opponents of the Cuban government, whether or not they are paid by the United States or its European partners, do not have their own vision of what a post-Castro society would look like. They and Obama are bound by the official blueprint drawn up by Congress in the Helms-Burton law of 1996, which essentially calls for a non-Cuban Cuba.

What would happen to employment, housing, health care and education in the new Cuba of Washington and Miami invention? Why is it that regime change is couched in fuzzy terms like “freedom” devoid of any economic, social or cultural content? And why is it that Obama criticizes the old policy because it “failed to advance our interests” without acknowledging what those interests really are?

Nothing in Obama’s speech corrects the half-century assault on truth. Many of the media commentaries on the Obama speech recite from the fantasies concocted over the years to mask the insanity of the policy. Here is just a sampling:

-Seventy-five Cubans dissidents were arrested in April 2003 in what is called the Black Spring. Ever since then they have been referred to as political prisoners or freedom fighters.

Actually, they were tried and convicted in a Cuban court for operating as paid agents of the pretend dissident movement funded by the United States. Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, conspired with James Cason, then head of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, to openly encourage local dissidents hoping that the Cuban government would kick Cason out and give George W. Bush an excuse for closing the Cuban Interest Section in Washington and worsening bilateral relations. The scheme is what got the 75 arrested.

Among the 75 were journalists, few of whom ever practiced journalism. There also were pretend independent librarians paid by the United States to pose as part of a pretend grassroots defiance of a pretend Cuban control of what people could read.

A report to the American Library Association in 2001 (,) described how one of the “independent” libraries in Cuba “consisted of four or five dusty shelves of books.” A woman in one of these libraries said, “No books had ever been confiscated [and] that she was not being intimidated or threatened by the government as a result of having this collection….The woman receives many of her books as well as payment for her activities from the U.S. and Mexico but would not identify individual sources. She said she was asked to operate the library because she is a dissident.”

-Cuba always blocks U.S. efforts to improve relations.

The example often cited is the shooting down in 1996 of two private exile planes near the Cuban coast. But Fidel Castro did not plot with well-known terrorist José Basulto, founder of Brothers to the Rescue, to have him organize provocative flights over the Cuban capital; Basulto did that on his own. It was the shootdown that led to enactment of the Helms-Burton law, which now prevents Obama from lifting the blockade. So, was it Fidel Castro or Helms, Burton and Basulto who torpedoed some supposed improvement in bilateral relations?

– The Cuban Five were spies.

Nearly every news outlet continues to refer to the five Cuban agents imprisoned in 1998 as “spies.” (The last three were released as part of the Obama opening.)

Actually, they were Cuban agents who infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue and other counterrevolutionary groups in Florida and then alerted the FBI to their plans for attacks against Cuba from the United States in violation of U.S. law.

– Alan Gross, who, was released from prison on “humanitarian grounds” as part of the Obama opening, was unjustly imprisoned in Cuba.

Actually, he was a sub-contractor working under a USAID grant and sent on five trips to Cuba to set up clandestine electronic networks as part of the U.S. subversion obsession and therefore correctly imprisoned. People who do that sort of thing in the United States can be tried as unregistered agents of a foreign power and sent to prison, just like Alan Gross.

Where did all those doctors come from?

The president’s positive comment on Cuba’s contribution to fighting Ebola in Africa has been noted as one of the inducements for change. Good, but Obama needs to explore what Cuba’s worldwide medical missionary program says about the island.

Imagine what it would take for the mythical Cuba the United States created, with its tiny population of the impoverished and the oppressed, to produce such quantities of surplus doctors, nurses and medical technicians who are now working in 66 countries. If Obama could admit that his mythical Cuba could never have done that, he might start setting the historical record straight and maybe ask the Cubans to advise him on Obamacare.

Today Cuba has 75,000 physicians or one per 160 inhabitants. Approximately 132,000 medical/health professionals have provided medical and dental attention to poor people abroad. At present, there are over 50,000 medical workers and no less than 25,000 doctors working outside of Cuba. In 2013, the health sector had 322,627 health professionals and technicians – that is, 28.9 per 1000 inhabitants — 76,836 physicians and 14,964 dentists as well as 88,364 nurses.

All of these accomplishments at home and abroad have taken place while the U.S. government persisted in enticing doctors, nurses and other professionals to leave Cuba. Remember, it was the people of Cuba who, we are incessantly told, make only $20 a month, who paid for their education even as Cuba confronted relentless U.S. financial and economic obstruction. Does Obama intend to reimburse the Cubans?

The United States calls the maze of economic and commercial sanctions an embargo. (The Cubans, referencing international law, call it a blockade.) Obama cannot unilaterally put an end to this kind of warfare but must wait for Congress to act. While the executive branch has the constitutional power to define foreign policy, Bill Clinton signed the Helms-Burton bill transferring control of Cuba policy to Congress. This was the second time he relinquished executive power over Cuba policy. The first was in 1992 when, running against George H.W. Bush, he announced his support for the Torricelli Act, which severely tightened trade restrictions. Obama’s Democratic predecessor made it necessary for him to go before Congress in his recent State of the Union message and ask Republicans to give back his foreign policy powers.

New rules

Clearly, the old rules lacked consistency. For example, when OFAC travel and remittance rules affecting Cuban-Americas were relaxed in the past, the justification was always to promote democracy and to separate Cubans from dependence on their government. But, when the same rules were made more severe, as under George W. Bush, the justifications were the same.

OFAC’s new regulations (,) will materially ease the sanctions. Some of the changes sound like attempts through administrative regulations, to overturn fundamental sanctions in the Helms-Burton law. These include new rules allowing direct interbank transfers with the U.S. banking system, the use of U.S.-issued credit and debit cards and the elimination of “cash and carry,” which was a burdensome requirement for Cuba in paying for imports in convertible currencies.

Nevertheless, other changes may conflict with old practices. For example, will the U.S. Treasury Department protect credit/debit card companies from lawsuits by U.S. nationals seeking compensation from the Cuban government? The logistics of these transactions remains to be clarified.

Travel to Cuba can now be insured by U.S. companies and U.S. airlines could fly to Cuba from any city if market demand is sufficient instead of from a few government-selected cities. The major airlines could then reduce the advantage that the smaller companies enjoyed until now.

The travel ban has been relaxed even as OFAC preserves the principle of controlling travel for political purposes. The 12 categories of allowable travel remain in place although now without requiring a written specific license and organized travel and tours will be opened to more players.

Still, restrictions remain. Those who will be able to travel more freely are prohibited by a watchful government from having fun. New categories of travel are authorized under the new rules, “provided that the traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.”

Picking winners for a Cuban market economy

Trade sanctions have always had the effect of indirectly “managing” the Cuba economy. The new rules can determine who gets to invest in or trade with Cuba and which Cuban sectors will receive the most benefit. The majority of U.S. firms will be left out of the great Cuban market economy as envisioned in Washington.

Until now only agricultural and some medical and educational materials could be sold to Cuba. The new regulations allow for an increase in the kinds of goods that Cuba can import from the United States such as construction and agricultural tools and machinery. However, these can only be sold to non-state sectors such as co-ops and private entrepreneurs. Thus, certain sectors of the U.S. corporate world will be given preferential treatment.

OFAC is also giving Cuban entrepreneurs in the private sector an advantage over the state, but the Obama administration also wants U.S. information technology corporations to invest in Cuba’s telecommunications infrastructure, which means selling services, software and equipment to the Cuban government.

Rules applied to the banking sector raise significant questions. Financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts in Cuban banks to simplify transactions that are authorized by the United States and Cuba. But will Cuban banks be allowed to do the same in the United States?

Are these U.S. banks going to open dollar accounts in Cuban banks? Are they going to be held liable for breaking the restrictions that the United States Treasury Department imposed on dozens of banks for doing the same thing? Less than 24 months, ago the Bank of Nova Scotia, Commerzbak, Credit Suisse and many others were charged with billions of dollars in fines. Will the new rules be retroactively applied or is this a case of sorry — bad timing?

Since 1962, any ship that called on a Cuban port was prohibited from entering a U.S. port for at least six months. Now, ships transporting food, medicine, medical equipment and other materials may, in case of some emergency in Cuba, go to Cuba and then enter any U.S. port without prejudice as can any other ship owned by the same company. But Cuba is still not permitted to use U.S. currency in international transactions or purchase of technologies that might have more than 10 percent of U.S. components.

Some U.S. companies shall not suffer

Obama appears to have come around to where former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was in 1972 when he limited the scope of economic sanctions to protect the interests of selected U.S. corporations. In April of that year, Kissinger approved export licenses for three U.S. automakers with subsidiaries in Argentina permitting them to sell cars to Cuba. The State Department issued a statement that read in part, “Our policy toward Cuba is unchanged. We did not wish to see these U.S. companies suffer as a result of U.S. policy.”

Stifling trade and financial transactions in Cuba by withholding all the utilities of capitalism was inconsistent with promoting a free market, which is mentioned 13 times in Helms-Burton.

Do the new regulations show that Obama is rejecting the old insanity and striking out toward true respect for Cuban sovereignty? While there is symbolic importance in resuming formal diplomatic relations, there is nothing in normal diplomacy that prevents Obama from carrying on regime change schemes by other means. As he said Dec. 17, “we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.”

Relaxing the restrictions on travel is fine but does anyone find Obama’s reasoning for doing so a little suspicious? “Nobody represents America’s values better,” said Obama, “than the American people, and I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people.”

Obama wants to transfer information technology to Cuba. Good. He could also transfer to dissidents the supplies of military-grade microchips that Alan Gross was imprisoned for doing.

The day for celebration should be postponed until we see whether the true potential of Cuba’s social and political experiment can proceed unobstructed by an enraged superpower and whether the United States is ready to work with Cuba in bringing a more constructive future to both countries. Maybe by then Cuba can show the United States how to form labor unions.

Robert Sandels lives in Mexico and writes on Cuba and Mexico.

Nelson P. Valdés is Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico. For more information on Cuba visit:,


The Cuban Five discuss their release and return to Cuba

January 26, 2015

The Cuban Five discuss their release and return to Cuba During the first of a series of interviews with protagonists of Cuban history on the “Roundtable” television program, anti-terrorist fighters Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino recall details of their release from U.S. prisons and their return to Cuba, after serving 16 years of their unjust sentences.


The three anti-terrorist Cubans recently released from U.S. jails, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino, shared their testimony and anecdotes in a special edition of the Mesa Redonda television program. During the first of a series of interviews with protagonists of Cuban history on the “Roundtable” television program to be aired monthly, the anti-terrorist fighters Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino recalled the moment of their release from U.S. prisons and their return to Cuba.

The three Cubans, who returned to their native country on December 17, commented on the details of the transfer, described by Labañino as very discreet and well organized on the part of U.S. authorities and those in Havana.

Labañino and Guerrero both noted the silence maintained around the news of their return during the transfer from their respective prisons to the medical center from which they left the country, and the urgency of every movement.

They clarified that they were transferred two days beforehand, while Gerardo was moved the previous week and confined in the hole. Gerardo, Antonio and Ramón, together with Fernando González and René González, were incarcerated in the United States for informing the Cuban authorities of acts of terrorism planned by violent groups based in Florida.

Fernando and René had returned to Cuba previously after fully completing their prison terms. On this occasion they conceded the space to their recently released brothers in struggle.

Gerardo: “I want to highlight the attitude of my other four Cuban brothers. They had very little against René, similarly against Fernando, if they had yielded to pressure and bribery they wouldn’t have spent even one year in prison.” THE ENCOUNTER Antonio Guerrero: “At 5:30 am a nurse arrived and said to me, ‘Guerrero, get down, you have to pack, at 6:30 you have to be in the concourse, you understand? You want me to say it in Spanish?’ “The doors were closed, they are opened just after 6:00 and I said to my cell mate, ‘Get up, I told you I was going before you!’ He was to be released on January 20 and I’d said to him a few times that there was a possibility of me going before him.

“In the department to which they transferred us I began to take note of strange things, starting from the fact that I had not requested any transfer. From there they moved me to the room from which I was to be collected and while I was there they came and said, ‘Guerrero, you’re going to Bourne!’ – the Bourne Medical Center.
“I continued thinking about the possibility of going somewhere else, but they were already saying that I was going to a prison.

The lieutenants came, they took me to a very small, executive, airport terminal, the plane came. Everything that was happening was abnormal in relation to other transfers they had made. I had had a similar medical transfer, but not like this one; I even said to the lieutenant who accompanied me from the prison, ‘You’re going to remember this transfer for the rest of your life.’

“I arrived after Ramón, about three in the afternoon on Monday the 15th. From there I went to the department, I didn’t have Ramón’s luck to know that Gerardo had been transferred, I didn’t have that information and when I reached that department there was a nurse, a Puerto Rican working there, and an officer from whom I tried to get some information, and what they said was that there was a unit there for workers, which wasn’t a medical one, and everything indicated that I was assigned to that unit.

“They took me to a hole cell in another area, he told me to sleep well because he would be coming to get me at 7:00 in the morning! “Before seven, they came to ask me if I was ready, one of the officers who had transferred me came to collect me. We went along a passage, they took the cuffs off me, but we were moving at supersonic speed. ”There were some officers running and those taking me didn’t stop, they led me to a passageway which gave on to the visitors room, the officer stopped in the doorway and said to me, ‘Let’s go!’ and that’s when I saw a person shaking Gerardo’s hand, there were quite a few people there, but I couldn’t contain myself and said to him, ‘Gerar!' I imagined the same thing had happened to him, but up until that moment I had no idea and he also said he didn’t know what was going on.

We had that first encounter in Bourne.” Gerardo Hernández: “I left the prison without any advance notice. When they moved me I had been put in the hole in Oklahoma for 11 days. I thought that they also wanted me to refresh the details incase anything had to be corrected by Kcho (a Cuban artist) in the installation. They moved Ramón and me the same day, Monday the 15th, in different conditions.

“One goes about collecting details in spite of what I always said, ‘I’ll believe that I’m going to Cuba the day that the airplane lands.’ “When I saw Ramón and Tony I said to myself, ‘This is different.' Even when it landed we were delayed a while in getting off and the U.S. officials were going up and down the steps and I said to them, ‘If this takes off again, I’m going to throw myself out the window.’”

Ramón Labañino: “In my case it was interesting. You spend 16 years waiting for this moment. A prison officer told me to get ready and collect my things. I was asleep and my first impression was, ‘All right, let’s see what happens.’ “They took me to the place where you change your clothes and from there I went to where they put the chains on. In this lapse of time, while I’m waiting for the other officer to arrive, I could hear them commenting, I’ve always had a good ear for listening in and that day, much more so, and I heard them saying, ‘This is a strange business, we have to get these guys out of here and to the nearest airport.’

At that point I thought, this is something serious. So then I felt uneasy. “They took me out, cuffed me with the black box and put me in a van with two guards to transfer me to Lexington airport; there they led me onto a small aircraft and took me to Bourne. I knew absolutely nothing and asked, but they didn’t reply. I arrived at Bourne, it was a lightning operation and very calm, and there I heard a guard saying ‘Hurry up because the other one’s coming behind.’ “That night I couldn’t sleep because I began to think that I was in Cuba and I was waiting to see if I would spot the other guys pass by. I spent it the night exercising. Everything was very well coordinated, calculated in millimeters.”

BEHIND BARS Antonio: “The hole was torture, an unjust punishment. They deprived us of communication, and did certain things to us there; for example, I was taken outside for recreation some mornings when I hadn’t finished breakfast and they would throw out what we had in the cells, and they would search the cell at the slightest opportunity. When we asked permission to go to the legal library, or wanted to change the food or needed to go to the dentist, they would tear up the requests in our face, already entering the range of cruelty. “Something would arrive for us, a letter or whatever, and we would share it. The objective of this close to two years’ process was to break us. Apart from our union, we were helped by the strength we gave each other.”

Gerardo: “It was a very difficult time. Initially, ten of us were arrested. I was the only one who knew the other nine. That says a lot for the attitude of our compañeros. In effect, five people were unable to resist the pressure and decided to cooperate with the authorities against us. The damage was not so great from the operative point of view, because thanks to the compartmentalization they didn’t know that much. They could only use one person to testify against us during the trial. In the end they realized that it was doing them more harm than good.

“Those first moments were of reaffirmation. We were aware that their intentions were to put on a propaganda show. They knew that we hadn’t done any damage to the country, nor did we have information that could threaten U.S. national security. “I remember some years later an article came out in the Miami Herald with the title, ‘Spy may hold key’ which was counting on me betraying Fidel and Raúl on the day we lost our appeals. “There were three officers among us and they were in the group of the Five which remained unbroken.

The ones who decided to collaborate with the United States did not have that rank. That was the ultimate dream for the prosecution, to have an officer to accuse Cuba. When they didn’t get that, they opted for cruelty. “I want to highlight the attitude of my other four brothers. They had very little against René, or against Fernando, if they had yielded they wouldn’t have spent a year in prison.

However, they established their stand without any hesitation and from that first moment the Five emerged.”

Ramón: “The officer who was with me kept repeating, ‘I know your story, I know who you are and what you are doing here.’ And I would say to him, ‘All right, tell me what I’m doing here,’ to see what happened. Because in all of this you think maybe they’re confused, they think it’s drugs or something else. But when I saw all the guys I realized that things were more serious. There comes a moment in one’s life when a man has to define himself and know what side he is going to take in history, and it is the moment when he reaffirms himself as a revolutionary.

And we opted for the correct option, that of being on the side of our people, of our Comandante and the history of the homeland. “Because from the very first moment we realized that it would not only be a personal betrayal, but could have major consequences, including an escalation of another kind, which in its most extreme form could be military. That process could be manipulated against our people.

“Five or six yielded in the face of so many pretensions and gifts. They moved us to the Miami detention center, on the 13th floor, which is above the hole, which is on the 12th. We were there for around 15 days but all isolated. That was Saturday the 12th and the 14th we were taken down to the court. “It was in the court that the five of us reaffirmed what we were going to be. That September 14, 1998, I realized – and each one of us has a different perception –who was or was not up to the task that the moment demanded. “At that time I didn’t know René. For reasons of work there were certain people who we didn’t know, but when we went to court we were prepared to die together.”

THE RETURN Antonio: “The 31st (December), we spent together as a family, an extended family. It’s not 16 years, in my case its 24. But when we gave each other friendly hugs and kisses, those 24 years were erased. We have recounted some things but since we’ve been here, from when I wake up from when I go to bed, what has passed has been left behind in the past, I feel neither rancor nor nostalgia. I don’t know where to fit another little piece of happiness inside of myself. My two sons are marvelous young men. Gabriel is in Panama.

I had the good luck to spend a few days with him, we slept in the same room and in the same bed, and that gave me great happiness, the same way as I feel with my great-nephews. I am used to getting up early and they do as well and that was my breakfast. At the end of the day, the family, the people, erased those moments of anguish and the joy is constant.”

Gerardo: “Gema is a pretty and peaceful baby girl. From the beginning I wanted her to be a girl, because boys get very spoiled. In any event, Gema already has her little Industriales shirt, because who’s to say that baseball isn’t for girls as well. “One of the most difficult things about being in prison was the frustration of not having children. In these difficult times the only way we found of giving form to our sentiments was through poetry, although neither of us were poets. Thus arose the letter to the child who was to come, which was to be sent to Adriana, but René asked me for it and said that it would be a good idea to publish it in the newspaper as a way of making it known.

“The news had to be kept very secret. When Cuba gives its word, it fulfills it, and we had given our word to keep the pregnancy and all of the process around it a secret in order not to prejudice the greater objective, which was our freedom.” Ramón: “The emotion doesn’t stop. Since we arrived it has been emotion after emotion, each one greater than the one before. It has been emotional to see my daughters grown up, beautiful, and my slender wife. I am trying by every means to recover my time with them, although for me they will always be little, because to any father his children are always little. “I am an extremely paternal father, the redundancy is worth it. I share every second with them, ask them how they’re doing in school, and what happened…

The first night we were together I woke both of them up at six in the morning and took them to see the sunrise. For me it was the most beautiful moment of my life. “I try to eat everything I can, the Cuban flavor is probably superior to all flavors, it not a problem of chauvinism. Our people have a very special warmth, an emotional nature and embrace. “Although I am the one of the Five to hug others the most, we all embrace each other and love each other. For that reason, I wanted to thank our people once again. This has been an enormous victory which should be enjoyed by international solidarity and the Cuban people. Viva Cuba and Viva humanity!”

REASONS FOR NOT BREAKING Antonio: “I have tried to explain that in our minds we were never prisoners. Now people are going to say, ‘This one has lost it on the Roundtable.' But in our minds we always maintained equanimity and an internal strength based above all on our innocence. If you are doing something bad and you are caught, if you are attached to material things and are locked up, you become afraid. But materially, we lived very austere lives. We were dedicated to a concrete task. I, for example, lived a normal life, and those conditions and the things we had within us, meant that we never felt like prisoners, and much less like giving up. There were hard moments. In the hole area, on the second day, we went down to a little room and I commented to them, ‘I have a poem in my mind, even though I haven’t been able to write it.

“Poetry arrived in us all in some way and we converted it into a weapon of resistance. But, in particular, we had two things: we had the conviction that we would receive constant support for getting out of there, we had our innocence and above all, we were prepared to die there. “We had a photo of Mandela and another one of Che. We had values. We were very clear that if you die for a just cause, you do not die. In tranquility I will say that we did nothing extraordinary, we did what it befell us to do. In reality, they should have arrested the terrorists, but they arrested us and imposed the worst conditions on us in Miami.

“But we did nothing extraordinary, we did what we had to do. We did it with simplicity. We knew that we had many years to serve. We never felt defeated, we were always optimistic; we knew that we had to struggle on. The struggle was long and that was what brought so much solidarity and that now, young schoolchildren see you and open their arms because you already feel like one of the family. “And, in that way, we passed the days in prison, and when the days got harder and my mom was going there, I said to her, ‘Mom, stay calm, if Gerardo had to die in prison, he would do so calmly.’ But in the end, we won and that we have to celebrate.”

Gerardo: Initially Antonio and Ramón had their hopes dashed. In our minds, the only sure thing was that we would have to die in prison, if the government decision was sustained. Obviously, one thinks that won’t happen, but what one knows with certainty is that we weren’t in that place by chance. It was not an improvised mission. “The guidebook of this profession says that if you are caught, in no way must you acknowledge who you work for. If they catch you, you’ve had it.

During the first months that we were in prison there was one fact that made us stay strong. During the Portugal Summit, they gave us the day’s newspapers and I began to read the words of our Comandante where – among other things – he affirmed that if it were true that we were working for Cuba, Cuba would never abandon us. That was decisive for us. That day we passed the newspaper from cell to cell and then had our own Roundtable. From then onward, the enemy had no chance with us.”

Ramón: ”When they arrested us in Miami that was the hardest part, the part you don’t want to think about, I refused to do so. So you begin an internal search, to dream of things. That, and revolutionary idealism, that’s what helps you to win out. Every time I thought about my wife, my daughters, of the hardship for them and for me, of everything that was happening, of not having been able to enjoy Elizabeth’s two pregnancies, of not seeing my little girls, and of Cuba, the pain was very intense. So I, for example, took refuge in sports, I became obsessed by them, I am an avid chess supporter, chess absorbed me and I said to myself, ‘I have to think of the task, of Gerardo, of the struggle.’ “The mind is very treacherous, it takes flight and at night you begin to feel melancholy, and you search for psychological resources which might help you: Cuban music, Silvio Rodríguez, Los Van Van or sports. “Prison helps to find the best or worst in human beings.

All prisons are hard. There are people who lack the strength to overcome those conditions. We had difficult conditions, principally Gerardo, in the state penitentiary, and at that moment you search within yourself, and even within the history of Cuba. You begin to think of (Antonio) Maceo, Mariana Grajales, of Martí, the sacrifices they made, of an asthmatic Che climbing mountains; you think that they too went through this, you remember our women compañeras who endured torture during the dictatorship, and that like us, they had families, they had people who loved them, who were on their side, and they withstood it.

“Poetry helped me as well, I write poems, although they are not as good as Tony’s, I wrote a lot every day. These are the resources that one seeks. For us five, Gerardo was always the center of everything, and we knew that if he was free, so would we be. That spirit of brotherhood, affection, revolutionary love which united us, was also what gave us strength. “To all, our embrace.”

Antonio: “The lawyers we were initially given were [state appointed] public defenders. But when they learned about the essence of the case, they came to identify with us, with our families, and to feel admiration.

It is not usual for a lawyer to have those sentiments for his or her client. We must mention one who never ceased fighting in this battle, our dear and intimate friend Leonard Weinglass, who unfortunately is no longer with us and was unable to enjoy this victory.

“In my case, the prosecution always tried to find at least one person to testify against me, and never achieved that. That solidarity extended throughout the prison and when I was giving classes the prisoners called me teacher and this atmosphere of admiration on the part of the lawyers, the prison, and all those who knew the nature of the people of Cuba, was a constant for the Five.

“Today I was asked, ‘Didn’t you have problems in prison? We spent eight and a half years in penitentiaries. Gerardo spent 12 years there. They were very violent prisons. But we found respect. We had serious arguments many times, but respect prevailed. This is because we were five innocents unjustly incarcerated for a political motive, for the simple interest in punishing Cuba for the issue of relations between the two countries.”

Gerardo: One cannot talk of the case of the Five without talking about the solidarity movement. Over the years, pride in being Cuban has multiplied, thanks to the display of solidarity of our people. At the same time, many people in the United States have made an enormous sacrifice, even lost their jobs to dedicate their life to our cause. For all of them, our embrace.”

La ultraderecha del “Exilio cubano” en Miami pretende sabotear la normalización de relaciones entre Cuba y Estados Unidos

January 26, 2015

Exilio Cuba

Mariano Álvarez*

Casa blanca: “No podemos seguir haciendo lo mismo y esperar obtener un resultado diferente. Intentar empujar a Cuba al abismo no beneficia a Estados Unidos ni al pueblo cubano. Vamos a levar las anclas del pasado porque es necesario alcanzar un futuro mejor: para nuestros intereses nacionales, para las personas que viven en Estados Unidos y para el pueblo cubano”… Sumo Pontífice: “Un ejemplo que aprecio particularmente de cómo el diálogo puede verdaderamente edificar y construir puentes es la reciente decisión de los Estados Unidos de América y Cuba de poner fin a un silencio recíproco, que ha durado medio siglo y de acercarse por el bien de sus ciudadanos”…

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Cuba y Estados Unidos: Un juego nuevo

January 11, 2015

La pupila insomne

Rafael Hernández

jubilo-en-la-habana-cuba-estados-unidosDurante cinco generaciones, los cubanos se han entrenado para enfrentar el golpe aéreo, masivo y sorpresivo, proveniente del Norte; no precisamente para el diálogo y la convivencia con Estados Unidos. Éste ha recurrido a casi todos sus medios de fuerza para amenazar o atacar a Cuba, desde los misiles nucleares hasta el suministro encubierto de artefactos supuestamente capaces

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Epílogo del supuesto “Occupy Wall Street” cubano [+ fotos y video]

January 11, 2015

Norelys Morales/Isla Mia

La foto de los corresponsales extranjeros apostados en la Plaza de la Revolución en la Habana el 30 de diciembre de 2014 sobre las 3:00 pm hora local, esperando que algo sucediera y que no sucedió, es lamentable. Al margen de cualquier preferencia personal o certeza periodística de alguno de ellos, cumplían los encargos de sus redacciones, que trazaron la agenda por los condicionamientos ideológicos de todas las campañas contra Cuba.

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