Posts Tagged ‘antistateterror’

The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess

August 28, 2015

Not so long ago the fictional Cuba of the US myth-making machine was a Caribbean gulag, a dictatorship that sponsored terrorism and trafficked in human beings – that is when it wasn’t torturing them. Today we are left wondering what that was all about now that Sec. of State John Kerry has gone to Cuba for a flag-raising speech in front of the newly christened US Embassy and a brief walkabout in Old Havana.

The gist of Kerry’s remarks is that Cuba should improve its behavior according to Kerry’s prescriptions. Apparently, he hasn’t been listening to the Cubans, who want the United States to get rid of the thick accumulation of obnoxious and warlike behaviors, starting with the blockade (embargo) and not forgetting to abandon the US gulag at Guantánamo.

So far the United States has offered no rational justifications for these behaviors as it seeks “normalization,” but we should at least look at how they originated. As terrifying as history is to leaders in Washington, we will take one of the key bright ideas — the (ongoing) manipulation of Cuban immigration as an example of how far it is from here to “normal.”

Creating the exile pool

Normalization has so far not included an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which encourages Cubans to become undocumented aliens. Mexicans are told to stay home or “get in line” for a green card, but Cubans who reach US shores can be fast-tracked to citizenship.

The approach to Cuban immigration after 1959 oscillated between a desire to encourage it for propaganda advantage and a concern that Fidel Castro might oblige by releasing an unmanageable torrent. A manageable number could give propagandists the chance to picture every Cuban who left by whatever means, including rafts, as a political refugee from communist tyranny. Too many could strain public services wherever the Cubans landed, create social friction and cost the taxpayers a lot of money. Jesús Arboleya Cervera has written that

…immigration was intimately related to the policies conducted by the United States against the island, conceived to drain Cuba of its human capital, dismantle the social structure, and create abroad the social bases for a counter-revolutionary movement that had no cohesion inside the island. [1]

The just-right balance of regulations could achieve all this. To make it work, Cubans immigrating illegally were placed in a newly invented category exempt from the normal rules. They were initially welcomed under a special resettlement program and helped through the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962. However, President John F. Kennedy ruined the just-right balance by suspending regular flights between Cuba and the United States later that year increasing internal pressures in Cuba. This situation created an incentive for illegal emigration, which reached its highest levels when upwards of 30,000 people emigrated that way between 1962 and 1965. In February 1963, the US government announced that any Cubans who managed to get to the United States would be granted refugee status.

Kennedy’s action was an early example of how one immigration policy decision forced the invention of another to deal with the consequences of the first. By blocking safe exit from Cuba, Kennedy provoked the first of the great immigration crises.

1965: Camarioca

Reacting to the immigration pressure built up by suspending the flights, Castro opened the port of Camarioca in September 1965, inviting Cubans in Miami to go there and pick up their relatives.

President Lyndon Johnson at first welcomed the immigrants and framed the Camarioca exodus as a public relations gain for the United States. But as the numbers threatened to overwhelm Florida’s ability to absorb them, Johnson sought an accommodation with Cuba through a Memorandum of Understanding, which was signed on December 6, 1965. This new fix allowed a specific number of Cubans to emigrate on renewed flights to the United States. The Johnson administration called them Freedom Flights and presented them as a victory for the United States. It could just as well be considered a victory for Castro as Johnson was forced to reverse Kennedy’s actions in stopping the flights and to re-think how the immigration weapon was to be used. Castro reset the balance for Johnson. The flights continued until 1973.

But what to do with the Cuban immigrants? Before 1966, they were admitted on a temporary humanitarian basis because it was assumed in Washington, DC that the revolutionaries would soon be overthrown obviating the need for a permanent solution. There was no special legislation to regularize Cubans illegally arriving under the ad hoc systems then in place. Congress attempted to rectify that with passage of the Cuban Adjustment Act on November 2, 1966.

The legislation was supposed to bring order to the process. It applied only to Cubans who had lived in the United States for a least one year and who met the requirements for legal residency. New arrivals would be admitted if they could show they were in danger of persecution if they were repatriated — the standard UN criterion for granting political asylum. Cubans so admitted were granted resident status after one year in the United States regardless of how they got here; all that was necessary was to touch US soil. Most politicized Cubans in the United States were not pleased by the change, for it implied that there would be no roll back of the revolution and that the US government wanted the Cuban immigrants to become Americanized. In fact, the intention was to resettle them away from south Florida.

Thus, the Cuban Adjustment act encouraged limitless immigration, which the immigration system was ill equipped to handle. The process of determining who qualified as a refugee quickly collapsed into a policy of wholesale admission, the issuance of work permits, financial assistance and other benefits plus a fast track to permanent residency. To avoid the time-consuming process of case-by-case determination of refugee status, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (since 2003, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, USCIS) issued paroles, by which new arrivals were released (paroled) to friends or relatives.

The parole, which figured in the infamous Elian Gonzalez case some years later, short-circuited the process of administratively determining eligibility, serving a policy function for which it was not intended. Parole was not supposed to be used for groups of individuals. It was designed to insure that an alien experiencing an emergency could tend to that emergency while remaining free from detention. Eventually, parole was used to facilitate the processing of an entire population of otherwise excludable aliens who were considered by the government to be desirable immigrants.

In short, the special legal protections given indiscriminately to Cuban immigrants is not based solely on the Cuban Adjustment Act but also on the blanket designation of “political refugee” granted to any person who came from Cuba.

1980: Mariel

On March 17, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act, which was supposed to rationalize the immigration process eliminating the parole shortcut and requiring a specific determination of eligibility for political asylum by applying the criterion of a “well-founded fear of persecution” if repatriated. The act was not specifically intended for Cubans, but a new mass exodus erupted that again demonstrated the inadequacy of legislative tinkering to solve problems created by the counterrevolutionary policies against Cuba.

The 1980 mass exodus from Cuba took place after the Carter administration and Cuba had agreed to allow Cubans in the United States to visit the island and take gifts with them for friends and relatives. Massive amounts of consumer goods entered the island for the first time since the early years of the revolution. Since these visitors were mostly urban white Cubans, the gifts went to their urban white friends and relatives in Cuba. Non-white Cubans did not benefit because at that time very few exiles were non-white. Poor urban Cubans, consequently, will become economic immigrants, using the 1966 US policy of easy entry into the United States to gain access to the consumer market.

The Mariel crisis of 1980 was precipitated when a busload of Cubans wishing to emigrate crashed through the gate of the Peruvian Embassy in Havana on April 1. They, and later thousands of others, sought political asylum at the embassy. On April 20, Castro announced that anyone wishing to leave could depart Cuba from the port of Mariel. His decision would later be interpreted in the United States as “unleashing” a mass exodus. But Castro later said he allowed the exodus to deprive Carter’s right-wing opposition with an election-year issue. [2]

Trapped by a system that could encourage but not control Cuban immigration, Carter announced that he welcomed the immigrants — a decision that ran counter to the attempt just days earlier to put some order into processing them through the Refugee Act. However, this was election time and, like Johnson before him, Carter saw an opportunity to portray the new immigrant wave as proof of Castro’s failures; he welcomed the marielitos “with open arms.”

By announcing that private vessels from Florida could go to Mariel and pick up the self-defined refugees, Carter insured that he would lose control. A massive, disorderly boatlift followed, overloading the cumbersome interview system necessary to determine well-founded fear of persecution. Consequently, once landed in Florida, the Mariel Cubans were shunted past the Refugee Act and placed in a newly invented status of “entrant.”

By early September, Castro moved to rescue Carter and help his re-election by controlling the boatlift crisis and detaining airplane hijackers landing in Cuba from the United States. He also announced that from September 25 to November 4 — Election Day in the United States — all Mariel traffic would be suspended. [3]

In October, with south Florida’s social services overwhelmed, Carter reversed his refugee policy a second time by ordering a halt to the boatlift that recently had seemed like such a good idea. He now threatened with fines anyone setting out from Florida for Mariel — the same people he had encouraged to go there. He experimented with various methods to gain control of the inflow and the problem of holding thousands of Cubans in detention centers.

The mess took years to clean up. Indefinite detention of large numbers of marielitos settled in as an addendum to the old policy. Undesirables were kept locked up indefinitely without criminal charges. Riots in detention centers and federal prisons became a regular occurrence. Twenty-five years later there were still 750 Mariel-era Cubans living in detentions centers with entrant status. The Supreme Court finally ruled against open-ended detention in 2005.

1984: Reagan avoids a crisis

In December 1984, the Reagan administration reached an agreement with Cuba that allowed the United States to send back 2,700 marielitos deemed ineligible for residency due to mental health problems, previous criminal records in Cuba or crimes committed while in the United States. As late as 2009, Cubans on a 1984 secret list of undesirables considered excludable were being deported to Cuba after spending decades in the United States. Cuba was the final destination for many “refugees” and “entrants” once welcomed “with open arms.”

Under a 1984 pact, the United States agreed to resume issuing up to 20,000 visas per year, which it had suspended because of Cuba’s earlier refusal to take back any marielitos – the people welcomed “with open arms.” Castro always maintained that the United States never consistently complied with the agreement.

Until the current Obama opening, the United States has always refused to negotiate a return to normal relations unless Cuba first makes concessions. Helping Reagan get off the hook for Jimmy Carter’s Mariel folly is never counted as a concession from Castro.

1994: The Clinton Immigration Crisis

For Clinton, the lesson of Mariel was not to review a flawed policy but to avoid falling into an immigration trap as Carter had and ending up with thousands of unwanted Cubans stuffed away in detention centers with the bogus migratory status of “entrant.” While Clinton was governor of Arkansas, he struggled with Carter over troubles at the Ft. Chaffee detention center in 1980. On two occasions, Cubans stormed out of the army base unhindered. The base commander told Clinton that because of the posse comitatus law, the military could not perform police functions. Clinton later complained in his memoirs that Carter told the commander he couldn’t keep them at the fort against their will. [4]

In the second breakout, a thousand Cubans left the base on June 1 and headed to a nearby town where locals were in a panic and ready with their shotguns to repel them. Unable to get help from the White House or the Pentagon, Clinton ordered state police to block the advancing Cubans by firing shots in the air. Sixty-two people were injured and three buildings at Ft. Chaffee were destroyed. This might be considered the only known hostile incursion by Cubans on American soil. In his memoires, Clinton blamed Castro for his re-election defeat. [5]

Clinton’s turn came in the summer of 1994 during a rash of hijackings to the United States — some of them violent. US officials were unwilling to acknowledge the link between incentives to immigrate and Cuban hijacking, but the practice became institutionalized as part of the undergrowth of an unofficial policy apparatus.

For a considerable period, at least in the state of Florida, air piracy ceased to be an actionable offense. In 1992, for example, Cuban airline pilot Carlos Cancio Porcel and several other people with their families diverted his Aero Caribbean plane to Miami, chloroforming a security guard and tying up the co-pilot. “No crime has been committed here,” his lawyer said. Cancio was detained but released when the Justice Department ruled that his actions did not constitute a hijacking. Cancio was issued an immigration parole and released into the community.

On August 5, a Radio Martí broadcast from the United States announced the imminent arrival of a ship from Miami that supposedly would take on people who wished to leave Cuba. When the vessel did not arrive, a crowd began rioting in Old Havana. Castro portrayed the riot as the result of a US policy to prevent legal immigration by issuing too few visas and simultaneously encouraging illegal immigration with such tactics as the Radio Martí broadcast. Castro warned that Cuba would not act as an auxiliary to the US Coast Guard. “We can no longer carry this burden or assume this responsibility, while they do nothing.”[6]

In a television address August 24 Castro said, “If the United States does not take rapid and efficient measures to stop the incitement of illegal exits from the country, we will feel obliged to tell the Border Guard not to stop any vessel that wishes to leave Cuba.”[7] Clinton’s answer was that there would be no change in US immigration policy. His chief of staff Leon Panetta said Cuba could not tell the United States what to do — implying that it would continue to encourage illegal immigration — and that the United States would not tolerate a repeat of the Mariel mass exodus. Panetta said Clinton might declare a naval blockade of Cuba if Castro did not control illegal emigration from the island.” [7]

While the White House was rededicating itself to the continued encouragement of immigration with the implied promise of immunity from prosecution for hijackers, Castro issued orders on August 12 that the Border Guard should be flexible with those wishing to leave except in cases of hijacking. Clinton was now sliding toward another migration crisis and another Carteresque disaster. But the White House had a plan. Operation Distant Shore involved actually arresting rafters trying to enter the country, detaining them on military bases outside of Florida and possibly declaring a naval blockade of Cuba.

When Clinton saw that the plan included the incarceration of rafters on military bases, he “went ballistic.” “Are you nuts? Do you think I am going to do [that] again?” he yelled. [9] He opted instead for scrapping enforcement of some elements of the Cuban Adjustment Act, the most important change in Cuban immigration policy in 28 years.

On August 19, Clinton ordered the Navy and Coast Guard to pick up rafters heading north and transfer them to camps at the Guantánamo Naval Base where thousands of Haitians similarly intercepted were being kept. (There never was a Haitian Adjustment Act.) Speaking at a White House news conference that day, Clinton said Castro caused the problem by encouraging Cubans “to take to the sea in unsafe vessels to escape their nation’s internal problems.” He called this an “attempt to dictate American immigration policy.” [10]

Clinton’s welcome was not with open arms.

“Today, I have ordered that illegal refugees from Cuba will not be allowed to enter the United States. Refugees rescued at sea will be taken to our naval base at Guantánamo, while we explore the possibility of other safe havens within the region….The United States will detain, investigate, and, if necessary, prosecute Americans who take to the sea to pick up Cubans. Vessels used in such activities will be seized.” [11]

Castro thought the order as insufficient to stop the continuing flow of rafters and asked again for negotiations on all outstanding issues. Clinton refused to do it openly but instead decided to coax Castro into secret negotiations by asking Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari what he could do to move Castro to negotiate — to “check around.” [10]

In the subsequent agreement brokered by Salinas, Cuba was expected to limit illegal emigration — another example of depending on Cuba’s good offices to slow the immigration that the Cuban Adjustment Act was designed to encourage. For its part, the United States agreed to issue up to 20,000 visas per year and to send any Cubans picked up at sea to the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base.

While this was supposed to be a disincentive to rafters, it was also a solution leading to a new problem. As the Guantánamo camps filled up with disgruntled would-be immigrants, something had to be done about rioting and overtaxed facilities. Furthermore, the camps represented a potential public relations disaster: the internees, who formerly were portrayed as refugees from Castro’s oppression, might now be seen as victims of US oppression.

A second set of migratory talks had to be called in May 1995 to mend some holes. The resulting agreement required the United States to take in 21,000 Cubans held at Guantánamo and to send future rafters back to Cuba, not to Guantánamo. The United States also agreed to prosecute or extradite hijackers.

This second migratory accord had its own problems. The United States now had to tone down its traditional claims that anyone sent back to Cuba would face prison, torture or death. After all, it was the United States sending them back, so the “well-founded fear of persecution” route to asylum was closed for mass migrations although it remained open in special cases.

Wet foot dry foot

Some way had to be found simultaneously to accept a manageable number of immigrants to satisfy the needs of domestic politics while turning away the unwanted surplus. The solution was another immigration policy shift known as the wet-foot/dry-foot policy.

Not a part of the agreements, the formula enabled immigration officials to placate Miami exiles by continuing to admit Cubans who arrived onshore while living up to the agreement with Cuba to repatriate those picked up at sea. The accords marked an abrupt change in US immigration policy, ending the open immigration practices under the Cuban Adjustment Act, while leaving it battered but still in force.

Even after the Clinton administration formally ended open immigration, the new formula for admitting Cubans contributed to ambiguous and even capricious interpretations of how to receive Cubans arriving by hijack. Were hijackers who landed in Florida to be admitted as dry-foot immigrants or as air pirates?

One of the more bizarre examples of the tortuous interpretations of what constituted a safe, dry-foot arrival occurred in February 2003, when the armed crew of a Cuban Border Guard patrol boat went ashore in Key West after tying up at the Marriott resort marina. After some drinks and a phone call to local police, the crew was taken into custody and swiftly given asylum.

Two facts stand out about the incident: it happened while the Department of Homeland Security had put the United States on a heightened terror alert; and the armed men arrived on a boat — technically a war vessel — belonging to a government on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

In the end, the Clinton administration managed to mollify the exile community for the sin of repatriating wet-foots by applying more sanctions against Cuba, stepping up propaganda broadcasts and occasionally threatening a naval blockade against any future mass exodus. He had avoided the dreaded Carter syndrome, but by inventing the wet foot/dry foot rule, the administration kept intact the incitement to illegal and life-threatening immigration.

Clinton had solved the wrong problem. The Mariel catastrophe was a foretold outcome of bad policy from another era. Encouraging illegal immigration was always a risky way to undermine a foreign government.

Like Dracula, bad policies can live almost forever. This one was tethered to Eisenhower’s original belief that welcoming Cubans would undermine the revolutionary government. Conceptually weak, the policy was subject to every kind of current from Miami, Havana and Washington. No one in the Eisenhower administration apparently considered the distorting effect that a rapid buildup of Cuban exiles in Florida would have on domestic politics or that the original bright idea could take on a life of its own that none of Ike’s successors could kill.

Today, if normal relation means that the war against Cuba is over, then the United States will have to decide if it wants to jeopardize future negotiations by defending its Draculan policies.

Notes.

1. Jesús Arboleya Cervera, Havana Miami. The US-Cuba Migration Conflict, Melbourne: Ocean Press, 1996.

2. Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel Castro, biografía a dos voces, Editorial Debate: México, DF, 2006, p. 302.

3. Ibid., p. 303.

4. Bill Clinton, My Life, New York, New York: Knopf, 2004, p. 276.

5. Ramonet, p. 614.615.

6. Speeches, LANIC. http://lanic.utexas.edu/info /la/cb/cuba/castro.html

7. The Los Angeles Times, 08/22/94.

8. Kelly M. Greenhill, Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion, and Foreign Policy, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010   p.112.

9. News Conference, 08/19/94, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/WCPD-1994-08-22/pdf/WCPD-1994-08-22.pdf.

10. Ibid.

11. Carlos Salinas de Gortari, México: un paso difícil a la modernidad, Barcelona: Plaza & James Editores, 2000, p. 247-265.

Robert Sandels writes on Cuba and Mexico. Nelson P. Valdés is Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of New Mexico.

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Normalizing Relations With Cuba: Has the U.S. Learned Its Lesson?

August 13, 2015

Before 1898 Cuba was a nation without a state. It had a colonial status but also had an evolving national culture and identity, an emerging nationhood and its own history. Its sovereignty was exercised by Spain through its imperial system. The country was not yet socially integrated. Slavery had been preserved until 1886. At times the struggle for national independence coincided with a struggle against slavery.  Moreover, all Cubans were first generation Cubans since the sense of unique national identity and its symbols had emerged in opposition to the ascribed status and powers assigned to it by the Spanish colonial regime.

Between 1898 and1934 Cuba’s legal institutions and political/administrative practices were ultimately determined by the U.S. government. Under this neo-colonial system the United States acquired several military bases and other concessions that were accomplished by the forced insertion of the Platt Amendment into the Cuban constitution while the island was under U.S. military occupation in the years 1898-1902.

So Cuba then had a well-defined territory and there was a Cuban state and government. But the state did not have the power to make its own decisions due to the Platt Amendment and the formal economic, political and cultural control exercised by the United States. This was a colonial control different from what Cuba had experienced under Spain because there was now a semblance of autonomy, a situation somewhat like Puerto Rico’s commonwealth status today. In short, the closest thing to a sovereign agent in Cuba was the U.S. ambassador.

Between 1934 and 1959 Cuba was a nation state with limited sovereignty. During the FDR years the second Cuban republic abolished the Platt Amendment with the consent of the United States thus ending the era of formal U.S. control. These changes turned Cuba into a semi-independent modern republic but the United States exercised direct control over the Cuban political class and the Cuban military. Indirect influence entered Cuba through U.S. corporate presence, schools, social clubs, military integration and the newly techniques of modern advertising, through science, technology and cultural products and commercialism.

The United States limited Cuba’s self-determination and thus the boundaries of the permissible (a situation similar to the Dominican Republic). Oddly enough, during this period, which coincided in origins with the New Deal’s adoption of Keynesian economics, the Cuban state openly intervened in the workings of Cuba’s not-so-free internal market. Economic control was exercised by the U.S. government through the sugar quota system made possible by the 1934 Jones Costigan Act, as well as by trade agreements, foreign investors and political and economic “advisors.” All this was backed by a domestic political and military apparatus preserving the neocolonial arrangements; essentially doing what gunboat diplomacy and the U.S. marines had previously guaranteed.

Since 1959 the Cuban nation has had a sovereign state and government with no foreign control from within. Achieving sovereign status, however, carried huge costs for national independence as the United States engaged in coordinated, multifaceted acts of interference that included economic blockade, mass propaganda, promotion of a domestic opposition (“dissidents”) and external opposition concentrated in Miami.  Thus, Cuba is a sovereign nation state in permanent upheaval and enduring abnormal relations with its largest neighbor. The U.S. government imposed this campaign as the price to be paid by a small country wishing to be truly independent.

Cuban national sovereignty meant self-determination in the areas of politics, economy, society, culture and foreign policy. Nationally oriented policies implied a break with traditional patterns and a social, economic, political and cultural revolution, as well as independence in foreign relations.

Within the U.S. government and large swaths of American society Cuba’s assertion of national self-determination was equated with anti-Americanism. Yet, the revolutionary movement was never anti-American; but rather has been aimed all along against U.S.-imposed neo-colonial control. Behaving as a colonialist power, the United States interpreted the right to self-determination as a threat to its own interests in Cuba.

The Cuban revolution will attempt to build a new nation-state with a unified, centralized government and state institutions based on a unique national ideology derived from concepts of solidarity and defense of the less developed countries and peoples of the world.

Nation-building has been understood by the Cubans as a social, political, economic and cultural process in which decisions are made by an activated population and organized groups and institutions. It entails a process of de-colonization — taking control of its vital systems away from foreigners.  The United States, on the other hand, equated decolonization or nationalization of Cuban institutions with communism.

Cuban nationalism in economic terms meant the creation of an economy in which the major resources would be controlled by Cubans and their state. That meant nationalizing the means of production. Nationalization affected foreign investments within the island. This will be seen by the United States as an attack on capitalism even if the means of production were transferred to Cuban capitalists.

Cuban nationalism in political terms meant that the Cuban revolutionaries stressed the right to sovereignty, including the right to non-interference in the internal affairs of the island. Cuba para los cubanos, sounded very much like the southern reaction to northern carpetbaggers after the U.S. civil war. The Cubans stressed that sovereignty implied the equality of nations. But the U.S. government claimed the right to tell the Cubans how they should organize their own country. Oddly enough, the state’s rights movement in the Deep South [despite the substantive difference on matters of justice and equality] had a strong similarity to the Cuban arguments for self-determination.

Cultural nationalism also carried over into the mundane as the revolutionaries proclaimed that Cuban products were equal to U.S. products. [Coppelia vs offer compared to Baskin Robbins]  “Cuban is beautiful” became a sentiment attached to cultural independence. In 1959 Cuban capitalists advertised, “consuma productos cubanos.”

Of course, such policies had to come into conflict with the United States, which considered the Caribbean its own backyard. The Monroe Doctrine, proclaimed unilaterally by the United States in 1823, asserted the right of the United States to tell Latin America what was best for the region.

What the Cubans considered the right of self-determination the United States called “communist subversion” and Soviet penetration into its sphere of influence. Implicit in this policy toward Latin America was the assumption that the interests of Latin America should coincide with the interests of the United States.

The United States found allies within Cuba that identified with U.S. interests, but they were primarily from the upper classes that had benefited from the past relationship with the United States. The United States and its allies in Latin America spoke of Pan Americanism, but south of the border there has been, since the 1820s, a Latin Americanism based on a different concept of hemispheric unity — one among equals and without a dominant United States.

The United States saw any attempt at national independence, national liberation or social revolution in Cuba as in Latin America as anti-capitalist (meaning communist) and a challenge to its hemispheric hegemony and any government that engaged in it was “dictatorial” and pro-Soviet. The United States would hide its attempt to recover its power over Cuba under the mantle of anti-communism and defense of “democracy” and would ally with those classes and sectors within the Cuban upper class that opposed the socio-economic and political revolution.

The Cuba revolutionaries reacted by identifying the previous neocolonial status with American control and American capitalism and hence opted for an anti-capitalist position, which would be identified as socialism.

National independence and socialism would come to mean the same thing. The Cuban revolutionaries will tie their fate to the lower classes, the workers and the poor who would benefit the most from the drastic change in power relations.

Today, Cuba and a significant portion of Latin America are constructing numerous alliances, institutions and programs that eventually could become that Great Nation of the South while the United States seems incapable of understanding what is happening elsewhere in the hemisphere. Thus, the errors committed against Cuba continue to be repeated elsewhere.

On August 14, the United States government once again will have formal diplomatic relations with Cuba. Yet, most of the economic and commercial restrictions imposed since the 1960s need to be ended. Hopefully that will change in the immediate future. Then we will have to wait and see if American intervention on the internal affairs of Cuba cease as well. If that happens, then a real new period will begin in the history of the hemisphere.

This article written with the assistance of Robert Sandels.

Nelson P. Valdes is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.

The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?

August 4, 2015

from Counterpunch

Just two weeks after the historic re-opening of embassies and re-establishing of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba and not a moment passes without a Cuba “advocate” talking about “trade” and “travel”. These two words represent two different human phenomena that have gone hand-in-hand since the dawn of antiquity. Due to the enmity exacerbated by a Cold War policy these inalienable rights to travel and trade, guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, have been effectively violated and strictly prohibited for American citizens regarding the island since 1962.

President Obama’s policy of engagement has opened the floodgates for what seems to be the inevitable process of normalization. A tsunami of tourists, commerce coalitions, export specialists, celebrities, and congressional junkets has inundated Havana and other Cuban cities with its newcomers finding it to be so much more complex and vibrant than one has been led to believe by manipulative politicians and a servile media all these years stateside. Now, everyone is interested in going to see for themselves and trying to establish a foothold in a nascent mixed economy.

But what exactly does the media, newly minted cubanologos, and our elected officials mean when they utilize such verbiage?  The American public is being bombarded by a message of promoting “trade” with Cuba. Granted, this is a decidedly positive change from where we were less than a year ago but the manner in which these terms get bandied about clearly demonstrate how much farther we need to go.

This Monday the New York Times Editorial Board published an editorial entitled “Growing Momentum to Repeal Cuban Embargo” in which it stated: “It is time for Congress to help make engagement the cornerstone of American policy toward Cuba.”

It continues by mentioning a new bipartisan bill in Congress introduced by representatives Tom Emmer (R-MN 6th) and Kathy Castor (D-FL14) that would “lift the embargo.” It also calls legislation introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota, a bill ” that would allow regular commerce with Cuba.”

Unfortunately, neither bill pretends to “lift the embargo” nor, “allow regular commerce” with Cuba. In fact, they aren’t even two bills. They’re one in the same, to the letter.

Senator Klobuchar’s S. 491 The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2015 is exactly what it calls itself. In many news outlets it has been misrepresented as an end to the embargo since it was introduced in February.

It is….sort of…., for some.

This bill seeks to strike certain sections of the different pieces of legislation enacted throughout the past 54 years that have codified the United States policy of economic strangulation against the Republic of Cuba. The elimination of said sections are meant to allow for more exports to the island under the loosening of several restrictions along with striking the sections encouraging the president to penalize other countries for doing business or investing in the island. It also will allow Americans to travel more freely to Cuba.

But is this promoting trade?

It does not allow for Cuban exports to be imported to the United States. Neither does it strike the extraterritorial requirements for a transitional government. It doesn’t take away the barriers for Cuba to become a member of the OAS and the International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc. so the island can count on the financing it will need for mega-projects like the Mariel Economic Zone. Boondoggles like Radio and TV Marti and the State Department’s “democracy promotion” programs will, by law, still have to be created, funded, and executed putting American diplomats at odds with their Cuban counterparts. It doesn’t touch the Cuban Adjustment Act or even address the recent immigration crisis brought upon by Cubans sensing an end to the infamous “wet foot/dry foot” policy and willing to risk their lives to take advantage of it. There are so many things that are important that this legislation doesn’t address. It’s a good start but hardly a triumph for the forces of normalization. The bill hardly promotes trade according to the original sense of the word.

Curiously, the NYT posted an image of a map showing Cuba and Florida with arrows going to and from the island across the Straits to its northern neighbor. Trade is a two-way street and it only happens when conditions in both places allow it. What these highly touted measures are establishing is a one-way street that neither “lifts the embargo” nor allows “regular commerce” with Cuba.

How will US grain exporters fare when they try to make their case for increasing exports when the same representatives from Brazil will say that they have a similar product but come from a country that accepts Cuban rum, tobacco, and other imports? Since 2008, the evidence shows a steep decline in U.S. agriculture exports to Cuba as Midwestern farmers have lost market share to Brazilian farmers and corporations. Just because we have an embassy there now doesn’t mean that Cuba is going to go out of its way to do business with us when there’s no chance of reciprocity. The recent goodwill between both countries will only go so far.

Cuba has a finite capacity to produce pharmaceuticals that, potentially, could be vital to millions of sick Americans. Vaccines against lung cancer, diabetes, and other potentially fatal diseases have been developed by the island’s biomedical initiatives and are universally lauded for their innovation and dissemination. In order to increase that capacity the island’s biomedical industry would need financing and mechanisms put in place so the final product could be offered in the U.S. If these laws truly “lift the embargo” and allow for ” regular commerce” then millions of sick Americans could regain some hope that they might have access to Cuban services and products. These hopes will not be answered by Senator Klobuchar’s original bill. These illnesses will not be alleviated by swapping out exports for “trade” in Representative Emmer’s H.R. 3238 Cuba Trade Act of 2015.

The very fact that these bills are getting traction and attention is encouraging but the language being used to promote a transforming Cuba policy needs to be more accurate. These bills are chipping away at the embargo and should be considered, debated, and, hopefully, passed. But let’s not pull a rotator cuff patting our selves on the back for lifting the embargo.

Normalization is a process that will eventually lead to a much-needed reconciliation between both nations. U.S. exports and business interests along with tourists, celebrities, legislators, and humanitarian groups traveling to the island have a role to play but they cannot be the only ones to dictate the pace of renewed bilateral relations. The road to reconciliation will be a two-way causeway of ideas, resources, and opportunities. Our legislative efforts and the media exposure given to such measures should reflect that.

Benjamin Willis is an activist living in New York who has worked with the Cuban American community in bringing about engagement during the Obama era. His book reviews are available in the International Journal of Cuban Studies. He is Co-Director of the United States Cuba NOW PAC.

Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance

July 27, 2015

Barack Obama, at the Summit of the Americas, wanted to bury the past. Argentinean president Cristina Fernández disagreed. Cuba was at the Summit, she proposed, not because of negotiations but because Cuba has fought more than sixty years with unprecedented dignity. That fight itself is not most notable; its explanatory philosophical traditions are needed and significant. Cuba’s history makes them believable.

1.

Dignity, some say, involves knowing oneself as an end. When we possess dignity, we have value, not as mere instruments toward further purposes, however noble, but in virtue of humanness.

Conceived as such, dignity is hard. We are urged to “get the most out of yourself … in a job that is spiritually fulfilling, socially constructive, experientially diverse, emotionally enriching, self- esteem boosting, perpetually challenging and eternally edifying”. In such an age of “higher selfishness”, personal choice is all important.[i] Human meaningfulness does not motivate. Indeed, it is hardly believable.

But Cuban philosopher and revolutionary, José Martí, made “radical respect for human dignity” the goal of his 1895 independence war against Spain. The Montecristi Manifesto, political statement of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, “declares [the Party’s] faith [that it can know] . . . the reality of the ideas that produce or extinguish deeds and the reality of the deeds that are born from ideas . . . so that no man’s dignity is harmed and . . . all Cubans perceive it … as based in a profound knowledge”. Remarkably, a political movement was giving priority to an ancient and fundamental philosophical question: how to know what it means to be human.

2.

Cuban history makes such motivation believable. Cuban presence in Angola, according to historian Richard Gott, was “entirely without selfish motivation”. Cuba sent 300,000 volunteers between 1975 and 1991, more than 2,000 of whom died, to push back and eventually defeat apartheid South Africa. In Pretoria, a “wall of names” commemorates those who died in the struggle against apartheid. Many Cuban names are inscribed there. No other foreign country is represented.[ii]

The United States claimed that Cuba was acting as a Soviet proxy but according to US intelligence, Castro had “no intention of subordinating himself to Soviet discipline and direction.” He criticized the Soviets as dogmatic and opportunistic, ungenerous toward Third World liberation movements, and unwilling to adequately support North Vietnam. Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger wrote in his memoire 25 years later that Castro was “probably the most genuinely revolutionary leader then in power”[iii]

US Intelligence even identified the real motivation for Cuba’s costly involvement. Castro, it was reported, “places particular importance on maintaining a ‘principled’ foreign policy . . . [and] on questions of basic importance such as Cuba’s right and duty to support nationalist revolutionary movements and friendly governments in the Third World, Castro permits no compromise of principle for the sake of economic or political expediency.” In 1991, Cuba’s “great crusade” led Nelson Mandela to ask, “What other country can point to a record of greater selflessness than Cuba has displayed in its relations to Africa?”

Cuba’s internationalism continues. Cuba began exporting doctors in 1963, when Cubans traveled to the newly independent Algeria. After Hurricanes George and Mitch devastated Haiti, Honduras, and Guatemala in 1998, Cuba sent 2,000 doctors and other health

professionals. They were replaced by other Cubans willing and able to work where no health services previously existed. After Hurricane Katrina, Cuba offered to send, at no cost, 1,586 medical personnel and 36 tons of emergency medical supplies to the United States, an offer that was turned down.[iv]

In 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Few have heeded the call [to fight ebola], but one country has responded in strength: Cuba.” Cuba responded without hesitation, sending more than 450 doctors and nurses, chosen from more than 15,000 volunteers, by far the largest medical mission sent by any country.

3.

Visitors to Cuba ask why. Tour guides at the Latin American School of Medical Sciences, which offers full scholarships to foreigners who could not otherwise train as doctors, explain that Cubans believe in sharing what they have, not what they have left over. The answer elicits scepticism, even derision: a nice idea but not realistic.

It is realistic because pursuit of dignity has practical significance. Or so argued Martí. Even before him, in the early nineteenth century, radical Cuban independence activists rejected European (liberal) philosophy emphasizing individual freedoms. They faced three empires –the UK, the US and Spain – and the “necessary evil” of slavery. Dignity –and how to know it –was politically urgent. Having experienced imperialism, they knew its dehumanizing logic.

Martí urged Latin American children to know dignity. His famous children’s journal, The Golden Age, offers image after image of faraway places. He taught them that to know and respect themselves as human ends, they must experience sameness between themselves and others far away. Looking outward, not inward, one builds and feels human connection, a source of knowledge going beyond “the Yankee or European book”.

Explained philosophically, internationalism is a practical, not moral, obligation. Martí believed human beings are causally interconnected, both with the physical environment and with cohabitants of that environment. He believed in science: Human beings are part of nature, and we depend upon nature, including other human beings. On such a view, there is no mystery about why a poor country would pursue internationalism: We live better, and freely, when others live better, and freely.

4.

In 1998, Fidel Castro said that Cuba’s humanist project explains Cuba’s resistance to the US financial, commercial and economic blockade. He cited the power of ideas, specifically about dignity and its practical significance. At a 2003 academic conference, Castro added that the threat of increasingly sophisticated weapons requires ideas: “Sow ideas, sow ideas, and sow ideas; sow awareness, sow awareness and sow awareness”.

Some will shake their heads. But to give my discipline its due, philosophers have argued for more than half a century that understanding is limited by expectations rooted in background beliefs. This means that when we don’t believe something possible, we do not see the evidence suggesting it is possible. The upshot is that challenging accepted philosophical ideas, which people rely upon unself-consciously for day-to-day deliberation, is necessary for progressive politics.

Philosophers of science argue that we only find empirical evidence to support theories if we first, to some degree, believe such theories, even without sufficient evidence. This means that theoretical innovation, and commitment to such innovation, is a prerequisite for new discoveries, or even for the questions that might motivate such discoveries.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Cuba’s successes, well-documented, do not inspire alternative paths toward human development. They are not believed. James Wolfensohn, ex-president of the World Bank, acknowledged Cuba “has done a great job on education and health” and that “it does not embarrass me to admit it”. Nonetheless, “The island continues to be ignored by both development theorists and the technocrats” designing programs to promote human development. [v]

The reason may be fear. Cuba resisted the US embargo for sixty years. It defied predictions of its imminent collapse after the disappearance of the Soviet Union. And when Fidel Castro stepped down in 2006 because of illness, Cuba again defied predictions— this time of internal squabbling and chaos. Julia Sweig, US Rockefeller senior fellow, noted a “stunning display of orderliness and seriousness” and concluded that the Cuban Revolution “rests upon far more than the charisma, authority and legend of [Raul and Fidel Castro].”

The “far more” is at least partly philosophical, a vision of who we can be, and know ourselves as, as human beings. It predates Martí but was most radically realized by Martí, who thought political liberation does not long endure without spiritual freedom. For him, this meant acquiring the sensitivity and humility to be able to respond to beauty, whether in ideas, people or events. For only with such responsiveness can we know the unexpected, which may be humanness.

5.

Cuba’s philosophical traditions, closer in many ways to Eastern than to European philosophy, make plausible a competing conception of what is humanly possible, contradicting the now deeply entrenched belief, almost impossible to challenge in the North, that freedom is about having, not being.

Armando Hart, minister of culture during Cuba’s famous literacy campaign (1961-2), now a renowned philosopher, writes that anyone who cares about global justice in the 21st century should consider the damage done to the world by European philosophy.[vi] European philosophy, as argued by Simón Bolívar, among others, presents a naïve (at best) view of human freedom, ignoring those disqualified from the “human” part of human freedom. Worse, though, it does not allow for alternatives. We need those alternatives.

Cuba’s long struggle, and the ideas that explain it, offers such an alternative. Cuba’s ideas could be known. But it takes effort. Martí scholar, Pedro Paulo Rodríguez writes that even Latin Americans do not sufficiently acknowledge the philosophy grounding their region’s innovative development direction.[vii]

History inspires imagination, as Fernández suggests. And as Eduardo Galeano wrote, imagination allows us to interpret the world as what it might be, not what it is. At least occasionally, though, we need moral imagination in order to discover it. For we have to believe alternatives are possible, and needed, including philosophical ones, in order to pursue them. If we take seriously Cuban, and Latin American, history, we will benefit. But if we consider the possibility, unexpected for some, that Cuba’s resistance is morally unprecedented, offering options for human development, we will gain even more.

6.

As relations between the US and Cuba thaw, Cuba changes. Some hope it will not change much but they often miss the real reasons. In what Charles Taylor describes as the “age of authenticity”, in which personal choice is paramount, some philosophers, especially feminists, emphasize relationships and emotional sensitivity. They urge connectivity as an antidote to liberal individualism, and a source of radical knowledge. Cuba’s philosophers, especially Martí, broke that trail in this hemisphere long ago. Cuba should not turn from its philosophical traditions, urgently needed in the North.

Notes. 

[i] cited in Taylor, Charles, A secular age (Cambridge: Harvard University, 2007), 473-479).

[ii] Gleijeses, Piero, Conflicting missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959–

1976 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 2002) 300-327.

[iii] Gleijeses, Piero, Visions of freedom: Havana. Washington, pretoria and the struggle

for southern Africa (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2013) 306, 373, 521, 525, 526

[iv] E.g. Brouwer, Steven, Revolutionary doctors (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011)

[v] Cited in Saney, Isaac, Cuba: A revolution in motion (Blackpoint, NS: Fernwood, 2004).

[vi] Ética, cultura, política (Havana: Estudios Martianos, 2006) 174

[vii] Rodríguez, Pedro Paulo, Pensar, prever, server (Havana: Ediciones Unión, 2012) 177

Susan Babbitt is associate professor of philosophy at Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada and author of José Martí, Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Global Development Ethics: The Battle for Ideas (Palgrave MacMillan 2014).

Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance

Let Cuba be Cuba

July 22, 2015

jose marti 5

by Michael Steven Smith

Washington DC
July 20, 2015

“The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support (of the Cuban revolutionary government) is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship…Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba…A line of action which…makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of the government. “. Secret memorandum of Lester D Mallory, deputy assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs, April 6, 1960

A brass band played the Cuban national anthem this morning as I watched the Cuban flag being raised in front of the Cuban embassy for the first time since 1961 when the United States government cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba. Getting them restored was a great victory for the Cuban people and their government, although relations between the two countries are far from normal.

The United States still spends $30 million a year to subvert the Cuban government, illegally keeps a chunk of their country at the prison camp known as Guantánamo, and enforces a crippling commercial, economic, and financial blockade which has had the intended effect of stunting Cuban economic development by an estimated 1.1 trillion dollars in order to demonstrate to the world that there is no alternative to capitalism. But the Cubans despite the problems have shown that there is.

“Regime change ” is still part of American law. I was one of 500 people invited by the Cubans to celebrate the victory and re-dedicate ourselves to completing it.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez addressed the overflowing crowd packed in to the 1916 elegant limestone mansion on Embassy Row. He said that “In 1959, United States refused to accept the existence of a fully independent small and neighboring Island and much less, a few years later, a socialist revolution that was forced to defend itself and has invited, ever since then, our people’s will…. only the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade which has caused so much harm and suffering to our people; the return of the occupied territory in Guantánamo and the respect for Cuba’s sovereignty will lend some meaning to the historic event that we are witnessing today.”

He expressed the resolve of the Cuban people and concluded by saying that “to insist in the attainment of obsolete and unjust goals, only hoping for a mere change in the methods to achieve them will not legitimatize them or favor the national interest of United States or its citizens. However, should that be the case, we would be ready to face the challenge. ”

Why was Cuba finally recognized? After the Cuban revolution of 1959, United States successfully isolated the Cuban people from the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. Any government that did not go along with America’s policy paid a heavy price.

The democratically elected governments of Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, and most famously Chile, the other 9/11, were replaced by US friendly dictatorships. Cuba was thrown out of the Organization of American States. Che Guevara call the organization the Ministry of Colonies.

But last year the head of the Panamanian government told the United States that it and the other Latin American countries wanted Cuba back in at the next meeting and if United States didn’t like it they didn’t have to come. That may have been the turning point. United States threw everything it had at Cuba.

Even before the revolution, they supported the Batista dictatorship, giving it arms, training it’s secret torturing police, and supply and its army. 20,000 Cubans lost their lives in the revolution That was just a start.

In 1959 many Cubans worked seasonably, lived in a grass thatched hut and , was illiterate, unhealthy, and died young. This all changed with the revolution. The large American owned landed estates were broken up and the land was redistributed to the peasants who worked it; many of them had fought in the revolution.

The American owners were told they would be paid for the land according to how much they listed its value for tax purposes. The Americans turned down the offer and closed the oil refinery, threatening to stop the Cuban economy, which would run out of gasoline. So the Cubans nationalized the oil refinery, then the phone company, then the bus company, and the nickel mines, and on and on.

This became the Cuban socialist revolution. To reverse it, the United States relied on terrorist groups helped by the CIA and centered and trained in Florida. They unleashed several thousands of CIA trained counterrevolutionaries in the infamous and failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

When the Cubans began their literacy campaign the terrorists killed the teachers. They burned down the sugarcane fields. To cripple the tourist trade they placed bombs in hotels. They bombed a Cuba commercial airplane, killing 73 people including the entire young Cuban fencing team.

They introduced dengue fever into the island which killed a lot of children. More biological warfare was used against the Cuban pig population. A half a million pigs had to be destroyed. Altogether 3098 people were killed in 2011 were injured.

A Congressional committee asked Cuban counterrevolutionary the infamous CIA agent Felix Rodriguez if he ever tried to assassinate Fidel Castro with an exploding cigar. Rodriguez said, “no sir, but I did try to kill the son of a bitch with a high-powered rifle. “.

In 1967 Rodriguez and another Cuban counterrevolutionary Gustavo Vilolldo worked with the American installed Bolivian dictatorship and succeeded in assassinating Che Guevara as Michael Ratner and I demonstrated in our book “Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder”.

Nonetheless, the Cubans have achieved some remarkable goals. Their population is100% literate. Education is free. So is health care. People are healthy and live longer than they do in United States. Cuban art, music, and dance is fantastic.

The “lack of freedom “and “repression" by the Cuban government is wildly exaggerated by American propaganda. The fact is that there is more participation by the Cuban population in the running of their country than there is by the American population in the running of ours.

What’s next? Obama could ease off on the economic sanctions if he wanted to. The problem United States has with Guantánamo could be solved simply: give it back. The US could stop trying to subvert the Cuban government and stop paying and directing a lot of the so-called “dissidents". Americans could be allowed to travel freely to Cuba and see for themselves the real situation there.

It has been assumed by American policymakers since Thomas Jefferson that Cuba was part of the American orbit, the madura fruta, the ripe fruit,that should fall into America’s lap. The Cubans have resisted this. They need all the solitary they can get. Our movement in the United States should say with one voice, in the words of Sandra Levinson, the Director of New York City’s Center For Cuban Studies, who was there in Washington,”let Cuba be Cuba. ”

By Michael Steven Smith

Michael Steven Smith is the co-host of the WBAI Radio show “Law and Disorder” on the net at laws disorder.org. He and Michael Ratner wrote the book “Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder”. The book was recently published in Cuba and Argentina.

Cubans’ Rejection of Rubio Demonstrates Their Independent Thinking

July 21, 2015

A recent New York Times profile of Marco Rubio accurately describes the junior Senator from Florida, and member of the three-ring circus that is the Republican Presidential primary field, as Cuba’s “least favorite son.” The piece quoted a Havana resident as saying Rubio is “against Cuba in every possible way… Rubio and these Republicans, they are still stuck in 1959.” Presumably this view was representative of others that Times writer Jason Horowitz encountered while conducting his research in Cuba. This should not come as a surprise. Rubio is a reactionary fanatic who demagogues incessantly about the evils of the Cuban government. He supports illegal and immoral policies that cause vast damage to the Cuban economy and needless suffering by the Cuban people.

But Rubio cannot accept that Cubans’ nearly unanimous rejection of his right-wing politics might mean he is badly mistaken in his Manichean view of the Cuban socioeconomic system. Rubio wears Cubans’ disapproval of him as a badge of honor. For Rubio, Cubans are incapable of independent judgement. If the Cuban people are against him, it means they must be brainwashed by the evil Castro regime.

“If that’s the line the Cuban government has taken against me and is trying to indoctrinate their people in that way, it shows that we’re on to something,” the Times quotes Rubio as saying. But instead of acknowledging Rubio’s refusal to accept Cuban popular opinion as evidence of his megalomania, the Times accepts his delusional dismissal of his critics.

The Times notes that Rubio “has been identified in the state-controlled newspaper here as a ‘representative in the Senate of the Cuban-American terrorist mafia’.” This claim is not analyzed; it is supposed to be self-evident, hyperbolic slander. In reality, Rubio has always marched in lock-step with the Cuban-American community in Miami that portrays Castro as diabolical and advocates for regime change and the overthrow of socialism. That much is beyond dispute. Is calling the Cuban-American community a “terrorist mafia” an exaggeration?

Terrorists operate freely in and around Miami. The Omega 7, Comandos F4, Brigade 2506, Alpha 66 and other groups have openly declared their intention to use violence to topple the Cuban government while training on U.S. soil. Many have carried out machine gun raids on coastal villages and attacks on Cuban fishing boats. Among many in the reactionary Cuban-American population, terrorist leaders are revered as “freedom fighters.”

In its obituary of Orlando Bosch, described by George H.W. Bush’s attorney general as “an unreformed terrorist,” the New York Times noted that “his supporters called him a hero, holding rallies for him and lobbying to name a Miami expressway after him.” The Miami city commissioners even declared an Orlando Bosch Day. Luis Posada Carriles, Bosch’s partner in planning the bombing of Cubana de Aviación Flight 455, which killed 73 people including the medal-winning Cuban fencing team, lives freely in Miami to this day. He has marched with the Cuban opposition group Ladies in White and Gloria Estefan, and taught courses at local colleges.

If it is not exactly precise to say Rubio is a “representative in the Senate of the Cuban-American terrorist mafia,” he does represent the hard-line of refusing to normalize relations with the Cuban government and maintaining punitive policies that harm the Cuban people – positions shared by both terrorists within the Miami Cuban-American community and a broader segment of that community that don’t actively participate in terrorism but support those who do.

The Times‘ piece notes that a sign on the road in Cuba read “Blockade: The Worst Genocide in History.” A man sitting next to a sign with revolutionary slogans said of Rubio: “He wants to kill us! He’s our enemy!”

Rubio defended himself by saying it was “sad” the government tried to say he intended “to starve the Cuban people.” Rubio says such views of him are evidence of the “information blockade that the people in Cuba are facing,” thereby exonerating his opposition to President Obama’s moves to normalize relations.

In reality, the claims by the Cuban government, and people such as the man interviewed, have merit. The Cuban government says the “US genocidal blockade” is responsible for “severe adverse effects on the health and wellbeing of the Cuban people.” They justify their language by stating: “the blockade qualifies as an act of genocide by virtue of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 and as an act of economic warfare according to the declaration regarding the laws of naval war adopted by the Naval Conference of London of 1909.”

While genocide is a legal term that should be examined by the proper legal authorities such as the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court, the Cuban government clearly has a legitimate case it could make. Serious study of the consequences of the embargo lend credence to the “severe adverse effects” that the Cuban government describes.

In 1997, a nonprofit charitable organization undertook a year-long research effort to assess the impact of the American policy of embargo on the health of the Cuban population. Their findings conclusively verified the arguments the Cuban government has been making since the embargo was implemented in 1960.

“The American Association for World Health has determined that the U.S. embargo of Cuba has dramatically harmed the health and nutrition of large numbers of ordinary Cuban citizens… It is our expert medical opinion that the U.S. embargo has caused a significant rise in suffering – and even deaths – in Cuba,” states their reportDenial of Food and Medicine: The Impact of the U.S. Embargo on Health & Nutrition in Cuba.The study also found that “a humanitarian catastrophe has been averted only because the Cuban government has maintained a high level budgetary support for a health care system designed to deliver primary and preventive health care to all its citizens.”

So it is hardly an exaggeration for a Cuban to say Rubio wants to kill him, or to believe that the policy Rubio ardently advocates qualifies as genocide. But the Times doesn’t bother to examine whether the policies Rubio supports are inhumane and potentially criminal. Rubio defends himself by saying that people are “scared” to oppose the Cuban government line, and that they don’t know any better because they country is “dominated by government-controlled media.”

The Times acknowledges that Cuban have a “uniformity of opinion” about Rubio, but attribute this to the popularity of Granma, the official paper of the Communist Party. One man interviewed by the Times tells the reporter he is informed, and points to a story “linking the C.I.A. to a notorious Cuban-American extremist suspected of blowing up a Cuban airline filled with passengers.” This is implicitly another example of the embellishment and exaggeration of the Cuban government, spreading fantasies and conspiracy theories to turn its people against the United States.

The article most likely mentioned was “United States Considers Posada Carriles Probable Author of Terrorist Act,” published in Granma on June 4, 2015 (about a month before the Times profile of Rubio.) The article, by a Cuban news service, reprints an article that appeared in the Miami Herald the same day.

In fact, there is extensive documentation of the article’s claims on the National Security Archive’s Web site that states unequivocally that “the CIA had concrete advance intelligence… on plans by Cuban exile terrorist groups to bomb a Cubana airliner.” A section of the site titled “The CIA Connection” includes multipledocuments implicating Posada.

It was previously mentioned that Posada – who nearly 20 years ago acknowledged responsibility in the pages of the Times for hotel bombings in Havana that killed an Italian tourist – enjoys sanctuary in Miami and is active among reactionary Cuban-American political groups.

So, rather than allowing Rubio to speculate on how the Cuban government allegedly manipulates Cubans into hating him, the Times might ask if it may have something to do with Rubio ignoring the fact that one of his own constituents is implicated in the murder at least 75 innocent Cuban civilians?

It seems the Cuban public is much more informed about the terrorist activities by the CIA and extremists it was affiliated with than the American public, who will not find out from the Times that the allegations printed by Granma are substantiated by official declassified U.S. government documents. Neither will the Times hold to account a Presidential candidate who allows an unrepentant terrorist to enjoy safe harbor within the state he represents in Congress.

Cubans despise Rubio because he is a belligerent, war-mongering fanatic who panders to a reactionary base that demands the continuation of the most punitive policies of economic warfare in modern history. Instead of allowing Rubio to state unchallenged that he considers this a point of pride, the New York Times – the most prestigious paper in the vaunted American Free Press – should ask what is wrong with the United States itself that someone so contemptuous of humanitarianism, international law and world opinion can be a considered a serious candidate for President? And what might that say about which people are really indoctrinated by their government and media?

Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.

US / Cuba Relations: What Would Constitute Normal?

July 15, 2015

President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961.  Fifty-four years later, on Monday the 20th of July, the United States and Cuba will advance toward normalization of diplomatic relations.  Presumably, the US will no longer treat Cuba as its enemy and treat the island simply as its next-door neighbor.  Maybe …

The raising of the flags at the embassies on the 20th of July is much anticipated.  But what does this all really mean?  After more than 56 years of trying to destroy the Cuban Revolution through US sponsored terrorism, an invasion organized and launched by the CIA, biological warfare, an economic and commercial blockade, clandestine infiltrations and a permanent propaganda campaign against Cuba, what would constitute “normal” relations between Washington and La Habana?

The word normal derives from the Latin normalis.  In the context of US-Cuba relations it refers to civilized diplomatic behavior, according to historically established philosophical precepts: norms or rules of peaceful conduct between nations.

What rules of peaceful conduct by the United States towards Cuba may we expect from now on?  Which normative rules could be considered normal and which abnormal?

It’s normal for two neighboring countries, separated by a mere 90 miles of water, to have diplomatic relations.  It’s not normal for the United States to impose an economic, financial and commercial blockade against Cuba.

It’s normal for the US to have an embassy in Havana and for Cuba an embassy in Washington. It’s not normal for the US embassy in Cuba to function without an ambassador, simply because some in the Senate oppose it.

It’s normal for US citizens to travel to Cuba, but it´s not normal to prohibit tourists from the US to travel to the island.

It’s normal for US citizens to travel to Cuba and engage in “people to people” contact, but it’s not normal that the Office of Finance and Assets Control (OFAC) limit it to only group-travel through licensed organizations, thus making travel to Cuba prohibitively expensive and inconvenient for many Americans.

It’s normal for Washington to permit businesses in the US to engage in commerce with private individuals in Cuba, but it’s not normal to make it illegal to do business with state enterprises on the island.

It’s normal for the United States to want a second consulate in Cuba to better serve the public, but it’s not normal that it uses its diplomats to intervene in Cuba’s internal affairs.

It’s normal for the United States to support a process of legal and orderly immigration from Cuba, but it’s not normal for Washington to maintain a Cuban Adjustment Act as a tool to stimulate an illegal, dangerous and disorderly immigration of Cubans to the United States.

It’s normal for the United States Embassy in Havana to provide an open-door policy for Cubans.  It’s not normal for its diplomats to organize, direct and employ as salaried dissidents a few Cubans of their choosing.

It’s normal for Washington to contribute to the entertainment of the Cuban people with radio and television programs.  It’s not normal for it to maintain a multi-million dollar budget to fund Radio and TV Marti as propaganda instruments.

It’s normal for Washington to want a reputation as a great defender of human rights.  It’s not normal for the United States to imprison without due process or civil rights dozens of persons in Guantánamo, as well as torturing them in Cuba.

It’s normal for the United States to have an embassy in Cuba, even a large one, located in prime real estate on the famous Malecón overlooking the bay in Havana.  It’s not normal for the United States to occupy, against the wishes of the Cuban people, a large swath of Cuban territory in the province of Guantánamo.

It’s normal for the Pentagon not to invade or send military drones to Cuba. It’s not normal that Washington earmarks a $30 million budget for fiscal year 2016 for a project whose declared purpose is to remove the government of Cuba from power.

It’s normal for Mississippi to be one of the 50 states of the US.  It’s not normal for Washington to assume that it has jurisdiction in Cuba as well.

It’s normal for the US to do business with Cuba, but it’s not normal for the US to intervene in her internal affairs.

It’s normal for Washington to condemn terrorism.  It’s not normal that it protect in Miami dozens of terrorists, including Luis Posada Carriles, who have committed heinous crimes against civilians in Cuba.

The US blockade against Cuba is a relic of the Cold War whose days are numbered. President Obama’s new Cuba policy, announced on the 17th of December, is a chronicle of the blockade’s death foretold. And it unleashed a torrent of enthusiasm from American businessmen who want to make money by investing there.  Businessmen will pressure the Congress to lift the Helms-Burton law that codified parts of the blockade.

But let’s not be naïve.  In order to truly say that relations between the US and Cuba are normal, Washington must understand that Cuba does not belong to it, that it is a violation of international law for the US to try and foment regime change in a foreign country and that Cuba must and ought be respected for what it is: a sovereign nation.

President Obama’s Cuba policy is a seismic shift in strategy for the United States.  “The old policy did not work.  It is long past its expiration date”, said Obama, in his most recent State of the Union speech before Congress. “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new.”

What is the end game for the United States regarding Cuba?  What it is it that US Presidents wished had worked?  Clearly, the major premise of Washington’s Cuba policy was always regime change.  It failed, and the Cuban Revolution remains strong.  That is why President Obama said, that Washington should “try something new”.  Perhaps business can do what isolation could not.  Engagement is the new strategy to try and topple the Cuban Revolution.

Cuba is ready for Washington’s policy of engagement.  Just as she learned to build trenches to defend the island from invasion, terrorism, biological warfare and a brutal blockade, Cuba will now help the bridges that American businesses will cross to invest there.  But Cuba will also be wary.  To be sure, Cuba knows that Washington’s end game remains regime change.  Cuban laws have always regulated foreign business ventures, and American investment in Cuba will be no different.

Cuba welcomes better relations with the United States and hopes to advance toward normalization.  But unless and until the government of the United States has a political metanoia and cancels its desire to dominate Cuba, as it she were its vassal state, normal relations in the true sense of the word will not come to pass.

José Pertierra is an attorney in Washington, DC.

Cuban Five Concludes Visit to Angola

July 8, 2015

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Luanda, Jul 8 (Prensa Latina) The visit of the five Cubans who
were held in U.S. prisons for fighting terrorism to Angola ends
today with a meeting with Vice President Manuel Vicente and a
gathering at the headquarters of the Organization of Angolan
Women.

This country is the last destination of an African tour of the
Cuban Five, as they are internationally known, which firstly
took them to South Africa and then to Namibia.

As part of the program, the revolutionary fighters laid a wreath
on July 6 at the monument to Agostinho Neto, the first president
of this African country.

Later, they had a courtesy meeting with the vice president of the
ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, Roberto de
Almeida.

During that first day, the Cuban Five also visited the Alto Las
Cruces cemetery to lay a wreath in the place where the remains
of the internationalist combatant Raul Diaz Arguelles rested.

Diaz Arguelles died on December 11, 1975, in the southern
Angolan province of Cuanza Sul, as a result of injuries caused
by an anti-tank mine explosion that destroyed his armored.

Three of the Cuban Five know this nation because they were part
of the Cuban internationalist military contingent that, in
support of the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola, fought
the Apartheid regime.

Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Rene
Gonzalez and Fernando Gonzalez were detained by U.S. authorities
in 1998, and condemned to disproportionate sentences for
alerting about terrorist actions against Cuba.

Of them, Hernandez, Labañino and Guerrero arrived in Cuba
after being released on December 17 -Fernando and Rene had
previously returned after completing their sentences-, in a
context marked by the announcement of Havana and Washington to
move towards the normalization of relations.

Angola was the third stop of the African tour (from June 21 to
July 8) of the Cuban Five, where they complied with an
invitation by the African National Congress (ANC), of South
Africa, and the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO),
of Namibia.

Next Steps in the Normalization of US-Cuban Relations: Thoughts From the Cuban Five

July 7, 2015

_1-cohnmarjorie2015_0702co_1(Marjorie Cohn with René González and his wife, Olga. (Photo courtesy of Marjorie Cohn)

By Marjorie Cohn, Truthout | News Analysis

Now that United States and Cuba are preparing to open embassies in each other’s countries, what else needs to happen to support the process of détente between the two countries?

During a recent visit to Cuba I posed this question to René González and Antonio Guerrero, two of the “Cuban Five” – five Cuban men who traveled to the United States in the 1990s to gather information about terrorist plots against Cuba and then became celebrated Cuban heroes during their subsequent incarceration by the United States.

Their reply? End the embargo and return Guantánamo Bay to Cuba.

“We have to remember that relations between the countries have never been normal,” González said, arguing that the normalization of relations won’t happen overnight. He added:

We were occupied by US troops in 1898. From then on, we were a subject of the US government and especially the US corporations. Then came the Revolution, which tried to correct that imbalance. Then came a different stage – of aggressions, blockade and policies against Cuba, which has lasted for more than 56 years. You cannot expect that establishing normal relations … [for] the first time in history is going to be an easy process.

Guerrero noted that the US had taken one major step toward normalization already by removing Cuba from its list of countries alleged to support terrorism but noted that the next step toward normalization will require a much larger step – ending the US embargo, which in Cuba is more commonly referred to as the “blockade.” Normalization, González said, will require “the dismantling of the whole system of aggression against Cuba, especially the blockade. Everybody knows how damaging it has been for the Cuban people. It’s a small island. For 50 years, it has been asphyxiated by the biggest power in the world. It had a cost on the Cuban people, on their economy.”

The Illegal Occupation of Guantánamo Bay

González also listed the return of Guantánamo to Cuba as necessary for normalization. After the blockade is lifted and Guantánamo is returned to Cuba, he told me, “I believe the process will take speed.”

González rightly pointed out that the US occupation of Guantánamo is illegal. The United States gained control of Guantánamo Bay in 1903, when Cuba was occupied by the US Army after its intervention in Cuba’s war of independence against Spain. Cuba was forced to accept the Platt Amendment to its Constitution as a prerequisite for the withdrawal of US troops from Cuba. That amendment provided the basis for a treaty granting the United States jurisdiction over Guantánamo Bay.

The 1903 Agreement on Coaling and Naval Stations gave the United States the right to use Guantánamo Bay “exclusively as coaling or naval stations, and for no other purpose.” A 1934 treaty maintained US control over Guantánamo Bay in perpetuity until the United States abandons it or until both Cuba and the United States agree to modify it. That treaty also limits its uses to “coaling and naval stations.”

None of these treaties or agreements gives the United States the right to use Guantánamo Bay as a prison, or to subject detainees to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment – which has been documented at the prison. The United States thus stands in violation of the 1934 treaty.

Moreover, the doctrine of rebus sic stantibus, enshrined in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and a norm of customary international law, allows one party to a treaty to abrogate its obligations when there is a fundamental change in circumstances. Using Guantánamo Bay as a prison and torturing detainees is a fundamental change in circumstance, which constitutes grounds for Cuba to terminate the treaty.

The Diplomatic Importance of Freeing the Cuban Five

The United States and Cuba would not likely have announced this week their plans to reopen embassies in each other’s countries if President Barack Obama had not successfully negotiated the full release of the Cuban Five in the agreement he reached with Cuban President Raul Castro on December 17, 2014. That deal, to work toward normalization of relations between the two countries, had eluded Obama’s 10 predecessors over a 55-year period. It will likely be Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement.

A part of the deal that had enormous symbolic significance to the people of Cuba was the freeing of Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino – the three members of the Cuban Five who were still imprisoned at the time of the agreement. On December 17, 2014, the three men were granted clemency and returned to Cuba. The other two members of the Cuban Five – René González and Fernando González – had previously been released in 2011 and 2014, respectively, after serving their full sentences.

The case of the Cuban Five garnered international condemnation in particular because the five men had traveled to the United States to gather intelligence on Cuban exile groups for a very legitimate reason. Since Cuba’s 1959 Revolution, terrorist organizations based in Miami, including Alpha 66, Commandos F4, the Cuban American National Foundation and Brothers to the Rescue, have carried out terrorist acts against Cuba in an attempt to overthrow the Castro government. The most notorious was the in-air bombing of a Cubana airliner in 1976, which killed all 73 persons aboard, including the entire Cuban fencing team. These groups have acted with impunity in the United States.

The Cuban Five peacefully infiltrated these organizations. They then turned over the results of their investigation to the FBI. But instead of working to combat terrorist plots in the United States against Cuba, the US government arrested them and charged them with crimes including conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. Although none of the Five had any classified information or engaged in any acts to injure the United States, they were convicted in a Miami court in 2000 and sentenced to four life terms and 75 years collectively.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals unanimously overturned their convictions in 2005, ruling that the Five could not get a fair trial in Miami due to the pervasive anti-Cuba sentiment there. Nevertheless, the 11thCircuit, sitting en banc, upheld the convictions, and Hernandez’s life term was affirmed on appeal.

Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

The Cuban Five endured years of harsh conditions and wrongful imprisonment before their release. After being arrested, they were immediately put into solitary confinement and held in “The Hole” for 17 months. Solitary confinement amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, according to United Nations special rapporteur Juan E. Méndez.

“I believe they expected to break us down,” González added. The US government “used the CIPA [Classified Information Procedures Act] and randomly classified everything,” which “allowed them to prevent us from looking at the evidence,” González said. “So they put us in “The Hole” and then put the evidence in another hole.”

Yet, González noted, “Sometimes you have to react as a human with your dignity. And they went after our dignity. And we had to defend it. We were more committed. We were more encouraged to go to trial, and that’s what we did.”

“For us,” González said, “going to trial was great. We wanted to go to trial every day because we wanted to face them and expose the truth of terrorism against Cuba and how the government of the United States supported those terrorists.”

“They decided to behave like thugs.” he told me. “And then you have to resort to your moral values, again to your human dignity and defend that.” González said, “We always knew what we were doing there. We knew that we never intended to make any harm to the United States at all, to the US people. We were very clear on that. As a matter of fact, there was nothing in the whole evidence that would show hatred toward the United States or the US people or an intent to damage anybody. We knew that we were defending human life. And going to prison for defending the most precious thing which is the human life – it makes you strong.”

Surviving Prison Through Poetry and Art

I asked González and Guerrero how they survived prison for all those years. “Our humor never went down,” González said. “We played chess from one cell to another by yelling. We did poetry. Sometimes we had fun just reading the poetry through the doors.”

Guerrero also began writing poetry in prison.

“I started writing poems without even having paper,” he said. “A poem came to my head after they arrested me … And I cannot explain how because I wasn’t a poet. And then I started writing poems.” Guerrero never imagined that his poems would be published, but he shared them with the other prisoners and shared them with people in court. He couldn’t believe it when his first book of poems, Desde Mi Altura (“From My Altitude”), was published.

Guerrero also became a painter in prison. “The penitentiary is very tough,” he said. “So one day I went to the art room … that was another way to free my mind.”

I was thrilled when Guerrero gave me a copy of his newly published book, Absolved by Solidarity, a collection of his paintings depicting the different stages of the trial.

The Five Return to Cuba

When I asked what it was like when all the members of the Cuban Five were back in Cuba together, Guerrero said: “It’s a sense of joy. It’s a sense of victory. It’s a sense of returning to the place where you belong to. And it feels great.”

González added: “My little daughter was four months when I was arrested. I came to Cuba two days before her 15th birthday. I have a grandson now which is a beautiful boy.”

Both González and Guerrero said they had thought they would never see Hernandez in Cuba again because he was serving a term of life imprisonment. “My biggest fear was he would die there,” González said. “And let’s not fool ourselves. The US wanted him to die in prison. And the prosecutor wanted him to die in prison.”

“We know how hard it is to take him from those appetites,” he added, “and we managed to do that. It speaks a lot about Cuba, a lot about the Cuban people, because the Cuban people together as one did everything possible for the Five and it’s just pure joy.”

The Way Ahead

In the days ahead, the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States will rely most of all on the United States’ willingness to act out of respect for Cuban self-determination. “The only thing we want is respect,” Guerrero said. “Let’s try to build something now – good for you, good for us – with respect in the middle. … The point is, we don’t know if the interest of the American government is really to be respectful and friendly to the Cuban government.”

Guerrero said that even if millions of American tourists come flooding in to visit Cuba, he cannot conceive of Cuba becoming a capitalist country and forgetting about the Revolution. “Somebody may bring drugs, or somebody may bring a lot of money and try to buy things,” Guerrero said. “We are not accustomed to that. But we are ready to deal with that and create our security and our understanding. They will be received with peace, with love.”

González added that the Cuban people don’t have hatred or resentment toward the American people specifically. “We don’t blame the American people for the faults of the their government,” he said. “We know they are people like people anywhere. I believe that all of us have more in common than things that divide us. … And I hope sincerely that this new relationship with the US will allow Americans to come here and share with us this beautiful island.”

In June, the Cuban Five visited Robben Island in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years by the apartheid regime. Hernandez wrote in the guest book, “It has been a great honor to visit this place together with some of the brave compañeros of Nelson Mandela,” who were “a source of inspiration and strength for the Five Cubans to withstand the more than 16 years in US jails.” Hernandez added that Mandela’s legacy is one “the Five will honor for the rest of our lives.”

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31697-next-steps-in-the-normalization-of-us-cuban-relations-thoughts-from-the-cuban-five

The Five on Robben Island: A tribute to Mandela

June 26, 2015

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Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René visited the island where Mandela was imprisoned and paid tribute to his example of the triumph of human spirit over adversity.

Deisy Francis Mexidor

The Five toured the prison when Nelson Mandela was held by the apartheid regime for 18 years. Photo: Prensa Latina
ROBBEN ISLAND, South Africa.—A sign in English and Afrikaans announces arrival on Robben Island, situated off the coast of Cape Town, a site which encompasses a painful history, thankfully now past for South Africans.

The island of dry sand and strong winds, surrounded by sharp reefs and the unique sound of the thousands of birds that fly overhead, is today a symbol of freedom.

To get there, you have to board a boat at the Nelson Mandela memorial located in the commercial and tourist district of Waterfront.

The journey is about 12 kilometers, a half hour boat ride, enough to reflect on the triumph of human spirit over adversity encompassed by this historical site.

Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González, the Five Cuban anti-terrorists who themselves were greatly inspired by the spirit of resistance of Prisoner No.46664, Nelson Mandela, during their imprisonment in the U.S., traveled to the island as part of their tour of South Africa.

Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years that the apartheid regime kept him imprisoned on Robben Island.

Accompanied by Ahmed Kathrada, who was also imprisoned alongside Mandela, the Five toured the historical site that was opened as a museum on January 1st, 1997 and declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999.

Certain areas are usually off-limits to tourists, but Kathrada provided the Five with access to Mandela’s cell, a small, damp and unimaginable space.

They studied the iron bars through which only hands could pass, the blanket on the floor that was all Mandela had for a bed, the bench and a small window.

Each of them looked, touched the walls and tried to take an almost photographic image with their own eyes. It was a private moment of reflection. No questions were required.

Then, as they gathered to take a photo, Fernando noted the date: “Today is June 23. In 2001, 14 years ago, the Comandante en Jefe (Fidel Castro) said we would return (to Cuba).” Meanwhile, Gerardo wrote in the guestbook on behalf of the Five: “It has been a great honor to visit this place together with some of the brave compañeros of Nelson Mandela.”

The message continued, “all of them were a source of inspiration and strength for the Five Cubans to withstand the more than 16 years in U.S. jails.”

Gerardo stressed that this was a legacy that “the Five will honor for the rest of our lives.”

CUBAN ANTI-TERRORISTS RECEIVED BY SOUTH AFRICAN PARLIAMENT

CAPE TOWN.—Members of the African National Congress (ANC) in the South African parliament received the Five during their visit to the legislative capital of the country.

The Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Lechesa Tsenoli, said that the Five are an inspiration across the world.

In exclusive statements to Prensa Latina, Tsenoli highlighted the example of resistance that these men provided whilst in U.S. prisons, where they remained confined for an extended and unjust period of time.

The legislator also stressed the contribution of Cuban solidarity to the African cause, a sentiment that is continuously repeated.

Since their arrival on June 21, when they were welcomed by ANC Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe, the Five have had the chance to talk with the leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

They were also warmly welcomed by members of the Society of Friendship with Cuba in South Africa (FOCUS) and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL), who did so much to secure their release.

The visit by Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René will conclude on July 3 and forms part of the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter.

According to their busy schedule, they will travel this Thursday, June 25, to the province of Gauteng to complete their tour of five of the nine South African provinces.

The Five then continue on to Namibia and conclude their tour of Africa in Angola, where three of them (Gerardo, Fernando and René) served as internationalist fighters.


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