‘Absolved by Solidarity’ by Antonio Guerrero,
presented at Havana Book Fair, helps working people learn from a living socialist revolution.
Below is the text of the presentation by Mary-Alice Waters of Absolved by Solidarity by Antonio Guerrero at two recent events in Havana, one at the Havana International Book Fair and the other at the José Antonio Echeverría Polytechnic Institute (CUJAE), Havana’s main engineering and science university. (See accompanying article.) Waters, president of Pathfinder Press and a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the U.S., is editor of the new book by Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five. Waters’ remarks are copyright ©2015 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
Thank you Arleen, and a thank you to all of you who are with us here today.
Above all, however, a profound thank-you to Gerardo, Ramón, Tony, Fernando, and René for joining us. What an honor and a pleasure after so many years of communicating only through letters and sometimes the prison controlled email system, CorrLinks!
If I may borrow from the words of tribute paid you by Puerto Rican independence leader Rafael Cancel Miranda, thank you for “the light and the strength” you have given us. For your example. You have demonstrated in today’s world the honor that rightfully adheres to the words revolutionary and communist.
When I saw the video clip of Gerardo saluting as he came off the plane in December, and then heard his words to [Cuban President] Raúl [Castro] — “You can count on us for whatever is needed.” We’re ready for our next assignments — that’s when I knew we had won.
We owe that victory first and foremost to the conduct of the five comrades themselves, to their unbreakable integrity, discipline, creativity — and humor. To “the dignity learned from our people,’’ as Tony puts it in the introduction to Absolved by Solidarity.
That victory was possible only because of the tireless, consistent support and activity of their families — wives, mothers, fathers, children, sisters, brothers and cousins all.
It was only possible because of the unwavering determination of the Cuban government and party leadership, including the ceaseless efforts of National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón.
It was only possible because of the battle led from Cuba — for which great credit goes to Kenia Serrano and all the cadres of ICAP (Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples) — to build what Gerardo so accurately called the worldwide “jury of millions.”
It was only possible because of the efforts of the countless lawyers for whom defense of the Five became much more than a legal matter.
But I would like to add one more piece to this battle formation — the blow struck for the freedom of the Five by Fidel and Raúl’s “army of white coats” fighting the deadly virus of Ebola in West Africa today. When the first articles praising the professionalism, selflessness, and courage of the hundreds of Cuban medical volunteers on their way to Africa began appearing on the front page of newspapers like the Wall Street Journal last October, I knew the day of Gerardo, Ramón, and Tony’s freedom had just come closer.
Tony puts all this in his own beautiful words in Absolved by Solidarity. “We never felt defeated,” he wrote. “We knew we would be acquitted by the honest men and women of the world, who have today become a growing wave of solidarity that won’t break until it carries us home.”
Battles ahead, not looking back
That is what Absolved by Solidarity is about. That is why its publication could not be more timely.
This is not a book that looks backwards. It is a book about the new battles ahead for all of us. About how they too will be won by men and women like Gerardo, Ramón, Tony, Fernando and René — the kind of men and women that only a deeply popular, proletarian revolution like Cuba’s can produce. Men and women with the dignity, strength, and humanity of the Cuban Revolution and of the five unbowed soldiers who became the face of that revolution the world over.
Absolved by Solidarity reproduces the 16 watercolors that are on display here today, painted by Tony to mark the 16th anniversary of their imprisonment. They tell the story of the seven-month-long 2000-2001 trial in Miami, in which, as Tony writes, the U.S. government “secured the conditions it needed to ensure we wouldn’t have the slightest chance of being acquitted.”
Pathfinder’s editors were within hours of sending the book to the printer when news flashed around the world the morning of Dec. 17 that Gerardo, Ramón, and Tony were free. That their feet were already planted on Cuban soil.
That was a historic victory, so we stopped the presses for a few days. The editors went back to work, and the book you have before you now includes an introductory five pages recording that extraordinary moment, including three pages of photos of the arrival of Gerardo, Ramón, and Tony and the spontaneous explosion of joy in factories, schools, and streets from Havana, to Santa Clara, Santiago, and beyond.
We adjusted the cover and added the verdict: “The jury of millions has spoken! The Cuban Five are Free!”
Experience of millions of workers
The main thing I want to emphasize is the political importance of the two books of paintings by Tony — Absolved by Solidarity, and I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived, which reproduces 15 watercolors from the year before portraying the 17 months the compañeros spent in the “hole” at the Miami Federal Detention Center after their arrests in 1998. I want to describe how we are using those paintings and books — in the United States especially — along with two related titles, Voices From Prison and The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free.
Tony’s books are not only impressive works of art. For us they have been powerful weapons in the political battle to win the freedom of the Five, because they connect so directly to the lives and struggles of millions of working people in the U.S.
As many of you are aware, and as our five brothers know from the inside, the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The police, courts, and prisons are simply the domestic face, the domestic foundation of the class bias, repression and racism of the imperialist monster you know well.
More than 2.2 million men and women are behind bars right now, with some 4.8 million more living under some form of “supervised release,” such as René endured for more than a year and a half, between walking out of a federal prison and returning home to Cuba. To put it another way, by Washington’s own figures, 1 out of every 35 adults in the U.S. is behind prison walls or on probation or parole. Yes, 1 in every 35! There is hardly a working-class family that doesn’t have a relative, a neighbor, a fellow worker or friend caught somewhere in the toils of this system of American capitalist “justice.”
What Tony portrays in his paintings is something they immediately identify with because they, their parents, their friends and loved ones have lived it as well.
And that includes even children. After seeing an exhibit of I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived, a group of children at the Jackie Robinson Community Center in East Harlem, New York, some as young as 6 and 7 years old, wrote colorful notes addressed to each of the Five expressing their feelings. One of them I recall — I think it was addressed to Ramón — said roughly, “I’m sorry you are in prison just because you were protecting your country. I wish I could help but I’m only 7 years old. I don’t have a job, so I don’t have money to pay for a lawyer who could get you out. I hope they let you go.”
That child was speaking from his own painful experience, even at that age. There are millions of other working-class families for whom the same is true.
That is why the response to other Pathfinder books about the Cuban Five has also been so strong, books such as Voices From Prison, whose pages contain accounts by fellow inmates, by others railroaded to prison for their political activity, and by members of the Five and their families.
Political interest in the Five — and in books recording Cuba’s revolutionary example of how workers and farmers can fight effectively, change themselves in the process, and win — is spreading in the U.S. It is spreading parallel to, and made possible by, broadening resistance to efforts by employers, their government, and their Democratic and Republican parties to resolve the long, grinding capitalist crisis on our backs. And that’s what’s going on today among refinery workers, longshoremen, rail workers, stockers and salespeople at giant retailers, and others. There’s an increase in fights right now, as a result, among others things, of a modest upturn in hiring that’s boosting confidence and making it a little harder for bosses to wield the unemployment club against us.
At union meetings and picket lines, at schools and popular demonstrations, and above all as socialist workers go door to door in working-class neighborhoods selling subscriptions to the Militant newspaper along with books and pamphlets, thousands of copies of titles about the Cuban Five have been sold in the U.S.
When we totaled up the figures a few days ago, I myself was surprised to see that more than 25,000 copies of the books on the Five being presented here today have been sold in the last three and a half years, the overwhelming majority of them in the U.S.
In addition to reaching out as widely as possible with these and other books, over the last year of the battle to win freedom for the Five, we and others were able to organize more than 25 exhibitions of Tony’s paintings, sometimes together with drawings by Gerardo, in 14 cities across the U.S. — in schools, community centers, churches, art galleries, cafes and libraries. Others took place in cities around the world, from Athens to Panama, from the Australian Outback to Jakarta to London.
And the powerful installation by Cuban artist Kcho at the National Museum of Fine Arts here in Havana topped it off.
Our Five Heroes have lived many long years on the front lines of the class struggle in the U.S., and their ability to connect with working people there is of immense importance in the battles going forward. That is one of the reasons, of course, that Washington insisted that René and Tony renounce their U.S. citizenships. They still fear you, compañeros. And they still fear the working people of Cuba.
Just as the U.S. rulers fear us — the workers and farmers of the United States — at the same time that our political capacities and revolutionary potential are as utterly discounted by them as those of the Cuban toilers once were. And just as wrongly.
Let me end on two points.
First a word about the languages into which the books we are presenting today have been translated, and the scope of the international campaign to free Cuba’s Five Heroes. The covers of those books in many languages are on display here. Each is available in English and in Spanish. But they’ve been published in other tongues as well:
The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free in French, Farsi, and much of it in Greek;
Voices From Prison in Arabic, French, and Farsi; and
I Will Die The Way I’ve Lived, now in French and Farsi as well.
The French translations were done by comrades in Quebec and France, and are being used at political events in both countries. They were in Haiti at the international book fair in December at which Cuba was the country of honor. They are being sold in Burkina Faso, Mali, and elsewhere in West Africa, where supporters of Pathfinder organized to travel and promote them last year.
The Arabic translation was done by comrades in Lebanon and Greece. They were presented at the Cuban Five committee’s booth at the Beirut international book fair in November, where many visitors learned about the Cuban Revolution and the Five for the first time.
The books in Farsi are of special interest. They are edited and printed in Tehran by an Iranian publishing house and distributed in more than 30 major cities. Some 20,000 copies of these and other books in Farsi that tell the truth about the Cuban Revolution have been sold in Iran in the last years — including titles such as Socialism and Man in Cuba, The First and Second Declarations of Havana, and Marianas in Combat.
Some of these books make their way into Afghanistan as well, where Farsi — called Dari in that country — is the majority written language. Afghan distributors visiting the Tehran International Book Fair have bought hundreds of these books to take back to Afghanistan, where some have been pirated and reprinted in thousands of copies sold at book fairs there.
What accounts for the determination of those who have built the jury of millions worldwide to translate these books into languages that working people in their own countries can read?
The answer, as I said earlier, is that these books are not about the past. They are not primarily about an international defense campaign that has been won and is now over. Reading today about Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando, and René, working people learn about a living socialist revolution — including the working-class internationalism of hundreds of thousands of Cubans in Angola who aided the liberation of southern Africa from colonialism and white supremacy.
A new front
The victory represented by the return home of our Five Heroes also marks the opening of a new front in the decades-long battle to defend Cuba’s independence, its sovereignty, its socialist revolution. As we say in English, “The tiger has not changed its stripes.” Imperialism’s tactics can shift, but the goal remains the same: through one form of aggression or another, their objective is to overturn the property and social relations conquered by the working people of Cuba over 55 years of struggle and counting.
I liked the way Cuba’s former Minister of Culture Abel Prieto put it in popular and easily understood words the other day when he told an audience here at La Cabaña, “If market relations ever become dominant again in Cuba, you can kiss this book fair good-bye.”
“The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery” with which the bourgeoisie wages its battle to “compel all nations, on pain of extinction to adopt the bourgeois mode of production,” Marx explained in the Communist Manifesto.
As you continue to demonstrate in life — as the Cuban Revolution has done from the outset — that human labor, not the purchase of a commodity called labor power, is the future of a sustainable and livable world, you can be confident that you are not alone. Others stand and fight alongside you as you wage that economic and political battle — that battle of ideas, that battle to close the gap in the productivity of social labor.
The victory that has been won with the freedom of our Five brothers brings renewed confidence to your comrades in struggle the world over, including in the United States.
So we’ll close with the words of René in one of his letters to Olguita that you will find in the pages of Absolved by Solidarity.
The day “our absurd punishment comes to an end,” René wrote, “the US government, even without saying so, will be conceding its biggest defeat.” Despite all their efforts, he said, “they could not take from us the moral high ground to judge Cuba. … Our release from prison will be one more vindication of Cuba.”
And so it is.
The jury of millions has spoken!
The Cuban Five are free — and as disciplined soldiers go forward, as Gerardo said, to do whatever is needed!