All posts by Alicia Jrapko and Bill Hackwell

The Freedom of the Cuban Five Will Never be Reversed

Celebration upon the release of the Cuban Five in Washington DC (Photo by Bill Hackwell)

Five years ago tomorrow, in near disbelief, we watched on television as the Cuban Five were released from US prisons and flown home after a 16 year struggle. Leading up there had been some signs that their freedom was being negotiated by the Obama Administration but out of a healthy distrust of the US government we didn’t accept it as reality until we actually saw them arrive in Havana, out of handcuffs, and into the arms of their families.

As intelligence officers the Cuban 5 had been assigned to come to the US to monitor the activities of right wing anti-Cuba terrorist groups operating with impunity in Southern Florida in the early 1990’s. They came without weapons with their only intention being to defend the Cuban people against terrorist attacks of various natures that since the Revolution in 1959 was responsible for the deaths of close to 3,500 Cubans.

On September 12, 1998, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, Rene González, Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández were arrested and thrown into solitary confinement in a Miami Federal Prison and for the next 18 months they had no contact of any kind. The intention of the US was to wear them down, break them and get them to renounce the revolution.

The guards would remind them constantly that they were forgotten and no one even knew they were there. But as Gerardo Hernandez, who was serving two life sentences plus 15 years, explained to Resumen Latinoamericano, that it was there in June of 2001 when the struggle, which would turn into a worldwide movement, began.

When Fidel acknowledged us and said publicly ‘Volverán!’ (they will return), it was from that moment on when we knew they could not defeat us, that the struggle would be long and hard, as the Commander warned, but that we would return to the homeland. Only someone with his far sighted vision could assure such a thing to the world, at a time when all the hatred and desires for revenge of the empire were turned against us. That’s how big Fidel was. That’s why the return of the Five was his victory, and we were able to celebrate it with him.

While Fidel provided the spark that started this extraordinary struggle it was the Cuban people, collectively viewing the Five as their own sons, who mobilized as a nation; never wavering. And it was their families, particularly the women, with remarkable strength and dignified courage, who travelled the world to explain that this was a case of simple justice and the right of a nation to defend itself and to co-exist in peace. The Cuban Five were unique political prisoners who enjoyed the support of an entire country inspiring thousands of solidarity activists to join a movement demanding their release. In the beginning it was a few committees and individuals but coinciding with the advent of social media and the internet it grew into a connected international campaign made up of hundreds of solidarity groups in the majority of countries and also actors, artists, lawyers, workers, students, academics, writers and faith-based organizations. During those years there were few US embassies or consulates  that were spared regular protests calling for the freedom of the Cuban Five and for three consecutive years people from different states and countries gathered for a week of activities in Washington DC to demand their freedom including protesting in front of the White House.

Gerardo explained how this support was never lost on the Five.

We never forget that if today we have the good fortune of so much happiness, we owe it to the efforts of compañeros and compañeras from Cuba and the world that for many years fought for our liberation. This was also their victory, and there is not a day that goes by in which we do not remember it.

Five years have gone by, and these men who gave the best years of their lives, not for money or fame but for love of their country, something the US government will never understand, are in the process of integrating into society. As Gerardo told us:

We always dreamt of someday returning to our homeland and contributing together with all our people to the construction of that society to which we all aspire to. Since we have been back we have been contributing our modest efforts, side by side with all Cubans, in the different tasks assigned to us. Personally I feel very happy as Vice Dean of the Higher Institute of International Relations Raul Roa Garcia in Havana, where our diplomats are trained.

The freedom of the Cuban 5 was an integral key in the steps made by Obama towards normalization of relations with Cuba that he carried out through negotiations with the Cuban government.

Since Trump came to office he has reversed most of Obama’s gestures towards the Island by the odd illusory and transitory privilege, the Executive Order. But Trump didn’t stop there. He has used one Executive Order after another to tighten the blockade that has gone on now for over 60 years. It seems like every morning the Cuban people wake to find yet another bolt of punishment, based on unfounded pretext, coming their way from the oval office.

While the Cubans constantly express their willingness to dialogue with the US in an atmosphere of mutual respect they will not bend to the threats and arrogant behavior.

And one thing is for sure, no Executive Order can be issued that would reverse the return of the Five Cuban Heroes to their homeland.

Trump’s Attack against Immigrants Meets Resistance

Photo Credit:  Bill Hackwell

Nearly 800 events took place this weekend across the United States organized by grassroots organizations including religious sectors, community groups, students, labor and many individuals who had had enough of the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids taking place in working and poor communities against immigrants and Trump’s concentration camps on the border with Mexico.

The protests feel different this time and seem broader; going beyond activists and progressive people to include folks who feel Trump’s actions embarrass the US in front of the world and thousands upon thousands who feel compelled to come out to express their disgust and outrage at the basic inhumanity and injustice of it all. Most of the signs were homemade and many of the signs in the protests referenced previous dark periods in US history where groups of people were put in concentration camps just for their ethnicity and origin including Japanese Americans during World War II, former slaves after the civil war and Native Americans as part of a long campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The recent visit to the camps by a group of democrat congresswomen who finally spoke out about what they saw with their own eyes prompted the corporate media to have to cover the issue and the degree of suffering of thousands of poor immigrants fleeing conditions created by neoliberal policies that originated in the US.

The images seen in recent days have settled into the minds of anyone with any level of consciousness and compassion living in the United States. Children separated from their parents, bodies floating in the Rio Grande trying to reach the North and the openly announced raids by Trump this weekend as a way of terrorizing the immigrant community has motivated hundreds of thousands to protest in a variety of ways.

This movement has created a problem for Trump so on the eve of the ICE raids in cities across the US he sent his equally reactionary Vice President, Mike Pence to the border to assure everyone, through the compliant corporate media, that the conditions at the camps were good while he patted the guards of these concentration camps on the back for a job well done.

Meanwhile, Pro Publica is reporting that the Department of Homeland Security is investigating a disgusting racist and anti-immigrant Facebook page made up of 9,500 current and former border agents. And as if that was not bad enough the Department of Health and Human Services is investigating thousands of allegations of sexual assault on minors who were abused by the very guards in the camps Pence visited.

The hollow words coming from the Trump administration has back-fired and has only served to encourage this weekend’s demonstrations. More actions are planned for next week and are a testimony that from now on people will continue to resist the Trump administration’s racist and anti-human policies toward the immigrant community. Painted as evil, immigrants come to this country to work primarily in the most dangerous and menial jobs to try and give a dignified life to their loved ones. Even if the American Dream is more like a nightmare they will continue to come not because they want to leave their homeland but because their countries have been looted by the U.S.

Cuba Defies the Threats from Trump with Hundreds of Thousands in the Street

Plaza of the Revolution (Photo by Bill Hackwell)

Considering the level of belligerence and hostility coming from the empire of the North one might expect that the powerful May Day march through the Plaza of the Revolution might take on a defensive military overtone. But Cuba is never that way and instead they show their resolution and defiance cloaked within their humanity.

Just as the sun started to rise the march to celebrate the International Day of the Workers began and behind the banner that read Unity, Commitment and Victory were not soldiers with weapons but waves of doctors, soldiers in white, who had recently been expelled from Brazil by the right wing government of Bolsonaro leaving vast areas of Brazil without medical professionals. Vibrant demonstrations also marked the occasion in all 15 provinces of Cuba and the Isle of Youth.

No one really talks about the numbers here but it took almost 2 hours for the marchers that filled the wide Paseo Avenue to pass the towering statue of Jose Marti. This year’s theme featured thousands of people who work in medical services and medical research along with contingents from medical universities like the Latin American School of Medicine that is the largest medical university in the world.

Organized by the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC), thousands of trade unionists representing 103 unions from 87 countries participated. Hundreds of solidarity activists were there including 300 who are attending the 14th May Day Brigade at the Julio Mella Camp in Caimito. The largest delegation in the camp this year comes from the United States.

The US: Maintaining Hegemony through Protectionism and Threats

Today, at the CTC trade union meeting at the Palace of the Conventions, Ana Teresita Gonzalez Fraga, Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister, explained to the assembled supporters of Latin American unity and sovereignty that we were in a complex period where US Imperialism was trying to hold on to its international hegemony through all out protectionism, the advancement of the Monroe Doctrine, the threat of war, political lies and the use of unconventional warfare against legitimate governments. As she was speaking the first lawsuits from Title III of the Helms Burton Act were being filed in Federal Court in Miami against Carnaval Cruise Lines for its use of the docks in Havana harbor. Title III is a unique measure of acquiring the rights to regain former property that Cubans who fled the revolution in 1959 by somehow magically turning it into US property because those Cubans later became US citizens. This legal stretch had been shelved by previous administrations from the pressure of European allies who will be affected. Also going into effect today is Title IV that prohibits entry into U.S territory people being sued under Title III.

It remains to be seen how deep the new sanctions that the Trump administration will be until they are written into law. In 2018 over 1 million Americans, including Cuban Americans, visited Cuba and in the vicious minds of Trump, Pompeo, Bolton and Pence this type of family and human interaction has to end, to squeeze even harder on an economy that has been blockaded since 1962 for being an disobedient colony and positive example to the world. Trump says he will limit family visits and remittances to $1000 every 3 months that will primarily affect small private enterprises.

Even before the laws are in effect intimidation is already taking place. In the Miami airport, after passing normal security checks passports were being re-checked at the gate and before Cuban Americans could board the plane to Havana their carry-on bags were being opened and searched by Federal Police while a police dog was aggressively checking everyone as they walked down to the plane. What else could this be but to create a chilling effect on Cuban travel?

The Charade of Guaido Fails Again

The failure of the amateurish coup attack on April 30th in Caracas only strengthened the forces of Chavismo in Venezuela according to the Venezuelan ambassador to Cuba, Adan Chavez, at the CTC meeting today, “The attacks on the Bolivarian Revolution started on day one but one thing we know now is that we will never again be a US colony. Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez made it possible to achieve victories that will not regress.” The coup that didn’t happen was built up in the corporate media but it has now fizzled out of the airwaves and the reality of installing Guaido, their selected president is evaporating and that is starting to sink in on Wall Street and their impatience is starting to show. Yesterday Forbes, the Capitalist’s Tool, begrudged, “We are not making money…We are all waiting for the catalyst that leads to change in Venezuela. Maduro has outlasted all expectations. He’s entrenched in Caracas.”

John Bolton; how low can you go?

John Bolton, the criminal architect of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that directly led to the death of a million Iraqis and the displacement of millions more, has come up with the latest attack to include both Cuba and Venezuela. Along with claiming that Venezuela has been colonized by Cuba he is also repeating the cynical and outrageous claim that the Cuba-Venezuela cooperative agreement that provides 20,000 Cuban medical professionals to every province, in cities and rural areas of Venezuela are in actuality Cuban soldiers and security forces. That is something they would do, as they have in 177 countries, with more than 800,000 soldiers on 800 bases. Trump is picking up the lie saying it over and over so that the US public will hear it so much that…well, it must be true. This far-fetched whooper of a lie is to justify the threats and tightening of all sorts of sanctions on both countries. The shackling of Venezuela is a key component of the US strategy in the destroying of Cuba, but as was on display here in Havana, in Caracas and in the defense of the integrity of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, the resistance is a force they have to reckon with.