Maggie Alarcón

Posts Tagged ‘Cuban Revolution’

Notes of A Veteran Fidelista

In Politics on August 15, 2016 at 12:19 pm
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Ricardo Alarcón and Fidel Castro Ruz, Popular University Program, circa 1960-

Photo: Liborio Noval.

 

By Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

On  March 10, 1952, with a door slam, a chapter of Cuban history came to a close. Fulgencio Batista –who, two decades before, had introduced a harsh dictatorship– seized power once again with a handful of his former collaborators had liquidated the revolutionary government of just one hundred days which had emerged in 1933 after the fall of Gerardo Machado. The new coup took place without major setbacks and thus ended Cuba’s brief experience with “representative democracy”. This had lasted for only two terms of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Autentico), which had governed for little more than seven years.

The “Autentico” Party presented itself as heir to the Revolution of 1933, in which its leaders had had played an outstanding role, but did not go beyond national-reformism, creating some necessary institutions and showing an independent foreign policy on some important issues at the UN and the OAS. Its work was, however, hampered by government corruption which invaded almost all branches of the administration. Besides, its adherence to McCarthyism led to the division among the trade union and popular movement, and the assassination of some of its main leaders.

The prevailing dishonesty caused the split in the “Autentico” Party and the emergence of the Cuban People’s Party (Orthodox) which raised the slogan “Vergüenza contra Dinero [Shame against money]” as its main banner. Among its founders was a recently graduated lawyer named Fidel Castro Ruz.

The general elections scheduled for June 1952, brought face-to-face, according to all polls, two candidates: the “orthodox”, headed by a respected university professor [Roberto Agramonte], and the government official, led by an “autentico” whose honesty was beyond doubt. A third candidate, Batista, supported by reactionary groups, appeared in a distant last place and no one gave him the slightest chance of winning in the polls. Everyone in Cuba knew this, including Batista who, for that reason, prevented the people from deciding.

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Fidel Castro, Victor Rabinowitz, Juana Vera and the author, Havana.

The coup and its immediate aftermath deeply wounded Cuban society. Batista received immediate support from the big property owners as well as from the conservative political forces and corrupt trade union bureaucracy. Political parties –the ones close to the government as well their opponents– were trapped in inaction and inconsistency. Authenticism and orthodoxy were divided into contradictory trends and new parties emerged from them; some willing to collaborate or compromise with the new regime. These and all other parties engaged in endless controversies unable to articulate a path against tyranny.

Resistance found refuge in the universities. Out of these came the first demonstrations and acts of protest. Among the students there was a growing awareness of the need to act and to do so using methods different from those of the politicians who had failed miserably. There was talk of armed struggle, but nobody knew how to wage it or had the resources to undertake it. There were some isolated attempts while rumors spread about plans led or linked to the president overthrown on March 10.

For those of us who were still in secondary education, the assault on the military barracks in Santiago de Cuba (Moncada) and Bayamo (Carlos Manuel de Cespedes), on July 26, 1953, was a complete surprise. We knew nothing of an event that would change our lives forever.

The news highlighted the name of someone previously unknown to us: Fidel Castro.

The political crisis deepened. The tyranny became even more aggressive. The Communist Party (Partido Socialista Popular [Socialist People’s Party]) was banned and its publications closed, while increased repression against the student movement became the norm. Batista’s accusations against the Communists sought the sympathy of Washington, but had nothing to do with reality. The PSP was not only alien to those events, but rather condemned the action of the young revolutionaries as did the other opponents to Batista, almost without exception.

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With Puerto Rican Independentists, Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores and Oscar Collazo, Havana 1979.

Once again it fell to the students to replace the parties that had proved incapable of fulfilling their role. The Federation of University Students (FEU) sympathized with the attackers of the Moncada garrison and called for a campaign for their release. This soon acquired a national dimension and forced the dictatorship to grant them amnesty in 1955.

That same year, Fidel founded the July 26th Movement. Along with the survivors of the initial action, it counted especially on young people who, in neighborhoods and study centers, identified themselves with that heroic deed against tirades and criticism from Tiryns and Trojans.

Their ranks were filled with youths, no few of them teenagers, who rebelled amid frustration, inertia and division, inspired by a feat that had shaken the tyranny and its opponents as well. Antonio López (Ñico), who had led the attack on the barracks in Bayamo, was responsible for organizing the youth brigades of the M-26-7 until he went to Mexico to return with Fidel and die fighting in the Sierra Maestra. He was replaced in Havana by Gerardo Abreu (Fontán), a black man of very humble origin, who had not completed primary school. He managed, on his own, to acquire a broad cultural background and a poetic sensibility that caused astonishment among us college students who had the privilege of fighting under his leadership. Ñico and Fontán –both from the Orthodox Youth– knew Marxism, shared socialist ideals, and were profoundly anti-imperialist. They were determined to create an organization that would massively bring in the new generation. They succeeded. Their followers were identified with a single word: “fidelistas”.

The presence of the Brigades was felt quickly by sending their message directly to the people. While the press and politicians criticized Fidel and the Moncada action, everywhere, in every corner of the capital –on walls and facades– using very modest resources, Brigade members painted a brief slogan which everyone understood: M-26-7, or a name that others wanted to silence: Fidel.

In view of the hostile environment which made it impossible to wage open political struggle, Fidel went to Mexico in order to organize the return to carry out the battle that would end the tyranny. He proclaimed it openly, undertaking a historic commitment: “In ’56, we will be free or we will be martyrs” thus challenging the followers of inaction and despair once again. And also their jokes: a government newspaper carried on its front page every day the number of days which had elapsed that year without the defiant promise being kept. epa00601693-cuban-president-fidel-castro-r-and-cubas-national-assembly-fh10p0

Well into November, the propaganda against the Moncadistas intensified. Demonstrations, organized by the FEU and the newly created Revolutionary Directorate, climaxed and led to the closure of the university. The last day of the month, to support the landing [of the Granma expedition], the M-26-7 carried out an uprising in Santiago de Cuba. Two days later Fidel and his companions arrived at the eastern shores aboard the yacht Granma, in what Che described as a “shipwreck”.

Scattered and persecuted by the Army, a small group finally managed to reunite in the Sierra Maestra. Many members of the expedition died fighting, or were assassinated.

Among these, as the US news agencies reported, was its main leader. Fidel’s death was reported on the front page of every newspaper. Anguish and uncertainty remained until after a passage of time that seemed endless. Gradually and by clandestine channels, the truth came to be known.

The last two years of the dictatorship were rife with crimes and abuses in the urban areas while the initial guerrilla force grew to become the Rebel Army.

“Fidelismo” reached massiveness. On the night of November 8, 1957, one hundred simultaneous explosions rocked Havana, each in a different neighborhood and distant from one another. They were practically heavy firecrackers –rather homemade devices– that only made noise. No one was injured and no one was arrested by the police who went around frantically from one place to the other. It was sound evidence that the “26th” was everywhere and showed the youth brigades’ efficient organization.

The murder of Fontan, on February 7, 1958, sparked a students’ general strike which lasted until May. It paralyzed all education centers, including private universities and academies, and led to the consecutive resignations of two of Batista’s Education Ministers of Batista.

Never before had such a movement occurred in Cuba to such extent and for so long. For three months, all attempts, violent or “peaceful” to end it failed. The student walkout continued, even several weeks after the movement suffered in its most painful and bloody defeat in Havana.

The failure of the attempted general strike by the workers, on April 9, was a very severe blow. It decimated urban militancy, almost completely destroyed the underground structures, and allowed the dictatorship to mobilize thousands of troops to launch what it thought would be the final battle in the Sierra. Once again everything depended on Fidel and his leadership.

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PHOTO Elian and Juan Miguel Gonzalez, at the Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Moncada assault.

Batista’s offensive proved a complete failure. The Rebel Army –well-established in the East– sent two columns led by Che and Camilo Cienfuegos, which crossed half the island and won many battles in its central region. The rebels were close to liberating the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Santa Clara. The last day of December, the dictator arranged his escape and –in close coordination with the US Ambassador– left behind a military junta in Havana that would have been the continuity of his regime. To thwart the maneuver, Fidel called for a general strike.

In the early hours of the first day of the New Year, the people took over the streets in the capital. The youth brigades –almost totally unarmed– occupied all police stations without meeting resistance from the demoralized and nervous troops of the regime. However, in other parts of the city, armed paramilitary groups of Batista henchmen had to be confronted. The strike continued until the total collapse of the tyranny. On January 8, Fidel rode triumphantly into a city that was already and finally “Fidelista”.

The victorious Revolution would have to face more powerful obstacles and even greater risks for over half a century: Political, diplomatic and propaganda aggression, armed attacks, subversion and sabotage, and the economic blockade that is still ongoing and is the longest genocide in history. Another blow was the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and the disappearance of allies and trading partners plus the complete isolation of the island. It has been a long and stormy path that the people have weathered under Fidel’s guidance.

Ninety years of age has now come to the man who had to face more than six hundred assassination plots against his life and whose death has been announced countless times by imperialist propaganda. Maybe someday his enemies will have to admit that they were never able to kill him. This is because Fidel and his people are one and the same. And that people, largely thanks to him, is invincible.

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A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.

Reasons for a celebration

In Cuba, Fidel Castro Ruz on August 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm

 

Margarita Alarcón Perea

 

There is a neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana in  the municipality of La Lisa, known as Coco Solo which roughly translates as “lonely coconut”. Please do not confuse it with the US Navy Submarine Base in Panama, although the coincidence is ghastly hilarious. Cuba’s Coco Solo is a working class neighborhood mostly inhabited by blacks, mulatos and that rare breed of “white” Cuban only acknowledged by those who fully understand that the island is no longer divisible by race, but yes, still, unfortunately by social and economic strata.

Still, last night Coco Solo was in festive mode. With few motives for celebration in a place where one still feels so much needs to be accomplished, a concert took place, with a small representation of current Cuban art: Adrian Berazain, young representative of the modern day Cuban Nueva Trova with a tinge of pop, Tony Ávila, an extraordinary musician full of grace and double entendre in his lyrics and lastly Laritza Bacallao a young mulato woman who sings pop and ballades in a very unique Cuban street style. Two films were projected in an open air impromptu street cinema, Strawberry and Chocolate for the adult crowd and HavanaStation for the kids.  Yesterday was International Youth Day, yet this was just a mere justification for the real motive that brought people out to take part in the attractions. The underlying motive was something else.

Aside from being habitually obscured by other more attractive parts of the city, Coco Solo is also a place where most things Cuban make sense. Its low lying buildings, streets in dire need of repair,  lack of sufficient ..well, lack of sufficient anything is more than evident.  Yet its inhabitants had something to celebrate. They took part in a massive social gathering, a community party, awaiting midnight, today, August 13th.

Today marks many things, the birthday of René Gonzalez Sewheret, one of the Cuban Five, the birthday of twin members of my extended US/Chicago family, and much more. Although none of these were the reasons that brought people out to celebrate last night. Ironically, what pulled many of them out from inside their homes was the chance to acknowledge the birthday of a man that dedicated his entire life to trying to make life better for his country, especially those living in places like Coco Solo. Whether one agrees with his motives or not, the reality, undeniably, is that today, although some beg to differ,  there is a man who is another year older, and has grown larger than life and will forever hold a place in the history of places like Coco Solo and the rest of the world.

Fidel Castro turns 87 today. He is no longer in power, he has grown old and weak., and while during his years as Statesman his birthday was never acknowledged, now it can be. The best part, though is that last night’s celebration took part precisely in the area where Fidel and his ideals were always most needed, semi urban quasi rural areas in Cuba that had been left unattended for so very long in the islands history. By sacrificing more wealth for the already wealthy, Fidel and his revolution began a process of trying to make life better if not at least, livable for those who had lived in dire straits for decades.

So maybe the upper crusts of Cuban society inside and out of the island won’t be celebrating today and didn’t celebrate last night, but for those less fortunate in history, for those who truly believe that a better world is possible, not only is the 26 the happiest day in history like the song says, but so is August 13th, because a man who not only changed history, but was also absolved by it, was born.

Moncada: Fidel and the Power of Faith

In Cuba, Cuban 5, Fidel Castro Ruz, History, Social Justice, US on July 31, 2013 at 12:00 pm

 

By Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

On March 10, 1952, former dictator Fulgencio Batista seized power in Cuba again. This happened eighty days before the elections in which he would have received the least votes.  

With one blow, he overthrew the president, abolished the constitution, dissolved parliament, crushed unions, student and guild organizations, took control of the media, unleashed a brutal repression and set up a regime of corruption and plunder which C. Wright Mills characterized as “capitalism run by gangsters and the Mafia”. Washington gave Batista quick recognition and always supported him, until the tyrant and his henchmen escaped on January 1st, 1959. 

The 1952 coup d’état greatly shocked Cuban society. Beyond its political consequences, it cut deep into the national conscience. The overthrown president sought refuge in the Mexican Embassy, the political forces supporting him were paralysed; the forces in the opposition, including those of Marxist inspiration, were not able to defend legality nor organize resistance; they became entangled in endless debates on strategy and tactics with only one thing in common: inaction.   

Frustration and disbelief grew among the population. Their democratic aspirations were defeated once again.  All the political parties had lost credibility and public trust. Only among the young people and students was there still a spirit of rebellion, seeking their own path outside the failed structures. To steer that rebelliousness they needed and exceptional leader. They found it in Fidel Castro. 

Fidel chose a group of young people who looked to him as an example and prepared them for armed struggle. It was a group without a name or political affiliation. The action on July 26, 1953 was, in military terms, a double failure: the attempts to take by assault two main army garrisons in Eastern Cuba: Moncada in Santiago de Cuba and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in Bayamo. In both, the assailants were defeated and most of them murdered after the battle.    

The 26th of July Movement (Movimiento 26 de Julio),  was born losing its first battles and under the almost unanimous attack of the political forces, the media and other institutions of Cuban society. But that day was, in true fact, a rebirth. It began a process of moral rescue which allowed the people to recover strength and start the long and difficult march to victory. The starting point was the recovery of trust. That day reached many, and gave impulse to the creation of a movement that would keep growing provided it could preserve faith.      

Compelled by popular pressure, Batista was forced, in 1955, to give amnesty to Fidel and his comrades in prison. Fidel travelled to Mexico and promised to return before the following year was over to conduct the final battle. Once again he was betting on popular trust. 

Meanwhile, the dictatorship launched a campaign to create distrust. This was supported by many sectors in the opposition which were against armed struggle. The pro-Batista media made fun of Fidel’s promise and kept publishing the countdown on their front pages. The arrival of the rebels took place on December 2, and it was another military catastrophe. The failure of the expedition made big headlines in the Cuban press and far beyond.   

The 82 men who arrived in the Granma yacht faced a far superior military force equipped, armed and trained by The United States. The twelve survivors scattered in the forest with no weapons or resources, managed to regroup in the Sierra Maestra. Months of disinformation and anguish followed. In the remote mountains, backed by their followers in the city, the guerilla contingent was formed step-by-step. In the cities, the clandestine fighters who supplied the guerrillas and resisted brutal repression also had to fight the permanent “peacekeeping” manoeuvres of the political opposition.  

Two years later, the movement had spread to the entire country and the dictatorship was defeated. This was five years, five months and five days after the foundational action. 

Those were hard and difficult years. But they brought freedom and happiness to a people emancipated forever. As expressed in the lyrics of a song that we have all been singing for many years now: “The 26 is the happiest day in history”. 

 

http://www.walterlippmann.com/docs3874.html

A CubaNews translation.

Edited by Walter Lippmann. 

Cuba and Fidel Castro: Beyond his 86th Birthday.

In CAFE, CENESEX, Cuba, Cuba/US, Fidel Castro Ruz, LGBT, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on August 15, 2012 at 2:20 pm
By Arturo Lopez-Levy 
Originally published in The Havana Note
Regardless of how long he lives, Fidel Castro has had an influential role in shaping the political discourse in Cuba. Fidel skillfully mixed Marxism and nationalism and made a revolution that changed the history not only of Cuba but also of the whole Western hemisphere. He was the most popular leader in a generation of Cubans, a political giant who reached world dimensions during the Cold War. As professor Jorge Dominguez from Harvard University said, If there  had been competitive elections in the early 1960’s, Castro could have won them all. He didn’t have the chance. In the most difficult moments of the Cold War, the United States, as the hegemonic power in the Americas, didn’t have tolerance for a nationalist leader who aspired to an independent neutralist course not to mention a socialist one, no matter how popular Castro was among his people.
On the other hand, Castro was not a misunderstood liberal democrat, but a realist politician with strong nationalist and socialist ideas ready to remain in power and implement his revolutionary program by democratic or undemocratic means.  He learned from the experience of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala and fought the Cuban Civil War of the 1960’s with every conceivable alliance and political weapon  available to him. Political opponents of Castro’s program were treated as enemies of the nation, they suffered financial and property losses, harassment and long prison sentences. Fidel created a new Communist party under his nationalist authoritarian leadership and remained in power for almost five decades. In 2006, he retired undefeated. No leader in Cuba could speak; bring enthusiasm to his followers, and plant fear in his enemies as Fidel Castro did. His charisma was no doubt an important source of the communist party’s legitimacy but he also attracted many Cubans due to his writings, ideas and speeches.
In analyzing how Cuba moved forward after the revolution a completely Fidel centered approach was always insufficient because it is impossible to trace how much of Fidel’s policies were the result of his own views and how much his campaigns were the result of influences by different interests within Cuba’s power structure. But when Fidel was committed to a policy, he was the minimal winning coalition. Politics at the strategic government level consisted of guessing what could help Fidel’s grand strategy. This limited the feedback on policy and the information flows of the system.
Fidel’s style hardly ever consisted of leading from behind. That is why the “Fidel in command” model truly ended when he fell ill in 2006.   Fidel is no longer the decisive force in the political survival of the PCC rule. In part by design and in part by default, the institutionalization of the party rule and the economic reforms proposed in the “Lineamientos Economicos y Sociales” (Social and Economic Guidelines) of the PCC imply a partial withdrawal of the communist state from social spaces and the economy. Fidel’s charisma and leadership style were cardinal obstacles for these two long overdue processes. The supreme leader of the revolution deployed a striking anti market bias all throughout his career.
Fidel was not only the main creator of institutions in post-revolutionary Cuba but also the charismatic leader who reduced their importance at his pleasure, sometimes unconsciously. In his statements, Fidel Castro  was a constant advocate for “democratic centralism” and “collective leadership”, not for cult of personality, but in practice, his charisma and political dominance prevented the institutionalization of a legal-rational bureaucratic rule. The government was wherever he was; its priorities were his priorities. The recently approved term limits were unthinkable under his aegis.
Now, there is a new situation. Raúl Castro’s commitment to economic reforms and institutionalization is opening venues for the discussion of new ideas within the power structure and the general political discourse. Propositions in favor of a gradual expansion of the role of the market in the economy, the diversification of the property structure, and the expansion of the role of law and rules in how government and the party work are openly discussed. This is not part of a transition to a multiparty democracy but embodies the relaxation of information controls; it improves the feedback mechanisms and the expression of pluralistic interests within the Cuban elites and society. Public discourse is breaking away from the homogenous path of previous times, not only in the publications of the Catholic Church or reform oriented magazines such as Temas, but also in the core publications of the system. Newspapers and radios on the provinces, and even Granma, the Communist party newspaper, are talking about the need for separating the party from the government, and economic changes.
One ideological factor that is emerging in post-Fidel Cuba is an increased emphasis in a nationalist narrative. During Fidel Castro’s leadership, particularly before 1989, the PCC promoted Marxist ideas, and a feeling of belonging to the international communist bloc. Internationalism, not nationalism, was the central ideological principle of Cuba’s foreign policy. Raúl Castro’s recent speech in Guantanamo on July 26 demonstrated how this feature is changing. The emphasis on the revolution as a solution to a history of national humiliation is becoming predominant and issues such as national unity, economic growth and public order are emerging more forcefully in the official discourse. The struggle against the U.S. embargo is becoming again the strongest unifying ideological factor in the elite and between the PCC and the population.
When Fidel’s health forced him to step down , the community of Cubans in Miami Florida reserved the Orange Bowl for the anticipated celebration of his death.  In other parts of the world, such as the Southern Cone of Africa where Cuban troops were key allies in the struggle against Apartheid, there was sorrow. What would happen in Cuba when Fidel Castro dies? A funeral.   Fidel Castro’s death will speed up the processes of economic reform and institutionalization but it is important not to exaggerate his current impact in Cuba’s policymaking. He is a retired head of State.
Fidel Castro is not Cuba. Rather than focusing on an 86 years old revolutionary patriarch, the international community, particularly the United States, should look at the general trends operating in Cuba’s politics and economy. A central question is whether Raul Castro’s economic reform can alter the political dynamics and the distribution of power not only in Cuba but on the Cuban American community and U.S. debate about the embargo.  Everything else being equal, a market oriented Cuban economy, with a vibrant non-state sector, would create a virtuous cycle of pressures to end the U.S. sanctions that would also strengthen the appetite for more economic opening in Cuba. It is also worth noting that the antipathy generated by Fidel among some segments of the American public and the Cuban American community is not transferable to any other leader, not even his brother Raúl.
That is the gift Fidel Castro has given all of us to contemplate on this, his 86th birthday.

Cuba Meets the Challenges of the 21st Century, Part IV

In Asamblea Nacional/National Assembly, Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, History, Politics, Social Justice, US on May 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm

An interview with Ricardo Alarcon, President of the Cuban Parliament by Salim Lamrani

Originally published in the Huffington Post

President of the Cuban Parliament since 1992, and member of the Political Bureau of the Cuban Communist Party, Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada is, after President Raul Castro and First Vice-President Antonio Machado Ventura, third in line in the Cuban government. Professor of philosophy and a career diplomat, Alarcon spent over a decade in the United States as the Cuban ambassador to the United Nations. Over time, he has become a spokesperson for the Havana government.

In this long interview, one that lasted nearly two hours, Alarcon did not seek to evade a single question. He comments on the role of Fidel Castro after his retirement from political life and explains the presence of Raul Castro at the center of power. He also speaks about the reform of the Cuban economic and social model as well as the challenges facing the Cuban nation. Alarcon then discusses the question of emigration and Cuban relations with the United States under the Obama administration. He also takes on the thorny question of human rights and political prisoners and does not hesitate to talk about Alan Gross, the American sub-contractor imprisoned in Cuba, as well as the case of the five Cuban agents detained in the United States. Alarcon then turns to the important question of oil deposits in the Gulf of Mexico and the potential consequences of their exploitation. The interview concludes with a discussion of the relationship of Cuba with the Catholic church and the Vatican, the imminent visit to Cuba of Pope Benedict XVI, Cuban relations with the European Union and the new Latin America and finally the future of Cuba after Fidel and Raul Castro.

The Case of the Cuban Five

SL: Now let’s talk about the Cuban Five. Four of them are still held and the fifth is out on probation. They have been imprisoned since 1998 for “conspiracy to commit espionage” and were sentenced to heavy prison terms, from 15 years to life. What are their future prospects?

RAQ: In the case of René Gonzalez, who is out on parole, his lawyer will try to persuade the judge to let him purge the remaining three years of his sentence in Cuba. In the same way, we are also trying to obtain authorization for a family visit. His wife has not seen him for more than a decade because Washington has systematically denied all requests for visas.

Everyone, I believe, can appreciate the difference in treatment between Cuba and the United States in terms of family visits for prisoners. Cuba has systematically accepted all visa requests from Gross’ wife. Washington has systematically refused all requests for visas from Olga Salanueva, the wife of René Gonzalez, and from Adriana Pérez, the wife of Gerardo Hernandez.

René Gonzalez may also make a request to visit Cuba to see his family, because conditional release allows for this possibility. It also permits him to serve his sentence outside of United States territory.

For the other four, the habeas corpus process is still ongoing. Three administrative procedures, a motion by the defense, one by the prosecution, and the response of the defense, are almost complete for Antonio Guerrero and Gerardo Hernandez. As for Ramon Labanino and Fernando Gonzalez, we are awaiting the response of the prosecutor, that is to say, the government of the United States, in early 2012. Then, the defense will in turn address the government’s response. These decisions came down at two different times and that is why the cases are being considered separately.

SL: For what reason are the cases being considered separately?

RAQ: In fact, this extraordinary habeas corpus procedure is possible only once a trial has ended, which in the case of Gerardo Hernandez and René Gonzalez became possible when the Supreme
Court declined to review their cases. As for Antonio, Ramon and Fernando, the trial ended when the court imposed new sentences while their cases were under appeal. These decisions were taken at two different times and that, once again, is why these cases are being considered separately.

SL: The outcome of these cases, however, seems more political than legal.

RAQ: This is certainly true and it underscores the need to convince President Obama to free them. In my opinion, he has a moral obligation to do so, and it is something that he can do with a simple executive order, something that the United States constitution allows him. This is a decision that can be made at any time, regardless of the evolution of the trial.

SL: What are the reasons that Obama ought to make such a decision?

RAQ: Simply because these men are innocent. I would remind you that they were in the United States to prevent terrorist attacks against Cuba. They were not there to infiltrate government agencies, something that would have justified the charge of espionage, but rather to infiltrate small violent right-wing groups of Cuban exiles that were implicated in acts of terrorism against Cuba.

Their mission was necessary because these groups have always been allowed to operate with total impunity. Remember that Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative and the brains behind more than one hundred murders — it’s not me saying it, it’s what he himself is quoted as having said in an interview published in the New York Times of July 12, 1998. It is also something that CIA and FBI reports, declassified in 2004 and 2005, affirm. And he is still a free man in Miami, someone who has never been judged for his crimes.

Let me remind you that in 1998 we invited two important FBI directors to Cuba and presented them with a voluminous report, prepared by our own agents, on the activities of terrorist groups in Miami. They promised to neutralize these groups, but on their return, rather than doing what they promised, they proceeded to arrest the Cuban Five.

The reality of terrorism against Cuba became quite clear upon the release of René Gonzalez from prison.

SL: Please explain.

RAQ: The public prosecutor categorically refused René Gonzalez the right to serve out his parole in Cuba. The judge in the case accepted the prosecutor’s request and ruled that, for the moment at least, he should serve his parole in the United States. In her written declaration, the judge, at three different points, cites the “additional special condition” that had been imposed upon him when he was convicted in 2001, something by which he is bound to abide.

SL: What did this “additional special condition” consist of?

RAQ: This peculiar additional special condition to his parole prohibits him from “associating with or visiting specific places where individuals or groups such as terrorists, members of organizations advocating violence, or organized crime figures are known to be or frequent…” This is a textually accurate citation that can be found in the transcript of the Sentencing Hearing before the honorable Joan A. Lenard, dated December 12, 2001, pages 45-46.

This constitutes an explicit recognition that United States authorities have identified groups or individuals they consider to be terrorists, organized criminals or individuals promoting violence. They know who they are and where they can be found, but do nothing that would put these groups in harm’s way. At the same time, they prohibit an American citizen — René Gonzalez was born in the United States — to go there and work against these groups.

SL: All of this is quite surprising and the statement is troubling.

RAQ: You can find this declaration in the transcript of the trial and in the recent declaration of the prosecutor and the judge, when René Gonzalez requested permission to serve out his sentence in Cuba. It is obvious that the reason this condition has been imposed is to protect these three categories of despicable individuals. If you have a better explanation, I would be interested in hearing it.

This presumes that René Gonzalez must be monitored constantly by the United States authorities, authorities who know exactly where to find these individuals, in order to ensure that he does not violate his parole. If unfortunately René Gonzalez should attempt to return to where these groups are located with the intention of thwarting their plans, he would be sent back to prison immediately.

SL: All of this seems a little surreal.

RAQ: Still it’s the truth, even if it is unusual. You will find, I’ll say again, this statement used throughout the trial. The prosecutor always insisted on this fact. The judge dictated the sentences, the sentences in the memorandum, but it was the government that proposed the penalties and, needless to say, the government proposed the maximum penalty for each count. The prosecution made serious mistakes that led to the Court of Appeals imposing new sentences on Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Ramon Labanino.

This same prosecutor, in the same sentencing memorandum and also orally in front of the court, stressed that from the perspective of the United States government, it was important to hand down maximum penalties, penalties that would ensure that the accused would be unable to undertake once again the activities for which he had been condemned — that is to say, infiltrating terrorist groups in a peaceful manner, unarmed and nonviolently, in order to inform Cuba of their activities — hence the importance of imposing this “additional special condition.” And indeed it was imposed upon all five, including Gerardo Hernandez who had already received two life sentences plus 15 years. All of them, when they have served out their sentences — for Gerardo, this would be in his third lifetime — must stay well away from these terrorist groups and it will be the government’s job to assure that this condition is enforced, to ensure that they will not resume the same activities that led them to prison in the first place.

For Gerardo, Ramon and Fernando, the prosecution underscored that this will be the case because it is intended that they be expelled from American territory — all of this is written in black and white in the sentencing memorandum. For René and Antonio, both American citizens, they cannot be expelled and it is for that reason that this “additional special condition” was imposed on them. René must conform to it, even after he has finished his parole, and Antonio as well, should he be granted parole.

In other words, the United States authorities recognize that terrorists groups, violent and mafia-linked, exist in the city of Miami. They know who they are and where they are, but nonetheless grant them total immunity. In this way, they are also preventing any free American citizen from doing anything to neutralize them.

SL: What do you think this demonstrates?

RAQ: This demonstrates clearly the innocence of the Five, because what they did in the United States is not a crime. Stopping an act of terrorism is not a crime. Struggling against violence, against crime and terrorism, is not a crime anywhere. Unhappily, this affair has continued because of media dictatorship. If this affair had been covered by the media as it should have been, it would have caused such outrage amongst the American public that the government’s position would have been untenable. What would American public opinion say if it became clear that the government was protecting terrorists and incarcerating those who struggle against terrorism?

Imagine that if tomorrow the government decided to arrest René Gonzalez because he had been approached by a terrorist group? How can the American government get away with behaving in this manner? Quite simply because public opinion has not been informed of media complicity in this affair. Had this been known, the Five would have been back in Cuba a long time ago.

Be aware, René was released from prison in October 2011. This requirement was imposed, not in order to protect him, but rather to protect terrorist groups. Is this not unbelievable?

I would like to repeat that it is the clear duty of President Obama to liberate the Five. Their liberation is also in the best interests of the United States. This case clearly underscores the profoundly hypocritical character of the United States’ antiterrorist policy. This is a country that on the one hand pretends to lead a global struggle against this scourge and on the other hand protects criminals on their own soil by incarcerating those who try to foil their plans. The federal government is at this very moment spending public funds in order to monitor René Gonzalez. In so doing they are only protecting the terrorists. René has purged a thirteen year prison sentence for trying to prevent terrorist acts against Cuba. It is the same for the other four. Here we have the first case in the history of “espionage” in the United States in which not a single secret document has been violated. It is for this reason that the Court of Appeals in Atlanta recognized that this case has nothing to do with espionage.

What Did Cuba Ever Do to Us?

In Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Embargo, History, Missile Crisis, Politics, US on January 17, 2012 at 11:38 am

From Counterpunch Weekend Edition January 13-15, 2012

by SAUL LANDAU and NELSON P. VALDES

A Tale of Two Countries

 “…they cannot forgive us that we are just so close to them, that we have made a Socialist revolution under the very nose of the United States!”

– Fidel Castro, April 16, 1961

“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.”

– English book of Common Prayer, 1662

After 53 years, we ask. Did the Cuban revolution accomplish its goals? Likewise, what happened to the US, which has relentlessly tried to block Cuba’s revolutionary path?

After the January 1959 revolutionary victory Washington’s elite understood that in Fidel Castro they might face serious rebelliousness to the accepted and enforced notion: Washington rules this hemisphere.

In 1954, Washington punished President Jacobo Arbenz for nationalizing United Fruit company property in Guatemala (a US-backed coup d’etat), to again dramatize how the US treated disobedience.

Despite the long history of US punishment of insubordinate Latin American leaders, Castro and compañeros remained focused on goals emerging in the 1860s’ revolt against Spain: independence; sovereignty; social justice.

When faced with Washington’s intransigent opposition Cuba’s leaders accepted the consequences of a kind of insurance policy written for their revolution in Moscow. They had no other protectors.

They knew that Latin American leaders who failed to toe the US line faced: assassination or military coups.

Unlike US influence, the Soviets would not own Cuban property. The US held the best land in Cuba, the biggest sugar mills, mines, telephone and utility companies, banks, politicians, casinos and much more. The Soviets never possessed an acre of Cuban land. They did, however, expect reciprocal ideological compliance.

From 1959 through the mid 1970s, Cubans became more literate and healthier. Their social services expanded along with a basically honest government. Cuba became an integrated nation state with a sense of purpose. But US policy directors understood: an external threat would compel revolutionaries to organize their defense.

They grasped Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist #8: “Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates.”

In Cuba, Batista had not permitted free speech or politics; so no dramatic change took place. Unlike Batista, the revolutionaries had more than personal power to defend. And they understood the possible consequences.

US military forces killed up to 4 million Vietnamese (mostly civilians) and lost 58 thousand US troops as Cuba’s revolution developed. Few people today – or then – could explain the purpose of that war.

While engaged in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the CIA also backed a string of military coups against democratically elected governments of Brazil (1964), Chile (1973) and interfering in political processes of other client states: invading the Dominican Republic and plotting in Argentina and  Uruguay.

Cuban doctors and teachers went abroad to aid others, Cuban artists — painting and sculpture, poetry and literature, film, music and dance – made world-wide names for themselves. The CIA in Africa assassinated Congolese liberation leader Patrice Lumumba and backed merciless dictators. Cuban troops helped maintain Angolan independence despite serious threats from South African and CIA-backed troops invading from the south and east.

In 1994, at his inauguration as South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela acknowledged to Fidel Castro: “You made this possible.” He referred to the role of Cuban troops in 1987-88 in helping the Angolan army administer heavy losses to the South African forces who had invaded southern Angola, forcing the apartheid regime to change its strategy from military to political.

During the 1980s, Washington backed murderous regimes throughout the world, like those in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala; same old policy, but justified by Cold War rhetoric.

After the Soviets disappeared in 1991, the jubilation in Miami exile circles and Washington office parties ran at fever pitch: would the Cuban revolution collapse in a year – or less?

Now, 21 plus years later and still alive, Cuba’s revolution begins to change its economic and administrative orders. The US media routinely describes Cuba as poor, needy, miserable. But in 2012 on Cuba’s non-violent streets there aren’t vast numbers of homeless like those in US cities; and no hungry children (1 of 2 American kids experienced hunger last year).

In “free and democratic” Mexico and Central America thousands of gang-drug related murders occur annually. Cuba has no drug cartels or children frightened of a drive-by bullet. As US wars killed tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghans and thousands of its own troops, Cuban doctors repaired the sightless vision of thousands of third world people around the world.

The US holds more political prisoners in Cuba — in Gitmo — than Cuba does, and now has laws allowing the President to assas … oops, execute US citizens he deems “terrorist” (without court procedures). US citizens can get jailed indefinitely with no recourse to Constitutional protections. But Washington blithely accuses Cuba of human rights violations.

Cuba does face a broken economy, a bloated bureaucracy and other serious problems – like no free press. Its leaders have begun a reform process, and a broad dialogue has emerged amongst the population.

In Washington denial prevails. Presidential aspirants on both sides ignore the trillions wasted on destructive wars, rotting infrastructure, spread of poverty, and drop in the standard of living.

Cuba policy remains inflexible. Hard liners demand ever more time for the policy to work! It’s only been 53 years since Washington’s elite decided to force regime change in Havana.

No one asks: What did Cuba do to us again?

Saul Landau, an Institute for Policy Studies fellow, produced Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up (Cinema Libre Studio).  CounterPunch published his Bush and Botox World. 

Nelson P. Valdés is Professor Emeritus, U. of New Mexico and director of the Cuba-L Project.