The Cuba Advocate

Year 58 of the Revolution

The Cuba Five

by Jane Franklin

It has been said over and over again for a long time now. Firstly, they said it themselves – Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González – to the very Court which, as part of the macabre farce, sentenced them with perverse severity. The voices of solidarity which, little by little were beginning to speak out around the world, denounced it time and again.

The Five young Cubans arrested in Miami in September of 1998 were the victims of a huge injustice. They hadn’t harmed anyone. Their only crime was to fight against terrorism there, in the city that is a lair for terrorists. The trial against them was corrupt from the outset and riddled with scandalous violations of the law. From start to finish it was, in short, illegal. The Five innocent men, victims of a government’s abduction, were more than just prisoners. The US authorities have an unavoidable obligation; to put an end to the unjust imprisonment, or rather, the official abduction, and free them immediately.

To inform the public of these facts, and in particular, let the American people know about them, has been extraordinarily difficult. The mass media of ‘information’ has, with disciplined uniformity, opted not to communicate information on this issue.

One of the most curious examples of ‘globalization’ is the redefinition of which issues constitute news and which don’t. For example, the fact that the United States has officially expressed its support of terrorism and has repeated this conviction several times over the years, in writing and before a court of law, has never made the news. They have done this, letter by letter, in official documents issued by that Government and in numerous statements made by their district attorneys to the Court, all of which appears verbatim in the transcripts taken during sessions in the Court of Miami and in texts which have been made public, but which the American and European press have never reported on. (1)

Nor have they ever deemed it pertinent to relate how the accused were denied access to supposed incriminating ‘evidence’, or how it was almost impossible for them to have contact with their lawyers, from whom this ‘evidence’ was also withheld. This never made the news.

Something else which wasn’t considered newsworthy was the unusual, to say the least, fact, that generals, admirals, colonels and government experts all appeared before the Court, and stated, under oath, that the accused were innocent of the charges against them. The mass media based outside of Miami never found out about this, despite the fact that with incessant furore, the local pseudo-journalists insulted and threatened these persons, and that their testimonies have been available, in the trial transcripts, for five years (2)

What about the fact that with regard to the most serious charge the US Government itself acknowledged that they couldn’t prove it and in the end, unsuccessfully requested that it be withdrawn? The fact that this request (3), an unprecedented one in American history, was rejected by the Court and the Court of Appeals, but that regardless of this Gerardo Hernández was later found guilty, without any hesitation, of the charge that no-one wanted to accuse him of? The fact that on this charge they also sentenced him to a second life sentence? None of that interests the communicators.

What about the fact that all contact between the abducted Five and their families is restricted? Their visits reduced to a minimum? The fact that two of them are prevented from seeing their wives? The fact that a six year old girl is not allowed to meet her father? These are not matters to occupy the time of busy journalists, or even the imaginary defenders of human rights.

The case of the Five was conveniently ignored by the large corporations trying to monopolise information worldwide. However, in Miami, the so-called local media, those spokespeople for the terrorists who run the city as well as its radio, television and written press, did pay attention to this issue. They did so with the stridency that has made them famous. They went so far that the Court itself, as subjugated as it was by the terrorist mafia, felt obliged to protest and complain. Recall, if you may, the situation described by the judge: supposed journalists, brandishing cameras and microphones, following members of the jury through the passageways and up and down the steps of the Court building and out onto the street, to their vehicles, choleric, threatening. ‘They, the jury are afraid, they feel threatened’, admitted the judge. This is what is recorded in the transcripts (4) and this is how the Miami press reported it. Outside of Miami however, there was an imposed silence. These events weren’t reported either. The denouncement made by the judge, the anguish felt by the jury, the furore created by the ‘journalists’, all met with the same response: it wasn’t happening, it wasn’t news.

The news items that were reported, and repeated to the point of exhaustion, day and night, were Kobe Bryant’s affairs, Martha Stewart’s outfit, the comings and goings in Michael Jackson’s bed and their visits to courtrooms besieged by avid ‘informers’. There isn’t precisely an absence of news about the law, the police and courtroom activity among American television networks, radio stations or newspapers, or among their European clones.

In this ‘globalized’ world, from the Himalayas to the Patagonia, many people are aware of the sexual liaisons of any celebrity you could mention, but millions of Americans are not allowed to know that their government protects terrorism in its own backyard and punishes with exceptional cruelty all those who are there fighting it.

That was the situation up until Thursday 14 July. Only time will tell if it just happened by chance or if this coincidence is to bring us a glimmer of hope, but it was on this very day and no other when the news began to circulate. The BBC information service based in London and the American press agency, Associated Press, whose dispatches would later be reproduced by other organs of the printed press and radio, announced each in their own way, that the UN had declared arbitrary and illegal the arrest of the Five Cubans and their subsequent trial.

This is relative to the report issued by a panel of independent experts, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention established by the Commission on Human Rights (5)

It is the result of a long process of analysis, investigation and inquiries that included the Government of the United States.

In their conclusion the group underlined three main aspects: the 17 months of solitary confinement imposed on the Five at the time of their arrest, the limited access that the accused and their lawyers had to the evidence and the climate of strong hostility that they had to face.

It is worth noting that on three occasions the United Nations Group mentioned that the United States government had admitted in their communiqués to the serious violations that had been committed. As we see here:

‘The Government has not contested the fact that defense lawyers had very limited access to evidence…, negatively affecting their ability to present counter evidence’.</p> <p>’The Government has not denied that…, the climate of bias and prejudice against the accused in Miami persisted and helped to present the accused as guilty from the beginning. It was not contested by the Government that one year later it admitted that Miami was an unsuitable place for a trial where it proved almost impossible to select an impartial jury in a case linked with Cuba’.

Taking this into account, ‘The Working Group concludes that the three elements that were enunciated above, combined together, are of such gravity that they confer the deprivation of liberty of these five persons an arbitrary character’, and ‘the deprivation of liberty of Messrs. Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, Fernando González Llort, Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino Salazar and René González Schweret is arbitrary, being in contravention of article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’, therefore, ‘the Working Group requests the Government to adopt the necessary steps to remedy the situation’.

How can this situation be remedied? What are the necessary steps that the United States Government must adopt? The answers are obvious. The entire process against the Five is null and void, invalid. The abducted Five must be freed immediately.

Since 12 September 1998, for 7 years now, that Government has been arbitrarily and illegally depriving five young men of their freedom. Worst of all they are doing this in order to protect the terrorist groups that operate with total impunity in the United States. So far they have managed this with the conspiratorial silence of the mass media.

Now we have the UN report and the fact that its content has been made public by some important media organs. Let us hope that the message will spread to the millions of people who have been refused their right to receive information. Let us hope that, finally, the moment of truth is upon us.


Published in www.rebelion.org on July 20, 2005:

1. The United States vs. Hernández et al, Case 98-271-C R-Lenard.

2. Trial Transcript (verbatim of the Court sessions, pages 8196-8301, 11049-11199, 11491-11547, 13089-13235)

3. Emergency Petition for writ of Prohibition presented by the S. Florida district attorney to the Court of Appeal on 25 May 2001.

4. Trial Transcript, pages 14644-14646

5. Conclusion reached by the Working Group on Arbitrary Deprivation of Liberty. Opinion No. 19/2005 (United States of America) 27 May 2005.

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March 3, 2009 Posted by | B - Cuba Articles | Leave a comment

Double standard: four decades of US-sponsored terrorism

by Simon Wallers

Havana, Sept 20 (NY Transfer) –Well, it took a little over a week but as expected the anti-Cuba rightwingers in Miami have weighed in against Cuba by accusing the island of maintaining contact with today’s most hated man in the world, Osama Bin Laden.

The accusation is so ridiculous that it’s not worth addressing as such, but it prompts this reminder of the terrible terrorist attacks suffered by this country over the four decades of its Revolution. And in our case, it wasn’t one individual’s maniacal crusade in opposition to the foreign intervention policies of the world’s biggest power, but the world’s biggest power in opposition to the internal socio-political system of a small island neighbor.

The list of attacks against Cuba is so long that I had to turn to Jane Franklin’s chronological history of the Cuban Revolution [1] for dates and to place things into proper context.

From the outset of the Revolution, barely days after Washington recognized the new government of Fidel Castro in January of 1959, the CIA began a campaign to overthrow Cuba’s new leader. It is a campaign that has lasted through today, and is replete with anecdotes and tragedy. From as early as March 10, 1959 the US National Security Council met in secret to discuss ways to replace the new Cuban government by any means necessary. In August two Cuban planes were destroyed in Miami in an attack against air travel to Cuba. Fortunately, no one was hurt. A small plane that originated in the US was intercepted by Cuban authorities with a US citizen on board intending to assassinate Fidel Castro. In October, the first of a wave of attacks on sugar mills by planes flying in from the US began; a plane from Miami bombed Havana; and a train was machine-gunned in Las Villas — again from a light aircraft that had originated in the United States. All this happened in the first year of the Revolution. The message from Washington was clear and Cuban lives had already been lost in the process.

The following year the Belgian ship, Le Coubre, blew up in Havana’s harbor killing some 100 sailors and dock workers. Although sabotage was never proved, it was very likely. In March of 1960 US President Eisenhower ordered CIA director Allen Dulles to organize and train Cuban exiles for an invasion of Cuba. By August of the same year the CIA was recruiting members of US organized crime, including Santos Traficante and Sam Giancana, to assassinate Fidel Castro who was then Prime Minister. The FBI under Hoover was fully aware of the plots and provided logistic support. The assassination attempts were later published in a damning report by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late seventies.

By the end of 1960, 17 former Cuban police/army members under the Batista dictatorship were arrested for throwing sticks of dynamite into stores and theaters, and the year was seen out with a fire that destroyed a famous Havana department store — all done with money and support from terrorist groups operating openly in Florida as they do to this day.

By this time Cuba had obviously got the message and was aware of the plans to invade the island. However, although the island presented ample evidence of Washington’s intention to the United Nations, the General Assembly rejected a debate on the issue. Clearly Cuba was on its own. The year 1961 brought on further bombings, as well as the despicable torture killings of a number of 17- and 18-year-olds who were teaching Cubans in the provinces how to read. They were murdered by groups funded by the CIA in an attempt to destabilize the government in Havana and destroy a massive literacy campaign underway across the nation.

By April, and the fatal blowing up of another Havana department store, the pending invasion was obvious to Cuban authorities. It began on April 15, with B-26 bombers attacking the island’s defenses, killing a number of civilians. Two days later the Bay of Pigs invasion began. Cuba defeated the US backed forces with the loss of yet more Cuban life: 176 people.

The attacks, the bombings, the assassination attempts went on. Over 600 plans or attempts on Fidel Castro’s life alone are known to authorities — from exploding cigars, to his wet suit lined with poison, to a pistol hidden in a camera. Two of the most recent have been the snipers arrested before attempting to kill the president on Venezuela’s Margarita Island in 1997, and the bombing plot in Panama City in 1999 which netted international terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, who awaits trial in a Panamanian jail. Things got to the point where the US allowed ships at sea to openly shell residential districts in Havana, as on August 24, 1962.

Who outside Cuba knows of the slaughter of half a million pigs after African swine fever was introduced into the island by the CIA in 1971? Who knows of the deaths of 81 children after their deliberate infection with dengue fever ten years later in 1981? Both instances were proven to be as a result of CIA operations in later declassified documents. And who can forget the bombing of a Cubana flight in 1976 with the loss of all 73 passengers and crew and the subsequent freeing of Orlando Bosch in 1990 by a US court after he was found to be the principal terrorist responsible for the crime?

More recently, in 1997, came the bombings of tourist hotels in an attempt to destroy the tourist industry in Cuba. An Italian tourist was killed in one of the explosions. Subsequent investigation uncovered the hand of Posada Carriles with the financing of US government-sponsored organizations based in Miami.

These Cuban exile terrorists have been allowed to operate openly within the United States, where they are presented as heroes who are to be emulated. When Cuba legitimately attempts to defend itself by infiltrating these organizations to prevent further terrorist acts against it, the United States government punishes those they catch with long prison sentences for combating the very same kind of despicable terrorism that has so stupefied the world after its use against the World Trade Center.

If there’s to be a serious effort made to bring an end to terrorism, it needs to be based on broad ethical and moral principles. Many in the world today ask how the US government can complain of Afghanistan harboring terrorists, when this very same government allows terrorists to operate openly on its own soil.

Havana, Cuba
September 20, 2001

March 3, 2009 Posted by | B - Cuba Articles | Leave a comment

Cuban impressions

By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Our first, short visit to Cuba has left us impressed with the accomplishments of the island-nation which for more than 40 years has stood up to global capitalism. We also returned home with an awareness of many of the limits of the revolution — some brought on or exacerbated by U.S. economic and military pressure — and uneasy about the difficulties Cuba faces in the coming years.

Walking into Havana’s Jose Marti airport, we immediately sensed that this was not like other places: there was no raft of billboards urging us to drink Coke, smoke Luckies, charge with our Mastercard or rent a Hertz. Indeed, there are virtually no commercial advertisements in Cuba. (Nor, by the way, is there a personality cult surrounding Fidel Castro: we saw far, far fewer images of Castro than we would, say, of President Daniel Moi in Kenya. The omnipresent image in Cuba is national hero Jose Marti, the poet and writer who helped lead the Cuban revolution of the 1890s.)

We saw a country with major accomplishments in healthcare, education, daycare and other services. Cuba’a infant mortality rates and life expectancy are comparable to those of the United States and other rich countries, and the country’s main health problems are now those of rich countries. “We die as wealthy people, even though we live as poor people,” one hospital director told us.

Cuba has invested in and maintains a sophisticated hospital system, with hospitals spread throughout the country, not just concentrated in Havana. Even more important is the national emphasis on preventive health measures and primary and community care. Every person has access to a community doctor and nurse, who serve several hundred neighborhood families and know the health profile of everyone they serve. The women’s association and other mass organizations which are organized down to the block level also help ensure care is delivered — for example, making sure every pregnant woman is receiving prenatal care. Cuba has also invested heavily in biomedical research, giving it one of the only genuine biomedical R&D capacities in the developing world.

We were also taken with the economic egalitarianism of the society. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost more than a third of its national income in a single year. If the United States were to suffer anything remotely similar, there is little doubt that the heaviest burdens would be thrust on working people and the poor. In Cuba, the pain has been spread equally: people have maintained their right to healthcare and education and housing, and they were allotted food rations that gave them a minimum level of sustenance. Even in times of genuine food shortages, no one, so far as we know, starved.

The country’s former economic dependence on the Soviet Union was, it should now be obvious even to those who might once have argued otherwise, one of the great mistakes of the revolution. Of course, this was a dependence foisted on Cuba in no small part by the United States through its embargo and continuous military threat.

Relatedly, Cuba erred in relying on agricultural exports (sugar above all) produced on vast state-owned plantations, instead of cultivating food for domestic consumption on smaller, farmer-owned cooperatives. Over the last decade, the country has made considerable strides in remedying this mistake, with more autonomy granted to farmers and a new emphasis on organic agriculture (Cuba is now a world leader in the field). Food, however, still seems in short supply.

One of the biggest threats to Cuba’s accomplishments on the horizon is posed by the tourism industry and the dollar economy. Cuba’s greatest potential foreign exchange earner, by far, is tourism. Tourism is certain to grow rapidly, spectacularly so if the U.S. embargo is ever lifted.

Salaries in the peso economy are on the order of $20 to $30 a month. With subsidized or free housing, utilities, food, healthcare, education, this is enough, or at least close to enough, to get by.

Workers in the tourism sector are tipped in dollars. A maid or waiter will easily make far more than $30 a month in tips.

And so the incentive is for doctors, nurses, teachers and others to leave their jobs and go work in the tourist sector.

The result is both a misallocation of professional and skilled labor, and the beginnings of social stratification. There is no obvious solution to this problem that maintains the fundamental achievements of the revolution.

The problem is exacerbated by remittances from Cuban-Americans living in Miami, and the gifts of toys, designer clothing and other items that they provide to family in Cuba.

Walking by the hip clubs in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, one can feel the magnetic pull of the corporate culture on kids who have little way of understanding the very dramatic sacrifices their society would have to make were Versace and Nike goods to become freely available.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999).

March 3, 2009 Posted by | B - Cuba Articles | Leave a comment

Shipwreck on dry land

By Gabriel García Márquez, Havana, March 15, 2000 [Originally published by Juventud Rebelde, Translation by Granma International]

THAT Friday, when Juan Miguel González went to collect his son Elián from school to spend the weekend with him, he was told that Elizabeth Brotons, his ex-wife and the child’s mother, had taken Elián out at midday and had not returned him in the afternoon. Going to pick up his son was nothing unusual for Juan Miguel in his routine as a divorced parent. After Elizabeth and he had separated on the best of terms two years previously, the child lived with his father, and alternated his days between the latter’s and his mother’s house. But given that Elizabeth’s door was padlocked shut, not only over the weekend but on the following Monday as well, Juan Miguel began to make inquiries. It was thus that he discovered the bad news that was beginning to be public knowledge in the city of Cárdenas: Elián’s mother had taken him to Miami with 12 other persons, in a five-and-a-half meter aluminum boat, with no lifejackets and a decrepit engine repaired on many occasions.

It was November 22, 1999.

“My life ended on that day,” says Juan Miguel four months later. After the divorce he had maintained cordial and stable, albeit rather unusual, relations with Elizabeth, as they continued living under the same roof and sharing their dreams in the same bed, with the hope of achieving as lovers the child they had been unable to have as a married couple. It seemed impossible. Elizabeth became pregnant, but suffered from miscarriages in the first four months of pregnancy.

After seven miscarriages, and with special medical care, the long-awaited son was born, and for him they had planned just one name when they married: Elián.

This name has attracted attention outside of Cuba. It has been shamelessly said that Elián was a biblical patriarch, and one newspaper has celebrated it as a discovery made by Rubén Dario. But, for Cubans, Elián is just another of the many names they invent, turning their backs on the books of saints’ names, like: Usnavi, Yusnier, Cheislisver, Anysleidis, Alquimia, Deylier, Anel. However, what Elizabeth and Juan Miguel did was to create an equitable name for their newborn baby from the first three letters of Elizabeth, and the last two of Juan.

Elizabeth was 28 when she took the child to Miami. She had been a good hotel management student, and continued to be an attentive and obliging top-class waitress at the Paradiso-Punto Arenas Hotel in Varadero.

Her father says that she was in love with Juan Miguel González when she was 14 and married him at 18. “We were like brother and sister,” says Juan Miguel, a quiet man of good character who also worked in Varadero as a cashier in Josone Park. As divorcees and with a child, Juan Miguel and Elizabeth both continued to live in Cárdenas-where all the protagonists of this drama were born and lived-until she fell in love with the man who cost her her life: Lázaro Rafael Munero, the local cock of the walk, a womanizer without a regular job, who learned judo not as a sport, but to fight, and had served a two-year prison sentence for armed robbery in Varadero’s Siboney Hotel. For his part, Juan Miguel subsequently married Nelsy Carmenate, with whom he now has a six-month-old son who was the love of Elián’s life until Elizabeth took him off to Miami.

It didn’t take Juan Miguel long to realize where his son was, because everyone knows everything in the Caribbean. “Even before it happens,” as one of my informants told me. Everyone knew that the adventure’s promoter and organizer was Lázaro Munero, who had made at least two clandestine journeys to the United States to prepare the terrain. Thus he had the necessary contacts and sufficient guts to take not only Elizabeth and her son, but also a younger brother, his own father (over 70 years old), and his mother, who was still recovering from a heart attack. His partner in this enterprise took his entire family: his wife, his parents and his brother, and a neighbor who lived opposite and whose husband was awaiting her in the United States. At the last minute, at a payment of $1000 USD each, he took on board a 22-year-old woman, Arianne Horta, with her five-year-old daughter Esthefany; and Nivaldo Vladimir Fernández, the husband of a friend.

An infallible formula for a positive reception in the United States is arriving in its territorial waters as a castaway. Cárdenas is a good departure point, given its proximity to Florida, and on account of its coves protected by mangrove swamps that make things difficult for the coast guards patrolling its waters. Moreover, the regional art of boat making for fishing in the neighboring Ciénaga de Zapata and the Laguna del Tesoro facilitates the raw materials for the construction of illegal vessels. In particular, the aluminum tubes for irrigating citrus plantations, which go are a dime a dozen when they’re no longer good for anything. It’s said that Munero must have spent about $200 USD and a further 800 Cuban pesos on the engine and building the boat. The final product was a narrow canoe no longer than a car, without a roof or seats, meaning that the passengers had to travel sitting in the bottom under the full glare of the sun. It is thought that the boat was ready last September, waiting for the end of the hurricane season. The outboard motor wasn’t exactly what was needed, but this, after many years of breaking down in the Straits of Florida, was all they could find. Three car inner tubes were on board as life preservers for 14 persons. There was absolutely no space for anyone else. The three inner tubes were black, perhaps because of a Caribbean superstition that this color frightens off sharks, who are naturally shortsighted. Before leaving, the majority of the passengers injected themselves with Gravinol to ward off seasickness.

It would appear that they sailed on November 20 from a mangrove swamp in the vicinity of Jagüey Grande, very close to Cárdenas, but had to return due to engine failure. They remained hidden there for two days, waiting for it to be repaired, while Juan Miguel believed that his son was already in Miami. This first emergency made Arianne Horta realize that the risks of the adventure were too great for her daughter, so she decided to leave her on land with her family, to take her at a later date by a safer route. It has also been said that Elián became aware right there of the dangers of the crossing and sobbed out that he wanted to stay behind. Munero, fearful of being discovered due to the child’s wailing, threatened Elizabeth: “Either you shut him up, or I will.”

Finally, they sailed at dawn on March 22, with a good sea but a bad engine. With the weather like it was, the crossing could be made in 48 to 72 hours in a low-velocity boat. The survivors’ account to the press in Florida after the shipwreck, amplified in telephone conversations to their families in Cárdenas, placed the terrifying details of the tragedy in the public domain. Their versions are the only ones we have as long as Elián’s remains unknown. According to them, at midnight on November 22, the organizers of the trip took off the useless engine and threw it into the sea to lighten the load. But the boat, unbalanced, tipped over on one side and all the passengers fell overboard. However, one theory from the experts is that when the boat tipped it could have broken the fragile soldering of the aluminum tubes, and the boat sank.

It was the end, on a dark night and in an inferno of panic. The adults who couldn’t swim must have drowned instantly. One factor operating against the majority of the passengers would have been the Gravinol which does indeed avert seasickness but also provokes drowsiness and slows down reflexes. Arianne and Nivaldo clung to one of the inner tubes; Elián and perhaps his mother clung onto another. Nothing was known about the third tube. Elián could swim, but Elizabeth couldn’t, and could easily have lost her grip in the midst of the confusion and terror. “I saw when Mamá was lost in the sea,” the child would later tell his father on the phone. What is difficult to understand, although it ought to be true, is that she had the serenity and the time to give her son a bottle of fresh water.

Despite the erroneous information, Juan Miguel had a presentiment of the tragedy before it happened. He had made various calls to his uncle Lázaro González, who has lived in Miami for years, and inquired about clandestine arrivals or recent shipwrecks, but they had absolutely nothing to tell him.

Finally, at dawn on Thursday 25, successive news items broke. The body of a woman was found on the beach by a fisherman. Later Arianne and Nivaldo showed up alive, clinging on to one of the inner tubes. Shortly afterwards it was learned that a child had turned up along the coast at Fort Lauderdale, unconscious and burned by the sun; not clinging to but lying face upwards in another inner tube. It was Elián, the last survivor.

Juan Miguel’s first decision when he found out was to talk with his son on the phone, but he didn’t know where he was. On November 25, a doctor called him from Miami to find out what illnesses Elián had had, medicines that disagreed with him, operations he had undergone. Then he knew with a great joy that it was Elián himself who, in the hospital, had given his father’s name and the telephone number and address of his home in Cárdenas.

Juan Miguel gave the information requested by the doctor, who phoned him the following day so that he could speak with Elián. Clearly upset, but in a strong voice, Elián told his father how he had seen his mother drown.

He also told him that he had lost his backpack and school uniform; Juan Miguel interpreted that as a symptom of disorientation and tried to help him. “No, honey,” he told him, “your uniform is here and I have your backpack for when you come back.” However, it’s also possible that Elián had another set in his mother’s house or that they’d bought one for him at the last minute so that he wouldn’t insist on returning to the house. His attachment to his school, which is famous among his teachers and classmates, was clearly demonstrated a few days later, when he talked on the telephone with his teacher: “Look after my desk for me.”

From those initial calls, Juan Miguel realized that someone in Miami was hindering his phone conversations with Elián. “You should know that, from the beginning, they did everything possible to sabotage us,” he told me. “Sometimes they talk to the boy in loud voices while we’re having a conversation, they turn up the volume of the cartoons on the television as high as possible, or put a candy in his mouth so that I can’t understand what he’s saying.” Raquel Rodríguez and Mariela Quintana, Elián’s grandmothers, also suffered from these tricks during their stormy visit to Miami, when a police officer, under the orders of a frenetic nun, snatched the cellular phone with which they were giving news on the child to his family in Cuba. The visit, which had been anticipated over two days, was finally reduced to 90 minutes, with all kinds of deliberate interruptions and only a quarter of an hour alone with Elián. On account of that, they returned to Cuba horrified at how much they had changed him. “This is not the same child,” they stated, afflicted by the timidity and restraint of the boy they recalled as a vivacious, intelligent child with a remarkable aptitude for drawing. “He has to be rescued!”

It would seem that nobody in Miami is concerned about the damage they are inflicting on Elián’s mental health with those methods of cultural dislocation to which he is being subjected. At his sixth birthday party in the Miami stronghold, on December 6, his self-seeking hosts took photos of him in a combat helmet, surrounded with lethal weapons and draped in a U.S. flag, shortly before a child of his own age shot dead a schoolmate with a revolver in the state of Michigan. These were not toys expressing love, of course, but the unequivocal signs of a political conspiracy which millions of Cubans unreservedly attribute to the Cuban American National Foundation, created by Jorge Mas Canosa and sustained by his heirs, and which appears to be spending millions of dollars to ensure that Elián is not returned to his father. In other words: Elián’s real shipwreck was not on the open sea, but when he stepped on dry land in the United States.

The Cubans’ anger at this unusual expropriation has few precedents even within its own Revolution. The popular mobilization and the torrent of ideas that that has been generated in the country to demand the return of the usurped child is spontaneous and spectacular. There is one innovation: the mass participation of youth and children. Catholic poet Cintio Vitier, shocked by U.S. mismanagement of the case, wrote a poem for Elián: “What fools! They have united us forever.” From the other shore, a disaffected Cuban exile said the same thing in another way: “The Yankees are so stupid that they have thrust Cuban youth into Fidel’s arms.”

Nevertheless, the campaign to retain Elián has money and power, even against the legal system of the United States, whose Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) recognized on January 5 that Juan Miguel is the only person authorized to represent the child and act on his behalf. On January 25, Ambassador Mary A. Ryan, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, expressly and publicly asked for the child to be returned to his father as quickly as possible, and warned that a decision to the contrary would be totally out of keeping with the principles her country would defend in the case of a U.S. child. President Clinton declared to the press that no political issues should be allowed to interfere in this case, and that the INS decision should be respected.

The extent to which the issue of parental custody has impinged on tensions between the United States and the Cuban Revolution since its origins would appear to be no small coincidence. In 1960, under the Eisenhower administration, the CIA totally invented and propagated in Cuba the false rumor of a law according to which children were to be snatched from their parents by the revolutionary government and sent for early indoctrination in the Soviet Union. Even crueler lies affirmed that the most appetizing children would be sent to Siberian slaughterhouses to be returned as canned meat, and that 50 mothers from Bayamo, in eastern Cuba, had preferred to kill their under-age children rather than subject them to that sinister law. This was what the United States itself christened as Operation Peter Pan.

Despite formal denials from Cuba, the Eisenhower administration reached a secret agreement with the U.S. Catholic Church, so that Cuban parents could send their children to the United States, unaccompanied and without passports or baggage. The heartrending exodus, in which the United States invested $28 million USD, created a community of false orphans integrated by force into U.S. culture.

Would it be perverse to associate the case of Elián with the specter of a new Operation Peter Pan? I have been unable to avoid the connection after hearing the public plea of José Pertierra, a distinguished lawyer in the Miami immigration service, who arrived from Cuba at the age of 12 in that stream of parentless children, and has just made a televised public appeal to recognize the parental custody of Elián’s father. “Not even the relatives in the United States are saying that this father is a bad father,” Dr. Pertierra stated. “What they are saying is that they don’t like Fidel Castro’s politics, but Fidel Castro is not the father of this son.” At the end of the interview he left the audience with an interesting thought. “The most worrying thing,” he said, “is that judges in Florida are elected, and returning this child could cost a Miami judge’s reelection.” In this regard, it is worth noting that Judge King, the first magistrate selected to decide on this case, was forced to declare himself unfit on account of his links with the Cuban American National Foundation. His successor, Judge Hoeveler, suffered a dubious brain hemorrhage. Michael Moore, the current judge, does not appear to be in too much of a hurry to announce his findings before the elections.

In any event, many Cubans are worried that the Clinton administration does not dare to return the child, in spite of its laws and its own convictions, fearing that Democratic candidate Al Gore will lose the Florida vote. Nevertheless, the legal and historical loss could be far more costly for the United States than an electoral one, as more than 10,000 U.S. children are currently dispersed throughout various parts of the world, taken from their country by one of their parents without the authorization of the other. The gravity of the situation for them is that if the parents remaining in the United States wish to recover them, the precedent of Elián could be utilized to prevent it.

March 3, 2009 Posted by | B - Cuba Articles | Leave a comment

The sugar sultans and bribery

By Gabriel Molina (From Granma International, April 11, 2000)

In real terms nobody should have been shocked that Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, has departed from President Clinton’s position in relation to the Elián González kidnapping.

Gore has asked congress members from his party to support the bill presented by Republican legislators to grant U.S. citizenship to Elián and his family in Cuba.

Journalists recently asked President Clinton why all aspirants to the White House have spoken out in favor of the child remaining in the United States, as proposed by the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).

Clinton’s surprisingly sincere response was that perhaps because he is not a candidate.

However, not everyone understands what he meant by that comment.

In early 1997, the Public Broadcasting System (PBC) transmitted a series of programs inquiring into what its director Hendrick Smith defined as public discredit and cynicism toward Washington for the solid reason of the wave of money spent on the 1996 election: more than $2 billion USD, a record.

Former senator Bill Bradley declared in March `97 that the campaign funding system is a disaster which is distorting democracy. But in his bid to win the presidential nomination, he utilized those same methods to collect over $39 million USD for the 2000 elections, overtaking Gore by close to $1 million USD.

Chuck Lewis from the Center for Public Integrity revealed that the Congress Banking Committee takes money out of the banks, the Agricultural Committee from sugar, tobacco and other agricultural business interests; and so on down the line.

Hendrick Smith used the example of the Congress amendment on sugar and exposed the fact, hidden within that program, that consumers are paying eight cents more per pound for the product than they should. According to the general accountancy office, that means $408 million USD per year which passes from hand to hand to the magnates’ benefit.

THE SYSTEM OF FUNDING CONGRESS MEMBERS BEGAN WITH THE SUGAR MAGNATES

Critics maintain that this program survives year after year by means of political money, Smith stated.

He related how the system started in the vast fields of southern Florida where half the country’s sugar cane is produced. This sugar industry is, in the main, a creation of the U.S. government, he added.

Land in Everglades was drained by the Army Engineer Corps and 500,000 acres was sold to the wealthiest landowners in the country, the largest section to the two big corporations: U.S. Sugar and Flo-Sun. For decades the government has helped these and other sugar producers, curtailing sugar imports at the lowest prices on the world market and forcing U.S. citizens to pay double for their purchase of the sweetener.

Smith recounted that in 1995, the 49 members of the Senate Agricultural Committee received an average of $16,000 USD from the sugar magnates, most of it from two large producers, the Fanjul brothers. These magnates, moreover, invested money in hundreds of districts and thus have become, in association with the CANF, an influential factor in U.S. politics over the last 30 years.

One way of comprehending this is to backtrack to November 25, 1995, when Congress members Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Lincoln Díaz Balart, and Senators Robert Graham and Connie Mack signed an unusual paid advertisement covering a whole page in the Miami El Nuevo Herald, with photos of both Fidel Castro and Nat Reed, claiming that the former destroyed Cuba’s sugar industry and the latter wants to kill off Florida’s by taxation.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse in Congress were assuming the defenseÅwithout naming themÅof the Fanjul brothers, known as the Sugar Sultans, having learnt that Reed wanted approval for levying a tax of $76 million USD per year on Florida’s sugar producers. The horsemen asked voters to pressure their senators and representatives to vote against that contribution to the treasury.

The response, signed by the Committee to Ensure Florida’s Economic and Environmental Future, was likewise published in the December 8 edition of El Nuevo Herald, and directed at Senator Graham. It asked why it was easier for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to deduct $34 billion USD from the food aid program (food stamps) for poor children than to ask the millionaire sugar producers to pay two cents per pound to clean up the contamination they themselves had caused in the Everglades.

The advertisement, dragging up the so-called anti-Castro industry, set the standard for what would be the Fanjul’s strategy, through the four horsemen, in their confrontation with the ecologists. The cultivators of sugar cane and its main derivative, alcohol, the raw material for rum (Bacardi), are strong contributors and allies of the Mas Canosa family in terms of funding an wide group of legislators represented by the four horsemen, whose present-day mentor is Senator Jesse Helms. They also finance José Basulto’s Brothers to the Rescue organization.

The foundation, like the Sultans, annually receives millions of dollars from the U.S. government, part of which it also invests, precisely, in funding those who, before or after, facilitate those funds. Domingo Moreira, CANF cadre and head of Free Cuba PAC Inc., stated that the target for the 1991-2 campaign was to hand over $250-400,000 USD for that concept. The funds are mainly contributed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a program created by Reagan, and presented to 39 Democratic Congress members and 17 Republicans, significant among whom were Ileana Ros Lehtinen, Dante Fascell, Robert Torricelli, Lincoln Díaz Balart, Larry Smith, Ernest Hollings, Robert Graham, Joseph Lieberman, Connie Mack, Orrin G. Hatch, Claude Pepper and others.

The Sugar Sultans are among the principal entrepreneurs who finance politicians from both parties, according to the July 17, 1995 edition of the weekly U.S. News & World Report.

They have been forced to fight steadily more fiendishly to preserve their privileges, threatened by environmental organizations.

THE FANJULS AND THE FOUNDATION DISPENSE THEIR DONATIONS BETWEEN DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS

According to that weekly, the Fanjuls now own a hard-to-calculate extension of land planted with sugar cane in Florida, various factories, a refinery and a finance company in Miami. But the Fanjul empire, according to an investigation by the Federal Electoral Commission (FEC), due to a contributions scandal in the 1995-96 electoral campaign owns a further 10 companies in the Flo-Sun Land Corp., Flo-Sun Sugar and Florida Crystal Refinery. In that electoral cycle the family contributed approximately $1 million USD to both parties’ campaigns, as far as it is known.

This Fanjul-Gómez Mena family is descended from the marriage in the Cuba of 1936 of Lilliam, the only daughter of millionaire José Gómez MenaÅthe owner of four sugar mills and other propertiesÅand Alfonso Fanjul Rionda, the descendent of a landowning family of Spanish origin based in the United States, the Braga-Riondas. Together with the Cuban branch, the Fanjul-Riondas controlled the majority of shares with the 35% of the Czarnikow-Riondas, founded by Manuela Rionda in New York; the 22% of the ManatiSugar Company’ and the 30% of the Francisco Sugar Company, in addition to Gómez Mena’s assets.

Andrés, the father of José (Pepe) Gómez Mena, arrived in Cuba in the middle of the 19th century and, by his death in 1910, already owned four sugar mills and other real estate assets. Pepe, who had been minister of agriculture during the Gerardo Machado dictatorship and president of the Sugar Stabilization Institute, reorganized the family business which, with the marriage of Lilliam and Alfonso, remained in the hands of the Fanjul clan.

With the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, Alfonso Fanjul left the country in 1960 to take refuge in Florida. With the help of his family and Washington, which was already seeking to strangle Fidel Castro’s government by cutting the sugar quota, he formed a new group that acquired 4000 acres of land at $160 USD an acre in the vicinity of Lake Okeechobee, and used sections of small sugar mills to assemble the Osceola mill. One by one, sons Alfonso (Alfi), Pepe, Alexander and Andrés joined the Miami operation.

“Alfi,” president of the Florida company, backs the Democrats. From 1992, when he worked as co-president of Clinton’s campaign, he has been one of the principal contributors and continues to be a friend of the president.

José “Pepe” Fanjul was one of the main financial supports of former president George Bush, and subsequently co-president of Dole’s campaign against Clinton, his current role in the aspirations of Bush’s son, George W.

But the powerful Fanjul Sultans went on the defensive in July `95 due to the campaign to eliminate the federal government program that fixes the price of sugar at 22 cents per pound. This was one of the main factors in how the Fanjul brothers, well aware of how government bodies operate in that country, were able to construct an empire within such a short time.

A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS: RECEIVING $65 MILLION IN SUBSIDIES AND DISPENSING $2 MILLION

The subsidy program has to be approved by Congress every five years. In order to maintain that income of $65 million USD per year, the Fanjuls make regular contributions to the election of Florida congress members and officials, and those in a large part of the country, amounting to some $2 million USD as far as it is known. It’s a successful business; with that money they fund congress members and officials and these repay them, not only by protecting their privileged subsidy, but also by subscribing to congressional bills that will bring them in the largest profits; even when these go against U.S. interests, as in the case of the Helms-Burton Act.

An unusual coalition has been combating that rare privilege. It is made up of environmentalist groups like the National Audubon Society, which is accusing the sugarcane cultivators of threatening the ecology of the Florida Everglades.

Congressmen Dan Miller, Republican, and Charles Schumer, Democrat, co-sponsored the legislation to eliminate the administration’s sugar program.

In 1996 a Republican majority with plans to eliminate large federal programs like the sugar one coincided with the ecologists. Representative Pat Roberts, president of the committee, was fiercely committed to breaking the old subsidy system to the harvesters. But he encountered a kind of rebellion within the committee, led by fellow Republican Mark Foley, in whose district a large portion of the country’s sugar cane is grown. According to program director Hendrick Smith, in 1996, Foley had received enough money, particularly from Flo-Sun and U.S. Sugar, to overtake his opponent in the congressional elections.

On November 8, the Fanjul brothers mobilized congress members additionally funded by Mas Canosa, as well as Cuban-origin House Representatives Iliana Ros Lehtinen and Díaz Balart. The Fanjuls are healthy and notorious contributors to the CANF.

Miller stated that the sugar lobby’s sole concern is the five-yearly debate on that legislation within the Agricultural Committee for which they prepare by organizing friends. Every year they parcel out money, vote or no vote, and at the moment of need, their friends will be there. When Miller was preparing to introduce his amendment bill, he received a telephone call from José Fanjul. Miller himself had received $13,000 USD in political donations in the previous two years, but in spite of Dole and Fanjul he pressed ahead.

Nevertheless, when the Chamber discussed the bill in February 1996, it was defeated by 217 votes to 209, and the sugar program was maintained with modest changes. Five of the bill’s co-sponsors furnished the margin by changing their positions and voting in favor of the sugar producers. That day they received more than $11,000 USD for the campaign, claimed Hendrick Smith, who publicly noted that in spite of representing New Jersey, Congressman Robert Torricelli voted with the Fanjul clan. He stated that the records show that Torricelli received $33,000 USD in contributions to the senatorial campaign he was preparing.

THE METHOD OF COLLECTING FUNDS FOR THE ELECTION IS A CANCER THAT IS CORRODING THE SYSTEM

Dan Miller paid: the sugar industry in Tallahassee offered $500,000 USD to the candidate running against him.

The Securities and Exchange Committee is accusing the Fanjul brothers of possibly having violated state and federal regulations by making political contributions to officials who could influence decisions concerning their companies.

This collusion with a long list of congress members is not related to isolated events. It is all part of the extreme right’s grand strategy against the social gains, expressed incisively by one of their theoreticians, William Kristol, director of the Project for a Republican Future: that President Roosevelt’s New Deal was dead, and that its corpse should be taken up and buried before the stink became unbearable.

The system of collecting funds for general and partial election campaigns has reached such an extreme that it continues to be denounced as a cancer which is corroding the establishment.

Last December, Alfonso Fanjul was the joint host with Mas Santos at a dinner where $1 million USD was collected for Al Gore’s Democratic nomination campaign. But, of the $39.8 million collected for Gore, $32.4 million has already been spent, as opposed to Bush’s $72 million ($60.7 million spent), is pushing the Democratic candidate into seeking the money promised him by the CANF. It is the classic give to get back.

The Miami mafia were emboldened by Vice President Gore’s support for the kidnapping of Elián González, which is a by-product of this arrogance that the U.S. government has conferred on them.

The majority of U.S. citizens are unaware of how, from 1959 onward, Cuban fugitives have been instruments in the dirtiest work of the extreme right shielded by the dealings of federal and state government, the Congress, FBI and the CIA.

The Fanjuls and Bacardi family participated along with Mas Canosa in the drawing up of the Helms Burton Act to intensify the economic war against Cuba.

But the situation created by the kidnapping of the child Elián González has thrown into relief the excessive power that they have gained. The arrogance of the CANF, and the mayors and congress members of Cuban origin in Miami makes them appear drunk with that power. So much so that The New York Times of April 1 observed that many people there are describing such acts as a declaration of independence, a nation apart.

And they are congratulating each other, saying: “Welcome to the Independent Republic of Miami.”

March 3, 2009 Posted by | B - Cuba Articles | Leave a comment

American vs. Cuban democracy

By Carl Geiser

Some people are dubious about the feasibility of a society based on cooperation instead of competition envisaged in my concept of an “80% Party.” They point out that all governments based on cooperation became corrupt, dictatorial, inefficient, and alienated their citizens enough to bring about their downfall.

The reason given for the blockade of Cuba is to “restore democracy,” but there are huge differences in U.S. and Cuban democracy.

Many forms of democracy have existed in the past, starting with the Greeks, and many forms still exist today. U.S. democracy has changed greatly from 1789, when slaves, women, landless men and indentured servants could not vote. As circumstances changed, we have amended the Constitution 27 times to meet the new needs.

Since 1789, certain rights have not changed: the rights to own land and companies, to hire and fire people and pay them less than the value they produce, are guaranteed by the Constitution, the Supreme Court, the Administration, the army and the police. But our right to a job, a home, medical care, education beyond high school, and a living wage, are not guaranteed.

Cuba has reversed this. In Cuba you cannot buy land, start up private corporations, or hire others to work for you. You are guaranteed a job or unemployment pay, a home, free medical care, and education beyond high school. Even though Cuba is a Third World country with an annual per capita domestic product of about $1700 compared to our $22,000, it does what we cannot do because it distributes the wealth and income it has more rationally.

We have the right to get rich here, though few do. In Cuba, no one can become rich. The minimum wage is 100 pesos a month, the maximum 800. Cuba has set up economic, political, social and cultural structures which reward the individual for working for the common good by modest economic incentives, but more importantly, by the friendship and admiration of those with whom you work, the dignity of citizenship in a sovereign Cuba, a fair share of whatever Cuba produces, and the right to take part in making government and management decisions. Why have the “socialist societies” in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe been overthrown by their own people? Because their leaders became corrupt, were dictatorial, and practiced nepotism leading to incompetence and mismanagement. They alienated people and denied them control over their government’s actions.

Cuba has found a way, not without some difficulty, to have an honest and efficient government guaranteed by the close control people exercise over it. At the base of Cuba’s democracy are the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). They were formed by the Cuban people at President Castro’s suggestion after counterrevolutionaries threw four bombs into a huge crowd during a 1960 speech.

Each square block elects its own CDR. I met with such a committee in 1990. All legislative changes which affect all Cubans must be submitted for review by the committees and they have three months to return their comments. One member of the CDR was the secretary who kept records of meetings; another was the treasurer who collected 25 centimos from each family every month for block activities; another person was in charge of security and arranged for two people to walk around the block between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. to help anyone in trouble and to prevent anyone from causing trouble; another young woman was the district CDR representative.

Another woman turned out to be the doctor for the block. The people in the block had built a two-story house for her with material supplied by the government. She had a medical history on everyone in the neighborhood, made house calls, and practiced preventative medicine; her income did not depend on people getting sick because she received a fixed salary paid by the government. A small, Afro-Cuban woman was the CDR chairperson. She coordinated the work of the Committee and had a Cuban flag in front of the house. Why? So the police could find her. They couldn’t arrest anyone in the block without the Committee’s permission. No Stalin could arise in Cuba.

And this is just the beginning of democracy in Cuba.

Cuba’s three-stage electoral system

In 1976, the Committees in Defense of the Revolution were supplemented by setting up election districts — about 500 voters in each — to elect a delegate to the district People Power Assembly (PPA). The district PPA then elected a delegate to the provincial PPA, which in turn elected a delegate to the national PPA. In 1991, in order to involve the people more directly in government, the national PPA set up a commission to find the best way to do this. In 1992, a draft of the new electoral procedure was sent to all CDRs for their comments and millions of Cubans discussed the procedure. The result was a new three-stage electoral procedure.

The first stage, as before, was local elections within the 13,685 election districts to choose a district delegate. Anyone 16 or older could vote. No less than two nor more than eight candidates were to be nominated and the winner had to receive over 50 percent of the votes. Several hundred districts had to have a runoff election a week later because no one had received over 50 percent.

The second stage was the formation of district electoral commissions made up of representatives from different organizations (women’s groups, labor, students, farmers, churches, sports, etc.) These representatives then arranged meetings in their factories, institutions and organizations to nominate individuals they thought would serve the common good in its provincial and national PPA. More than 1,600,000 people took part in these meetings. The district PPA had the right to nominate up to half of the candidates and the rest were chosen by the electoral commission from the names submitted for the provincial and national PPA.

A ballot was then prepared with no provision for a write-in candidate. Voters had three choices: 1) to deface their ballot or leave it blank; 2) to vote for one or some of the candidates, and; 3) to vote for the entire slate and thereby show the whole-hearted support for the Revolution. The candidates spent no money, nor did they campaign separately; their names and biographies were published and they all appeared at public meetings. There was no party slate.

The third stage of the new electoral procedure was a secret ballot held on February 24, 1993. The voter turnout was more than 99 percent. The poll watchers were high school students. Seven percent, about a half million voters, defaced or left their ballots blank, indicating that they opposed the Revolution. Another seven percent voted for less than the full slate, while 85 percent voted for the entire slate. The new 500-member national PPA has 115 women, 11 lawyers, two clergymen, and 83 percent had not held the office previously. District, provincial and national delegates receive no perks and have to live off the wages their factory or institution pays them.

The Cuban government does no have a separation of powers as we do. The national PPA has all powers — legislative, administrative and judicial. It sets the general policy and elects an executive council to carry it out. The council sets up commissions for various functions, such as a judicial commission to oversee all of the courts. (In Cuba, you have to study to be a judge just like becoming an engineer.)

An illustration of how the national PPA involves the people in decision-making may be seen by how it tackled three of Cuba’s problems. While Cuba was trading with the Soviet Union, a large quantity of consumer goods were imported. When this stopped, wages and pensions were not reduced, resulting in Cubans accumulating 11 billion pesos, with little to buy, and an 11 billion peso national debt. A second problem exists because the U.S. dollar is now an official currency. Some people have access to dollars and some do not. Some, such as taxi drivers and hotel workers, receive dollars from tips; other people receive dollars from relatives in the United States; and others, such as artists and farmers, can sell their goods on the market. And then there is the so-called “black market,” another source of dollars. Those who have access to dollars can buy goods in the dollar stores that are unavailable to the majority. It has been estimated that 30 percent of the population has access to dollars while the rest do not. And a third problem is the irritation felt by those who do not have access to dollars and cannot use the tourist facilities.

The national PPA asked all factories and institutions to hold conventions to discuss what to do about these problems and any others that needed to be discussed. The response was that 80,000 conventions sent in their suggestions.

People Power Assembly in action

The first result of analyzing the suggestions was a decree-law for the confiscation of personal funds obtained illegally. That was followed by fees for cultural and sports events and for meals previously free. Another law provided for the taxation of funds received from abroad and from tourists. These measures reduced the 11 billion peso national debt by 10 percent in the first four months.

To provide tourist facilities, the government Cubanacan Tourist Agency set aside half of its rooms to be paid for with pesos. Since not everyone could be accommodated, rooms will be provided for newlyweds and those individuals chosen by their colleagues for having worked the hardest for the common good.

Is this democracy? Certainly it is the opposite of what we have. Do these procedures serve the interests of the majority? They certainly do. They involve Cubans in the decision-making process to an extent not conceived of in the United States. This is what makes it possible for Cuba to survive the very severe hardships caused by the collapse of the former socialist countries and the tightened U.S. blockade.

Does our democracy protect the interests of the majority? It protects the interests of the top 20 percent. Since 1980 the real family income has declined rapidly for the bottom 80 percent. Our democracy, which spent close to a half billion dollars to fill offices in the last election, gives us a government bought by those with money. True, we have majority rule and allow third parties. But the result has been a government which always served to generate and protect a growing disparity in income. Nevertheless, until recently most people expected their children to live a better life than they did. Since 1980 the real income of the 80 percent has been dropping while the real income of the 20 percent has been increasing.

There is a world of difference between majority rule that benefits the wealthy at the expense of the rest and majority rule that serves the interests of the majority. Most of the world’s 368 billionaires, whose wealth equals that of the poorest 2,800,000,000 , live where majority rule works on their behalf; if their rule is threatened, they replace it with dictatorship. Let us beware. U.S. citizens are free to travel to Cuba, but if you spend money there, the sentence can be a $250,000 fine and 10 years in the slammer, a heavy price to learn what is going on there. Hundreds of U.S. citizens have openly defied the law without being prosecuted. The authorities may realize it might be difficult to get a jury to convict. After all, the United Nations General Assembly has voted to condemn the U.S. blockade.

I am not advocating a blind adoption of Cuban procedures for the U.S. We will have to find our own way. The organizing of the “80% Party” could be a peaceful way of changing to a democratic rule that serves the interests of the majority. The Oklahoma City bombing and formation of armed militias should be a warning to us that we have little time to lose, for some Americans whose living standards are falling are thinking of more violent means to bring about change. We must bring them into the 80% Party.

Cuba’s first priority is growing food. Until 1990, Cuba had imported much of its food in exchange for sugar. With the collapse of the socialist countries in Europe and the effects of the U.S. blockade, it can no longer do so. The investment in educating agricultural scientists and setting up agricultural institutes in the 1980s is paying off now. They are replacing chemical fertilizer with organic fertilizer and crop rotation, pesticides with biological controls, outdated technology with state-of-the-art technology appropriate to the season, area and crop. They are also introducing biological control of plant diseases and are producing micorrhizae to aid plant root uptake of mineral nutrients, the first country known to do so. Cuba is showing the way we and the rest of the world will have to grow our food without polluting our soil, air and water. We will have to find our own way to rule in the interest of the majority if we are to eliminate from our nation increasing poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, crime, drugs, unemployment, racial and ethnic discrimination. And we don’t have much time to do it. Scientists tell us that if we continue on the present course, the cost will be tremendous. The future of our planet is at stake.

[Author Carl Geiser was born on Dec. 10, 1910, in Orrville, Ohio. After the U.S. recognized the Soviet Union, Carl was in the first student group to visit that country, a trip sponsored by the National Student Federation of America in the summer of 1932. Also in 1932, he was elected the student delegate to the Latin American Congress against War and Fascism held in Montevideo, Uruguay, in March 1933. On April 13, 1937, Carl left for Spain because “for the first time…a people had actually taken up arms to prevent fascism from coming to power.” He was captured on April 1, 1938, when 30,000 Italian troops hit 1,000 U.S. troops and he spent one year as a prisoner of war. His book, Prisoners of the good Fight, was published by Lawrence Hill in 1985 on the 50th anniversary of the uprising. ]

March 3, 2009 Posted by | B - Cuba Articles | Leave a comment

Embargo: economic arsenal of death

By Rev. Bob Carlsten

Economic policies kill and maim innocents just as surely, though not as dramatically, as obliteration bombing. The casualties are many times the number of those resulting from all bombs since the start of WWII for the same period of time. Policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that were initially designed to have U.N. oversight have been given over to the transnational corporations who control said institutions; somewhat akin to the fox guarding the coop. The overwhelming majority of the people in all countries who are “bombed” by these policies have no input as to their development and, worse yet, no political recourse to ameliorate their effects.

The most hideous of weapons in this economic arsenal of death and destruction is the embargo. The 37-year-old embargo placed on Cuba unilaterally by the U.S. is not only counter-productive to our own interests, but it has more damaging affects on their entire population than if we had unleashed chemical or biological warfare on that small neighbor. I must confess that I am weary of reading arrogant replies from senators and presidents alike that try to justify the harm we do to innocents in the guise of helping them see the light of democracy and human rights. If we were truly concerned about their human rights and dignity, shouldn’t we at least listen to the people most affected as we did in South Africa? In my visit to Cuba, and talks with human rights activists both there and here, I have not heard of any residents supporting the embargo. It is only wealthy Cubans and the likes of Jesse Helms — who want to dominate, exploit and hear the poor cry “uncle” — who promote this insane policy.

Dominance is like a cancerous disease in the soul of our world! At times it seems that it is nowhere more pernicious than in our own national psyche. From family life to sports to power politics, it invades every institution and fiber of our being, including my own sinful soul. Theologians such as Walter Wink, Robert Keck and Scott Peck are but a few of the growing voices calling for a healing of the disease of dominance in our relationships. Jesus was the epitome of a non-domineering person, but unhappily the Church that professes his name often yields to domineering ways and means.

When dominance couples with economics, they make Bonnie and Clyde look like a couple of do-gooders. One small step we could take as a nation to heal ourselves and exit the role of global cop (or bully, depending on one’s viewpoint) would be to defeat the Helms-Burton legislation that expands the Cuban embargo. A second step might be to honor the U.N.-expressed desire that we lift the embargo and let the free trading chips fall where they may. Can we also find it within our national soul to honor the U.N. for 50 years of accomplishment and give it the needed power to place checks on those seeking world domination?

[Reverend Bob Carlsten is a Denver minister .]

March 3, 2009 Posted by | B - Cuba Articles | Leave a comment

What Cubans know and Americans can’t explain

By Cord MacGuire

There are no terrorist bombings in Cuba. Nor is a sense of oppression as keenly felt there as it seems to be here on the streets of America. But then, there’s an awful lot of political confusion here that doesn’t exist in Cuba, either.

Many Americans have come to feel that their government is not only not representing their interests, but is actively working against them. Now, most Cubans may have a lot of gripes about their government, but they realize that it generally works on their behalf. There are few Cubans so bitter as to not respect the Revolution’s achievements.

But here, there is a tremendous cynicism about the two-party system, which is commonly understood to serve the needs of the wealthy corporations, with the needs of the people increasingly ignored. A majority of citizens consistently do not vote and there are a lot who openly express outright hostility to government in general. Moreover, many have retreated into super-individualism and simplistic patriotism, often grafted into a superstitious fundamentalism. There is a longing to return to a mythical past, which never really existed. Most of the “angry white men” who fantasize about Davey Crockett-type free militias protecting family values have been raised on a steady diet of mass television and Hollywood versions of our historical past. The people’s history hasn’t been quite as clean and simple as Pat Buchanan and his ilk would have us believe. The idea that life for most folks was just wonderful before the New Deal could only be foisted on a public whose cultural and political memory has been largely erased.

While Cubans suffer the real hardships imposed on them by imperialism, they are generally sophisticated and well-educated enough to appreciate the true nature of their predicament. Most U.S. citizens don’t seem to understand the material forces that are limiting their freedoms and living standards. Corporate apologists are glad to encourage the notion that “the federal government” is the cause of many of the social ills which actually arise from the free market. Capital wants to be freed of all the constraints and regulation which originated from the people’s political demands being enforced by the government. Democracy is about the majority gaining political leverage over and winning concessions from the ruling minority. The corporate-led attack on “big government” is designed to justify a rollback of democracy’s power to mitigate the market’s inherent tendency to destroy community. Violence and social decay are its inevitable result.

Market capitalism was overthrown in the Cuban Revolution. Since then, many social ills have been greatly overcome, if not eliminated in Cuba. There are very few murders in Cuba. There are more homicides in Denver in a month than in all of Cuba in a year. Women are empowered and safely walk the streets of Havana anytime of day or night. People are secure in their communal existence, in the countryside, in the cities, in the towns. In Cuba there are few police, and most of them are unarmed. America, as we know, is an armed killing field despite, or because of, the world’s most heavily equipped and funded police forces. Compared to Cuba’s relative tranquility, the streets of America are barely civilized. But this is unfortunately the case in all “free market” economies, as a glance at the news will tragically confirm.

Most Cubans know this. Most North Americans can’t explain it, because they are confused by the lies they’ve heard from the corporate media and corrupt politicians. The corporate media are free, only in the sense that they are free of virtually any civic or societal responsibilities for decency, fairness or truth. Indeed, any positive messages indicating collective actions or solutions to society’s crises are relegated to the media margins. It’s no wonder that fear and angry confusion are suffocating political debate in this country.

We need to promote Cuba’s achievements and support its just struggle to defend its rights as a sovereign nation. We do this, also, as a means of fighting the right-wing attack which threatens the gains we’ve won here at home. The Cuban Revolution is part and parcel of the centuries-long struggle towards freedom and equality, so much a part of building civilization. Cuba’s achievements are in the long tradition of previous democratic victories, such as the American Revolution of 1776 and the gains of the New Deal of the ’30s and the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s. But today these gains are under attack from the same right-wing forces which have attacked Cuba for 40 years.

[Cord MacGuire is a Boulder writer and activist.]

March 3, 2009 Posted by | B - Cuba Articles | Leave a comment

Who is my neighbor?

By David Farrar

I, like many people with whom I’ve lived, worked, or simply socialized for the last 30 years or so, have been living with a view of the world shaped by one of the most sophisticated propaganda machines in the world — the media of the United States.

This view included distortions, and perhaps more damaging, exclusions of simple fact. That Cuba had become the enemy of the U.S., not long after the Cuban Revolution, was like a mantra repeated aloud until no one, including me, thought to question our relations with this island nation.

For me, this began to change dramatically just before, during, and following the fourth Pastors for Peace Friendshipment caravan to Cuba.

There is a moral question central to the issue of the U.S. blockade, and the Reverend Lucius Walker highlighted this question in a sermon at St. John Church in Buffalo, New York, on November 16, 1994, the evening before our border crossing. It concerned the often used parable of the Good Samaritan.

The sermon began with a question, using the lawyer’s phrase from the Biblical text: Who is my neighbor? A simple question. The person who lives next door? A person who shares our status in terms of wealth? A person who agrees with us politically?

Most people, though loathe to admit it, might subsonsciously, or consciously (but silently), agree with the general definitions just given. This was a point Rev. Walker made most eloquently as he emphasized the question: Who is my neighbor?

The answer, by the act of the Good Samaritan, is that all humanity is my neighbor. My responsibility is not only to people of my economic class, or people who happen to agree with whatever values and prejudices I might have. My responsibility is to any human who might need my assistance.

After enduring the seemingly aimless behavior of the U.S. Customs officials at the border (behavior which reinforced the idea that the U.S. was not only ignoring its neighbor, but had actually been instrumental in creating its neighbors’ hardships), the caravan proceeded to Montreal, where the longshoremen’s local union loaded the 200 tons of aid we had been carrying. The idea of helping people whom I had been taught were my “enemy” was drawing me closer to Rev. Walker’s sermon.

We were then bound for Cuba, and the flight itself was my first introduction to the friendliness and sincerity of the Cuban people. We were hosted as heroes (a response which later led Rev. Walker, during the flight, to remind us that what we were doing was, in reality, a symbolic act — the real heroes were the Cuban people themselves). It was a reminder that the greetings which awaited us when we landed must not lead us to some false sense of self-importance.

It was an important reminder, and I, for one, needed it. When we landed in Havana and were taken by bus to the Villa Panamericana, I experienced the most powerful feeling of joy and belonging (a sense of returning to basic happiness in sharing our humanity). As the buses pulled up to the front of the villa, I heard first, then saw, hundreds of people greeting us with the song “Guantanamera.”

As we left the bus, an aisle formed through this huge crowd. We were hugged, given flowers, and thanked again and again for what we had done. Still, Rev. Walker’s words came back, and I felt some real guilt for the magnitude of our neighbors’ reception. I felt guilt for the fact that I had done so little, really, to help, and that I had allowed myself to believe at times that I was doing something heroic.

As the weed continued, and countless examples of the Cuban peoples’ kindness and sense of sharing affected my life directly, I realized how much I owed the many individuals who helped me. In spite of their shortages, in spite of their continuous struggle to maintain basic life quality, they shared with all of us.

As a dramatic personal experience, I have a central nervous system disorder which sometimes leads to seizures. This, in fact, did happen on two occasions while I was in Havana. When I regained consciouness, in both cases, I was surrounded by concerned Cuban citizens, doing what they could to help me, and by efficient and friendly medical personnel. Again, in spite of their shortages, they insisted on taking care of me.

When I returned, I knew that I had experienced the story of the Good Samaritan firsthand. The Cubans had given me a lesson in what it means to share, without regard for nationality, political beliefs, or economic status.

These experiences gave further evidence to the truth of the statement — The world needs Cuba…the U.S. needs Cuban friendship. We have many lessons to learn. Our congressional representatives need to seek the truth about this tiny, but proud, island nation. Those of us who have seen with our own eyes need to continue to witness and send word of what we have witnessed to those who still live with distorted views created by the U.S. State Department and the media.

To the people of Cuba: Muchas gracias y viva los pueblos.

March 3, 2009 Posted by | B - Cuba Articles | Leave a comment

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[Adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution 217A (III), of the 10th December 1948.]

PREAMBLE

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore,

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.

1. Men and women of nubile age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.

1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.

1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

2. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.

1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.

1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29.

1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

March 3, 2009 Posted by | B - Cuba Articles | Leave a comment