Cuba’s partial victory against the US empire

16 March 2015
Patrick Weiniger

Last year ended with some long-awaited good news. After 52 years of US aggression against the Cuban people, with the aim of reversing the gains of their 1959 revolution, the US government announced the easing of some travel and financial restrictions on Cuba and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the government it had unsuccessfully sought to topple. The move followed 17 months of secret negotiations between Havana and Washington.

So far this is only a partial victory, as the end of the blockade requires legislative changes by the US Congress. But one of the most pleasing immediate results of the détente was the release of the three remaining members of the “Cuban Five” in December.

These were Cuban citizens arrested in Miami for gathering information about anti-Castro terrorist groups and their plans to commit terrorist activities in both Cuba and the USA. These terrorists – such as former CIA asset Luis Posada Carriles, who has bragged about organising the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airline flight that killed 73 people – operate openly in Miami. Over the years they have killed more than 3,000 people.

Since the US state could not be relied on to investigate these organisations, Cuba sent five of its own citizens. Cuba then voluntarily presented the information they gathered to the US government in the hope that it would act to protect human lives. Instead, it arrested the Cubans, convicted them in rigged trials and sentenced them to jail terms ranging from 15 years to multiple life sentences.

The release of these men follows a years-long international campaign, which included a speaking tour last year in Australia by the daughter of one of the last three prisoners. Aili Labañino finally has been reunited with her father, Ramón.

Cuba solidarity websites across the world show pictures of her family joyously celebrating his return. But when Aili was in Melbourne last August, her father had been in the US prison system for nearly 16 years.

She explained: “The USA looks at each of the Five with malice, as they represent Cuba. Just see how they had been separated from each other and sent to remote prisons.”

For the first two years, the US government would not even reply to the families’ requests for visas to visit them in prison. It was only due to the pressure of the international campaign that these men were eventually relocated from the “box”: metal punishment cells with 24 hours of light, no clock, meals at different times, cold in temperature, with only a pair of shorts and a sheet for protection.

Eventually Aili was able to get a visa to see her father in prison once or twice a year. “We can only touch when we arrive and when we leave. But during the visit we sit next to each other or across from each other and we talk very long, about what we are doing. He tells us some experiences from prison, but not the saddest experiences so we don’t feel sad.

“And at the end we always end up making plans as if he is going to be in Cuba the next day, and it is a day closer to be together walking with his three daughters on the streets of Havana, from east to west, and maybe to other countries to thank everyone for their support.” Mercifully, now they can.

Aili explained how the mistreatment of her father and his comrades fitted the pattern of US policy towards Cuba to that point. “Since the triumph of the revolution, the US has felt very frustrated being so close to Cuba and not being able to make Cuba submit to their rules. So, on top of financing terrorists, they also have other means to put pressure on us. So, trying the Cuban Five and charging them with the highest sentences, it is a way in which they try to have Cuba at their mercy.”

The trial of the Five was a farce. “During the trial … the US government paid over a million dollars to 27 journalists … to write about the case in a negative way, labelling them as spies, when they were not that, they only published public information.

“What happened is illegal; you are not allowed to make this type of publicity during a trial. The journalists also harassed the jury, who were followed, had photographs taken of them as they exited the courts, and photos of their cars and number plates. The jury was scared, and they felt pressured to make certain decisions.”

Like many other family members of the Five, Aili spent years tirelessly campaigning for their freedom. She explained that her father “gives us a lot of optimism. We don’t have the right to be sad when we have our freedom, so we use our freedom to talk about the Five.”

What of the terrorist organisations on which the Five were gathering information? “Since the triumph of the revolution in Cuba, there has been ongoing harassment, and many individuals and organisations have been engaging in anti-Cuban activities, mainly from Miami.

“These organisations are not part of the US government; however, they receive its support. Such terrorist attacks have taken over 3,000 lives. An example is a bomb that was placed in a Cubana de Aviación plane that carried 73 people flying from Barbados. Family members of these people are still claiming for justice every day in Cuba, and want Posada Carriles to be brought to justice, but he walks free in the streets of Miami.

“Same with Orlando Bosch. He recently died, but he also was involved in several anti-Cuban activities. He died as an old man, never brought to justice. He was a person who publicly declared in Miami what he has done, but nothing happened to him.”

The release of the Five is cause for celebration, as is the US acknowledgement that its attempt to isolate and economically strangle Cuba has failed. This amounts to an important reversal for the world’s most powerful imperialist bully.

The US is changing its strategic orientation to Cuba, but the imperial beast has not changed its spots. At the same time as it is lifting some sanctions against Cuba, president Obama signed into law a range of sanctions against the freely and fairly elected left wing government of Venezuela. That government faces the spurious charge of repressing anti-government protesters.

This charge comes from a country in which an FBI-coordinated campaign of violence drove the Occupy movement from city squares, and where police routinely and with virtual impunity shoot dead unarmed Black people. Perhaps it could be concluded that the US now considers the inspiration of Venezuela’s electorally mandated “socialism of the 21st century” to be a greater challenge to neoliberal capitalism in today’s post-Cold War reality.

As for Cuba, during the recent announcement of the resumption of relations, neither side suggested that the deal included any commitments from Cuba to alter its economic policies or dismantle its social welfare programs.

The US has demanded that Cuba allow citizens freer access to the internet (internet connections in Cuba are slow primarily because of the US blockade). While the US should play no role in determining Cuba telecommunications policy, the policy in itself is not objectionable. But the entire embargo on Cuba should be lifted without conditions, and this has not yet been offered. Cuba should be free to trade with whomever it chooses.

However, integration into global capitalism will not be a way forward for the mass of Cubans. It would only benefit Cuba’s politico-military officialdom, foreign corporations and investors from the ranks of the Miami-based reactionaries who fled Cuba after the revolution.

[Thank you to Lourdes Garcia Larque for help with interpreting and translation.]

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