Presentation by Mary-Alice Waters in Havana launches new book on ‘The Cuban Five’
The following remarks by Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press, were given at the presentation of The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free at the Havana International Book Fair, Feb. 18. Copyright © 2012 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. Footnotes are by the Militant.
BY MARY-ALICE WATERS
On behalf of Pathfinder Press, welcome to all. And a special welcome to members of the families of Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando, and René, who are with us here today.
It’s an honor to have Kenia Serrano, president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, on the platform. For us, Kenia has been a comrade in arms since we first worked together in 1995, when she toured the United States defending the Cuban Revolution, speaking to students, workers, and farmers across the country.1 There’s a wonderful photo of Kenia taken during that tour talking with striking workers at the Caterpillar plant in York, Pennsylvania; you can find it in the Pathfinder book Che Guevara Talks to Young People.
It’s also a pleasure to be doing the presentation today surrounded by this impressive gallery of Antonio’s paintings, and listening to poets such as Pablo Armando Fernández and Edel Morales, vice president of the Cuban Book Institute.
Los Cinco Cubanos is a selection of articles from the pages of the Militant, “a socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people,” as its masthead proudly states—a paper circulated not only in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, but around the world.
Taken from many dozens of articles run by the Militant over the years of this struggle, the selection does not pretend to be a book of record. It doesn’t attempt to cover everything of importance about the multifront battle to win the freedom of our five comrades. It has been published by Pathfinder to be used as one of the many weapons in that battle. We chose the format because it is easy to adjust the content—to add new articles, eliminate others that have been superceded, include new photos, produce new editions.
In fact, the second edition in English will be out in a matter of days. In English and Spanish, some 2,000 copies are already in print and circulating widely.
The books Pathfinder publishes are not sold primarily through bookstores or on the Internet. They are distributed by workers and young people who are communists and who take them to plant gates and into factories in their lunch boxes, and sell them wherever working people and youth looking for answers to the deepening crisis of capitalism are engaged in action. We sell them on picket lines and from tables in working-class neighborhoods. Take them to gatherings of small farmers across the country. Sell them on university campuses, and at social protests and political events.
The book’s purpose is to arm those who read it with knowledge about Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando, and René. The objective is to enable working people to understand what otherwise seems inexplicable:
Why, despite all evidence to the contrary, were our five comrades convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage against the U.S. government—and, in the case of Gerardo, even conspiracy to commit murder—and locked up in U.S. prisons with sentences up to double life plus fifteen years? We aim to make it possible for those who read the book to connect this nightmare to their own life experiences as workers who refuse to stop fighting for their rights, for a future for themselves and their fellow working people.
Our goal is to enable a still small but growing vanguard of combative workers—and youth attracted to their struggles—to understand why the fight to win freedom for the Cuban Five is our struggle, part of the class struggle inside the U.S. as well as internationally.
If there is one thing I hope those here today will take away with you, it is our conviction that the fight for the return of our five Cuban brothers will be advanced, not by the good will of Barack Obama or any other chief executive of a party of the imperialist empire, but because of what is changing in the world today—the increasing resistance by working people in the United States and internationally to the consequences for us of the capitalist crisis, a crisis still just in its opening stages. As is evident from the streets of Greece to factories throughout the U.S., it is not we who are initiating the battles, it is the employers and their state apparatus who are forcing those battles upon us.
But more and more—in the same way that the people of Cuba have responded many times—working people in the United States are beginning to say, “Enough!” More of us are going to stand and fight. It is even our dignity as free human beings that is at stake.
For us in the Socialist Workers Party, the defense of our five comrades begins with the Cuban Revolution itself. It begins by explaining why each of the five accepted the dangerous mission asked of them—to live and work in the United States, gathering intelligence on paramilitary counterrevolutionary groups like Brothers to the Rescue, which operate with Washington’s knowledge, if not its complicity. Why each of our compañeros said with pride in the courtroom that if asked to accept that responsibility again, they would do so with no hesitation.
Brothers to the Rescue was repeatedly violating Cuban airspace, knowing full well that Cuba, like any sovereign country, would defend its people and its territory. The counterrevolutionaries, we explain, were intent on provoking what they hoped would become a military confrontation between the U.S. government and Cuba—something the Cuban government successfully prevented from happening. We explain how the Clinton administration was determined to find a way to retaliate against the Cuban people.2
Without this broad historical perspective, working people in the United States can make no sense of why the five are in prison, why the fight to free them is above all a political fight in defense of the Cuban Revolution. Nor can they appreciate the full revolutionary caliber of our five comrades and totally identify with them.
Pathfinder’s book Cuba and the Coming American Revolution by Socialist Workers Party national secretary Jack Barnes is dedicated to our five brothers with the following words:
For Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René
Five exemplary products of the Cuban Revolution who today, even if against their will, serve with honor on the front lines of the class struggle in the United States.
While we never cease explaining why and how they were framed up and railroaded to prison with draconian sentences, we also ceaselessly point to their revolutionary example. Our five comrades—like their loved ones and families—do not conduct themselves as victims, much less suffering martyrs nailed to a cross. They act as proletarian internationalists, as revolutionary combatants who take their places on the front lines of battle wherever they find themselves.
As many of you here well know, there are some 2.5 million men and women incarcerated in the prisons of the United States. It is the country with the highest percentage of prisoners in the world, the large majority of them working people framed and railroaded to jail, often without trial, after being blackmailed by the threat of very heavy sentences or sometimes the death penalty and pressured into taking so-called plea bargains—that is, pleading guilty to some “lesser” crime they did not commit.
Within the working class and among the Black nationality and other oppressed peoples especially, there is hardly a family that does not have some relative who is jailed or has been in, or who knows someone in their circle of friends and acquaintances who is serving or has served time, or is now on probation or parole.
Frame-ups against workers are part of the system of class rule in the United States. What was done to the Cuban Five is something all too familiar to the vast majority of working people. It is one reason, as they learn the facts, that workers identify with Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando, and René and respect them.
We know firsthand the kind of political work carried out by each of the five not only from what they themselves write us. We also know it from the not infrequent requests we receive for subscriptions to the Militant and copies of Pathfinder books from prisoners each of the compañeros have crossed paths with. Both the Militant and Pathfinder have long had special reduced prices for prisoners that make it easier for them and their families to afford them. One such request we received in recent weeks was from a prisoner asking for a copy of Che Guevara Talks to Young People, and he continued:
I enjoyed the [copy I saw of] The Cuban Five. I was impressed because I know one of them [in this case it was Antonio], and he and I have discussed different subjects about the world we all share. Your help in their struggle is appreciated by me as well as by people all over the world.
I want to end by saying why we are so confident we will win the battle for the freedom of our five comrades.
The economic crisis that exploded with such violence in 2008 has had far-reaching consequences for the working class in the United States. A slight upturn in production is occurring now, part of the normal cyclical course of capitalism—up or down. But the impact of high levels of long-term unemployment, the millions of families who have lost their homes, medical coverage, pensions, and hopes for the future—all this has been devastating.
For millions of workers who have eventually found employment again, it is often at wages that are a fraction of what they earned before. Others, also numbering in the millions, have simply stopped looking for a job and are no longer even counted by the government as unemployed.
The brutal speedup and intensification of labor, along with the slashing of wages, especially for new hires, have given employers a taste of blood. In factory after factory, owners are demanding new concessions on wages and working conditions and then locking out workers who refuse to accept the new contract terms.
This doesn’t reflect a choice by the U.S. capitalists. It’s the course along which they must make progress if they are to recover from the crisis their system—not the workers—produced. Pauperization, a large reserve army of unemployed workers, broken trade unions, large-scale incarceration of angry workers—especially among African Americans: all these are necessary preconditions for a capitalist recovery.
You have heard a lot about the activities that have taken place under the name of “Occupy Wall Street” or “Occupy” whatever else. But unless you are a reader of the Militant, you are probably unaware of the broad scope of labor battles in the United States.
The Cuban Five is not the only thing the bourgeois press refuses to write about, and their silence is not a conspiracy. They don’t have to conspire. No one has to tell them it is not in their interests for workers to be able to learn from the example of others. But what is happening in the course of these labor battles is far more important than the expressions of discontent registered by the Occupy phenomenon. Above all, it is important because vanguard workers are learning of each other and extending the hand of solidarity across industries, regions, and national borders.
From the sugar workers along the Canadian border in northern Minnesota and North Dakota, to tire workers in Ohio, to workers protesting anti-immigrant laws in Alabama, to longshoremen in the state of Washington on the West Coast, the labor battles have an intensity and sharpness that has not been seen in the United States for some time.3 In a confrontation with the port workers in Longview, Washington, the Obama administration had ordered the Coast Guard to escort the incoming ship and protect it as it was being loaded by scab labor. At the last minute, a settlement was won restoring union protection for longshoremen at a major company on those docks.
More than 200 port workers were arrested in the course of this standoff, however, and charged with various felonies for which some of them still face costly court battles and the possibility of lengthy prison sentences if convicted.
These are the kinds of battlefronts to which we take The Cuban Five, and where dozens of workers with subscriptions to the Militant are reading about the case week after week. As they go through their own battles, they rapidly learn from their own experiences how the cops and courts are stacked against those who fight, who resist, who refuse to accept the conditions capitalism imposes on us. And above all, how the cops are used against those who refuse to break. These militants come to admire the five Cuban combatants and will come to emulate their determination and courage.
At the same time the West Coast longshore battle was intensifying, a showing of Antonio’s paintings was organized by the teachers union and some students at one of the colleges in nearby Seattle. One of the port workers, a woman, who had been arrested during an action organized by the union and was facing trumped-up felony charges, saw a postcard for the Seattle art showing, a card that reproduced Antonio’s painting of his prison shirt. Her response, with a touch of pride, was, “One day my prison shirt too will be hanging on a peg.”
It took a decade of bloody civil war and then revolutionary struggle in the United States for working people to win the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution affirming the right to “equal protection under the law.” It will take another revolution in the United States, led by the working class and its allies, to make that constitutional right a reality for working people.
From the longshore workers to the sugar workers and beyond, these are the men and women who in growing numbers will belong to what Gerardo has accurately referred to as the “jury of millions” that will liberate them. It is along this class-struggle road, where battles are intensifying because of the workings of the capitalist system itself, that their freedom will be won.
That is what gives those like us fighting inside the United States such confidence today. And this is why the publication of The Cuban Five, and how it will be used, is important.
1. In March and April 1995, the University of Minnesota-based Faculty-Student Cuban Youth Lectures Committee sponsored a six-week tour of Cuban youth leaders Kenia Serrano and Rogelio Polanco that reached thousands of people in 28 cities across the U.S.
The tour included meetings on nearly 50 college campuses, eight high schools, one middle school, and 18 other meetings, including with unionists and in communities. In addition they talked with workers in workplaces or on picket lines on 12 occasions.
Rogelio Polanco is currently Cuban ambassador to Venezuela.
2..Brothers to the Rescue is a U.S.-based Cuban American counterrevolutionary outfit that falsely portrayed itself as a “humanitarian” group rescuing Cubans who were leaving the island on rafts. Its CIA-trained leader, José Basulto, was involved in the 1961 failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs by some 1,500 Cuban mercenaries organized, financed and deployed by Washington.
Planes flown by Brothers to the Rescue pilots repeatedly violated Cuban airspace, conducting some 25 such illegal incursions between mid-1994 and February 1996, according to Cuban officials. Havana filed numerous protests with the U.S. government, which Washington ignored.
On Feb. 24, 1996, three Brothers to the Rescue planes flew into Cuban airspace heading toward Havana. Pilots ignored warnings by Cuban air traffic controllers to turn back. Cuban fighter planes then shot down two of the aircraft, killing four Brothers to the Rescue members. The third plane, flown by Basulto, got away. All provocative flights ceased after the shootdown.
In response, the Clinton administration stepped up its hostile actions against Cuba. That included signing in March 1996 of the Helms-Burton Act aimed at tightening the U.S. economic embargo against the revolution and the frame-up of the Cuban Five in September 1998.
Hernández was sentenced to one of his two life terms for the trumped-up charge of “conspiracy to commit murder” on the baseless claim that he had been “supporting and implementing a plan” by the Cuban government to shoot down the Brothers to the Rescue planes over international waters.
3. Some 1,300 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union in the Upper Midwest have been fighting a lockout by American Crystal Sugar since Aug. 1, after they refused bosses’ concession contract demands.
Some 1,050 members of United Steelworkers Local 207L were locked out Nov. 28 in Findlay, Ohio, after rejecting Cooper Tire and Rubber Co.’s contract demands to cut wages, speed up work, and establish lower pay and benefits for new hires. The lockout ended after workers voted to accept a contract offer Feb. 27.
Members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21 led a six-month fight against attempt by EGT Development to shut the union out of its terminal in the Port of Longview, Wash. If successful, EGT would have set a precedent with the first West Coast grain terminal run without ILWU labor in eight decades. After an eight-month struggle, EGT conceded to hiring ILWU labor.