Cuba reiterates its decision to stand up to U.S. moves to throttle its economy and to endanger the lives of its people.
CUBANS took to the streets in a big way on July 26 to celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the 1959 revolution. In one of the biggest demonstrations witnessed in Havana in recent times, more than a million people participated in a two-and-a-half kilometre-long march. July 26 was also designated as a "day of combat", to protest against the continuing U.S. economic embargo and efforts to destabilise the socialist government. Emotions have been running high in Cuba after the harsh sentences meted out to five Cubans in early June by a Miami court on trumped-up charges.
President Fidel Castro participated in the march, disproving reports in the U.S. media that he was not in good health. Fidel had fainted briefly while addressing a rally on June 23. He recovered almost immediately and made another speech after a couple of hours.
The five Cubans - Rene Gonzales, Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernan-dez, Ramon Labanimo and Antonio Guerrero - were found guilty on charges of trying to penetrate U.S. military bases even though they had acquired no military secrets. They were sentenced on flimsy legal grounds and might end up spending the rest of their lives in prison. The only "crime" they committed was that they warned the Cuban government about the nefarious activities of the anti-Cuban terrorist groups that are active in Florida. The U.S. government has also charged them with conspiracy to murder. They have been falsely implicated in the shooting down in Cuban airspace of a plane owned by a Miami-based Cuban exile group in 1996. The pilot of the plane, who was killed, was part of a right-wing exile group, funded by the U.S. secret services and the cash-rich Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) founded by the late Jorge Mas Canosa.
Mas Canosa, a mafia-don-like figure who lorded it over the Cuban emigre community until his death a few years ago, was a creation of the Ronald Reagan administration. In the 1980s, the U.S. government funnelled so much funds into the CANF that it almost vied with the pro-Israeli Jewish groups for influence in U.S. politics. But the CANF's influence has diminished considerably in recent years. The Elian Gonzales episode in 2000 exposed the sinister and manipulative side of the CANF and other right-wing Cuban exile groups to the U.S. public and the international community.
However, the election of George W. Bush as President gave a fillip to the ambitions of the anti-Cuban groups in Florida. Many in the U.S. attribute the flawed victory of Bush in the presidential sweepstakes to the electoral outcome in Dade County, Miami. Dade County is the stronghold of the anti-Castro Cuban exile community, commonly referred to as the "Miami mafia". It was in Dade County that Bush managed to pip the Democratic presidential candidate in the Florida vote count, which eventually decided the fate of the election.
The Republican administration has suitably rewarded the Cuban exile community. The economic blockade has been tightened and U.S. citizens wishing to visit Cuba have been warned of punitive action. The new U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich, is known to be close to the Miami mafia and has a record of involvement in their dealings. He was closely involved in the counter-revolutionary war waged against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Contra leaders.
The Cuban Adjustment Act, with which successive U.S. administrations have tried to throttle Cuba, has been further strengthened. President Bush recently announced plans to strengthen the blockade by enforcing limits on cash payments that Cuban-Americans may send to their relatives in the island. Bush has promised additional support to the anti-Cuba groups of Florida. Washington is also giving more incentives to the smugglers of human cargo from Cuba and, in the process, is boosting illegal immigration.
A recent decision by a U.S. court ensures resident status to any Cuban who can find his or her way to the U.S. by air from any part of the world even if he or she is carrying forged documents. Senator Jesse Helms, Republican member of the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee known for his rabid anti-Cuba stance, praised the U.S. President for his "very tough line, which is certain to make Fidel Castro squirm".
In the last 15 years there have been dozens of terrorist plots against Cuba, hatched by Cuban exile groups based in the U.S. These include attempts to assassinate Castro. The most recent attempt on Castro's life was at the Ibero-American summit in Panama about nine months ago. Timely information provided by the Cuban authorities to the host country perhaps prevented an assassination. According to the Cuban authorities, the CANF was behind the plot and the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were aware of it. The terrorists, carrying a cache of weapons and explosives, were arrested by the Panamanian authorities.
In retrospect, the arrest and sentencing of the five Cubans looks all the more appalling. Highly qualified, like more than a million of their compatriots, they were earning an honest living in the U.S. But they were arrested and subjected to inhuman treatment by the U.S. authorities. The Federal Detention Centre in Miami violated U.S. law by placing them in prison for more than 60 days before trial - the maximum time even for murderers. They were segregated from the rest of the prisoners and kept in solitary confinement for 17 months. Moreover, they were handcuffed every time they had to move somewhere. It was only a year after their incarceration that the U.S. government brought charges of conspiracy to murder against them.
Meanwhile, the CANF and other extremist organisations are continuing with their terrorist activities against Cuba. No action has been taken by successive U.S. administrations against these groups. According to the Cuban government, these groups were responsible for the death of 3,478 Cubans in the last 15 years alone. About 2,099 Cubans were physically disabled during the same period as a result of the Miami mafia's actions.
Fidel Castro has asked the U.S. administration to "rectify" the mistake of detaining the five Cubans. He said that the charges against them could never be "sustained". Castro said that the return of the five Cubans to Cuba was inevitable despite the manoeuvres of the Miami mafia. "We will make mincemeat of the accusations," Castro said, and added that the young men were innocent. The shooting down of the planes that violated Cuban airspace, Castro said, was provoked "hundred per cent" by the Miami mafia. He added that the Cuban government had evidence to prove it.
In a recent speech, the Cuban President compared the case of the five incarcerated Cubans with that of Elian Gonzales. "This time the story is not about a five-year-old child but of five young heroic and patriotic men with profound convictions," Castro said. He said that these young men would become examples for not only the youth of Cuba "but also for the youth and people of the globe". The five young men, he said, never committed any violent acts. "We propose, sustain and are willing to prove that they are prisoners, prisoners of the empire," Castro said.
The five Cubans were offered many incentives by the U.S. officials to make false confessions and implicate the Cuban government in various imagined crimes. The Cuban government insists that it has the right to gather information to defend the life of its people, until the U.S. government takes action against the terrorist groups operating from its soil. In an open letter to the U.S. people, the five Cubans emphasised "without a shadow of a doubt, that neither with our attitude nor our actions have we in any way interfered with, or jeopardised the security of the American people. What we have certainly done is contribute to exposing terrorist plans and actions against our people, thus preventing the deaths of innocent Cubans and Americans".