While the Bush Administration threatens North Korea and Iran, it has not let up the pressure on Cuba. Ever since the Cubans freed themselves from U.S. control in 1959, successive White House regimes have tried to kill off this revolutionary example. In past months, the world’s mainstream media have rallied around Bush’s efforts to paint Castro as a dictator and human rights violator. This follows the April execution of three Cubans who had hijacked a ferry in an attempt to get to Florida, and the jailing of a number of so-called “pro-democracy” activists.
One example is a feature carried in Melbourne’s Age in May on Fidel’s “brutal crackdown on Cuban dissidents.” New York-based journalist Caroline Overington interviews Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Varela Project, which she describes as an organisation working toward “democratic” multi-party elections and a “free media” in Cuba. She talks to him about life “in the shadow of Castro” and the recent sentencing of 75 “dissidents” to prison terms of up to 28 years.
Fighting for its life. The Freedom Socialist Party would have preferred Cuba to have been less swift in its action against the hijackers, allowing them access to an appeal process. Protection of the rights of the accused and convicted is an important civil gain, which we strongly defend in Australia. But we do know that the hijacking was not an isolated criminal act. It was a part of an accelerated sabotage of Cuba’s revolution and sovereignty by its imperialist neighbour. Cuba has the right to defend its citizenry and follow its laws. And this extends to its right to jail counter-revolutionary saboteurs from within.
On May 20, 2002, Bush announced an “initiative for a new Cuba” and proposed an increase in U.S. government aid to counter-revolutionary “dissidents.” A few days earlier, State Department official John Bolton had accused Cuba of exporting biological weapons technology to terrorist states. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Cuba would remain on the the list of terrorist nations. Donald Rumsfeld assured the world that Cuba is not to be invaded — yet. For 44 years, the U.S. has wanted a “regime change” in Cuba, and Bush wants to finally achieve it — restoring one of the world’s remaining workers’ states to its pre-revolutionary dependency and misery.
Funding counter-revolutionary “dissent.” James Cason became the principal officer of the U.S. Interests Section (USIS) in Havana in September 2002. Since then, official U.S. connections with anti-Castro Cubans have become very tight. Cason directly involves himself in Cuba’s domestic politics, such as helping to launch the youth wing of the Partido Liberal Cubano and inviting anti-government opponents to meet U.S. newspaper editors at his Havana residence. In February this year, he participated in a meeting of the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society at the home of Marta Beatriz Roque, a prominent opponent of the Cuban government. This activity, which the State Department calls “outreach,” involves access to USIS computers, telephones and office machinery. Cuba’s so-called dissidents, independent journalists and librarians and human rights organisations also receive funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is notorious for its counter-revolutionary work in Central and Latin America since the early 1960s. Another government-backed bankroller is the reactionary Cuban American National Foundation, based in Miami. Castro describes the “dissidents” as mercenaries on Bush’s payroll. Most of the 75 sentenced in April were charged for crimes against the “independence or territorial integrity of the State.”
But the Varela Project gets special attention and acclaim from Washington. After accepting the European Union Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in December 2002, Paya was hosted by Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington DC.
Washington’s pet pirates. Those executed for the April hijacking had terrorised their hostages and threatened to kill them. What’s more, in the rough seas, everyone on board the unseaworthy coastal ferry faced death. This was the seventh act of piracy in as many months, including the hijacking of a passenger plane by six armed men in March. Cuban authorities averted more than two dozen other such plots.
These serial hijacking attempts reflect U.S. efforts to discredit revolutionary Cuba with the spectacle of mass emigrations. The United States refuses visas for legal migration. Washington shunned Havana’s efforts to end the hijackings by inviting U.S. ships to pick up Cubans trying to emigrate. It breached its 1984 accord with Cuba to establish a legal migration program and grant 20,000 visas per year to Cubans who wish to voluntarily migrate, through established legal processes.
The first illegal migrants from Cuba were the rich who fled with their wealth in the early ’60s — the United States government welcomed them with open arms. The Cuban Adjustment Act grants residency to any Cuban “refugee” who makes it to the U.S. mainland. This preferential treatment for backdoor migration invites hijackings.
From 1991, Cuba’s economy nosedived due to the Soviet Union’s collapse. Cubans faced serious shortages of basic necessities, such as food and fuel. With the United States’ tightening of its trade embargo, living conditions worsened and attempts at clandestine emigration escalated. Hijackings resulted in many deaths at sea, such as the 32 who drowned when their tugboat capsized. In 1992, the Coast Guard rescue of 6-year-old Elian Gonzales, the only survivor of a sinking, exposed Washington’s true intent. Even though Elian did not land on U.S. soil, he was taken to Miami and paraded around for anti-Cuba propaganda. This attempted kidnapping was, however, too much for most ordinary people. Domestic and international pressure eventually forced President Clinton to return Elian to his country.
Defend Cuba: fight for a socialist world. In her recent trip to Melbourne, Cuba’s Aleida Guevara, daughter of Che Guevara, told a packed hall that the U.S. threat is greater than ever. With Bush charging after “terrorists” in order to make the world safe for global capitalism, he is preparing for a military invasion of Cuba. A massive outpouring of “refugees” could be his “justification.”
Cuba is under seige. Castro’s offer after September 11, 2001 to help Washington fight terrorism did not help the situation. It contradicts Cuba’s proud history of standing up to U.S. imperialism, and it disoriented supporters of Cuba and those in the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements who are fighting to expose the system. Offering to cooperate with Washington only revives Bush’s charges against Cuba.
Cuba has a powerful weapon, which it must use: its revolutionary example and the people it has inspired. Bush’s efforts to corral the Organisation of American States (OAS) in an alliance against Cuba has failed. At an OAS meeting in early June, Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina did not jump to Colin Powell’s call to “help the people of Cuba…[defend] their fundamental freedoms.” They know they’d have to answer to their own people, who look to Cuba for inspiration.
There’s also the rest of the world in revolt — like we who responded to Aleida Guevara’s words about Che as a revolutionary leader and what Cuba is defending today. We also want a new Cuba — as part of a socialist world, sharing the global wealth. We want to defend Cuba — learn from its revolutionary experience and make revolution in our own countries. Most of all, in Bush’s country!
Let’s build a movement to return Guantanamo to Cuba, booting out Bush’s military and closing the notorious Camp X-Ray. Let’s denounce Bush’s sham war on terrorism, and replace it with an international campaign to expose and oppose the real goals of Corporate America.