Thursday, 22 December 2011

Two fantastic opportunities to spend May Day 2012 in Cuba

Witness the sights, sounds and smells of Cuba and experience firsthand the principles of equality, community and international solidarity.

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign is organising two specialised trade union visits to Cuba next Spring to enjoy the iconic and unforgettable May Day celebrations and learn more about the country, its unions and the effects of the US blockade.
The Young Trade Unionists’ May Day Brigade and the May Day Study Tour will show solidarity with over one million Cuban workers as they parade through Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución.
"The May Day parade was amazing. It was moving to see so many people coming together to celebrate their country" - Lisa, May Day Brigade 2011)
Participants will visit Havana’s famous Museum of the Revolution and receive an exclusive invitation to the International Solidarity Conference alongside activists from across the globe and families of the Miami 5. Professional visits to schools, factories, hospitals and universities will provide insight into the achievements of the revolution and allow delegates to strengthen links with sister unions.
“Cuba really opened my eyes about what can be achieved in a society built around working together for the benefit of everyone” - James, May Day Brigade 2008
Our fifth annual May Day Brigade will also contribute to the agricultural development of the country through voluntary work sessions as participants discover the reality of life for Cubans living under the illegal US blockade of their country. Over 100 young trade unionists – from Unison, Unite, GMB, CWU, RMT, TSSA, BFAWU, PCS and the UCU – have previously taken part in our May Day Brigade.
“The May Day Brigade was one of the best experiences of my life. Viva Cuba!” - Vikki, May Day Brigade 2011
Both tours are a wonderful opportunity to see the real Cuba away from the usual tourist trail. They provide an inspiring and humbling view of Cuba’s intrepid resistance against 50 years of blockade and allow you to experience Cuba’s rich and diverse cultural heritage whilst providing visible solidarity and support to the Cuban people.
  • Young Trade Unionists’ May Day Brigade, 26 April – 10 May 2012, £999 – Cost includes flights, accommodation, food, transport and visas. Delegates will stay on the Julio Mella camp outside Havana and will take part in solidarity work. Three nights will be spent at the Hotel Vedado in Old Havana. Although aimed at young trade unionists, all are welcome!
  • May Day Study Tour, 22 April – 3 May 2012, price starts at £1,415 – Cost includes flights, accommodation, transport and visas. Accommodation in Havana will be in the iconic Hotel Plaza.
For more information and to book, please follow the hyperlinks above or drop us an email.

Trade Unions for Cuba - Issue 2

The second issue of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign’s eNewsletter ‘Trade Unions for Cuba’ is now available online. The newsletter aims to celebrate collaboration between CSC, British trade unions and trade unions in Cuba. It brings up-to-date news on trade unionism in Cuba, reports on CSC’s work with unions domestically, mobilises campaigns and promotes events, brigades and tours.

The Winter 2011/12 edition features details of our new END IT NOW! campaign to mark the 50th anniversary of the United States’ blockade of Cuba next year. There is also information on how the British trade union movement is leading the fight in defence of the Miami 5 and how you can get involved with the campaign as part of the upcoming Beyond the Frame art exhibition.

It also includes a report on CSC’s presence at trade union conferences recently and information on two fantastic trips we’re taking to Cuba next Spring – the May Day Study tour and May Day Brigade.

The newsletter can be viewed here. Please feel free to forward to colleagues, share on social networking sites or print-off and distribute around notice boards and offices. If you would like to receive future copies, please email CSC Campaigns Officer Dan Smith.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Cuban Olympic legend laments the debilitating effects of US blockade

Cuban Olympic legend Alberto Juantorena talks exclusively to the Morning Star's Greg Leedham about his unrivalled track feat and what sport means for his blockaded country

Alberto Juantorena, the Cuban runner who stunned the world by winning gold in the 400m and 800m at the 1976 Olympics, talks about politics with the same bullishness with which he used to gallop around the track in his heyday.

"We cannot buy anything from the United States," he tells me, thumping his hand down on the table next to us as we chat in a dimly lit room at the HQ of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in London.

The man known as El Caballo (The Horse) is referring to the 50-year-old US blockade of his homeland - a policy which permeates all activity on the island, including his day job as a parliamentarian and vice-president of the Cuban Sport Institute.

"For example, our pole-vaulters need poles, but the pole they use is produced in the United States. UCS Enterprise (who produce the poles) - we cannot buy from them."

Juantorena, now 61, proceeds to offer a detailed description of wheeling and dealing of which Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp would be proud.

"I call a friend of mine in Mexico, who was a former president of their federation. I say: 'Listen, Pedro, go to UCS, talk to them' - they are also friends of mine but I cannot trade with them directly.

"Pedro calls Jack (of UCS) and Jack sends the pole to Mexico. Pedro then takes the pole and brings it back to Guadalajara" for the 2011 Pan-American Games.

At this point, Juantorena exclaims at the ludicrousness of the situation he finds himself in on a daily basis. "My friend! What is this, my friend?"

His struggle to provide basic equipment for his country's athletes stands in stark contrast with the money Britain is able to throw at its own - £264 million worth of funding between 2009 and 2013.

Yet while time has eroded Juantorena's famous afro, his enthusiasm for the Cuban system remains, as does his belief that money is not the crucial factor in producing world-class sportsmen and women.

"Let me tell you something," Juantorena says, leaning towards me as if he is about to reveal a big secret.

"We practise sport in my country with a real lack of everything. Almost from nothing. Our infrastructure is not sophisticated. Our track and field stadium, our baseball stadium - they are not sophisticated.

"But we pay a lot of attention to physical education. It is compulsory in the schools - from primary schools through to university, and it produces athletes like a windmill." Juantorena makes a spiralling motion with his hands.

"And it never stops. Never stops, never stops. You know why? Because if you have mass participation, you have 2.5m students from primary school to university practising sport at least three times a week, and then you can sit down and qualify and see the talent, select the talent - it's easy! That's the secret of Cuban sport."

Critics argue that windmill has been malfunctioning a little of late. By their high standards, Cuba had a poor Olympics in Beijing in 2008, winning just two golds from 24 medals overall and finishing 28th in the final table.

Compare that with Athens in 2004 when Cuba won nine golds - the same number as Britain - and finished 11th overall.

Juantorena believes Beijing was merely a blip and, regardless, he says the point of Cuban sport is not medals but the overall well-being of the Cuban people.

"That's why we promote sport," he says. "Not to compete but to increase the life expectancy of people, to increase the health of the people first and as a consequence you can find the talent and you can find the medals."

It is a model driven by 78,000 physical education teachers, compared with, he says, 800 before Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.

Such is the human investment in sport - thousands of staff working on low wages across the island - that Juantorena seems personally betrayed by those who reap the benefits of the Cuban system only to defect. How does he feel about a compatriot who is seduced by riches in the US or Europe?

"Stupid guy," he shrugs. "For me as an individual to become Olympic champion is impossible.

"I was born in Santiago de Cuba in very humble family in a very humble home, you know, and I feel sorry for them (defectors).

"Who made those athletes great stars? By themselves? From childhood they have schools, they have been supported by the municipal, by the state. The state pays everything to them.

"They think more with the pocket than with the heart - that is a fact. But let me tell you something - they are not many.

"The majority are in Cuba, fighting and leading."

One of those who had riches dangled in front of him but chose to stay in Cuba was boxer Teofilo Stevenson, who was reportedly offered as much as $5m to turn professional and fight Muhammad Ali but famously declined, saying the love of the Cuban people was more important to him.

"An example that real people don't sell their soul," Juantorena beams. "That was the guy to be."

Juantorena is as talkative an interviewee as you could ever meet, but my next question has him momentarily tongue-tied.

Would he ever accept a defector back into the Cuban team?

"He begins his response twice, breaking off mid-sentence on each occasion.

Silence briefly fills the room. After a few more seconds of reflection, he says: "In my personal opinion, I say no."

The lull provides an opportune moment to turn the conversation to his staggering feat of winning gold in the 400m and 800m gold in Montreal.

With athletes today tending to specialise in one event, his unique achievement of winning at sprint and middle distance is unlikely to be repeated.

Juantorena springs back to life at the mention of his career-defining moment.

"Nobody took into consideration the tall guy with the basketball socks," he grins. "Nobody cared about me and suddenly, boom, I kill everyone. That's a fact, that's a fact!"

Before Montreal, Juantorena specialised in the 400m until his Polish trainer Zygmunt Zabierzowski tricked him into running the 800m. He began training for the event - to help his endurance, he was told - and it was only two months before the Games that he realised Zabierzowski's plan.

"I say: 'No way, man, you crazy'," he recalls. "You know why? Because I was afraid. Because I know that the 800m was the first race. What happens if I get tired and nothing happen in 800 and nothing happen in 400?

"But he gave me the confidence, he proved to me that I can do it. And suddenly one time I was running for the first time in my life in May 1976.

"I ran 1'45.3". I say: "Caramba! I can do it!" And then psychologically I start to believe that really I can do it."

He blew away the field in the 800m final, breaking the world record in the process. Three days later, he added the 400m title. A legend was born then and it has continued to grow given that no-one has replicated his feat in the 35 years since.

Juantorena believes it is lack of ambition that could prevent someone today trumping him.

"Human beings have been proved in world history to do unbelievable things. You never know with a human being! Maybe they run 800m, 1,500m and 100m - you never know. It is difficult, but it is not impossible."

Injuries dogged Juantorena for the rest of his career, preventing him from adding to his Olympic tally, though he says his biggest regret is never winning a gold at the Pan-American Games.
His greatest challenge today is continuing to convince Cubans of the importance of sport.

He looks utterly bemused when I tell him of those on the British left who believe that sport is a distraction from more important struggles.

"Firstly, they are wrong," he says, chuckling. "The sport is a benefit for health. First to be a better citizen, to have better health. Second, sport is a good moment to socialise, to be together, to share things and to teach you to think collectively."

The Cuban programme for sport is certainly ambitious. Juantorena tells me of his country's efforts to develop cricket on the island, as well as football with the help of Fifa.

Yet his and Cuba's biggest battle remains with their superpower neighbour - a nation which, he tells me, has denied him a visa four times.

One day things will change, he believes, but only if the US approaches Cuba as equals.

"We don't need to make any move to them," Juantorena says, leaning forward in his chair and fixing me with a stern stare to emphasise his point.

"We don't need to ask them: 'Please change.' No, on the contrary they must approach us and sit down at the table, without any previous condition and we can talk about everything in life.

"Our president Raul (Castro) said to Barack Obama many times a message - let's sit down together at the table without any previous conditions. He never answered."

You sense that deep down Juantorena knows that change is unlikely to come soon.

He says Cuba will do better at London 2012 - just don't ask him to predict the number of medals they will win.

His patriotism is clear and he leaves me with a glowing endorsement of the Cuban system.

"You have many in Cuba fighting and working to improve the whole condition in every aspect in my country. I am one of them and I will die in Cuba. I will die there."

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Alberto Juantorena visits Hackney school ahead of the London 2012 Olympics

Alberto Juantorena, Cuban world champion middle distance runner and Vice President of INDER, the Cuban Institute of Sport, visited Hackney on a pre-Olympic visit. He made a special visit to meet with children at Grasmere Primary School on Albion Road, in Newington Green.

Children watched a video of Juantorenna winning the 800 metres Gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Then, after a few questions from an awestruck, audience the runner produced the actual gold medal from his pocket. He then visited a few of the classes to talk some more to the students. Alberto’s key message was repeated a number of times when he said:

“to achieve something like this Olympic gold you need three things discipline, dedication and passion”

At the 1976 Summer Olympics, Juantorena became the first and so far only athlete to win both the 400m and 800m Olympic titles setting world records at both events.   With his famous sprint and his unique middle distance combination he seemed to have heralded a new era and style for middle-distance runners. In the 1970’s Juantorena was often referred to as ‘White Lightening’ or ‘El Caballo’ (the horse).

Current UK Olympic chief Sebastian Coe is a friend and admirer of Juantorena. In 1979 Sebastian Coe finally broke Juantorena’s 800m record which he had held for 3 years.

"I remember seeing him in Montreal and thinking, 'I'm in the wrong distance.' This was a record that was sensational." - Sebastian Coe

Juantorena is one of the most prominent Cuban sporting figures and travels the world in his role as a council member of the International Athletics Federation (IAAF). He has always maintained the highest standards in support of athletics and sports in general and is a great exponent of the Cuban sports ethos.

“We want to promote the great qualities of athletics - and maintain its integrity - all over the world.”

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Alberto Juantorena maintains his belief in the Cuban way

Juantorena wins the 400m gold at the 1976 Olympics
He's a legend of the five-ringed circus, but money still can't buy Alberto Juantorena, writes Rick Broadbent in the Times and the Australian

Alberto Juantorena, who won two gold medals at the 1976 Olympics, recently visited a London school where a child asked how much his medals were worth. The man they call El Caballo (The Horse) didn't know. Nobody had asked him the question before. Perhaps that is Britain's problem.

As London gets its head around an pound stg. 81 million ($125m) budget for the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, it is fascinating to sit with a product of the Cuban revolution, who won the 400m and 800m titles in Montreal. It's trite to term Juantorena simply an Olympic legend; this imposing figure is also a part-time politician and paid-up visionary who says he knows the secret of success.

"Chess," he declares, the voice of suave ribaldry fading to a whisper. "You know the spirit and heart of chess in my country?" he asks. "Che Guevara."

A mural of the revolutionary is above us on the wall of a cluttered office belonging to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in London.

"He was the promoter of chess in my country, and knew that it helped a student look for a solution. It teaches you how to think, so chess is a sport we implant into minds. It's taught from primary school to university. It's essential."

State-sponsored board games seem a leap of faith from the 1976 Montreal Olympics, when Juantorena completed the "impossible" double of 400m and 800m, and yet his faith in the Cuban system is unassailable.

His blueprint for success taps into debates about Xbox motivations and 2012 legacies.

"The reason we are so successful is because we focus on children," he says. "In primary school they are taught physical education three times a week. We have 2.5 million students practising this. It's the system combined with the intelligence of the people. That's why we have 78,000 PE teachers. That's why we are a small country which wins medals."

In Cuba this took a revolution; London will have to make do with a two-week knees-up. Juantorena, now an ursine 61, paints a rosy red picture of communist Cuba and believes it punches above its weight because it values sport properly. Thank Fidel Castro for that.

"When I came home from Montreal in 1976 I was the first to descend the plane," he says. "Fidel was there. We embraced. We talked of many things and I realised he was a 100 metres runner. He told me he won in the 1946 inter-college competition. He said, 'I had a long stride, like you'.

"Fidel was the philosopher who created sport in my country. After the revolution, it did not matter what race, religion or gender you were, you had the opportunity to practise sport."

Juantorena left Castro at the airport and went back to work.

"I volunteered to pick coffee, cut sugar cane and plant vegetables," he says. "I did that for two weeks. My medals did not belong to me. Other athletes dedicated medals to their families; I dedicated mine to the anniversary of the Moncada Garrison because they gave Cuba freedom."

His success in Montreal is unlikely to be repeated. He was a 400m specialist recovering from two operations on his foot until his Polish coach, Zygmunt Zabier-zowski, had a brainwave.

"'One day,' he said, 'you will run the 800 in the next Olympics' and I jumped as high as Javier Sotomayor (the Olympic high jump champion). I was afraid. I thought I'd be too tired. I'd lose everything. But he tried me with the long-distance runners. They tried to kill me and they couldn't. So he put me in a race in Italy. It was the first time I'd run 800m in my life and I ran 1min 45.76sec."

He is grinning widely now. "I went to the Olympics and became the only man in history to run on every day of the athletics program. They changed the schedule for me and started calling me El Caballo the horse."

Commentator David Coleman went further. "The big Cuban opened his legs and showed his class," he said, thus starting an industry in commentating gaffes.

American rival Rick Wohlhuter had said that Juantorena would be unable to cope with the 800m rounds, but his classy three-metre stride resulted in magic as well as mirth and he set a world record. "My coach said that because of my 400 speed, a first lap of 50 seconds would be like walking. I hung back and hung back. Wohlhuter was crazy. He went on the outside and so ran 820 metres. In the last 20 metres (Belgian) Ivo Van Damme got the silver."

An unspectacular qualification for the 400m final exhumed double doubts. "I was in the lane two. That's the second killing lane, but I had an advantage because I could see them all. I was so confident. I was not running but floating and then, boom, in the last 50 I killed them all."

Thus an Olympic hero was created. He became a celebrity and yet remained humble, even when taking on roles such as vice-president of INDER, the Cuban sports institute that once set up 31 sports centres in the Escambray Mountains because Castro felt the remote region was a source of untapped potential.

Juantorena does not accept many interviews and his patriotism may appear one-eyed in the wake of numerous defections.

The country's leading baseball team, Industriales, has struggled this season after seven players fled the country. Add five National Ballet dancers and a star soccer player, who shimmied down a hotel fire escape in North Carolina, and it's clear that the monthly government salary the equivalent of $US16 does not suit all. Olympic champions fare better with a lifetime monthly stipend of $US300, but can Castro's ideals survive the modern age?

"It is not a big problem but it becomes big propaganda," Juantorena says. "The press say Cubans are running from the system because they are oppressed, because they kill people, because they put people in jail, but this is bullshit. I feel sorry for them. The socialist system gave me all possibilities and all they asked was that I stayed loyal and said thank you."

Britain has a former Cuban triple jumper in its track team. Yamile Aldama's story is complex, but she competed for Sudan after leaving Cuba with her Scottish husband. Now she has a British passport and was fifth at the world championships, one of the so-called "plastic Brits".

"I know her very well," Juantorena says. "She decided to abandon Cuba and went to this place and that place. It's her own decision. I am strongly against the trafficking of athletes who change country from one day to the next. They are selling themselves as merchandise. The real person, the real human being who loves their country, believes in something and never changes their allegiance. You have to be honest and follow your dignity. Now you see some guy and he is not able to even sing the national anthem."

Cuba dropped from fifth in the Olympic medals table in 1992 to 28th by 2008 but Juantorena insists defections do not add up to a defect in the system. It is just increasingly hard to compete.

When the country's biggest athletics star, hurdler Dayron Robles, was disqualified from the gold medal position at the world championships, he said that it was because he came from Cuba. Juantorena rejected any conspiracy theories but said he agreed.

Whether Cuba can continue to punch above its weight in London remains to be seen, but El Caballo is convinced. "This system works," he said. "You cannot go through sport or life motivated only by money."

He plays with his gold medal; the other is in a museum in Havana for the people. Even in a five-ring circus, with cynics pointing to its budget as proof that the Olympics are more corporate carve-up than sporting carnival, some things cannot be bought.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

‘We prepare athletes for sport – and life’

President Raul Castro with 2008 Cuban Olympic team
Morning Star sports editor Greg Leedham talks to Cuban ex-110m hurdler Emilio Valle and Cuban junior athletics coach Alfredo Dijhigo. From today's Morning Star.

Emilio Valle and Alfredo Dijhigo attract a lot of attention on an otherwise uneventful and very blustery autumn afternoon as I take them to see the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.

Walking along the Greenway path that straddles the site, Valle, a successful 110 metres hurdler who narrowly missed out on a medal at the Atlanta Olympics, and Dijhigo, a coach with Cuba’s junior athletics team, are quickly swamped by local teenagers keen to know more about these two men whose colourful Cuban national team uniforms cut through the dreariness of the weather.

The scene is the kind that Olympic organisers dream of — role model athletes inspiring and engaging local children. The pair, visiting London on a cultural and athletics exchange organised by Maurice Sharp of the Hercules Wimbledon Athletics Club, are worthy of the hype.

Valle and Dijhigo work with Cuba’s young athletes from the ages of 14 to 19, preparing them for hopefully successful careers with the senior team. It is a tough job — both earn around $30 a month and they struggle with equipment shortages due to the US blockade of their country, but they stay remarkably upbeat nonetheless.

This is partly due to the fact that, with Dijhigo aged 53 and Valle 44, the blockade has been in place before they were born. It is a way of life, just as struggle against great odds is a part of the Cuban experience.

The Special Period following the collapse of the Soviet Union also ushered in an age of acute austerity even by Cuban standards. Scrimping on sporting equipment was a necessity yet the Caribbean island still thrived on the Olympic stage.

Rigorous planning and ingenuity in making meagre funds go far has been essential to their success, explains Dijhigo back at the Morning Star offices.

“For us discipline is very important,” he says. “It’s possible that we don’t have the same economy as other countries, where development may be better. But the intention and the way we see life — it is the same.”

The willingness of former Cuban athletes to give back to the system that created them is also key. “He (Emilio) was my student, one of my athletes,” Dijhigo explains.

“When he was working in a physical education he was my athlete. Now we are working together as coaches. I gave him my experience. Now he must pass on his experience. We must transmit our experience and we cannot break the chain.”

A few Cuban athletes, such as flyweight boxer Yuriorkis Gamboa who won gold at Athens 2004, have broken that chain by defecting to the United States.

Dijhigo is phlegmatic about those who leave, though he laments that the country’s youth will no longer be able to benefit from their experience.

“If some athletes want to go professional — OK, no problem,” he says. “Only we never stop working. We never stop preparing athletes.”

He expands on his philosophy. “Sport is like the discipline of life. If you obey the discipline of life you can be, you can do better, you can offer more. You can offer more and also you cannot be selfish — it is not only for you.

“You should be grateful to the ancestor, the people who came before you, who give to you all that you received, and now you are offering.”

Cuba have won 194 medals in total at summer Olympics, with 100 of these coming in boxing and athletics. The country is broadening its horizons though, Dijhigo explains, despite incredible logistical issues when it comes to acquiring equipment.

“In cycling, we are getting better. But the bicycles we want to buy are from the United States, which is very close,” he explains. “But we have to buy from another place. We cannot buy from Mexico as the companies are owned by the US companies. We have to, for example, get a Jamaican to go to Mexico and buy a bicycle and bring it to Cuba after going back through Jamaica.

“We have one bicycle for every two or three athletes — a direct effect of the blockade.”

Such struggle would provoke bitterness in many, but not in Dijhigo nor Valle, whose joviality transcends his lack of English.

Valle competed against the likes of Britain’s Colin Jackson in his heyday — and has fond memories of competing at the top in an event in which Cuba now has the Olympic champion in Dayron Robles.

“I competed against athletes from many countries, but we were all friends,” Valle recalls fondly. “We may have a different system or way of life, but we would talk, be friends, no problem.”

As the duo depart, I am told that part of the schedule for their short trip is to take some training sessions with athletes from Sharp’s club and it reminds me of Dijhigo’s earlier remark, “We not only prepare athletes but a person who can be a good person in society.”

Valle and Dijhigo’s actions show that these are not mere words.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Alberto Juantorena to visit UK

Alberto Juantorena, Cuban world champion middle distance runner and Vice President of INDER, the Cuban Institute of Sport, will be coming to the UK as a guest of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. He will be attending a number of events and meetings around that time with a focus on parliament and the upcoming London Olympics.
At the 1976 Summer Olympics, Juantorena became the first and so far only athlete to win both the 400 and 800m Olympic titles setting world records at both events.   With his famous sprint and his unique middle distance combination he seemed to have heralded a new era and style for middle distance runners. In the 1970’s Juantorena was often referred to as ‘White Lightening’ or ‘El Caballo’ (the horse).
Current UK Olympic chief Sebastian Coe is a friend and admirer of Juantorena and they ran against each other on a number of occasions in the late 1970s.  In 1979 Sebastian Coe finally broke Juantorena’s 800m record

"I remember seeing him in Montreal and thinking, 'I'm in the wrong distance.' This was a record that was sensational." - Sebastian Coe
With the 2012 London Olympics fast approaching his visit is a timely reminder of the strength of Cuban sporting achievement, reflecting the open participatory nature of sport and culture within Cuban society.
Juantorena is one of the most prominent of Cuban sporting figures and travels the world in his role as a council member of the International Athletics Federation (IAAF). He has always maintained the highest standards in support of athletics and sports in general and is a great exponent of the Cuban sports ethos.

“We want to promote the great qualities of athletics - and maintain its integrity - all over the world.”
Juantorena will be one of the special guest speakers at the Latin America Conference on December 3rd at Congress House. He will speak alongside three of the mothers of the Miami Five as well as over 50 speakers from Latin America and Cuba.

Juantorena's visit is a real opportunity for people to hear first hand from this true great of world athletics

For media enquiries and hi-res photos contact Cuba Solidarity Campaign via telephone 0208 800 0155 or email

Watch Juantorena discuss the 800m with Sebastian Coe, Wilson Kipketer, and David Rudisha

Watch Juantorena win the 800m at 1976 Olympic games

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Latin America Conference 2011

This year's Latin America Conference will feature special guests from Cuba including Alberto Juantorena - former Olympic gold medalist - and mothers of the Miami 5.

Tickets available from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign via telephone (020 8800 0155) or online.

Please join the Facebook Event to stay up-to-date with speakers. Full details can also be found here.

Vigil for the Miami Five

Please start mobilising for this Vigil today. Bring candles, flags and trade union banners.

Full details and Facebook group here. Full list of speakers here.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

How the U.S. is preparing a "Cuban Spring"

Felice Gorordo, who has worked in the White House, is one of the founders of Roots of Hope.
The organisation is part of Washington's latest offensive against Cuba
Haitians have repeatedly witnessed how Washington carries out “regime change” in the past two decades. In the lead-up and aftermath of the 1991 and 2004 coups, we saw how the U.S. concocted organizations like the Democratic Convergence and Group of 184 through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). U.S. subversion has succeeded twice in Haiti, but it has failed miserably dozens of times in our neighbor Cuba. Let’s look at the most recent destabilization campaign they are cooking up for our Cuban brothers and sisters.

The U.S. government has been trying to snuff out the Cuban revolution for over 50 years. Through multiple attacks by the CIA, it has tried everything, but the Cuban revolution continues on its socialist path, benefitting not only the Cuban people but other peoples of the world – with doctors, soldiers, and technicians – thanks to Cuba’s revolutionary internationalism.

Now, the U.S. is trying to take advantage of popular struggles, like those in the Arab world, against the very governments which it used to support. These struggles are often led by the large, educated young generation of 15 to 30-year-olds. Using this model, the U.S. wants to prepare Cuba’s youth for a counter-revolution. By working through a Cuban-American organization called “Roots of Hope” – "Raíces de Esperanza" in Spanish – U.S. officials dream of organizing a "Cuban spring."

Roots of Hope was launched in 2003 by a group of idealistic young Cuban-Americans. Their website says: "We are a network of more than 3,000 students and young professionals across the U.S. and abroad focused on empowering Cuban youth. We seek to inspire young people to care about Cuba, think outside the box and proactively support our young counterparts on the island through innovative means. In 2003, we were founded by college students as an association between the Georgetown and Harvard Cuban American student groups. Today, we encompass a dynamic and diverse group of young servant leaders throughout the U.S. with students at more than 55 universities and young professionals in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami. We hope to make a positive impact on Cuba."

One of the main projects of Roots of Hope is to send cellphones to Cuban youth to “help them connect with each other.” It has also established a fund to promote travel to Cuba by young Cuban-Americans.

According to its leaders, the organization is apolitical, with members having very different views on U.S. policy toward Cuba. Since its founding in 2003, Roots of Hope has sponsored academic forums at Harvard, Georgetown, Princeton, Duke and the University of Pennsylvania, through a network of over 2,000 students, young professionals and graduates, representing more than 87 schools and 28 affiliated organizations.

They define their mission as "empowering youth to become authors of their own future." Their vision:
A day when Cuban youth are empowered with the necessary skills and opportunities to make a successful future for themselves and their families in Cuba. A day when youth on the island can freely participate in open exchanges about their ideas, hopes, dreams, and realities. A day when Cuban youth can freely say, think, feel, or do what they want and not what they're told – without repression. When Cuban youth in and outside of the island can be reunited.
Is this what is called apolitical? Isn’t the political message loud, clear and concrete?

One of the founders of Roots of Hope is Felice Gorordo. He is a White House employee in the White House Fellows program. As the White House’s website explains:
Founded in 1964, the White House Fellows program is one of America's most prestigious programs for leadership and public service. White House Fellowships offer exceptional young men and women first-hand experience working at the highest levels of the federal government.
Gorordo works in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House. He also worked with the George W. Bush administration’s Cuba Transition Coordinator, Caleb McCarry, who was responsible for defending U.S. interests in Cuba and promoting the Cuban revolution’s destruction.

Another founding member of Roots of Hope is Tony Jimenez. He said the group is nonpartisan, that the organization works hard to stay above the political fray regarding Cuba.

However, Roots of Hope is an organization of the reactionary right, supported by the Cuban Democratic Directorate, and the Cuban American Legislators, two virulently anti-Cuban-Revolution organizations based in Florida.

So here we have an organization which purports to not support or endorse any political group or candidate, and to be apolitical. Is it due to this complete lie that many young people in the United States have innocently joined it, unaware of the truth? This organization, which claims to work for the unity of young Cubans, creating a link between young people in Cuba and the United States, is a rising force which the enemies of the Cuban revolution have concocted to destabilize Cuba. Its real role is to assist the struggle of U.S. imperialism against Cuba. They aim to, as their website says to “use new media to promote positive social change in the U.S. and Cuba.” Of course, Roots of Hope did not choose other ways to help young Cubans, like, say, Pastors for Peace, which brought busloads of medicine and medical equipment. Instead, Roots of Hope sends Cuba cellular telephones so it can try to corrupt young people with counter-revolutionary text messages and voice mails.

How can this organization, which claims to be apolitical, be linked to and working in solidarity with  the infamous “Ladies in White” (Las Damas de Blanco) and support the arch-reactionary blogger Yoani Sánchez. Who’s fooling whom?

In fact, the work of Roots of Hope is not much different from that done by the accomplished international terrorist Orlando Bosch Avila and his criminal organization, of which the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles is an influential member. On their site, Roots of Hope even sends a solidarity message to the Ladies in White, employed by the CIA: "You sent a strong message of support to those who struggle for human rights and nonviolent change in Cuba. With this momentum, together let’s take the next steps to make an impact on the island and empower those who hunger for change in Cuba!"

And who funds Roots of Hope? In addition to the U.S. government, Roots of Hope is sponsored by Bacardi Rum, Liberty Power, Hispanic Magazine, Navarro Discount Pharmacy, and a host of other counter-revolutionary companies.

On Sep. 21, a Haïti Liberté reporter attended a fundraising activity organized at the Chelsea Art Museum in Manhattan for Roots of Hope and another organization called "100 Cameras." At the event, one of the organizers clearly stated that, in Cuba, people are already wearing Roots of Hope T-shirts, and they are clear about the organization’s counter-revolutionary goal.

Roots of Hope also attended the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) which took place on Sep. 23 in Orlando, Florida. During this conference, Roots of Hope was part of a panel entitled "Paralyzed by communism: Freedom of expression in Cuba."

The organization "100 Cameras" is no different that its sister, Roots of Hope, and this explains why the two groups closely work and fundraise together. We need not speculate, we need only visit the "100 Cameras" website to understand their mission and purpose. Here is what Francine Angela Bullock, their Public Relations Director, writes there:
Why Cuba? ... The island remains the world’s longest lasting socialist government. And right now, Cubans face limited possibilities restricted by their own government. And these limitations tend to create a climate of fear that discourages creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship... We knew that during this time of significant political change between Cuba and other parts of the world, we could provide the opportunity to see Cuba through the eyes of a child... Without any political agenda. It would be the children’s raw perspective that would raise awareness and funds! We knew that if 100cameras had the opportunity to empower these children, then we could empower the grassroots efforts for positive social change within their communities. And ultimately, even the entire island... And we asked ourselves instead, “Why NOT Cuba?” Besides, a project like this has never been successfully done before within Cuba... Help us empower the Cuban youth through the voice of photography.
In short, these two organizations – Roots of Hope and 100 Cameras – are trying to use technology to promote social conflicts, especially in Cuba, since they failed to do so by acts of terrorism and above all by the economic blockade. Imperialism is coopting the techniques pioneered by the popular uprisings against their client regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.

For sure, the U.S. government will continue its efforts to destabilize the Cuban socialist system, even though their attempts to destroy the Cuban Revolution have always failed. Now they are working at the base, going to young people, even children, in an effort to corrupt them to create a new generation of men and women who can become imperialism’s agents and try to return Cuba to being the U.S.’s whorehouse.

Fortunately, the Cuban people are organized, conscious, and alert. Let us Haitians continue to show our solidarity with the Cuban people, the same way Cuba has always provided solidarity to us.

This article was written for Haiti Liberte by Mona Peralte

Monday, 31 October 2011

Zombies Attack Cuban Town

Dozens of filmmakers dressed up as zombies early on Sunday “attacked” the Cuban town of San Antonio de los Baños, where for the past four years the only procession of the living dead has been held on the island.

People costumed as the zombies of priests, clowns, drunkards, doctors and regular people wandered through the town’s central streets, scaring the locals with groans and cries and splashing “blood” onto curious onlookers after getting off a bus provided by Cuba’s International Film School, or EICTV.

That institution, which is based in the town, four years ago launched the march of the living dead as a way of integrating the school into the community and paying tribute to horror films.

The first edition of the event only attracted 12 of the townspeople, but it has been growing in popularity and now is a much-anticipated diversion, said one of the procession’s coordinators and a professor at the school, Colombian Andres Buitrago.

A group of 80 students, professors and graduates of EICTV on Friday began the show and wrapped up their party a few hours later with the screening of short horror films on one of the town’s central plazas.

By showing the short features, the organizers said they wanted to honor the school’s 25 years in operation, an anniversary that will be celebrated in December, and they decided to share with the public some of the works in the horror genre that the institution has produced.

EICTV, founded in 1986, is considered to be the most important academic project of the New Latin American Film Foundation, based in Havana and headed by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The institution has some 800 graduates around the world and has made San Antonio de los Baños into the most filmed town in Cuba, given that its stories and locations appear in many of the works produced by the students.

Costa Rica’s Marcos Machado, one of the coordinators of the procession, emphasized that this event is the largest zombie march in Cuba and it is not a common activity in the country, although it remains to be seen whether “some day the virus spreads to other communities.”

“It has nothing to do with Halloween. The zombie processions in all countries have a specific connotation, in some it’s a way of saying no to violence, of having young people seek their own space, but others are (held) at film, horror or music festivals,” he said.

In Cuba, where there is no tradition of celebrating Halloween, the living dead are only just starting to become more popular.

This year, the island’s first zombie film was released, entitled “Juan de los muertos” (Juan of the dead) and directed by Cuban Alejandro Brugues, a graduate of EICTV.

The film tells the story of a zombie invasion in Havana, where a Cuban starts a business to make money from the situation and free the local residents from that “crisis.”
This article originally appeared in the Latin American Herald Tribune

Friday, 28 October 2011

America a Prison for René González

Rene with his daughter, Irma, following his release
The following article was written by Stephen Kimber and published by The Huffington Post on the eve of René González's release.

On the eve of René González's release from an American prison - but not his prison America will now become - it's worth reminding ourselves what terrible crimes he committed.

Why was he sentenced to 15 years in jail? And why do American officials now insist he serve his post-prison parole in Florida instead of in Cuba?

In 1998, González - a member of the Cuban Five spy ring - was charged with failing to formally register as an agent of a foreign government. Guilty as charged.

In December 1990, González "stole" a small plane from a Havana airfield and "defected" to Florida. Not surprisingly, he didn't tell authorities he was a Cuban intelligence agent whose mission was to infiltrate militant Miami exile groups.

The reason he didn't - the reason he'd been sent to Florida in the first place - was that U.S. authorities rarely charged Cuban exiles, even those clearly violating American Neutrality Act prohibitions against launching armed attacks on another country from U.S. soil.

Cuba certainly isn't the only country to dispatch clandestine agents to other countries in order to protect its homeland from attack. Consider... well how about post-9/11 America? How many American agents are currently operating secretly inside Pakistan because the U.S. government believes Pakistan is unable or unwilling to deal with terrorist threats there? How many of those agents registered with Pakistani authorities?

It's also worth noting how the U.S. has dealt with other unregistered foreign agents. Last year, 10 Russians pled guilty to being long-term Moscow agents inside the United States. Instead of sending them to prison, Americans authorities sent them home in a swap for four foreign nationals the Russians had convicted of spying on them.

The Cold War was over. Except, of course, when that hot-cold war involved Cuba. Welcome to America's war on terrorism (fighters).

In addition to feloniously failing to tell American authorities he was not an anti-Castro "freedom fighter," René González also stood accused of... "general conspiracy"? General what?

Despite thousands of seized documents and two years' of pre-arrest surveillance, prosecutors couldn't produce a shred of evidence González had ever stolen - or tried to steal, or even thought about stealing - any of America's state secrets.

So they charged him with... general conspiracy. Which apparently means if they can't arrest you for what you're doing, they'll get you for what you're thinking... or what they think you're thinking.

What did González really do?

I spent months poring over 20,000-plus pages of his trial transcript. Here's what the record shows he did.

He infiltrated - and reported back to Havana on - a militant Cuban exile organization called PUND.

PUND trained in Florida for armed attacks against Cuba. They did so openly. In 1995, the FBI questioned members of the group in connection with one plot - but released them without charges.

González also infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, a supposedly humanitarian group that boasted of illegal incursions into Cuban air space. Thanks to González and other agents, Havana learned:

• Brothers' founder José Basulto inquired about purchasing a used Czech fighter jet;

• Exile militants wanted to use a Brothers' planes for a mid-air attack on an aircraft carrying Fidel Castro to the United Nations;

• Brothers to the Rescue members test-fired anti-personnel weapons for possible use in Cuba.

And González infiltrated another supposedly peaceful group - Movimiento Democracia - whose members openly violated Cuban territorial waters.

During his time as an agent in Florida, González even served briefly as an FBI informant. A PUND member had enlisted him to ferry cocaine from Puerto Rico to Florida to raise money to buy more weapons to attack Cuba. González tipped off the FBI.

Based on court documents, that is the sum of René González's "general conspiracy."

U.S. prosecutors were so unsure of their conspiracy case they offered González ever sweeter - and more sour - inducements to cop a plea before his trial.

At one point, they dangled the carrot of avoiding trial by pleading guilty to a single count of being an unregistered agent. But "the last paragraph of the plea agreement draft," González recalls, included "a not-so-veiled invitation to consider my wife's resident status is at stake."

González drew a middle finger in the space left for his signature.

The next day, Aug. 16, 2000, immigration officials arrested his wife, and deported her. He has not been allowed to see her since.

René González has now done his time. He's been in jail since his arrest in 1998. He spent his first 17 months in solitary confinement. As required by Florida law, he will have served 85 per cent of his sentence inside prison before being paroled.

Now he wants to go home to Havana to see his family.

There's no public benefit to forcing him to serve his parole in hostile Florida. He is not about to be "reintegrated" into American society, and he could be in physical danger from vengeful exiles. Still U.S. prosecutors opposed his application. The same judge who originally sentenced him sided with prosecutors.

The issue is that González continues to defend what he did.

"I have no reason to be remorseful," González told his original sentencing hearing. He condemned the hypocrisy of the American justice system for charging him and his fellow defendants for the non-crime of trying to protect their country from terrorist attack while ignoring the real crimes of exile terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch who stood accused of the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight that killed 73 people, and a string of 1997 attacks on Cuban tourist hotels that killed a Canadian.

So on Friday René González will be released from his physical prison but only into another, psychic one.

It continues. Welcome to America's continuing war on terrorism (fighters).

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

UN resoundingly condemns US blockade of Cuba 186 votes to 2

For the 20th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution calling for the lifting of the 50-year-old economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba.

The 191-member United Nations body voted to condemn the “adverse effects” of such measures on the Cuban people and on Cuban nationals living in other countries in the non-binding resolution.

Countries from across the world – from China to Mexico and from Algeria to South Africa – queued up to lend their political and diplomatic support to Cuba. The representative from Uruguay noted that “we have witnessed an increase in the restrictions on Cuba’s transactions with third countries” and the blockade is “counter to the principles of justice and human rights, hampers and delays development and seriously harms the Cuban economy”.

The delegate from Bolivia – referencing President John F Kennedy’s “ich bin ein Berliner” quote – said the slogan of our time should be “I am a Cuban” as the Cuban people remain an “inspiration and example” to the rest of the world. He continued, “if we truly believe in democracy then we must listen to the countries in this room”

Venezuela sent a message of support and solidarity to the Miami 5 and appealed to the United States for their release and the return of Rene Gonzalez to his homeland.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said that the sanctions have caused direct economic damages of close to $1 trillion to the Cuban people over nearly half a century and that President Obama had done little to change this.

"Despite the false image of flexibility that the current U.S. administration intends to portray, the blockade and the sanctions remain intact," Rodriguez told the assembly.

"Why doesn't President Obama's administration take care of the U.S. problems and leave us Cubans alone to solve ours in peace?"

American Ambassador Ronald D. Godard, U.S. Senior Area Adviser for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said the embargo is a bilateral issue and "not appropriately a concern of this assembly."

Resolution A/66/L4 received 186 votes in favour and 2 against (USA and Israel), with 3 abstentions (Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands). In 2010 the vote was 187 to 2.

Read the Cuban FM's full UN speech in English

Time to step up campaigning against the blockade - Support the CSC END IT NOW! campaign and appeal

Watch the Cuban FM's UN speech in Spanish

Monday, 24 October 2011

A message from René González to the people of Cuba

Following his release from prison, René González - one of the Miami Five - sent this message to the people of Cuba. A full English transcript can be read below.

"These words are for my people, to whom I owed since the day I got out of jail and could not be sent because of the circumstances surrounding the need for us to have a safe trip.

It's very difficult talking through a camera to a people who I love so much and which I feel part of, but I needed to communicate with you and say how grateful I am for everything you have done, to tell you that we have felt very accompanied by the messages, the letters from children, all the study and working groups that have sent us their messages from Cuba, the support that we've always had and that has fed us in these years of injustice, which are already too many.

For me this moment of happiness we share is, simply, a parenthesis in a history of abuse where an apex of justice has not been made yet. The fact that I am now out of jail only means that one avenue of abuse, which I'd been subject to, has come to a dead end. But we still have four brothers we have to rescue and we need with us, with their families; among you giving their best and not in those places where they are now, where they get up, wake up every morning, go to a dining room where they shouldn't eat, walk among people they shouldn't walk with, and we really need to continue with the struggle to keep them going.

For me this is just a trench, a new place where I will keep fighting for justice to be done and for The Five to be back at your side.

I want to send a special greeting to the families of the other four brothers, who have really moved me by their joy. It's deeply moving when you talk on the phone with a person who has a son or a husband in jail and takes my freedom as if it was the freedom of one of their own. That really moves me and commits me, and we have to keep struggling because they don't deserve to be where they are.

To all my people, to the thousands of people who have been with us all these years around the world, through whom we have been able to break this information blockade little by little and break the silence that the big media corporations have over the case, I extend on behalf of The Five, my deepest gratitude, my commitment to continue representing you how you deserve, which is ultimately what we The Five are doing, because we're not only five, we are a whole people that has stood for 50 years. And thanks to that we are still standing, because we are inspired by you, because we know that we represent you and will never fail you and will always be at the level that you deserve.

A hug for everyone.

The Five love you from wherever we are."

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

René González leaves prison - but please take action to secure his freedom

René González - one of the Miami Five - was released from prison on 7 October 2011 following 13 years of unjust incarceration.

Although Rene has been released from prison, he is not free and must spend a further 3 years on probation in Miami, despite the fact that his wife, children and family all live in Cuba.

This is an extra and cruel punishment imposed by the US on Rene. By forcing Rene to remain in the US, his life is in danger from the very anti-Cuba terrorist organisations that he was in the country to infiltrate. Furthermore, inflammatory statements from US Congresswoman Lleana Ros-Lehtinen calling him an "enemy of America" further threaten his safety.

Please write to President Obama requesting he intervene in this case today. Full details of the campaigning action and a model letter can be found here. CSC's statement on Rene's release can be read here.

The footage below - filmed by relatives of René - documents the moment the Cuban antiterrorist left Marianna prison in Florida at 4.30am.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Noam Chomsky urges increased action to win freedom for Miami Five

Over 500 activists, academics and students attended a lecture by renowned American philosopher Noam Chomsky on Saturday. The meeting – organised by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign as part of the Latin America series of events – coincided with the release of Rene Gonzalez, one of the Miami Five, and the 44th anniversary of the capture and execution of Che Guevara by CIA-backed troops in Bolivia.

Professor Chomsky analysed the long history of US intervention in Latin America and drew its insidious interference back to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 which claimed the Americas as under the United States’ sphere of influence. The narrative of ongoing intrusion and imposition has been punctuated by violent interventions, but the distinguished theorist argued that progressive movements – from Cuba to Venezuela – have challenged US hegemony in the region.

Chomsky discussed a number of countries – including Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua – but focussed particular attention on US involvement in Cuba’s sovereign affairs. The acclaimed academic bemoaned Cuba’s consistent inclusion on the United States’ list of nations which sponsor terrorism and noted America’s hypocrisy by harbouring known terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch.

Following the release of Rene Gonzalez, Chomsky declared that “there are real reasons to be concerned about his safety” because Florida – where Rene is due to be held on probation for three years – is “one of the major terrorist havens in the world”. Nearly 3,500 Cubans have died as a result of terrorist attacks against the island, most of which have emanated from Miami.

When asked about the prospect of the Miami Five receiving justice, Chomsky emphasised the need for increased campaigning and activism within the UK. “If there is substantial public pressure, and here’s where activism in England can make a difference,” said Chomsky, “the US can’t ignore popular ferment from its junior partner”. With legal avenues virtually exhausted, it is essential that we heed Professor Chomsky’s advice and intensify the political struggle to bring freedom to the Miami Five.

Noam Chomsky on Rene Gonzalez and the Miami Five

Noam Chomsky's full lecture

Spaces still available on winter solidarity brigade to Cuba!

You still have a chance to book for this fantastic three-week stay at the International Solidarity Camp near Havana.  Grab the opportunity to work alongside the Cuban people, attend lectures and presentations to learn more about the revolutionary achievements of the island and enjoy a varied programme including: 
  • A trip to the beautiful area of Santa Clara and visiting Che Guevara’s memorial
  • The chance to meet the families of the Miami 5
  • Musical and theatrical performances
  • Meetings with Cuban sportspeople, artists, politicians, educationalists, community workers and veterans of the revolution
  • Christmas day on the beach and learning to salsa
  • A great New Year’s Eve party, Cuban style
  • and many other fantastic activities, as well as volunteering work in a beautiful citrus growing area.
Departing the UK on the 21st of December and returning on the 11th of January, you will love seeing in 2012 in the real Cuba. 

Further details can be found here. Please email Beccie or call the office on 0208 800 0155 to request a booking pack.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

TUC Delegates Support Miami Five

Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey
Nearly 200 TUC delegates attended a lively Latin America solidarity meeting on Monday to hear from speakers on Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Nicaragua and mark the 13th anniversary of the arrest of the Miami Five. Chairing the meeting, NUT General Secretary Christine Blower declared it was “probably the best supported fringe at conference”.

Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary, started by paying tribute to the Cuban Che Guevara medical brigade in Nicaragua which – organised as a result of the ALBA agreement – has performed more than four million consultations since 2007. Len noted that “whilst the prospect for trade unionists in non-ALBA countries is bleak” Cuba is leading the way in providing “real and material benefits” to the dispossessed of Latin America.

Len told delegates about a “remarkable trade union rally” in defence of the Miami Five in Los Angeles recently which was addressed by Tony Woodley. British trade unions continue to raise the issue of the Five with American unions and, with legal avenues exhausted, only this “spirit of internationalism will break through the wall of silence”.
Cuban Ambassador, Esther Armenteros
Cuban Ambassador, Esther Armenteros, lamented the lack of coverage in the mainstream media of the 13th anniversary of the Miami Five’s arrest. Esther told attendees that the Miami Five “remain unjustly imprisoned for combating terrorism against our country and have been subjected to all sorts of humiliations”.

Esther reflected on a telephone conversation she had with Fernando González when she was working as a diplomat in South Africa. “After ten year in prison, Fernando’s voice was of such strength and conviction that, if I ever feel weak, I think of him”. The British trade union movement knows that it will take the same strength and conviction to bring justice to the Five. This, as Esther observed, will only be achieved by building international solidarity and taking the fight to the US.

Esther also drew attention to a recent Save the Children report which placed Cuba top in Latin America and 8th in the world for paediatrics and children’s medical care. The study was based on three fundamental variables: the number of doctors and nurses per thousand inhabitants, the coverage of the vaccination system and the proportion of women who gave birth with an obstetrician present. Cuba finished ahead of Germany, Russia, France, the UK and America. “How is this possible when we have been subjected to 50 years of economic blockade?” asked Esther. “The US has been stopping Cuba from buying drugs to help sick children – despite this, Cuba has come way ahead of the US”.

Venezuelan Ambassador, Samuel Moncada, hailed the trade union movement as the “most progressive section of British society”. Samuel reflected on the huge social strides made in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez declaring “excluding Cuba, we have the least unequal society in Latin America… and we are striving for the best public services after Cuba too”.

Before delegates mingled over Havana Club cocktails, Christine Blower thanked everyone for attending and Thompsons Solicitors for sponsoring the meeting. “Hope and change clearly is possible,” affirmed Christine as she urged everyone to get involved with CSC’s campaign to mark the 50th anniversary of the blockade which will be launched next month.

The mothers of the Five will join the annual Cuba Solidarity Campaign vigil for the Miami Five outside the US Embassy on 1st December and will be speaking at Latin America Conference 2011 on 3rd December. In Spring 2012, a prestigious exhibition featuring Cuban and British artists will include work by Gerardo and Antonio. For more information on these events and the Miami Five, please click here.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Miami 5:Thirteen Years On

Tony Woodley with Gerardo Hernandez
The following article was written by Tony Woodley, former Unite General Secretary, for the Morning Star.

The international media has been full of stories marking the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks against the US this week, but you would need to search hard to find mention of the anniversary of the arrest of five Cuban counter-terrorists in Miami 13 years ago today or the fact that two of their wives have been denied visitation rights for 12 years.
On September 12 1998 the FBI arrested Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez who were trying to stop right-wing groups carrying out terrorist attacks against the Cuban people. Regular readers of this paper will know these names and the story of the Miami Five.

They travelled to Miami to infiltrate and monitor violent right-wing groups opposed to the Cuban government and responsible for the deaths of almost 3,500 Cubans over the last 50 years.

At the request of the US government they passed their findings to the FBI in 1998 but instead of arresting the terrorists the information was used to identify and arrest the five.

Held in solitary confinement, denied proper access to legal teams and tried in a hostile atmosphere which made it impossible to receive a fair trial, they received unprecedentedly harsh sentences ranging from 15 years to double life.

The arrest, trial and sentencing of the Miami Five has enraged legal opinion, NGOs and human rights campaigners from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to Amnesty International. On top of this their wives and families are denied regular family visitation rights. Furthermore, recent evidence revealed that the US government directly funded Miami-based journalists to the tune of $125,000 to broadcast prejudicial articles before and during the trial.

Although the Miami Five enjoy a great deal of support within the British union and international solidarity movement, due to a virtual media boycott their case is almost unknown within the US trade union movement.

Last month I was honoured to be involved in a historic meeting to help break this silence when I travelled to Los Angeles to visit one of the five, Gerardo Hernandez, who is serving two life sentences in Victorville Penitentiary.

On August 13, 200 workers, union leaders and activists came together at the invitation of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Los Angeles - the first time since the five's incarceration that a US union has organised a public meeting to inform their members and ask them to join the fight for justice.

It was great to be able to report this meeting to Gerardo the following day when I visited him at his maximum security prison in Victorville.

Despite 13 years held in this truly inhumane place, the man's spirit - like that of all the five and their families - is inspirational. Gerardo is well aware of the work of the British trade union movement and solidarity campaign for his cause, and sends his gratitude to everyone who fights for justice for the five. He also knows that despite waiting on the outcome of a final legal appeal, ultimately his freedom and that of his four comrades lies in the hands of the US government. This is why I have been working closely with US unions to lobby key stakeholders in the Obama administration.

Aside from the meeting in Los Angeles, British unions working together with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign have made notable breakthroughs in this case over the years, such as ours being the first country in the world to win MPs and unions to the cause.

Earlier this year WikiLeaks released cables that show our own PM raised the case with Hillary Clinton as a direct result of union pressure.

Amnesty International is now supporting the case because family members were given the possibility to explain the injustice to Amnesty face-to-face during numerous visits to Britain since 2005 at the invitation of CSC and British unions.

But increasing international solidarity is vital, and as the president of the Cuban parliament Ricardo Alarcon says: "The struggle must be multiplied until the US government is forced to put an end to this monstrous injustice and restore freedom to Gerardo, Ramon, Antonio, Fernando and Rene."

Supporters of the five do not want to have to mark the September 12 arrest anniversary every year. We would rather be celebrating the anniversary of their freedom. Everyone can play a role in achieving this, whether as individuals or within our unions and the solidarity movement, and there are many upcoming opportunities to do so.

The mothers of the five will be at Unite sectoral conferences in November, joining the annual Cuba Solidarity vigil outside the US embassy on December 1 and at the Latin America 2011 conference on December 3.

In Spring 2012 a prestigious exhibition featuring Cuban and British artists will include work by Gerardo and Antonio, and later next year all four Miami Five wives will visit Liverpool for a major public meeting.

For more information on these and other events, actions and how to get involved see CSC’s Miami Five website

The Miami Five - 13 Years of Unjust Imprisonment

On this day 13 years ago, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González were arrested by the FBI in Miami while trying to stop right-wing groups carrying out terrorist attacks against the Cuban people. The five counter-terrorists – commonly known as the Miami Five – remain unfairly incarcerated within the US; their wives and family members are denied family visitation rights and they are often held in solitary confinement.

For over 50 years, right-wing exile groups within Miami have targeted Cuba killing nearly 3,500 people in terrorist attacks against the island. This has been done with the complicit support of the US government and the CIA.

To saves lives, Cuba sent five men to infiltrate and monitor these violent dissident groups. At the request of the American government, this information was passed to the FBI in 1998 but – instead of arresting the terrorists – the Bureau used the information to identify and arrest the Miami Five on 12 September 1998.

The Miami Five were sentenced to a total of 75 years imprisonment and remain interned within the US. Compare this to the terrorist and former CIA-operative Luis Posada Carriles who – although responsible for the blowing up of a Cuban airliner in 1973 which killed 73 people – remains at liberty in America.

The arrest, trial and sentencing of the Miami Five has enraged legal opinion, NGOs and human rights campaigners from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to Amnesty International.

In October 2010, Amnesty International released a report condemning the trial of the Miami Five and calling for a review of the case. Central to their criticism was the “underlying concern related to the fairness of holding the trial in Miami, given the pervasive hostility to the Cuban government in that area and media and other events before and during the trial . . . there was evidence to suggest that these factors made it impossible to ensure a wholly impartial jury”.

Amnesty raised serious concerns about the circumstances of the pre-trial detention of the five men which involved sporadic solitary confinement and limited access to attorneys and evidence. As the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared in May 2005, this “undermined the equal balance between the prosecution and the defence”.

Amnesty’s report followed a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals which, in August 2005, unanimously overturned the convictions of the Miami Five on the ground that “pervasive community prejudice in Miami against the Castro government merged with other factors to prejudice their right to a fair trial”. The decision was promptly quashed by the US government.

Furthermore, recent evidence obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act demonstrates that the American government directly funded Miami-based journalists to write and broadcast prejudicial articles and commentary before and during the trial. Despite overwhelming evidence, the Supreme Court has consistently refused to consider appeals on these grounds – even though similar cases have been granted a retrial.

Legal avenues in defence of the Miami Five have virtually been exhausted and only humanitarian intervention from President Barack Obama or the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can give justice to the five and their families. Public pressure to break the silence around this case is vital.

UK-based NGO the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the British trade union movement have been crucial in building the broadest possible alliance in support of family visitation rights and, ultimately, the release of the Miami Five.

Any potential solution lies with the American government and the British movement in support of the Miami Five has been working closely with US unions – including the United Service Workers, the United Steel Workers and the Teamsters – to lobby key stakeholders in the Obama administration.

In a recent meeting in support of the Miami Five in Los Angeles, former Unite the Union General Secretary Tony Woodley declared, “the Miami Five enjoy a great deal of support on the international level, but that is not the case inside the United States. Solidarity is absolutely crucial in this case and the political struggle will be decisive for the return of the Miami Five to Cuba”.

America’s duplicity with regard the Miami Five is laid bare by Cuba’s ongoing inclusion on the US State Department terror blacklist alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria. As the Cuban Foreign Ministry said recently, the US government “has absolutely no moral right to judge Cuba, which has an unblemished history in the fight against terrorism and has been consistently the victim of this scourge”. This allegation is vindicated by the grotesque treatment of the Miami Five and the inexplicable harbouring of Posada Carriles.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry accused the US of the “political manipulation” of the sensitive issue of terrorism and, similarly, the handling of the Miami Five must be seen as distinctly political.

The unjust treatment of the Miami Five typifies US foreign policy towards Cuba and – when contrasted to the United States’ promotion and funding of dissident groups in Cuba – highlights American hypocrisy. The freedom of the Miami Five will only be secured through collective political action across the broadest possible campaign. Until their release, the campaign will continue.