The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 77/No. 30      August 19, 2013

Cuba solidarity conference
held in Caracas, Venezuela
Discusses fight against US imperialist domination,
stepping-up international campaign to free Cuban 5
(feature article)
CARACAS, Venezuela — “Nothing is won without struggle,” Kenia Serrano, president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples, told participants in the VII Continental Conference in Solidarity with Cuba. She was referring to the fight to free the Cuban Five — political prisoners held by Washington for the last 15 years. “We need to keep knocking on the door and pressing [U.S. President Barack] Obama,” she said in a session held in the meeting chamber of the Venezuelan National Assembly. “He’s the one who can release them, but to win that victory we must mobilize a jury of millions.”

Some 500 delegates attended the conference, held here July 24-27. Three hundred delegates from across Venezuela joined 196 from more than 30 other countries, seven outside of the Americas. More than 50 participants came from Colombia, 30 from Cuba, about a dozen from the Dominican Republic and nearly 20 from the United States.

The Cuban delegation included Lázara Mercedes López Acea, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba and a vice president of the Cuban Council of State; Ana María Mari Machado, vice president of the National Assembly; former ambassador to Venezuela Germán Sánchez Otero; and Miguel Barnet, president of the Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba.

Among the themes taken up in plenary sessions, panels, workshops and cultural events were the need for united action in the face of U.S. imperialist domination of Latin America, Washington’s half-century-long economic war against Cuba, and the fight to win the freedom of the Cuban Five. A highlight of the conference was the live July 26 broadcast from Santiago de Cuba of the event there marking the 60th anniversary of the assault led by former Cuban President Fidel Castro on the Moncada barracks, the opening battle of the revolutionary struggle that culminated in the mobilization of millions of workers and farmers in Cuba to take political power out of the hands of the capitalist class and destroy their bloody military and economic dictatorship.

Fight against imperialist domination
The conference opened on the 230th anniversary of the birth of Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan-born leader of the fight for Latin American independence from Spain in the early 19th century. Venezuelan historian Alexander Torres spoke about this proud chapter in the struggle by the peoples of Latin America to unify their forces in the fight for independence and sovereignty.

He was joined on the opening panel by Pedro Pablo Rodríguez from the Center for Study of José Martí in Cuba. Rodríguez, holder of Cuba’s 2009 National Social Sciences prize, cited the final letter written in 1895 by Martí, Cuba’s national hero and leader of the country’s third war for independence from Spain. Martí wrote of the need to prevent “the United States from spreading through the Antilles as Cuba gains its independence, and from overpowering with that additional strength our lands of America.” Today, Rodríguez noted, “there remains one colony in the Americas, not of Spain but of the United States — Puerto Rico.”

Many panelists throughout the four-day gathering spoke about the initiatives taken by the government of Venezuela under the leadership of President Hugo Chávez, from his election in 1998 until his death earlier this year, to marshal the economic resources of oil-rich Venezuela to aid other governments of Latin America and the Caribbean resisting economic, political and military pressures from Washington and other imperialist powers.

Along this course, the collaboration between the governments of Cuba and Venezuela was underscored by numerous participants. “When Chávez first met with Fidel Castro in 1994, he asked, ‘What can I do to help Cuba?’” said former Ambassador Sánchez, speaking on a panel on the legacy of Hugo Chávez. He noted that this was four years before Chávez was elected president of Venezuela, when Cuba was going through the worst years of the economic crisis that followed the implosion of the Soviet Union.

Today PetroCaribe, an energy cooperation agreement begun in 2005, provides Cuba and other countries in the Caribbean and Central America with oil at preferential prices, weakening the stranglehold of the imperialist-dominated oil conglomerates. Other initiatives Sánchez pointed to include the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which promotes trade and economic cooperation among the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean as a counter to the U.S.-dominated trade blocs, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a political initiative launched in 2010 to counter the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States.

The first evening featured an inaugural cultural gala, which included a beautiful performance by the youth orchestra Orquesta Sinfónica Alma Llanera, broadcast live on TV. Venezuelan Vice President Jorge Arreaza welcomed the conference participants. “Events like these are necessary,” he said, “to let the world know that we won’t be imposed upon, neither by formulas nor by imperialist military boots.”

Darío Vivas, vice president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, invited the conference to hold a session in the assembly chamber, where he addressed participants along with Serrano and renowned Venezuelan writer Luis Britto García.

U.S. economic war vs. Cuba
“Despite the whole history of war, there are commercial relations today between the United States and Vietnam,” noted Nidia Alfonso from the Cuban Foreign Ministry. “Why not Cuba? Because of the revolutionary process” that Washington will never accept. Alfonso was one of several speakers to describe the severe impact of Washington’s decades-long economic war against Cuba.

“There are some medicines that carry a U.S. patent which no one will sell to Cuba, because of fear of the extraterritorial reach of the blockade,” explained Aleida Guevara, a practicing pediatrician in Cuba and daughter of revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara. She described the case of a child who died for lack of one of these drugs. Guevara and others also pointed to the expansion of the number of U.S. military bases throughout Latin America in recent years as a threat to regional sovereignty.

José Ángel Pérez of the Center for Study of the World Economy in Cuba gave a presentation on the economic measures being introduced in Cuba today. “Let me be clear, our economy is socialist. It’s not a mixed economy. It’s not state capitalist,” he began. “We’re not going back to capitalism.”

The severe economic problems Cuba is addressing today are due to three factors, Pérez said — the U.S. economic war that adds billions to the cost of imports and deprives Cuba of essential products; the collapse of the Soviet bloc at the opening of the 1990s, abruptly wiping out 85 percent of Cuba’s foreign trade; and “our own errors.”

“While the means of production will remain social property,” Pérez noted, the measures being taken today are aimed at increasing labor productivity by decreasing centralized state controls over economic decisions and promoting both individual entrepreneurship and cooperative enterprises, especially in agriculture and in services.

“Ours is the course of scientific socialism,” Pérez emphasized. “It’s not ‘21st Century Socialism’ or the road of ‘Buen Vivir,’” he said, referring to the terms used in Venezuela and Bolivia to describe their respective policies of capitalist reform.

Work in defense of Cuban Five
Mobilizing the broadest and largest possible forces to win the freedom of the Cuban Five — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González — was the central campaign discussed throughout the conference. A feature panel on the case included Irma Sehwerert, mother of René González, and Ailí Labañino, daughter of Ramón Labañino.

“There’s many more opportunities to reach out to the American people,” Sehwerert noted. She pointed to the success of the second “Five Days for the Cuban Five” actions in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of June, and urged delegates to begin planning for the next international gathering in D.C. She also highlighted new support within a few trade unions. This has included the presence of campaigners in defense of the Five — from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in the United Kingdom and from the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 — at the Service Employees International Union convention in May 2012 and at this year’s United Steelworkers “Women of Steel” gathering.

Sehwerert noted that there is currently a habeas corpus petition pending in U.S. court on behalf of the Five, but that there has been no response from the court yet.

Labañino described the obstacles that had to be surmounted to visit her father in prison — a degrading process familiar to the families of the more than 2 million men and women incarcerated in the United States today. “And then there are the lockdowns,” she said. “One time I had a 30-day visa to visit him at the penitentiary in Beaumont, Texas. The day I arrived I was informed the prison was on lockdown and no visits were allowed. I tried every visiting day for a month, and was never allowed in.”

Camilo Rojo, whose father was killed in the 1976 bombing by counterrevolutionaries of a Cubana Airlines flight over Barbados in which 73 Cubans lost their lives, and Moisés Rodríguez, a former Cuban state security agent who spent 28 years infiltrating counterrevolutionary groups in Cuba and the United States, described the kinds of violent attacks that the Cuban Five were working to prevent at the time of their arrest.

María León, a member of Venezuela’s National Assembly, concluded the panel by describing her work in initiating committees of Mothers for the Five throughout Venezuela.

Their presentations were followed by remarks by Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five in the United States, and Alicia Jrapko, U.S. coordinator of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5. They reported ongoing efforts, and plans for future actions to broaden support for the fight.

A lively two-hour discussion continued the next day. Delegates heard reports of activities bringing attention to the case in numerous countries, as well as plans for actions in the coming months that were incorporated in the Declaration of Caracas and Plan of Action adopted by the conference at the closing session.

While many delegates are already involved in work for freedom of the Cuban Five, a good many others were learning details about the case and about the Five themselves — their histories of revolutionary activity — for the first time.

One of the most popular items at the conference was the compilation of Militant articles published in the book The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free from Pathfinder Press. It provides that kind of information about the Five and the 15 years of the fight for their freedom. Some 120 copies of the book were purchased by conference participants, including small bundles by delegates from Argentina, El Salvador, Haiti and Lebanon to take home for use in their own countries.

Tania Blanco, 40, a cleaning worker at a school in Aragua province in Venezuela, was typical. She said she has been involved in organizing activities in defense of the Cuban Five in her region and bought a copy of The Cuban Five to learn more about who they are. Blanco is a candidate for city council for the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Many delegates were interested to find out how the book is being used to broaden knowledge about the case in the United States, including through door-to-door sales in working-class neighborhoods.

Venezuela-Cuba solidarity
The final morning of the conference, participants visited several joint Venezuelan-Cuban projects that highlighted mutual collaboration and solidarity. One of these was Ciudad Caribia, which when completed will include 20,000 modern apartments, along with schools, medical and sports facilities, factories, and shops. Many of those living in the more than 1,500 units already completed are people who lost their homes in 2010 during torrential rains and massive mudslides. Many Cubans are involved in the project, serving as teachers, doctors, and organizing recreational activities.

Other visits included a predominantly Cuban-staffed medical clinic in the working-class 23 de Enero neighborhood in Caracas, as well as the national José Gregorio Hernández Medical Genetics Center in Miranda — part of a genetics study to aid the handicapped that is a joint project of the governments belonging to ALBA.

The conference closed with a march and cultural activity paying tribute to Chávez’s legacy in the fight for Latin American unity in the struggle against imperialist domination. The next day many participants still in Caracas took part in the official commemoration of the 59th anniversary of Chávez’s birth, a gathering of several thousand at which Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro gave a major address aimed at mobilizing supporters of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela for the municipal elections scheduled for December.

In their final plenary session delegates at the conference adopted a Plan of Action that highlights “redoubling the campaign of solidarity” for the freedom of the Cuban Five and Puerto Rican political prisoners held in the United States. Among the upcoming events it points to are the IX Colloquium for the Freedom of the Five and Against Terrorism, Nov. 13-17 in Holguín, Cuba; the World Festival of Youth and Students, Dec. 7-12 in Ecuador; the International Commission of Inquiry into the Case of the Cuban Five in London, March 7-8, 2014; a third round of actions to be organized in Washington, D.C., next year; and the III World Conference in Solidarity with Cuba to be held Oct. 27-31, 2014.
Related articles:
Cuba’s internationalist solidarity: from Venezuela to Colombia to Haiti
Cubans celebrate 60th anniversary of July 26 assault
NY event commemorates opening of Cuban Revolution
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