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Vol. 73/No. 49      December 21, 2009

‘Mobilize workers to
support Cuban Five’
TIJUANA, Mexico—The international campaign to free the Cuban Five and the world capitalist economic crisis were the central themes of the sixth Cuba/Venezuela/Mexico/North America Labor Conference, held here December 4-6. About 120 trade unionists and others attended the conference from the United States, Mexico, Cuba, and elsewhere in the Americas.

The gathering opened with a program on the fight to win freedom for Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González. These five Cuban revolutionaries have been imprisoned in the United States for more than 11 years on frame-up charges that include “conspiracy to commit espionage” and, in one case, “conspiracy to commit murder.” They had been monitoring right-wing groups in the United States that have carried out violent attacks against the Cuban Revolution. (See article on front page.)

Silvia García, a member of the National Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba, reported on the current stage in the fight against the unjust imprisonment of the five. The fact that three of the political prisoners have won resentencing hearings to lower their prison terms “shows that solidarity is important,” García said. “We have to continue putting pressure on the U.S. government and on [President Barack] Obama.”

Carmen Godines, of the international relations department of the Central Organization of Cuban Workers (CTC), also spoke on the program. She reviewed the increased support in the labor movement for the campaign to release the Cuban Five, including resolutions from locals of the International Longshore Workers Union, Service Employees International Union, and San Francisco Labor Council in the United States, as well as from unions in Canada, Portugal, United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

“We need to mobilize workers to support” this fight, she said. “We have to remember that workers are the revolutionary class. We produce, so we are an important class. We ask the labor movements around the world to help us.”

Alicia Jrapko, U.S. coordinator of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five, reported that in the previous days supporters of the five were able to publicize the case with the media in Tijuana and the nearby city of Mexicali. “We need to multiply our actions,” she said.

Participants decided to send a letter to President Obama on behalf of the conference, demanding the release of the Cuban Five and the immediate granting of visas for Adriana Pérez and Olga Salanueva, the wives of Gerardo Hernández and René González, respectively. Washington has repeatedly refused them entry to visit their husbands in prison.

Workers face depression conditions
The deepening world capitalist depression was the framework of much of the weekend’s discussions. José Rivera, of the telephone workers union and the Broad Front of Solidarity and Struggle in Puerto Rico, described the attacks on workers in that U.S. colony. In the name of fighting budget deficits, the government is carrying out “privatization, 14 new taxes, deregulation, elimination of worker protection laws, and is firing 30,000 public workers,” he said. “Our response is that the capitalist crisis is not the fault of the workers—let the rich pay.”

Rivera said workers have organized pickets, protests, and mass marches. Nearly 50,000 marched on May Day 2009. He pointed to an October 15 day-long strike that included a massive protest and rally in the banking center in Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan.

“The world crisis has had a big impact on us in Cuba,” said Raymundo Navarro of the CTC. “It’s the third big obstacle we face,” alongside the U.S. blockade and the devastation by hurricanes last year. The price of nickel, one of Cuba’s main exports, has fallen from $51,000 per ton in November 2008 to $8,000-9,000 per ton today. At the same time the price of food Cuba must import has risen dramatically. The collapse of the price of sugar has forced a restructuring and large layoffs in the sugar industry.

“In a capitalist country the sugar workers would be in the streets,” Navarro noted, “but in Cuba we organized study programs in which workers are paid 100 percent of their wages while they learn another trade or complete a university program.”

“I prefer a system like in Cuba, where if there’s problems it’s equalized” among the population, commented Héctor, a vendor who came to the conference from Mexicali. He asked that his last name not be used.

“Here in Mexico the government is trying to privatize education and health care. The first thing they try to do is get rid of the unions like they’re doing to the electrical workers,” Héctor said. Unemployment is continuing to worsen, he added, causing a lot of social devastation.

Other speakers at the conference hailed from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and the United States.
Related articles:
Cuban 5 win 2 more reduced sentences
Cuban Five: ‘We will continue until victory’
N.Y. pickets: ‘Free Cuban Five now!’
Continue fight to free Cuban 5!  
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