The meeting, attended by some 40 people, was sponsored by the Cuba Friendship Society and Pathfinder Books in Auckland. It was chaired by Robert Reid, general secretary of the FIRST Union (Finance, Industrial, Retail, Stores and Transport).
Cuba’s ambassador to New Zealand, Maria del Carmen Herrera, was the first of four speakers. “It is not just a book about Cuban women,” she said. It is “the story of the Cuban Revolution—masterfully, simply, and directly told by three women.”
“Contrary to the lies that are told about Cuba in the capitalist media,” Herrera noted, the Cuban Revolution has from the beginning been a struggle for “equality and justice” in which women “have been involved shoulder to shoulder with men.”
Speaking of the importance of The Cuban Five, Herrera underscored the fact that since the revolution’s victory in 1959, Cuba has faced ongoing attacks by counterrevolutionary groups that have caused more than 3,000 deaths and injured thousands more. The Cuban Five—framed up and jailed for nearly 14 years in the United States for working to foil such attacks—are “some of the best sons of Cuba,” she said. “They were sent, not to spy on the U.S. government, but to gather information about the groups attacking Cuba. … It is a duty to keep fighting for their release.”
Kathryn Lehman and Walescka Pino-Ojeda from the Centre for Latin American Studies at the University of Auckland each spoke briefly. Lehman pointed to the influence of the Cuban Revolution throughout Latin America and urged all present to read The Cuban Five. It is a “really good book,” she said.
Pino-Ojeda commented that after reading The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution “now I’m able to understand why in Cuba women have been able to achieve so much.” The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution is an introduction to the Cuban Revolution, said Mary-Alice Waters, from the underground struggle in the cities to the Rebel Army fronts and deepening social revolution in the Sierra Maestra mountains, to the socialist transformation led by Cuban workers and farmers following the victory in 1959. She quoted from the statement by Yolanda Ferrer, today the general secretary of the Federation of Cuban Women, that “from the first day of the revolution what it meant to be female began to change.”
Waters noted that from 1952 on, when the battle against the Batista dictatorship began, more women were involved in the central leadership of the struggle in Cuba than in any previous revolution in history. This reflected vast social changes gestating since World War II as more women were drawn into the workforce, she said. But the clarity of the revolution’s leadership on the importance of the fight for women’s participation was decisive. “It was Fidel Castro’s leadership above all, but not only Fidel,” said Waters, referring to other leaders in the struggles of the 1950s. She pointed to the precedent set by the creation of the all-women’s Mariana Grajales platoon during the revolutionary war and its outstanding combat record.
Birth of the FMCWaters noted that the Federation of Cuban Women, formed after the revolution’s victory, was set up “with no preconceived structure or agenda.” Rather, “it resulted from women demanding to be organized to participate in the urgent work of the revolution,” she said. The FMC’s work began with the simplest things—training women as emergency medical workers; organizing sewing classes since many women couldn’t afford ready-made clothes for their families; organizing child care centers, which also meant first organizing women and men to build the centers.
The FMC also organized schools for the domestic workers left without jobs when most of their employers fled the island after the revolution’s triumph.
Waters noted that these first steps were in the spirit of the trajectory explained by Frederick Engels in 1885 and cited in the book: “True equality between men and women can become a reality only when the exploitation of both by capital has been abolished, and private work in the home has been transformed into a public industry.”
The fight to free the Cuban Five“This is the kind of revolution that produced the Cuban Five,” Waters said, “some of Cuba’s best sons, as the ambassador has described them.” Imperialism uses every means at its disposal in its war against the Cuban Revolution, Waters noted, and the incarceration of the five is an attempt to punish the Cuban people for their refusal to submit to Washington’s dictates. Their lengthy imprisonment is an “attempt to teach a lesson to all those who are fighting around the world,” she said.
The Cuban Five “take their place on the front lines of the class struggle,” said Waters, “not as victims, but as fighters.” She described how each of the five told the U.S. court that condemned them that they were “proud of what they had done, and would do it again without question.”
The conviction of the Cuban Five, despite all the evidence presented in court refuting the charges of conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder, should be seen in the same light as the class “justice” working people in the United States face from the cops and courts, Waters said, noting that the United States has a higher proportion of its population in prison than any other country in the world—2.3 million incarcerated, as well as nearly 5 million more under some form of court supervision.
“Especially among African-Americans, there is hardly a working-class family that is not affected,” she said. “That’s why, as working people learn about the Cuban Five, they can identify with them.”
Freedom of the five will not be won by the good will of President Obama or others in the U.S. government, Waters said. It will be decided by “a jury of millions,” as Gerardo Hernández, one of the five, has put it.
Waters pointed to the devastating consequences the capitalist economic crisis has already had for working people in the United States with the employers so far largely successful drive to slash their labor costs. For the first time in decades, she said, “we are seeing a new kind of resistance to the bosses contract demands and lockouts. And that is where Gerardo’s jury will come from.”
Many of those present planned to participate a week later in the inauguration of a showing of political cartoons drawn by Hernández while in prison.
While a good number of those present had already purchased both new books, eight more copies of The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution and six copies of The Cuban Five were bought by participants following the presentations, as they enjoyed the refreshments, studied the exhibits and stayed to talk.
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