Elizabeth Stevens of the Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals introduced featured speaker Rodolfo Reyes, Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations, and praised Cuba’s medical mission to help stop the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
The Cuban doctors and nurses who have volunteered are considered heroes in Cuba, said Reyes. Some countries that have not sent doctors of their own, offered to pay for the Cuban doctors, Reyes said. “We said no. We do not put our people in danger for money. That is not what we made a revolution for.”
The volunteers are driven by a sense of solidarity and a deep conviction that we must help people in need, Reyes said. “And they know that if they get sick, they will remain in Africa and be treated there to ensure that Ebola is not brought back to Cuba or the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America.
“This takes a certain kind of person,” said Reyes. “The Cuban Five are like this. They went to Florida because there was a need.”
The Five came to the U.S. in the 1990s to defend the Cuban people from rightist paramilitary organizations based in Florida that carry out acts of murder, sabotage and provocation aimed at undermining Cuba’s socialist revolution. The bombing of hotels, Reyes noted, took place during what Cubans refer to as the “special period” — an acute economic and social crisis in Cuba precipitated by the sudden loss of most foreign trade following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“We tend to speak of the electrical blackouts,” Reyes said. “But the real problem was we didn’t have enough food.” In response, the Cuban government made the decision to increase tourism to bring in needed revenue, he said. “That is why the groups in Miami targeted the tourist industry and why the Five volunteered to go to Miami and report back to Cuba on the plans of these organizations.”
Ike Nahem, one of the event’s organizers, opened the program, which was sponsored by a broad range of groups. Gail Walker, co-director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, and César Sánchez of the July 26 Coalition co-chaired.
Luis Barrios, a professor at John Jay College, welcomed people to the school. “The Cuban Five did what they were supposed to do,” he said. “Now it’s our responsibility to get them out and send them home.”
“We salute our fellow heath care workers in Cuba and all those who have volunteered to go to Africa,” said Estela Vasquez, executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, who called for the release of Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero, as well as other U.S. political prisoners, including Mumia Abu-Jamal and Puerto Rican independence fighter Oscar López Rivera.
Vasquez introduced the next four speakers: Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana, two of the “Central Park Five,” who as teenagers were framed up in a highly sensationalized case for assault and rape of a woman jogging in Central Park in 1989 and spent many years in prison; Juanita Young, whose son Malcolm Ferguson, 23, was killed with three shots to the back of his head by cop Louis Rivera in 2000; and Iris Baez, whose son Anthony Baez, 29, was killed by officer Francis Livoti while playing football outside their Bronx home in 1994.
Cop brutality fighters back Cuban 5
“Back in 1989 hundreds of articles called us ‘superpredators’ to stigmatize us like the media did to Trayvon Martin and Ramarley Graham,” said Santana. “What made the difference for us was the public protests. Just like you stood with the Central Park Five, we all need to stand with the Cuban Five.”
The U.S. media and government try to dehumanize people — from the Vietnamese to the Central Park Five and the Cuban Five — to get the public to support attacks against them, said Salaam.
“The Cuban ambassador can’t talk about the U.S. government,” said Baez. “But I can. It’s corrupt from top to bottom, even the president.”
Young noted that officer Rivera, who admitted to killing her son, was never indicted. “The system is the problem. We still allow the same people in power. Mayor de Blasio brought back [Police Commissioner William] Bratton,” she said. “Mothers cry for justice. I would like to meet the mothers of the Cuban Five, to get together with them and go to Obama.”
Martin Garbus, the lead attorney for the Cuban Five, reviewed aspects of the frame-up of the Five and evidence that came out after the trial that the U.S. government paid journalists who wrote prejudicial articles to influence the trial.
Claudia Mendoza, a student at John Jay College studying political science and a member of the People’s Power Movement, was the final speaker.Sunil Suwal, a student at Northeastern University Graduate School in Boston, came down for the meeting after learning about it online. “I first learned about the Cuban Five in Nepal where there have been several actions defending them over the years,” he said after the program. “I was really struck by the relationship between the Central Park Five and the Cuban Five.”
Bangladesh rally builds support for Cuban Five
Who are the Cuban Five?
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