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Vol. 78/No. 42      November 24, 2014

Fight to free Cuban 5 wins
supporters in Bangladesh
(special feature)
DHAKA, Bangladesh — A rally of several hundred youth in the rural district of Barisal and other events in this South Asian country have helped spread the international campaign to free Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, and Antonio Guerrero, held in U.S. prisons on trumped-up charges for more than 16 years. Garment workers fighting to organize unions, farmers and other working people have readily identified with the framed-up Cuban revolutionaries and the effort to win their release.

A rally demanding freedom for the Cuban Five was held Oct. 25 on the grounds of a school near Barisal, a river port city in southern Bangladesh. About 600 high school students from five schools along with their teachers took part with local political figures and other residents.

The main organizer of the event was Jahangir Khan, chairperson of Free the Cuban Five Bangladesh, who is originally from a nearby farming town. An English-language broadsheet was distributed to all the participants. On the front page it reprinted the preface by Pathfinder Press President Mary-Alice Waters to the book Voices From Prison: The Cuban Five.

10,000 sign petitions
Khan reported that 10,000 people, including students from more than 20 schools in Barisal and Dhaka, had signed a petition demanding the release of the Five. The Free the Cuban Five Bangladesh committee also sent more than 300 endorsements from students, farmers, journalists, attorneys, writers and others to the International Commission of Inquiry into the Case of the Cuban Five, held in London in March.

The rally, conducted in both Bengali and English, featured an international panel of speakers. Surendra Raj Gosai, president of the Cuba Solidarity Committee Nepal, pointed to the recent “protest rallies, talk programs, book publishing, sports events, and cultural activities” on behalf of the Cuban Five carried out in Nepal. On Sept. 25, he said, hundreds marched in a “Solidarity Journey” in the capital Katmandu.

Narayan Man Bijukchhe (Rohit), chairman of the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party, told the rally that “the five Cuban heroes are exemplary products of the Cuban Revolution” and an inspiration for millions in Nepal and worldwide.

The Nepalese delegation brought copies of their new magazine, Solidarity, which carries biographies of each of the Five, a timeline of the case, and a report on the International Colloquium for the Freedom of the Cuban Five, held in Havana in September.

Martín Koppel, from New York City, told the audience that “the fight to free the Cuban Five finds resonance especially among working people resisting attacks by the U.S. employers and their government on our rights, wages and living standards.” Koppel is a co-author and co-editor of The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should be Free, published by Pathfinder.

Koppel pointed to how the Cuban volunteer medical brigades, in leading the fight against Ebola in West Africa, “are showing the world what is possible when workers hold state power. Cuba’s internationalist ‘army of white coats’ is striking the most powerful blow yet for the freedom of Gerardo, Ramón, and Antonio.”

Ron Poulsen, from the Australia Cuba Friendship Society in Sydney, Australia, and a member of the Communist League, noted that three of the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernández, Fernando González and René González, are themselves examples of Cuba’s proletarian internationalism. They were among the 425,000 Cuban volunteer combatants in Angola who helped defeat invasions by the South African apartheid regime in the 1970s and ’80s.

Miqdhad Ismail spoke for the People’s United Front of Sri Lanka, which is part of the Cuba-Sri Lanka Friendship Association. That organization hosted a 2012 Asia-Pacific conference in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution, held in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Several of the speakers at the Barisal rally had taken part in that conference.

Also speaking were Sheikh Tipu Sultan, member of parliament for the Workers Party of Bangladesh, and Kazi Emdadul Haque, a local district president of the Awami League, the main party in Bangladesh’s coalition government. The Workers Party is active in the Bangladesh-Cuba Friendship Association.

Some of the speakers also took up the importance of defending North Korea in face of U.S. trade and financial sanctions and constant military threats. Among them was Raymond Ferguson from Brisbane, Australia, representing the Asia-Pacific Solidarity Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.

Workers eager to learn about Five
In Dhaka, the capital city, “Free the Cuban Five right now!” was the chant of some three dozen people at an Oct. 28 picket line and march. Held in front of the National Press Club, a popular focus of protests here, it was called by the New Way Bangladesh Party (NDB). Many of the participants were members of two peasant organizations that endorsed the action.

NDB leaders Shanta Farjana and Momin Mahadi spoke at the picket line, as did Abdul Mannan Azad, a veteran of the 1971 liberation war that won independence from Pakistan. Three speakers from the Barisal rally — Ismail, Koppel, and Poulsen — also briefly addressed the demonstrators.

Three days later Koppel and Poulsen were invited to speak at a forum on Cuba and the Cuban Five sponsored by the NDB. The event, held in a local restaurant, drew about 40 people, mostly factory workers, students, and farmers.

Shipra Rani Mistri, president of the Kishani Sabha peasant women’s organization, spoke about struggles by rural women for land and thanked the other speakers for talking about the Cuban Five.

“Thanks to you we’re learning about the Cuban Five,” one audience member said. “We need to go to other areas of Bangladesh to make this fight known.” Afterward, several people subscribed to the Militant and bought The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free and other books published by Pathfinder Press about the Cuban Revolution and class struggle in the U.S and worldwide.

A similar response came from garment workers who invited a team of Militant reporters to the headquarters of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) to learn about their ongoing battles to organize unions and fight for higher wages, benefits, safer conditions and dignity on the job.

Hira, an NGWF member who purchased Voices From Prison, looked at a photo in the book showing Fidel Castro next to Nelson Mandela during the South African leader’s 1991 visit to Cuba. She commented that she knew about Mandela but not about Castro or the Cuban Revolution.

Several workers from the Ha-Meem Sportswear factory who are fighting a union-busting plant closure were eager to receive books on the Cuban Five and Cuban Revolution, including Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution. Despite their limited English, they studied the books’ photo pages. Lopa, a fellow unionist who is fluent in English, volunteered to read with them and sight-translate the material.
Related articles:
Who are the Cuban Five?
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