Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"Hands off Cuba!" Activists Demand in Atlanta

Atlanta Progressive News

By Will Scott Crutcher, Staff Writer, Atlanta Progressive News (August 14, 2006)

(APN) ATLANTA – Activists demanded “Hands off Cuba ” at a press conference on the steps of Atlanta City Hall today.

Members of Atlanta Cuba Solidarity, Every Church a Peace Church, and International Action Center demanded the immediate release of the Cuban Five.

Activists also raised concerns about various statements made by members of the Bush Administration suggesting possible U.S. intentions to influence Cuban politics during Castro’s illness and in a post-Castro era.

The activists also presented a Get Well Card that they will send to Castro.

Sobukwe Shukura, the Coordinator of Atlanta Cuba Solidarity, thanked Cuba “for showing there is another way without the strong feeding on the weak, a world without burdensome IMF [International Monetary Fund] loans, where humanity can triumph over profit. We say to ourselves if Cuba, a country with little money, can protect its people against hurricanes, and educate and medicate its people, there is no reason it can’t happen here in the richest country in the world.”

One Atlanta-based activist, Dianne Mathiowetz, of the International Action Center, who traveled to Cuba, shared her story.

Mathiowetz said she got a “totally different perspective on the well-educated and peaceful nature of the Cuban people and Cuban society than what is blared at us by our media here in the U.S.”

Attorney Don Edwards, host of the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters program entitled Every Church a Peace Church, said, “The greatness of a country is not determined by the number of countries it can occupy and control nor by the numbers or types of weapons it can use, but by how many of its people it can feed and teach to read. How does it care for the health of its citizens?” He added, “Even more a measure of greatness is how it treats and cares for people, particularly the poor around the world.”

Five Cuban nationals—Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez, and Ramon Labanino, collectively known as the “Cuban Five”--have been incarcerated since 1998 by the U.S.

The five were allegedly Cuban agents sent in the mid-1990s to spy on Cuban exile groups located in the U.S. with the intention of gathering intelligence about possible terrorist attacks against Cuba and seeking information about a U.S. Naval installation, according to the World Press Review.

They were convicted in 2001 in one of South Florida’s most politically heated criminal trials. Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labanino received life sentences. Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez received 19 and 15-year sentences, respectively.

The group’s alleged ringleader, Gerardo Hernandez, was also convicted of participating in the 1997 downing of two aircraft by the Cuban Air Force.

Members of a Cuban exile group known as Brothers to the Rescue were flying these aircraft at the time. The Cuban government insisted the planes were shot down after repeatedly violating Cuban airspace.

Hernandez admitted to informing Cuban authorities of the flight plans of these planes, but denied he had any foreknowledge of Cuban Air Force plans to shoot them down. He received two concurrent life sentences.

In a public statement issued August 10, 2006, by the attorneys of the Cuban Five following the 11th Circuit Court’s August 9, 2006, decision to deny them a new trial, Attorney Leonard Weinglass characterized the initial trial of the defendants in Miami, Florida, as “a perfect storm of prejudice” due to the politically intense feelings regarding the Cuban government of Fidel Castro held by members of the Cuban community located in Miami. A change of venue was sought by the defendants’ attorneys and denied by the trial Court.

The United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions declared the convictions of the Cuban Five to be “arbitrary and in violation of international law” in May of 2005, according to Counterpunch.org.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions on August 9, 2006, and ordered a new trial, the attorneys’ statement said. The U.S. government appealed this decision and the Court accepted the government’s appeal. The Cuban Five currently await a decision regarding their second appeal. The case may go to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Cuban Five “frequently charged U.S. officials with continuing to distinguish between ‘good terrorists’—who support U.S. policies—and ‘bad terrorists’—who don't,” according to the World Press Review.

For years the Cuban government has accused U.S. officials of ignoring the terrorist acts of violent anti-Castro exiles like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, whom the Cuban and Venezuelan governments accuse of planning the 1976 bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight that killed 73 people, according to the World Press Review.

Exile Luis Posada Carriles was jailed last year for illegally entering the U.S. in March of 2005, the Associated Press recently reported. His attorneys are currently asking a federal judge to let him live out of jail with relatives in Miami while the U.S. government searches for a country to where it can deport him.

The theme of a U.S. double standard regarding terrorism is echoed by many supporters of the Cuban Five here and around the world.

Per an Associated Press article, some 400 leftist intellectuals, political leaders, and human rights activists from around the world signed an open letter pleading with the U.S. not to interfere with Cuba while Fidel Castro recovers from recent intestinal surgery. Signers included, among others, Nobel Peace laureate and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu and MIT Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy Noam Chomsky.

At the press conference this morning, Sobukwe Shukura of Atlanta Cuba Solidarity noted the deaths of innocent civilians in Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq, and said these deaths have awakened many people’s concerns for America’s neighboring country, Cuba.

Shakura condemned the 11th Circuit Court’s rejection of the Cuban Five’s appeal as a travesty and decried U.S. attempts to use Fidel Castro’s current illness to undermine the Cuban Revolution.

Shakura then expressed friendship and gratitude to the Cuban people for their many contributions to the world under the leadership of Fidel Castro, including the 20,000 Cuban doctors who serve in many countries around the world.

Shakura commended Cuba’s offer of 1,000 doctors to the US Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, an offer, which he said, was ignored by President Bush.

Shakura cited the large number of scholarships awarded throughout the Americas and Africa by Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine and the free college education and free medical care available to Cuban citizens.

Shakura went on to praise Castro’s commitment to advancing the status of Cuban women. He said Cuban women now hold more medical and science degrees than the male population of Cuba and more elected positions in government. He added they enjoy the benefits of a family leave policy that allows women to take up to a year to return to their regular job after giving birth.

Shakura praised Castro for speaking out against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the invasions of Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq, and went on to call for an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba, an end to the U.S. travel ban on Cuba, and an end to torture.

Shakura pointed out Cuba has a higher literacy rate and a lower infant mortality rate than Georgia and added, “If the citizens of the United States want to feel secure from the threat of terrorism, our government should imitate Cuba by exporting doctors to its allies and neighbors, rather than sending earth penetrating bunker busting bombs and teaching violence at Fort Benning’s School of the Americas (SOA).” The SOA was closed and replaced by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) in 2000, although essentially the same school exists with a new name.

“The only terrorism threat in Cuba comes from Guantanamo,” Edwards said, adding he hopes “Cuba would remain a nation free from the triple evil of militarism, racism and imperialism.”

About the author:

Will Scott Crutcher is a Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at will@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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