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News ::
04 Oct 2003

By Minnie Bruce Pratt
New York
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Oct. 9, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper


By Minnie Bruce Pratt
New York

With solidarity and struggle anything is possible--from ending apartheid in South Africa to freeing the Cuban Five to creating socialism. That was the message on Sept. 27 at a gathering called "Cuba Speaks for Itself." A cheering crowd of over 600 people filled the Church of Intercession in Harlem, N.Y., for an evening with Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs Felipe Perez Roque.

As the program began, the multinational and intergenerational crowd
waved Cuban flags and chanted, "Cuba sí, bloqueo no!" The U.S.
government has been trying to strangle revolutionary Cuba with a trade embargo and blockade for over 40 years.

With a colorful banner demanding "Free the Cuban Five" hanging inside
the sanctuary, the Rev. Canon Frederick B. Willams welcomed the
gathering to his church that serves both Harlem and Washington Heights, reflecting the lineage of freedom struggles shared among Cuba and African American, Latino, and other oppressed communities in the United States.

This theme of solidarity was repeated throughout the evening. Host Harry Belafonte, legendary African American performer and committed champion of social justice, strode to the microphone along with co-host Jane Franklin and announced, "We are here to stand in solidarity with the Cuban Five!"

The Cuban Five are Cuban patriots railroaded into U.S. prisons. They
were convicted of espionage for their activities in defending Cuba
against right-wing terrorist assaults by anti-Cuba forces centered in
Miami. (

New York State Assemblymember Jose Rivera from the Bronx held up his
fingers in the peace sign and said that in supporting Cuba he had the
approval of his entire district. He thanked the people of Cuba for their aid to Puerto Rico in the successful struggle to get the U.S. Navy out of Vieques.

Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the Committee to Free the Cuban Five and an organizer in the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism)
coalition, stressed that the persecution of the Cuban Five is an overt attack on Cuba. She said that the next few months will be crucial to their fate.

Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and Rene Gonzalez had previously been held for 17 months in solidarity confinement. Now they are being denied visits from their loved ones, whom they have not been allowed to see for over five years.

A petition campaign to demand that President George W. Bush release the five is under way. La Riva also appealed for financial support and signatures for a full-page ad in the New York Times. She noted that three of the five had fought in Angola, in the struggle against South African apartheid, and noted, "It is the people's struggle that has always freed political prisoners."

A new generation of activists saluted Cuba. They included Monifa Bandela of Black August. That is a group of young organizers melding political action and cultural awareness, especially in their Hip Hop Project that brings together U.S. and Cuban hip hop artists. Bonnie Massey spoke from the Venceremos Brigade, which has been breaking the ban on travel to Cuba since 1969.

Cuba's commitment to providing health care to all people by educating a new generation of medical workers was saluted by Alice Hernández of
IFCO/Pastors for Peace. That group has organized over 14 caravans of
supplies to Cuba, breaking the travel and trade ban. Hernández, an
educator and secretary of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, pointed
out that over 500 scholarships, worth over $100 million, are being
offered to young people who wish to study medicine in Cuba.

Graciano Matos of the U.S.-Cuba Youth Exchange reported that the third and most recent exchange was the biggest. Almost 300 young people from 23 states took part. Many of them were present at the Sept. 27 event.


Foreign Minister Perez Roque began by offering special thanks for the
crowd's solidarity with the Cuban Five. He said the five had acted "to prevent U.S. citizens and Cuban citizens from dying in these terrorist attacks."

He asked for continued commitment to ending the U.S. blockade of Cuba. He noted that the blockade has cost his country over $72 billion in trade over 40 years by closing off trade with Cuba's nearest neighbor and preventing tourism. Cuba has a superb health-care system, whose researchers have produced the only vaccine in the world that can prevent meningitis, but the blockade prevents its sale.

A United Nations General Assembly vote to end the blockade passed, 173 to three. The three votes against were from the United States, Israel and the Marshall Islands. The United States ultimately vetoed the measure in the Security Council.

Perez Roque enumerated many of Cuba's gains. Among the most striking:
Average life expectancy is 76 years, and infant mortality is only six
babies out of every 1,000 live births. This compares to an infant
mortality rate of 15 in Washing ton, D.C., the United States capital-and 23 in that city's African American community.

He discussed the massive Cuban effort to provide technical and medical personnel, supplies and education to the poor and developing countries of the world. Forty thousand engineers, doctors and professors from other countries have graduated from Cuban schools recently. Thirty thousand of them are from Africa.

There are 200,000 Cubans serving as teachers and technicians in 130
countries, and 4,000 Cuban doctors serving in rural areas in 20

Perez Roque aroused the biggest of several standing ovations when he
recalled that "2,000 Cubans died fighting against apartheid and
colonialism. We were faithful and shed our blood, not for Cuba to have any oil wells.

"We didn't fight and we didn't die for Cuba to own any diamond mines in South Africa. When the fight was over, and Cubans returned they only brought the remains of our dead."

In his official United Nations speech a day earlier, Perez Roque had
asked, "Must the occupation of Iraq cease?" And he answered: "Yes, it
must. And the sooner the better. ...

"Must the Iraqis be left alone to freely establish their own government and institutions and make decisions on their natural resources? Yes. They are entitled to it--and they will not relinquish the fight to that end."

- END -

(Copyright Workers World Service: Everyone is permitted to copy and
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