- Created: Friday, 24 April 2009 17:06
- Written by Ed Scrivens and Cat Alison
FRFI 173 June / July 2003
‘[Revolutionaries] start out from the principle that this is a life or death struggle. If revolutionaries do not defend themselves, their cause is defeated’. Fidel Castro, 25 April 2003
The Rock around the Blockade brigade visited Cuba at a time of escalating tension in relations with the USA following the imperialist onslaught on Iraq and the Bush administration’s stated aim of pre-emptive strikes at a moment’s notice in any ‘dark corner of the world’. For imperialism’s ‘dark corner’, read, in this case, the shining example of socialism. In a world dominated by what Castro has characterised as the USA’s ‘Nazi-fascist’ foreign policy, the Cuban Revolution stands in very real danger and is prepared to fight to the death for survival. US strategy is to probe Cuba. It is engaged in a new Cold War. A false move by the Cuban government could set off a process similar to that which began in September 2002 when the US started the countdown to the invasion of Iraq.
It is in this context that the arrest and gaoling in April of more than 60 Cuban ‘dissidents’ and the execution of three hijackers – which provoked widespread criticism in the bourgeois press – must be understood. During our stay in Cuba, we were privileged to be able to discuss these issues with two leading Cuban communists and long-time friends of FRFI and Rock around the Blockade. Rogelio Polanco is editor of the youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde and a frequent participant in the nightly televised round-table discussions on important current events; Noel Carrillo is a member of the Department of International Relations of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.
On 11 April, after a summary trial, the three Cubans who had hijacked a passenger ferry crossing Havana Bay, held knives to passengers’ throats and threatened to throw them over- board, were sentenced to death and executed. There was an international outcry, from Cuba’s enemies, obviously, but also from liberal supporters of Cuba. However, the Cuban communists are clear that the actions of the United States had left them with no option but to act as they did.
Let us be clear. As communists, we are opposed to the death penalty. Indeed, it is not something the Cuban Communist Party promotes, and there had been an effective moratorium on executions in the past three years, with the possibility mooted, before recent events, of removing it from the statute books altogether. Polanco stated clearly that the death penalty is not part of the philosophy of the Revolution, but rather something they had been trying to leave behind. It was not a decision undertaken lightly. Carrillo told us that Cuba respects those who oppose the death penalty but felt in the current situation it was necessary to prevent death and destruction on a far greater scale. Those who condemn Cuba, including many left parties, have ended up ‘somehow playing the same music as the north Americans’.
As Fidel Castro told the millions who gathered in Havana’s Revolution Square on 1 May:
‘The Cuban Revolution was placed in the dilemma of either protecting the lives of millions of Cubans by using the legally established death penalty to punish the three main hijackers of a passenger ferry or sitting back and doing nothing. The US government, which incites common criminals to assault boats or aeroplanes with passengers on board, encourages these people, gravely endangering the lives of innocents and creating the ideal conditions for an attack on Cuba. A wave of hijackings had been unleashed and was already in full development; it had to be stopped.
‘We cannot ever hesitate when it is a question of protecting the lives of the sons and daughters of a people determined to fight until the end, arresting the mercenaries who serve the aggressors and applying the most severe sanctions against terrorists who hijack passenger boats or planes or commit similarly serious acts, who will be punished by the courts in accordance with the laws in force.’
The US government has, as an act of aggression, drastically reduced the number of visas it issues to Cubans wishing to travel to the United States, from the agreed 20,000 a year to only 700 in the last six months. At the same time, it is actively promoting illegal emigration. Yet it has warned that any mass emigration from Cuba to the United States – as when Cuba opened its borders in 1980 and in 1994 – will be treated as a ‘national security issue’.
The scarcity of visas has prompted violent and criminal elements to resort to hijacking planes and ships in an attempt to reach the United States. This problem has escalated over the last seven months with seven vessels hijacked by Cubans armed with knives, firearms and grenades. In one case, a gang even grabbed an AK-M rifle from a soldier and attempted to storm a plane. The hijackers are encouraged by the fact that when they reach the USA, rather than being returned to Cuba to face criminal charges, they are bailed and released. Cuba is clear that the USA is waiting for an incident serious enough to serve as a pretext for invasion. Since the executions, the hijackings have stopped and the point has been made – not just to would-be hijackers, but to the USA and the world: Cuba takes the defence of its people and its revolution seriously.
US promotes counter-revolution
These are dangerous times for Cuba. Polanco told us the United States’ doctrine of pre-emptive action and Cuba’s inclusion on their list of so-called ‘rogue states’ meant that the situation in Cuba is the most dangerous for many years. Indeed, while we were in Cuba, US Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared on television to announce that the island’s government should be eliminated. ‘We are in one of the most risky and dangerous moments not only for Cuba but for the whole of humanity,’ said Carrillo. For the Cuban Communist Party, the invasion of Iraq marks the end of the post-war world order and the beginning of a new and dangerous one. It believes the economic crisis of US imperialism is now so deep it cannot wait for measures such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas to enlarge its markets and profits, but must launch wars to defend the interests of US capital. The system of international relations has broken down completely leaving the way open for such attacks. The European Union has proved too weak and divided to act as any kind of brake on US aggression. No country is now strong enough to stand in its way, leaving Cuba totally isolated apart from the international solidarity it receives.
The United States is searching for a pretext to invade the island. Propaganda used in the past – that Cuba has been involved in international drug trafficking, or possesses the technology to manufacture biological weapons – has been comprehensively discredited by the Cubans and ‘put on ice’, as Carrillo put it, for future use. Since the invasion of Iraq, the USA does not need proof. After all, where are those famous ‘weapons of mass destruction’, the pretext for war in the first place?
Instead, US strategy has been to foment dissent within the island itself. Since the arrival last September of arch-reactionary diplomat James Cason, the US Interests Section in Havana has been used as a headquarters for Cuba’s fragmented and mercenary opposition. Here counter-revolutionary propaganda has been produced and printed, subversion planned and millions of dollars handed over to ‘dissidents’ of one kind or another. Information provided by these sources was regularly fed through to the US administration to be used as fodder for the tightening of the Helms-Burton Act. As well as wining and dining dissidents at his home, in a brazen abuse of his diplomatic position, Cason has travelled around the island meeting with counter-revolutionaries and urging them to set aside their differences and unite around a 10-point programme. As Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque wryly pointed out, the imperialists condemn Cuba for having one political party uniting the people around socialism, but are themselves desperately attempting to create a single party of counter-revolution.
The hundreds of grouplets, ranging from the Independent Press Association of Cuba to the Independent Rafters’ Association, are a key part of tried and tested US strategy, used in the former socialist countries of the Eastern bloc, to undermine revolution from within. As former CIA official Philip Agee has commented, these ‘so-called independent journalists, independent libraries and civil rights activists are not, nor were they ever, independent in any sense whatsoever’. Rather, they are completely in the pocket of the United States government and supplied with millions of dollars to say what they are told to say, write what they are told to write and lead comfortable and privileged lives with no need to work. From 1997 to 2002, $22 million was channelled into Cuba via the US Agency for International Development – and this was but a tiny fraction of money that finds its way into Cuba to foment counter-revolutionary activities.
All these activities were proved in court by 12 Cuban intelligence agents who had infiltrated these ‘dissident’ organisations. Two of them, ‘Octavio’ (Nestor Baguer) and ‘Tania’ (Odilia Collazo), had risen to become, respectively, the chairman of the Independent Press Association of Cuba and the president of the Pro-Human Rights Party of Cuba. Their testimony exposed the corrupt, bogus and mercenary character of these groups, and the degree to which they are little other than puppets of the US Interests Section.
Upon arrival in Cuba, Cason had stated that his goal was ‘to speed up the process towards a democratic Cuba’ and urged ‘support for all those who are contributing to this transition’. By March 2003 he was holding meetings with counter-revolutionaries every other day. Cason, in Castro’s words, had ‘attempted to transform his headquarters and his own residence into a venue for organising, instructing and directing mercenaries who betray their homeland in the service of a foreign power, or violate other laws through acts that cause serious harm to the country, expecting total impunity’.
At the same time, in a move further designed to provoke Cuba, Cuban political prisoners, the Miami 5, were being tortured in US gaols.
The Cubans decided it was time to act – but not by expelling Cason or closing the US Interests Section, which would have allowed the US to claim Cuba was taking hostile steps against it. As Polanco said ‘We are a guerrilla nation and must attack the enemy’s flanks’. Instead, 65 counter-revolutionaries (77 including the Cuban ‘double agents’) were rounded up and tried under Cuban law against receiving money or equipment from the US government for the purpose of implementing the Helms-Burton Law and sentenced to between six and 28 years in gaol. In the face of liberal furore, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque spelled it out: no-one is punished in Cuba for their ideas, but they will be punished for criminal and counter-revolutionary activity and the US must understand the consequences of its strategy: ‘These trials must be understood as Cuba’s behaviour when no other option remained…given the path of confrontation and provocation which the US government has chosen to pursue in its relations with Cuba.’
The Cubans do not believe an invasion is inevitable, but they are armed and ready to fight. Since the 1980s, when Reagan came to power on an anti-communist crusade, they have been preparing to resist occupation with a guerrilla war of all the people. An invader would face not just the Cuban army, but the entire people armed and ready to fight to the death in defence of their Revolution.
Ed Scrivens and Cat Alison