After 12 years interned in US prisons, the last of the Miami Five detainees are finally home

from the Morning Star by John Haylett and Luke James
OVER half a century of US hostility to Cuban independence ended yesterday when Barack Obama vowed to cancel an outdated approach that has failed to advance US interests.
Simultaneous press conferences by President Obama in Washington and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro in Havana signalled the official beginning of a new bilateral relationship.
But the fruits of that new dawn had already been tasted by the families of three Cuban patriots held unjustly for 16 years in US prisons who were flown to their homeland.
Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labanino were able to enjoy the freedom previously savoured by fellow Miami 5 members Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez, who were released in 2014 and 2011 respectively.
Similar joy was experienced by the family of US agent Alan Gross, who was jailed in Havana five years ago for working on a secretive USAid contract to build an internet communications network under the noses of the Cuban government.
He has been held in hospital since his conviction and has previously expressed his bitterness at being duped by USAid and abandoned by his government.
Washington also released three other people convicted of spying for Cuba — Ana Belen Montes, Walter Kendall Myers and Gwendolyn Myers — while Havana freed an unnamed US intelligence asset of non-US citizenship who had been held for 20 years.
President Castro welcomed the restoration of relations, but confirmed that profound differences remain between the two states in areas such as human rights, foreign policy and sovereignty.
But he said that countries have to learn to live with their differences “in a civilised manner.”
President Obama told his audience: “Isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”
The US will reopen an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges. Washington is also easing travel restrictions for family visits, official US government businewss and educational activities, although tourism remains banned.
Licensed US travellers will be able to return to the US with $400 (£256) in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 (£64). This means the ban on Cuban cigars is over, but with limits.
The amount US citizens can send to Cuba will also quadruple to $2,000 (£1,279) every three months.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed the announcement as a “rare, if overdue, example of common sense prevailing over petty politics.
“We are delighted that the remaining members of the Cuban Five are free and will be able to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones, from whom they have for too long been kept apart.”
She hoped that President Obama would “move immediately to end the decades-long illegal embargo which has blighted so many lives.”
Cuba Solidarity Campaign director Rob Miller was overjoyed by the return of the Cuban patriots to their homeland, saying: “It’s absolutely brilliant news for everybody.”
He added: “We couldn’t have hoped for it to come so quickly, but we were optimistic that, in Obama’s last period of office, he would move to create better relations with Cuba.
“We’re celebrating right now. We’ll be joining the Cuban people in every way we can to celebrate.”

http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-c99e-Freedom#.VJR51YoLs

A few pictures of the emotional return of the Miami 5 Cubans to Havana Cuba after incarceration in the USA as political prisoners for fighting US-based terrorism.

View the embedded image gallery online at:
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Miami cuban five che

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The Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the Scottish Venezuela Solidarity Campaign jointly welcome the release of the three remaining Miami Five prisoners unjustly held by the United States for the past sixteen years. This act demonstrates the effectiveness of the world-wide campaign for their release and the efforts of the Cuban government, with the assistance of Pope Francis, to restore diplomatic relations with the US. At the same time the illegal US trade embargo against Cuba continues. Despite repeated condemnation by the United Nations, this penalises all countries and companies that seek to trade with Cuba.

We also note and condemn the Bill passed by the US Congress this week placing new sanctions on Venezuela in addition to those imposed earlier in the year. Like the trade blockade on Cuba, these sanctions seek use economic warfare against people – in this case worsening the already serious impact of the fall in oil prices on Venezuela’s main export. We call on Scottish MSPs and MPs and all trade union and progressive organisations to call on the British government to oppose these sanctions and to step up the demand for an end to the US trade embargo on Cuba.

Cuba and Venezuela have demonstrated that another world is possible. Health and education are universal free benefits for all. Highly trained workers freely offer their skills and resources to countries in need including Pakistan, Haiti, and currently during the Ebola crisis.

Our Scottish solidarity work is enormously heartened by the good news but given a clear mandate to continue our efforts by the ongoing challenges.

Please ensure that your membership of both vital organisations is current and that all your networks are linked to our campaigns and updates. If not, please sign up as soon as possible and contact us for any assistance.

 

Our solidarity work has made a difference, with motions debated in Scottish Parliament, our welcome to speakers from Cuba and Venezuela including family of Miami 5, our support for brigades and delegations, our stalls at conferences and events, and our joint work with all sectors of Scottish civic society including the Arts, Students, Faith Groups, and more.

The struggle continues, and whilst we celebrate the reunion of the Miami 5 with their loved ones in Cuba, we deplore the ongoing sanctions and hostilities towards the working people of two sovereign nations that are not USA's backyard.

Join us!

Phil McGarry - Chair, Scottish Venezuela Solidarity Campaign
Vicky Grandon - Chair, Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign

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Miami 5 wall paintingAfter 16 years of unjust imprisonment in US jails all of the Miami Five are now free and at home with their families in Cuba. On Wednesday 17 December, Cuba and the United States announced that a prisoner exchange would take place which would see Antonio, Gerardo and Ramon released and back home in  Cuba.

This is wonderful news for the Five, their families and friends, all the thousands of peoples throughout the world who campaigned for who campaigned for their release and the Cuban people themselves..

It is to be hoped that this is the beginning of the end of the past fifty year's policy of aggression and blockade, and ushers in the start of friendly relations between the two countries.

President Raul Castro and President Obama announced the beginning of the normalisation of relations between Cuba and the US.

Raul said, " We have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations,but this does not mean that the main issue has been resolved, the Blockade that generates economic losses and humanitarian problems in our country must stop."

Elaine Smith, Convener of the Cross Party Group on Cuba in the Scottish Parliament said "I am delighted that the remaining three Miami Five detainees have been released following their unfair detention.  I hope that following this miscarriage of justice they are reunited with their families as quickly as possible. Their fifteen year incarceration has been inhumane and intolerable for the Five and their families and I am hopeful that this reported start of normalising diplomatic ties will pave the way to seeing an end to the economic blockade.  This decision is long overdue”

Many, many thanks to our members and supporters, along with others across the world for their work for the Release of the Five, and an end to the Blockade.

Miami cuban five free morning starCommenting on the news that remaining three Cuban prisoners held in Miami have been released Grahame Smith STUC General Secretary says:
“The STUC has long campaigned for the release of the Miami Five and are glad to see that, at last, the prisoners have now gained their freedom.  The release of the three remaining Miami Five, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero, along with the release of Alan Goss by Cuba, marks a positive step forward in the normalisation of relations between these states.
The STUC congratulates all those who have campaigned to overturn the miscarriage of justice that led to the imprisonment of the Miami Five and all those who have fought for better relations between Cuba and the US for the last 50 years.”

Bob Crow
General Secretary RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport Union)
 
bob crow rmtOn behalf of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in the UK we would like to offer our deepest sympathy to Bob’s family, colleagues and friends.
 
Bob was a wonderful friend to the working people of Cuba. As RMT General Secretary, Bob was part of the long and proud tradition of international solidarity shown towards the people of Cuba from trade unionists here in Britain.
 
Bob led his union in a position of unswerving support for the Cuban people and their struggle for national self-determination free from the constant aggression of US interference in their affairs. He was a tireless supporter of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) and spoke at numerous CSC events up and down the country. For 10 years now Bob has hosted the annual Cuba garden party at Maritime House where personalities from Cuba and the UK would come together to celebrate the achievements of this small island and develop the campaigns against the US Blockade and for the freedom of the Miami Five. Bob worked closely with the transport union of Cuba and hosted visits from their union to the UK. He was instrumental in their integration into the International Transport Federation.
 
Bob was deeply involved in the campaign for the release of the Miami Five. He spoke of the Five alongside the likes of Nelson Mandela as being heroes who were unjustly imprisoned, and would one day themselves be recognized internationally as heroes. One of his last acts of solidarity was to attend the Voices for Cuba concert at the barbican on Friday 7th march and the RMT supported the Commission of Inquiry into the case of the Five. He regularly spoke at the annual vigil outside the US Embassy in London for freedom of the Five.
 
Bob will be sorely missed by all of us at the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. His passing will be mourned in Cuba. His tireless work for the betterment of humankind was an inspiration. The best tribute we can give is to once again strengthen the struggle for an end to the US Blockade, freedom for the Miami Five and for Cuba’s right to follow their own chosen path to continue to build their socialist society built on the principle of human cooperation and solidarity, principals for which Bob Crow worked for all his life.
 
Yours sincerely,
Rob Miller                                                            Bernard Regan              
Director                                                                National Secretary              

Herewith we are sending the speech of Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers at the funeral of South African leader Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg on December 10, 2013.
 
nelson mandela fidel castro cubaPresident Jacob Zuma
Relatives of Nelson Mandela
Distinguished dignitaries
Fraternal people of South Africa
We pay emotional tribute to Nelson Mandela, the ultimate symbol of dignity and unwavering dedication to the revolutionary struggle for freedom and justice; a prophet of unity, peace and reconciliation.
Alongside his comrades in the struggle, he led his people in the battle against apartheid, to open the way to a new South Africa; a non racial and united South Africa in its quest for happiness, equality and the wellbeing of all its children, a nation bent on overcoming the consequences of colonialism, slavery and racial segregation.
Setting an example of integrity and perseverance, he later headed the effort to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and create opportunities for all.
Mandela offers an insurmountable example to Latin America and the Caribbean, which are currently moving towards unity and integration for the benefit of their peoples, on the basis of respect for diversity, and convinced that it is through dialogue and cooperation that discrepancies can be resolved and a civilized relationship established between those who think differently.
As Mandela’s life teaches us, only the concerted efforts of all nations will empower Humanity to respond to the enormous challenges threatening its very existence.
Cuba, a country born in the struggle for independence and for the abolition of slavery, and whose children have African blood running in their veins, has had the privilege of fighting and building alongside the African nations.
We shall never forget Mandela’s moving homage to our common struggle when on the occasion of his visit to our country on July 26, 1991 he said that “the Cuban people have a special place in the hearts of the peoples of Africa.”
I remember his bond of affection with Fidel Castro, a symbol of the fraternal relations between Africans and Cubans. Fidel has said: “Nelson Mandela will not go down in history for the 27 consecutive years he spent incarcerated without ever renouncing his ideas. He will go down in history because he was capable of cleaning-up his soul from the poison that such an unfair punishment could have planted there; and for his generosity and wisdom, which at the moment of victory allowed him to lead with great talent his selfless and heroic people, knowing that the new South Africa could not be built on hatred and vengeance.”
Eternal honor and glory to Nelson Mandela and to the heroic people of South Africa!
Thank you.
Embassy of Cuba

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign was saddened to hear of the death of President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday 5 March, following a long fight against cancer.
 
hugo chavez che guevaraOur heartfelt condolences and thoughts go out to his family, friends, comrades and the Venezuelan people who have lost a great leader who gave his life to the cause of social justice and unity in Venezuela and Latin America.

We are certain that the bonds of solidarity between Cuba and Venezuela that were cemented during his period of office will continue to strengthen and grow. Regional initiatives such as ALBA, and programmes such as Barrio Adentro and Operation Miracle, will continue to bring improved health and education to hundreds of thousands of people across the continent.
 
Chavez’s legacy and inspiration will live on through a united Latin America, and its continuing solidarity and commitment to equality and social justice for all the peoples of Latin America and the world.
 
CSC commits to redouble our efforts to ensure the gains of the Cuban and Bolivarian revolutions are defended and progressed.
 
Viva Chavez. Viva Cuba. Viva Venezuela
Hasta la victoria siempre.

View the embedded image gallery online at:
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Dr Aleida Guevara, daughter of revolutionary leader Ché Guevara, taken at the Scottish Trade Union Centre, Friday 14th September 2012. See the videos of the event here Remembering Che Guevara with his daughter Dr Aleida Guevara

 

View the embedded image gallery online at:
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Aleida Guevara's visit to Scotland began with a short protest outside the Scottish Parliament on the Miami Five, coinciding with the 14th anniversary of their arrest.
 
Addressed by Aleida herself, MSPs, Elaine Smith, Sandra White, Neil Findlay, Jamie Hepburn, and STUC Deputy General Secretary, Dave Moxham, it called for an end to the Silence around the case, and for their immediate release.
 
This was the first activity on the Miami Five at the Scottish Parliament, following May's historic debate on the case of the Five, around Elaine Smith's motion.
 
Later the Cross Party Group on Cuba met, and was addressed by both Aleida Guevara, and Luis Marron. A packed meeting heard Aleida speak movingly, not only of her father and mother, but of her own solidarity work as a doctor in Latin America, and what she had learned from it.
 
Referring to the Miami Five as her brothers, she reiterated the call for their freedom, and insisted that all that was required was for the USA to follow their own laws.
 
Elaine Smith, MSP Deputy Presiding Officer of the Parliament and Convener of the Group, who had lodged a motion welcoming Aleida's visit to the Parliament closed the meeting, promising that supporters of Cuba in Scotland would continue to redouble our efforts to bring and end to the illegal Blockade, and win Freedom for the Five.

 

 

 

As the US tries to recover from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, Cuba is facing an immense humanitarian tragedy, with long-term implications for its economy, food security, and its future.

Sandy hit Cuba last Thursday, October 25th, staggering the Eastern side of the island with the knock-out punch of a Category 2 hurricane. Winds gusted in excess of 108 miles per hour. According to preliminary estimates, the storm killed 11 Cubans and caused more than $2 billion in losses.

The UN said the storm damaged at least 180,000 homes, affecting more than one million people, and ruined crops across nearly a quarter-million acres of farmland. State-run media said damage to homes in the provinces of Santiago and Holguin was actually higher.

The Associated Press reported that Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city, most directly affected by Hurricane Sandy, lost power and running water for days. The wire service quoted reports in the Communist party newspaper Granma of ”severe damage to housing, economic activity, fundamental public services and institutions of education, health and culture.”

“The reality is much worse than what you can see in the pictures or on TV,” said President Raúl Castro, who witnessed the storm’s aftermath. “Santiago is a moving sight,” he said, “it looks like a bombed city.”

The scope and size of the tragedy is so broad, that Cuba postponed a nationwide military drill, The Bastion 2012 Exercise, until the first half of 2013.

Instead, President Castro said ”what was needed now was to ‘make a detailed plan for the recovery of the regions (affected by the hurricane) and make a collection of all the resources they may need’.”

News accounts portray utter devastation. Earlier this week, one Cuban wrote ”The sight of women, elderly individuals and children sifting through debris to salvage whatever was left of their belongings was simply heartbreaking.”

In an interview with AP, Berta Serguera, an 82-year-old retiree said, “It’s indescribable. The trees have been shredded as if with a saw. My mango only has a few branches left, and they look like they were shaved.”

Cuba, which already buys over 80 percent of its food from suppliers abroad, is facing a food security nightmare. According to the BBC, first Vice President, Jose Ramon Machado said one of the biggest problems facing the government was guaranteeing food supplies for the people in the affected areas in the coming months.

According to AFP, the United Nations is reporting “The toll on the farm sector will have major repercussions around the country.” It added, “Sugar cane was the single hardest hit followed by plantain and bananas, vegetables and other basic crops” such as beans.

Reuters said the storm decimated the country’s coffee crop, leaving behind between “20 percent and 30 percent of the crop on the ground, damaged processing centers and roads and felled thousands of trees upon plantations as it pummeled the Sierra Maestra Mountains, where 92 percent of the crop is grown.”

Cubans accustomed to protections afforded by the nation’s storied civil defense system were reported to be shocked by the number of deaths, even though its procedures undoubtedly kept the death count from climbing higher. At least fifty-two were lost in nearby Haiti.

“This is one of the most severe hurricanes to hit Eastern Cuba. Despite very good preparedness on the part of Cuban authorities, people were less prepared because the storm followed an unusual trajectory, and directly affected the city of Santiago de Cuba -which is not usually in the path of Caribbean hurricanes,” said Christina Polzot, CARE’s Representative in Cuba. “The Cuban Government coordinated the evacuation of 343,230 people, many of which remain seeking shelter with extended family, which creates significant over-crowding in these homes.

According to numerous reports, a recovery effort by Cuba’s government is underway. Prensa Latin said brigades of engineers and builders from provinces throughout Cuba were making progress in recovering electricity and communications. By Wednesday, “phones and electricity were gradually being restored with the help of workers brought in from other regions. In Holguin, 73 per cent of customers had the lights back on.”

In the meanwhile, when Santiago de Cuba was able to reopen its international airport on Tuesday, “one of the first arrivals was a Venezuelan aid flight carrying 14 tons of food,” and the government in Caracas announced that hundreds of tons more would be flown to Cuba as well as Haiti, also hard-hit by the storm. Bolivia has committed to sending 120 tons of humanitarian aid, as well.

But, there is no minimizing what lies ahead for the Cuban people. “The secretary general of Caritas Cuba said it will take years for the eastern section of the country to recover from Hurricane Sandy.”

Crops can take years to recover and homes years more to rebuild. And Cuba’s economy is very short of cash.

There is an unfortunate irony to this. Four years ago, Cuba suffered devastating blows from storms named Gustav, Ike, and Paloma which inflicted $10 billion in damage to housing and agriculture.

In 2008, U.S. policy barred Cuban Americans from rushing to the island to offer solace and assistance to their families. President Bush imposed a regulation limiting family travel and cutting down on the financial assistance Cubans living here could offer Cubans there. And, of course, there was the embargo which meant that another generation of Cubans watched their powerful neighbor to the north do nothing while they suffered and more distant countries rushed to their aid.

The good news is that President Obama lowered the gates on family travel in 2009 and by changing the rules enable Cuban Americans to visit the island and provide financial support to their families without limit.

Now, members of Cuba’s opposition are urging the government to eliminate taxes and fees which they say could inhibit Cuba’s access to relief supplies. It is important to note that such customs duties are only levied on items sent from person to person. Lifting them temporarily could cause an influx of goods onto the black market to be sold at high prices to those in need. Conversely, donations sent through established organizations are not subject to duties and these resources will be distributed free of charge and in an orderly and prioritized fashion.

We’d like to see the U.S. government act. It should punch a hole in the embargo, for at least six months, and authorize the sale of emergency building materials to Cuba for home construction. This wouldn’t be charity or cost taxpayers a dime. Legislation to make this change has already been drafted. In fact, it was introduced in 2008 by Representatives Delahunt (D-MA) and Flake (R-AZ) when Cuba was last pummeled by storms. But, of course, it died in committee, while American policy makers pretended not to notice that Cubans were suffering.

A friend of ours said at the time, “the test for all governments in a situation like this is to put politics aside and to do what has to be done in every possible way to help people.”

We don’t have to wait for the White House or the Congress to recover their conscience. We can make donations to Cuba ourselves. It’s time for US to be good Samaritans.

HURRICANE SANDY DONATION DETAILS
The Cuba Solidarity Campaign is collecting donations towards hurricane relief. If you would like to donate, please send your donation to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, c/o Unite Woodberry, 218 Green Lanes, London, N4 2HB.

Cheques or postal orders should be made payable to CSC, and clearly marked on the back Hurricane relief.

For more information or to make a telephone donation please call 020 8800 0155 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.