|Audience at April 14 program where Cuban Federation of University Students leaders Aníbal Ramos and Yenaivis Fuentes spoke at Hunter College in New York City.|
The two are medical students and leaders of the Federation of University Students in Cuba. They have been on a month-long speaking tour in the United States. A broad range of academic departments, professors, student groups, political organizations, and cultural groups and institutions sponsored their speaking engagements.
Some 100 people heard the Cuban youth at Harlems Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, part of the New York Public Library system. Nellie Bailey, a member of Cuba Solidarity New York and director of the Harlem Tenants Council, cochaired the meeting along with Tom Baumann, a student at Hunter College and member of the Socialist Workers Party. Howard Dodson, the director of the Schomburg Center, welcomed the students on the centers behalf.
The Schomburg Center is a friend of Cuba, Dodson said. He noted that Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, whom the center is named after, was an Afro-Puerto Rican independence fighter and an ally of José Martí, a national hero in Cuba who led the fight for independence from Spain.
Dodson told the audience about his disappointment in not being able to attend a recent exchange in Cuba coinciding with the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Fuentes gave a brief summary of Cuban history from the struggle for national liberation from Spanish colonizers in the 19th century and U.S. imperialisms subsequent semicolonial domination of the island for the first half of the 20th century. She described the historical period opened up by the triumph of the socialist revolution in 1959 and the social gains that working people conquered as a result of using state power in their own interests.
Case of Cuban Five
Ramoss presentation centered on the decades-long campaign of imperialist violence and aggression following the victory of the revolution. He described the case of the Cuban Five, five Cubans who came to Florida in the 1990s to monitor violent counterrevolutionary groups operating out of Miami, keeping Havana informed of planned attacks.
The five revolutionaries were arrested by the FBI in 1998 and railroaded to prison on frame-up charges, including conspiracy to commit espionage. One of the five, Gerardo Hernández, was convicted of false charges of conspiracy to commit murder. They are still serving draconian sentences in federal prison.
President Obama has the power to free them through a presidential pardon, Ramos said. But this will only happen if he receives pressure from the people of this country and internationally.
Forty people attended an April 14 luncheon at Hofstra University, many of them leaders of student organizations. When you hear about human rights violations in Cuba, look at the source, said Ryan Greene, director of the Office of Multicultural and International Student Programs, who opened the meeting.
The Guantánamo prison shows the U.S. government has no right to accuse others of human rights abuse, he added, referring to the infamous prison camp at the U.S. naval base there.
John Leschak, a student at Hofstra Law School, introduced the students and explained why he had decided to help organize the meeting. Why Cuba? Because what the Cuban Revolution stands for and represents is an example, Leschak said. The exchange was important, he said, because Washington prevents most people in the United States from going to Cuba to see it for themselves.
An April 13 program at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, which drew more than 75 people, was sponsored by 10 campus institutions and student groups. Carlos Fernandez, director of the Center for Latino Arts and Culture, chaired the meeting. He noted that it has been nearly 10 years since such an exchange has taken place in the United States.
Matt Matsuda, dean of the College Avenue campus at Rutgers and a professor of history, welcomed the students. Kim Butler, professor of Africana Studies, acknowledged Cubas unique role in supporting anticolonial struggles on the African continent. Adriana Camacho, president of the Rutgers Union of Cuban American Students gave greetings on behalf of the sponsoring student organizations.
A dozen people asked questions during the discussion period. Why are many Cubans against their government? was one of the questions.
The newspapers here only talk about people like the Ladies in White, a tiny group of women in Cuba demanding that cell phones, computers, and kitchen facilities be provided to those who call themselves political prisoners, Fuentes said. These opinions are a small minority in Cuba, she said, and the U.S. media exaggerates their weight in Cuban society.
Nyah Vullulleh, 22, a Liberian student from Philadelphia said, This has been one of the best dialogues Ive heard. Im very interested in Cuba now, and will tell people I know how important it is for the world.
More than 200 people attended the public meeting at Hunter College in Manhattan April 14. Dr. Victor Torres-Velez, assistant professor of the Africana and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies Department, chaired the meeting, and Alberto Hernández, chief librarian at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, welcomed the students on behalf of the center. Mariya Abrosikova, president of the Student Political Science Association, thanked all those who sent letters of invitation to the Cuban students.
This cant happen in Cuba
One question was about the Cuban students impressions of the United States. Fuentes recalled meeting farmers in Wisconsin who risk losing their land if unable to keep up with crushing mortgage payments. This cant happen in Cuba, she said, where the revolution gave peasants title to land confiscated from wealthy landowners.
Asked his impressions of the U.S. health-care reform law recently adopted, Ramos said in Cuba health care is not a commodity to be bought and sold. It is a right. You cannot reform health care into a right, he said. Thats like making repairs on a collapsing house. You have to change the foundation its built on. A social revolution is necessary.
Before tonight, I didnt know about Cubas health-care system, or that in Cuba theyre allowed to have meetings and discuss things, said Flor Araujo, 24, a psychology student at Hunter. People see Cuba as a place where you cant say or do anythingbut they dont know the truth.
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