The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 80/No. 10      March 14, 2016

(feature article)

Class struggle in US and the Cuban Revolution today are focus of new books on the Cuban Five

HAVANA — The experiences of five Cuban revolutionaries who spent a decade and a half in U.S. prisons were featured at several well-attended presentations at this year’s Havana International Book Fair, held Feb. 11 to 21. Each of the Five — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González — spoke at one or another of these events.

One of these meetings, attended by 150 people, launched three books by and about the Cuban Five, as they are known worldwide. These books, Labañino said, are about “the class struggle in the United States as well as what the Cuban Revolution represents today.”

The titles included Cuban editions of Guerrero’s paintings I will die the way I’ve lived, by Editorial José Martí, and Voices From Prison: The Cuban Five, under the Ciencias Sociales imprint of the Nuevo Milenio publishing house. Both were originally published in the United States by Pathfinder Press. The third book was Pathfinder’s newest title, The Cuban Five Talk About Their Lives Within the US Working Class.

All of the Five Heroes, as they are known here, participated in the Feb. 18 launching, along with a number of their family members. Two of the Five, Labañino and Guerrero, spoke at the event.

Also in attendance were the directors of Ciencias Sociales and José Martí publishing houses and a delegation from the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), which played a central role in the international campaign that won the release of the Cuban Five. The meeting was chaired by Sandra Ramírez, director of ICAP’s North America Department.

Ramírez introduced Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder and editor of the Pathfinder editions of all three books. Waters is a member of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States.

Ramírez said she had first met Waters years ago while working in the leadership of the Union of Young Communists (UJC). Since then she has been reading Pathfinder books and the Militant, which “every week carries serious articles about working-class struggles in the United States and questions facing workers in other countries. These publications have been telling the truth in the United States about the Cuban Revolution and our Five Heroes.”

Waters said all three books featured at the meeting “were born as weapons in the fight for the freedom of our comrades,” who were framed up by the U.S. government and imprisoned for more than 16 years for their actions in defense of the Cuban Revolution.

Commenting on the title of the newest Pathfinder book, she said some readers ask, “How can you say the Cuban Five were part of the U.S. working class? They were prisoners.” But as the book itself explains, a significant proportion of the U.S. working class is behind bars or has been at some time in their lives.

The Cuban Five Talk About Their Lives Within the US Working Class conveys vividly “the respect and solidarity they extended to their fellow inmates, and the respect and solidarity they earned in return,” Waters said.

What prepared the Five to act with such dignity and steadfast resistance for 16 years behind bars, she said, was “the Cuban Revolution itself” — the proletarian internationalist values “they internalized as young people growing up in Cuba.” (See the full text of Waters’ presentation on page 8.)

‘We were part of U.S. working class’

Labañino said with evident pride that not only while in prison but “before we were arrested, we were part of the U.S. working class. I arrived with no money in my pocket. I did all kinds of work. I sold shoes through a catalog. The best job I could get was driving a van delivering medicines to pharmacies.”

He said The Cuban Five Talk About Their Lives Within the US Working Class describes how U.S. prisons are “a microcosm” of capitalist society, designed to dehumanize and break the morale of working people.

Labañino gave examples, cited in the book, of solidarity among fellow prisoners in face of those brutal conditions. He drew laughter and applause from the audience with his humorous account of an inmate who, despite his deserved reputation as “the baddest Cuban” in the prison, expressed genuine respect for Labañino as “one of Fidel’s five men.”

Labañino explained how all five revolutionaries used the Militant and Pathfinder books to educate other prisoners. These publications, by telling the truth about the Five and about the Cuban Revolution, also won them support and protection while in prison.

At the invitation of Pathfinder and José Martí publishers, one of the speakers on the platform was Ricardo Alarcón, former president of Cuba’s National Assembly, who became one of Cuba’s best-known voices in defense of the Cuban Five throughout the 16-year-long campaign that finally won the freedom of the last three of them in December 2014.

Alarcón spoke about the significance of that battle today. Referring to Washington’s decision to restore diplomatic ties with Havana, he said, “Now that there is a change in the dynamic between our country and the one that has historically been and remains our principal adversary, I think the case of the Five must not be forgotten as a past battle.”

Books needed today

In face of today’s challenges, the Cuban leader said, “we need clarity and firm determination,” and “our compañeros’ conduct in prison can serve as an inspiration to all Cubans. That’s why I think the publication now of these books is very important.”

Alarcón saluted the Socialist Workers Party for its long history of defense of the Cuban Revolution within the United States, and Pathfinder Press for its many books telling the truth about the revolution.

José Maury, speaking on behalf of the National Bureau of the UJC, stressed the importance of the new books on the Cuban Five for Cuban youth today. They help explain the realities of capitalist society that are “unknown to the new generations of Cubans,” he said. They show the example of the Five Heroes as the kind of human beings “that have been produced by our revolution.”

Jorge Hernández, author of the preface to the new Cuban edition in Spanish of Voices From Prison: The Cuban Five, was also on the panel. The book includes the content of the original Pathfinder edition along with nine pages of photos of the December 2014 return to Cuba by Hernández, Labañino, and Guerrero, plus Hernández’s February 2015 speech when the Five were decorated as Heroes of the Republic of Cuba.

Jorge Hernández, who is the director of the University of Havana’s Center for the Study of Hemispheric Affairs and the United States, read from the new preface, commenting on the significance of the book. Capturing what the example of the Five Heroes represent for Cubans today, he concluded with a quote from Fidel Castro, “Cuban revolutionaries have made mistakes. But the one mistake they will not make is to become traitors.”

Guerrero concluded the program. He spoke about the 17 months the Five spent in the “hole” at the Miami federal prison, the time period after their arrest that is conveyed in his collection of watercolors, I will die the way I’ve lived. The beautiful design of the new bilingual Cuban edition by Editorial José Martí vividly reproduces Guerrero’s paintings.

What it means to be a revolutionary

“These three books we are presenting are very useful for us today,” Guerrero said. He stressed that they are not about the Five personally, but should be read by young people for their message: “what it means to be ready to die for what you believe in, by doing through our everyday actions what is incumbent for each of us to do.”

The meeting concluded with several comments from the audience, a performance by a group of visiting Argentine musicians who were involved in their country in the campaign to free the Cuban Five, and a sale of the featured books.

Three days earlier, the Cuban Five spoke at presentations of two other Spanish-language books prominently featured at the Havana book fair. One was the Ciencias Sociales edition of What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five by Canadian author Stephen Kimber, with a preface by René González.

The other was the launching of the Cuban edition of Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer by Michael Lapsley, an Anglican priest in South Africa. In the course of his activity in the movement to overturn the white-supremacist apartheid regime in South Africa, Lapsley lost both hands and was blinded in one eye in a letter-bomb explosion in 1990. The book was published by Editorial Caminos, publishing house of the Havana-based Martin Luther King Center.

Gerardo Hernández, who wrote the preface to this edition, told the audience how Lapsley, an outspoken defender of the Cuban Five, visited him 10 times in maximum-security prisons in California. As a cleric he was one of the few visitors Hernández was allowed to receive.

In his remarks, Lapsley noted that Hernández was one of the hundreds of thousands of Cuban internationalist combatants who, between 1976 and 1991, helped defend Angola’s sovereignty, defeat invasions of Angola by the South African army, and win the independence of Namibia, contributing to the end of the apartheid regime itself. “On the African continent, we will always be grateful for what Cuba did,” Lapsley said.
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