That was the day almost two years ago when Cuban President Raúl Castro and President Barack Obama announced that diplomatic relations between the two countries, broken by Washington in 1961, would be re-established. It was also the day five Cuban revolutionaries long incarcerated in U.S. prisons were reunited on Cuban soil.
The “Evening in Solidarity with Cuba: End Washington’s Continued Blockade, Return Guantánamo!” was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the National Network on Cuba, a coalition of U.S. solidarity groups. For the first time in many years, the NNOC was able to meet outside Washington or New York due to the recent loosening of travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. government on Cuban diplomatic personnel. The event was sponsored by the NNOC, Chicago Cuba Coalition, International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity, and endorsed by other groups.
Resumption of diplomatic relations “is a victory not only for the Cuban people but also for all your efforts,” Fraga said. “We want to express our thanks.”
This doesn’t mean “that relations are normalized,” he emphasized. “The embargo is still there. The U.S. military base at Guantánamo is still there. Travel restrictions are still there. And efforts to undermine the revolution are still there. While some progress has been made, there is still a long way to go.
“Cuba is not going to change our values, and we are not going to abandon our ideals,” Fraga said. Those aren’t bargaining chips in talks with Washington.
“We are going to continue to support Venezuela. We are going to continue to support Bolivia. We are going to continue to back the fight for independence for Puerto Rico,” Fraga said. “Like José Martí we will continue to subscribe to the idea that our homeland is all humanity. That’s why we send doctors around the world. That’s why we sent soldiers to Angola to help fight apartheid.”
The release from U.S. prisons of the Cuban Five — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González — grew out of a 16-year international campaign for their freedom. The Cuban revolutionaries had come to the U.S. in the 1990s to monitor plans by paramilitary forces here to carry out violent assaults against Cuba and supporters of the Cuban Revolution abroad.
“Every day Cubans have to make a decision — to surrender or to continue fighting,” Fraga said. “And every day we decide in our great majority to keep fighting.”
Behind the platform were two large banners: one calling for an end to the U.S. embargo, the other demanding freedom for Oscar López Rivera, imprisoned for 35 years for fighting for independence of the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico. The jailed freedom fighter’s brother, José López, spoke at the meeting.
“The collaboration between revolutionaries from Puerto Rico and Cuba dates back to the 19th century,” said López, executive director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago.
“I can remember meetings in my family’s living room where supporters of the July 26 movement here in Chicago met to raise funds and organize support for the revolutionaries in the mountains in Cuba fighting to overthrow Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship,” he said.
He asked participants to sign the online petition demanding Obama free Oscar López now. The goal is to get 100,000 signatures by Dec. 11. (See box here.)
“When Fernando González, one of the Cuban Five and now vice president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), heard we were going to be in Chicago, he said we had a special obligation to deepen our collaboration with those fighting to free Oscar López,” Sandra Ramírez told the crowd. She is ICAP North American director.
“Fernando was Oscar’s cellmate while imprisoned in Terre Haute,” Ramírez said. “We support Puerto Rican independence. And as we thank those who fought to free the Five, we urge you to join the fight to free Oscar.”
Fraga also spoke at four Chicago-area campus meetings Nov. 17-21. “Aren’t you afraid of McDonald’s overrunning Cuba with the end of the embargo?” was asked at the University of Illinois here.
“The end of the embargo will greatly strengthen the economy of Cuba,” Fraga replied. “Foreign companies invest in Cuba only under our rules.”
Accompanying Fraga and Ramírez on the program was Leima Martínez from the North America division of ICAP. Over previous days the two ICAP leaders had spoken in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Minnesota.
In Minneapolis they held an hour-and-a-half exchange at the American Indian Student Cultural Center at the University of Minnesota. The two Cubans learned about the movement to support the Standing Rock Sioux in their fight to defend their treaty rights, sacred sites and water sources threatened by construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“It’s an awakening for all indigenous people,” student Raven Ziegler explained. “Over 500 tribes have extended solidarity.”
“In Cuba we have a long history of struggle too,” Ramírez said. “We defend our principles as part of our sovereignty.”
Also speaking at the Nov. 19 Chicago meeting were Harold Rogers, director of international affairs for the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and Aislinn Pulley of Black Lives Matter.
Cubans mobilize to back their socialist revolution
Remarks by Raúl Castro at massive tribute to Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro
Millions turn out in Cuba for Freedom Caravan
Fidel’s life work: ‘Cuba’s socialist revolution, its example & ongoing march’
Workers, youth affirm commitment to revolution
Sign the petition to free Oscar López!
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