|Cuban Ambassador to Malaysia Rubén Pérez speaks at Aug. 23 event demanding freedom for Cuban Five in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At left, Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press. At right, Manuel Guzmán, Venezuelan ambassador to Malaysia.|
Speaking Aug. 23 during a “Conversation on Experiences in U.S.- Cuba Solidarity Work,” Cuban Ambassador to Malaysia Rubén Pérez noted that “very little is known about the broad solidarity movement inside the U.S. that has been in existence for years.” Pérez made the remark in introducing Mary-Alice Waters, the invited speaker at the events in both cities. Waters is president of the New York-based socialist publishing house Pathfinder Press.
Among the 30 people attending the meeting at Cuba’s Kuala Lumpur embassy were the undersecretary responsible for the Americas of Malaysia’s foreign ministry; the ambassadors from Venezuela, Chile and Uruguay; representatives of the embassies of Argentina and Ecuador; and the president of the Malaysian Friends of Cuba Association. Also present were several Malaysian students on break from their medical studies in Cuba — together with family members — and three supporters of Pathfinder from New Zealand and Australia accompanying Waters on her visit to Malaysia and Indonesia.
“Today is one of the stronger moments in the recent history of the movement in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution in the United States,” Waters said, explaining that the international campaign demanding release of the Cuban Five is at the center of today’s solidarity efforts. Waters said that her political party, the Socialist Workers Party, has worked to defend the revolution — and tell the truth about achievements of Cuba’s working people — since the revolution’s first days, helping found the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and leading actions against U.S. aggression in the early 1960s.
Waters was in Kuala Lumpur for a conference of the International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas (ISSCO), at which she had spoken about Chinese immigration in Cuba and the U.S. (See the Militant, Sept. 9, 2013.)
She pointed to the success of the “Five Days for the Cuban 5” in Washington, D.C., May 30-June 5 this year, organized by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5. The program — which actually lasted seven days — involved the collaboration of broad forces from solidarity organizations to political parties, church groups, trade unionists, prominent artists, musicians and authors, parliamentarians from a number of countries, and others. It was “the most significant activity so far in the U.S. in support of the campaign to free the Five,” she said.
The conduct of the five revolutionaries themselves, in front of the courts and in prison, is key to the campaign’s growing appeal, Waters said. They have won respect among many, including other workers behind bars, for their “exemplary steadfastness, courage, integrity and dignity — qualities that mark the Cuban Revolution itself.”
Waters noted that opportunities to win new support are growing as working people find ways to resist the blows being dealt by the owners of industry and their governments — attacks on wages, working conditions and political space, driven by capitalism’s worldwide crisis of production and trade. Reinforcements for the defense campaign will come from those who are drawn to these battles, she said. “Men and women who are changed by these struggles will make up what Gerardo Hernández, one of the Five, has called the ‘jury of millions’ that will eventually win their freedom.”
A lively discussion followed the remarks, covering questions about the legal options before the Five and the debate within the Cuban population in Florida over U.S. policies aimed at crushing the revolution. Commenting on the latter point, Ambassador Pérez noted the “big changes in the Cuban community” as counterrevolutionary groups, which have long profited from “the anti-Castro-industry,” have less and less influence.
When one participant expressed doubt about prospects for the release of the Five, given the U.S. government’s implacable hostility, Waters pointed to the example of the 1979 release of Puerto Rican independence fighters who had been held in U.S. prisons for 25 years. As an international solidarity campaign gathered momentum in the context of a mass struggle for Black rights in the United States and revolutionary victories in Vietnam, Grenada, and Nicaragua, and other anti-imperialist movements, she said, the U.S. rulers concluded “the political price was too high. They had more to gain by releasing them.”
Following the meeting participants viewed a display of political cartoons by Gerardo Hernández, drawn during his time inside maximum-security prisons as he serves a sentence of two life terms plus 15 years.
Exhibit in IndonesiaThe collection entitled “Humor from My Pen” received its first broad public showing in Indonesia a few days later. The Aug. 27 event in Jakarta was cosponsored by Kontras — acronym in Indonesian for the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence — and Kalyanamitra, a resource and communications center for women in Indonesia. Over 40 people came to view the drawings and join a discussion about the case of the Five.
The artwork was attractively mounted in an exhibition room at the Kontras headquarters in Jakarta. A handsome floor-to-ceiling banner prepared by Kalyanamitra announced the event.
Haris Azhar, national executive coordinator of Kontras, opened the event, saying they were happy to make the Kontras facilities available. “Many here do not know the story of the five Cubans,” he said. “The exhibit is a good starting point.” Introducing Mary-Alice Waters, Kalyanamitra’s program director Rena Herdiyani declared support for the defense campaign, and opposition to the prison treatment to which the Five have been subjected, including the 15-year refusal of the U.S. government to allow the wives of Gerardo Hernández and René González to enter the country to visit them. She welcomed “the opportunity for everyone to learn more and have a fruitful discussion.”
The history of the Five really begins with the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, said Waters. “The U.S. government set out to crush and destroy the revolutionary power of Cuba’s workers and farmers. That has been Washington’s unrelenting policy for almost 55 years. That is why the Cuban Five were framed and convicted, despite the lack of evidence. They are in prison because of the determination of the U.S government to punish the Cuban people for their revolution.”
Waters added, “The cartoons drawn by Hernández capture in a powerful way his humor and spirit, unbroken by prison conditions.” The meeting was bilingual, with translation from Bahasa Indonesia to English and vice versa.
Those listening to the presentations and viewing the cartoons came from a number of organizations, including several women’s rights groups, organizations fighting discrimination against Indonesia’s many oppressed minorities, one of the trade union federations and the Indonesia-Cuba Friendship Association.
In the wide-ranging discussion, Bagus, from the Urban Poor Association in Jakarta, thanked the speaker for bringing information about the case. “Fifteen years is a long time,” he said, referring to the years already served by the Five. But, he added, Gerardo’s cartoons show that “you can imprison the body but not the mind.”
Gani Bugis pledged the support of the Social Development Foundation in Maluku, eastern Indonesia, but said he feared the cost for the U.S. government of releasing the prisoners would be “too great.” Other speakers also expressed admiration for the Five, but were pessimistic about prospects for their release.
“This fight can and will be won,” Waters responded. “Already there have been some victories.” She noted that four years ago when a Florida appeals court reduced the sentences of Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, and Fernando González, the federal government’s lead attorney complained about the political “noise” around by the case. The government was in favor of “giving something up” in order to try to “quiet the waters of contentiousness that swirl around this case worldwide,” the prosecutor told the judge — a backhanded tribute to the effectiveness of the international defense campaign.
At the events in both Malaysia and Indonesia, Waters called attention to the “important weapon” defenders of the Five have for explaining their case internationally — Pathfinder’s popular book The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free. The most recent edition of the book, which has been published in three languages with a fourth on the way, was first presented in Asia by Waters at the Sixth Asia-Pacific Regional Conference for Solidarity with Cuba, held in Sri Lanka last October.
As the Jakarta exhibition continued into the afternoon, participants bought copies of The Cuban Five at a literature table displaying Pathfinder titles and the Militant newspaper, from which the book’s contents are drawn. The wide range of titles proved popular, including other books on the Cuban Revolution.
During their lunch break university students from all over Indonesia attending a two-week school sponsored by Kontras crowded around the table and eagerly bought dozens of Pathfinder books on world politics, the lessons of the modern working-class movement, women’s rights and more.
The next day Waters and other Pathfinder representatives also participated in an exchange of experiences on solidarity work and defense of the Cuban Five organized by the Indonesia-Cuba Friendship Association at the University of Indonesia’s Faculty of Medicine.
Waters reported on the work in the U.S. and Dr. Samsuridjal Djauzi, president of the association, presented a slideshow depicting the association’s activities, particularly its promotion of medical cooperation between Indonesia and Cuba and sponsorship of students from rural Indonesia studying medicine in Cuba. Cuban Ambassador to Indonesia Enna Viant, along with Consul Leonel González, also participated in the meeting and joined in the two-hour discussion that was followed by lunch and a visit to several centers of Jakarta’s rich history.
Who are the Cuban Five?
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home