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Vol. 80/No. 32      August 29, 2016


Cuban Revolution, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic ties are highlight of int’l meeting

Santo Domingo conference urges actions to say: No to US embargo
and sanctions, return Guantánamo to Cuba

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — “We need to explain the truth about the Cuban Revolution and combat the lies,” Fernando González told delegates here at the closing session of an Americas-wide conference in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution.

Despite efforts by Washington and its allies to undermine the revolution, the Cuban leadership is not on a course toward capitalism, González said. To confront the challenges today, “what we are doing in Cuba is aimed at more socialism.”

González, vice president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), is known internationally as one of the five Cubans who spent up to 16 years in U.S. prisons on frame-up charges because of their actions in defense of the Cuban Revolution.

Participants in the Eighth Continental Conference in Solidarity with Cuba projected actions to demand that the U.S. government end its economic war against Cuba, return Guantánamo Bay to Cuban sovereignty and cease its political subversion programs against that country.

The July 28-30 gathering, held at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD), was marked by the history of more than 150 years of intertwined revolutionary struggles in the former Spanish colonies of the Caribbean — Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Delegates from across Americas

Some 370 people from 25 countries took part. The largest delegations were the 150 participants from the Dominican Republic and more than 100 from Puerto Rico; nearly 40 were present from Colombia. Delegates also came from other Central and South American countries, as well as Haiti and the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean. Also participating were 11 from the United States and three from Canada.

The conference was sponsored by the Dominican Campaign in Solidarity with Cuba, the Puerto Rican Committee in Solidarity with Cuba, and ICAP. With presentations, workshops, photo exhibits, book launches, music and dance performances, and visits to historical sites, in addition to meals and transportation for delegates, it was a well-organized event. Members of the Dominican Campaign in Solidarity with Cuba, which has chapters in all 31 provinces, said they promoted and raised money for the event for an entire year. The university, a co-sponsor, provided generous resources for the conference.

UASD rector Iván Grullón welcomed delegates at the opening session, saying it was an honor for the university to host an international conference in solidarity with Cuba, “a nation that has fully earned, more than any, the title of free, independent and sovereign.”

Grullón added a personal note. As a youth he had joined the 1965 popular uprising that resisted the U.S. military invasion of his country. When he left Santo Domingo for France after the defeat of the mass upsurge, on the same plane were many revolutionaries wounded in combat. “And which country welcomed and treated the wounded?” he asked. “Cuba!”

The rector introduced guest of honor Delio Gómez Ochoa, who commanded one of the Rebel Army fronts in Cuba’s revolutionary war. On June 14, 1959, less than six months after the revolutionary victory in Cuba, Gómez Ochoa and 21 other Cubans joined 150 Dominican revolutionaries on a guerrilla expedition, launched from Cuba, to overthrow dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. He was captured soon after they landed and jailed in Santo Domingo until after Trujillo’s assassination in 1961.

Speaking with Grullón at the opening event were Carlos de la Nuez, Cuba’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic; ICAP President Kenia Serrano; and Fernando González. The three took part in all the conference activities.

Iván Rodríguez, coordinator of the conference organizing committee, also spoke. He is well-known here as a veteran of the June 14 Movement, which helped lead the popular struggle against the Trujillo tyranny and then the resistance to Washington’s 1965 invasion.

In acknowledging those present at the inaugural event, Serrano welcomed the nearly 100 Dominican-Haitian cane-cutters, members of the Union of Sugarcane Workers (UTC), who filled the balcony and part of the main floor. They stood up cheering loudly to applause from the audience, as Serrano reiterated “our solidarity with the Haitian people.”

Cuban Ambassador de la Nuez spoke on “The U.S. Economic Blockade and Its Consequences.” He noted that despite Washington’s re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba after half a century of failed efforts to destroy the revolution, “the U.S. blockade remains intact today.” De la Nuez outlined how the Cuban leadership is confronting the economic and political challenges facing the revolution today.

Example of Cuban Revolution

A keynote speaker was Frei Betto, a liberation theology priest from Brazil and long-time defender of the Cuban Revolution. He spoke about Cuba’s example in the world through its selfless solidarity and support to anti-imperialist struggles everywhere.

Betto told a story of when, as a young man in the early 1970s, he was jailed by the military dictatorship in Brazil for his political activities. The prison authorities were so afraid of the Cuban Revolution’s popular appeal, he said, that they barred him and others from receiving any books or materials related to Cuba. One such title, he said to much laughter, “was a book on Cubism!”

The Cuban Revolution’s record of solidarity “is an example for us, especially today at this time of crisis for the popular democratic governments in Latin America,” Betto said, referring to those in Brazil, Venezuela and elsewhere.

“One of the biggest mistakes we have made,” he said, “is to guarantee people better living conditions in terms of material goods without carrying out political work with people to develop consciousness, to forge citizens who are actors in politics.”

Betto added, “There is no better way to defend the Cuban Revolution than to work with peasants, workers and youth — to prepare people to fight to change our own countries.”

The situation in Venezuela today was discussed at a panel featuring Alí Uzcátegui, that country’s ambassador in the Dominican Republic, and Julio Chávez, a deputy in the Venezuelan parliament. They described the efforts by Venezuela’s pro-imperialist opposition and Washington to undermine the government of President Nicolás Maduro and roll back social gains won by working people.

At a session on the anti-colonial struggle in Puerto Rico, Eduardo Villanueva, president of the Human Rights Committee in Puerto Rico, highlighted the 150-year-long record of struggle against Spanish and U.S. colonial rule. He took up the campaign to free Oscar López Rivera, a leader of the independence fight who has served 35 years of a 70-year sentence in U.S. prisons on trumped-up charges of seditious conspiracy. “Oscar has become a symbol of the fight for Puerto Rico’s freedom,” Villanueva said.

Miriam Montes Mock spoke about efforts to free her cousin, Ana Belén Montes, arrested in 2001 while working at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. “Having pleaded guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage for Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence, she was sentenced to 25 years in a maximum-security prison,” Montes Mock said. She had acted “to protect Cuba from the hostile policies of the United States.” Montes Mock focused on the harshly restrictive prison conditions faced by Ana Montes, and thanked conference participants for their solidarity.

At another session, Fernando González noted that he had shared five of his 15-plus years in prison with “my brother Oscar” and underscored the importance of the increasingly broad international support that has been won in the battle to free him.

A new book, The Cuban Counterrevolution in Puerto Rico and the Case of Carlos Muñiz Varela (translation of the Spanish title), was launched at a panel with its three authors: Jesús Arboleya, Raúl Álzaga and Ricardo Fraga. Muñiz Varela was a founding leader of the Antonio Maceo Brigade, an organization of young Cubans in the United States and Puerto Rico who opposed Washington’s policy toward Cuba. He was assassinated in San Juan in 1979 but no one has ever been prosecuted for the crime, despite evidence that Cuban-American counterrevolutionaries and cops were involved. Álzaga and Fraga, also founders of the Maceo Brigade, have spent years exposing the facts in their comrade’s murder.

The book documents how the killing of Muñiz Varela was part of the bloody record of U.S.-backed right-wing Cuban-American groups in Puerto Rico that have targeted the independence movement and defenders of the Cuban Revolution.

Delegates also held workshops and prepared action proposals around four topics: the fight against the U.S. embargo, U.S. colonialism and political prisoners, women and Latin American integration, and youth in face of the crisis.

Intertwined revolutionary struggles

The gathering was stamped by the shared history of revolutionary struggles in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. International delegates visited the city of Baní, birthplace of Máximo Gómez, who commanded the Cuban liberation army in the 1895-98 independence war against Spain. They were taken to the site of the home where Gómez grew up, as well as to the Máximo Gómez Polytechnic Institute, which was built with Cuban-donated resources and opened in 2000.

Delegates attended an event at a monument to two leading 19th century independence fighters, José Martí of Cuba and Eugenio María de Hostos of Puerto Rico. Both advocated an Antillean Federation of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

One of the highlights of the conference was a 65-panel exhibit of photos of the April 1965 mass upsurge in Santo Domingo. It gave a vivid picture of the popular mobilizations that began in 1963 when top military officers overthrew President Juan Bosch, elected after the 30-year Trujillo dictatorship came to an end. As workers and farmers took to the streets demanding the restoration of the president, a group of military officers, known as the “Constitutionalists,” removed the pro-imperialist junta. U.S. President Lyndon Johnson then sent in 42,000 Marines to prevent what he called “a second Cuba.” The resistance to the U.S. occupation was led by Constitutionalist officer Francisco Caamaño.

As conference organizer Iván Rodríguez noted during a visit to a monument to Caamaño, “For five months the Dominican people resisted the armed forces of the world’s most powerful nation.” Several conference organizers, like Rodríguez, were veterans of the 1965 upsurge, including Vicenta Vélez, a fellow combatant and widow of Caamaño.

Also on display was a photo exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of the first U.S. military occupation of the Dominican Republic, 1916-24, which coincided with the U.S. occupation of neighboring Haiti.

One of the Puerto Rican delegates was Carlos Padilla, who was jailed together with Nationalist Party leader Pedro Albizu Campos after a 1950 pro-independence revolt on the island. When the Cuban revolutionary government took power in 1959, Padilla was asked by his friend and comrade Ernesto Che Guevara to help launch the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina.

Class struggles unfolding today

Throughout the three days, participants exchanged views and experiences not only about defense of the Cuban Revolution but about class struggles unfolding in the world today.

Some of the participants are activists in the fight against deportations of Haitian workers and the denial of citizenship rights to many Dominicans of Haitian ancestry, a struggle that continues to mark politics in this country. Among them was journalist Maribel Núñez, who made available informational literature by groups such as Dominicanos por Derecho (Dominicans by Right).

Conference organizers had expected nearly 40 delegates from Haiti. The two who did attend reported that one factor limiting participation from their country is that Dominican authorities are charging Haitians $230 for an entry visa, compared to $10 for visitors from the United States and other countries.

A sizable part of the Puerto Rican delegation were members of the youth groups of the Hostos National Independence Movement (MINH), Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) and other organizations. They described their experiences in protests in response to the political and economic crisis gripping the U.S. colony.

Lenna Ramírez, a University of Puerto Rico student active in the Hostos Youth, said they find increased receptivity among workers and youth to the struggle against U.S. colonial rule and to discussing the pro-independence perspective.

Among the Dominican delegates were farmers from Azua and Monte Plata involved in Articulación Nacional Campesina (National Peasant Network) and CONAMUCA (National Confederation of Peasant Women), which are fighting for access to land, water and credit, and against discrimination.

Conference delegates from different groups brought literature tables and sold books, posters, T-shirts, and CDs on a range of subjects. Books brought by members of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States flew off the table on subjects ranging from the fight for women’s rights to Maurice Bishop and the Grenada Revolution, the Cuban Revolution, Malcolm X, the 1930s Teamsters struggles and U.S. politics today.

The conference adopted a Final Declaration urging actions internationally to demand that the U.S. government lift its trade and travel sanctions against Cuba and return Guantánamo Bay to Cuba. It called for eliminating U.S. laws and policies that encourage Cubans to migrate to the United States outside legal channels and that seek to lure Cuban doctors to desert volunteer medical missions abroad.

The declaration expressed solidarity with Venezuela, with the fight to release Oscar López and other political prisoners in the U.S. and around the world, and with the fight for the withdrawal of foreign troops of the so-called United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

The next continental conference will be held in 2018 in Nicaragua. European and African regional conferences in solidarity with Cuba are scheduled for later this year.  
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