The historical context of the Cuban Five

(What follows is a presentation given by Jane Franklin during the 5 Days for the Cuban 5 event held in Washington, D.C.)

Thank you all for being here in Washington to combat terrorism. I want to thank the other panelists and all the other internationalists who join us in the battle against this outrageous injustice. We need all the help we can get as we work here in the planet’s main base of terrorism to free these heroic anti-terrorists – Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, and Tony. I’ve been asked to put their heroism in context.

The basic problem is that this injustice is part of a system of imperial injustice. Simón Bolívar saw it coming in 1829 when he warned that the United States “appears destined by Providence to plague America with miseries in the name of Freedom.” The ideology that drives this plague is American exceptionalism.

The doctrine of American exceptionalism emerged dramatically alongside U.S. policy toward Cuba. The United States itself had hardly become an independent nation when Thomas Jefferson declared that with Cuba and Canada “we should have such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation.”

As Cuban revolutionaries were on the verge of victory against Spain in 1898, the U.S. Congress declared that Cuba had the right to be free and independent, and then Congress declared a war against Spain in which Washington portrayed itself as the provider of that freedom and independence. Washington presented the Platt Amendment, which gave it virtual control of Cuba, as if it would shield Cuba against colonization, while using it to turn Cuba from a colony of Spain into a neo-colony of the United States.

When the Cuban Revolution turned Cuba from a neo-colony into an independent nation, the Eisenhower administration immediately launched the counterrevolution – the State of Siege that continues today. A State Department memorandum in 1959, the first year of the Revolution, speculated that depriving Cuba of its sugar quota privilege would cause “widespread…unemployment” and “large numbers of people thus forced out of work would begin to go hungry.” Eisenhower canceled the sugar quota and a full trade embargo followed.

Alongside the overt terrorism of the embargo, covert terrorist operations have continued for all these decades. Just a few weeks ago, Cuba arrested four infiltrators who planned to attack military installations. Perhaps agents such as the Cuban Five helped uncover this plot just as they uncovered a plot by Luis Posada Carriles and his gang in the year 2000 to blow up an auditorium filled with people listening to a speech by Fidel Castro in Panama City.

I think all of us here know about the record of Luis Posada, the most notorious terrorist in the Western Hemisphere. For nine years the U.S. Government has refused to abide by its extradition treaty with Venezuela, which requires that the U.S. either extradite Posada to face trial for the murders of 73 people aboard a Cubana passenger plane or prosecute him here in the United States for those murders. The U.S. Government in its White House right down the street is thus complicit in that mass murder.

Just two months before the arrests of the Cuban Five, Posada told the New York Times that “the CIA taught us everything – everything….They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage.” He boasted of his exploits and bragged about his support from the FBI, the CIA and the Cuban American National Foundation.

Because U.S. intelligence agencies collaborate with the terrorists, Cuba has been forced to train agents like the Cuban Five to investigate terrorist groups. The first member of the Cuban Five to arrive in Florida was René González in 1990, just in time to help deal with the increase of terrorism that followed the disbanding of the Soviet Union and Cuba’s disastrous loss of more than 85 percent of its trade.

Cuba was perceived as vulnerable and the predators thought it was the time to bring it down. Overt terrorism escalated alongside covert activities. Congress worked closely with the Cuban American National Foundation to pass the 1992 Torricelli Act that intensified the trade embargo.

In that same year the Cuban American National Foundation created its secret military arm. Four years later, disappointed that Cuba was continuing to survive as an independent nation, the Foundation engineered the Helms-Burton Law, which became the law of the land. Helms-Burton aspires to be the Platt Amendment of the 21st century. But there is a key difference between Platt at the beginning of the 20th century and Helms-Burton a century later. Platt was U.S. law and then became Cuban law. Helms-Burton is U.S. law but Cuba is determined to keep it from becoming Cuban law. That is a major component of current relations between Cuba and the United States.

In 1999, Cuba, recognizing that Helms-Burton makes financing subversive activities part of U.S. economic warfare against Cuba, passed its own law that makes it a violation of Cuban law to introduce into Cuba, accept, or distribute materials from the U.S. Government that would aid in implementing Helms-Burton. Therefore, when a U.S. agent, such as Alan Gross, distributes such materials in Cuba, the agent is violating Cuban law.

By making Helms-Burton U.S. law, President Bill Clinton and Congress provided a legal front for the legitimization and normalization of terror. But a turning point came in 1998, the same year that the Cuban Five were arrested, when Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela. From the time he took office in 1999, he championed Latin American and Caribbean unity, especially with regard to Cuba. Thanks to his leadership, by the time of his death last year, there was a paradigm shift of historic importance, dramatically represented by the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). When the 21st century opened, the Organization of American States (OAS) included all 35 nations of the Western Hemisphere, but with Cuba suspended. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, CELAC members included all 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations of the Western Hemisphere, with the United States and Canada excluded.

At West Point last week President Obama once again called the United States “the one indispensable nation.” But CELAC has definitively decided that the United States is not indispensable. Earlier this year Cuba hosted the second CELAC Summit where every member opposes the trade embargo. (Canada also opposes the embargo so the United States is alone in its support of its own embargo.)

Yet, as if oblivious to the consensus of Latin America and the Caribbean regarding the status of Cuba, President Obama declared in September 2011, “It’s clearly time for regime change in Cuba.” At a fundraiser last November in the home of Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, President Obama said the United States can help bring “freedom to Cuba.” He said, “we have to be creative” and “we have to be thoughtful.” Those words, “creative” and “thoughtful”, gave some analysts the idea that Obama might be ready for a positive step toward Cuba. But we need to pay attention to what he said next and I quote: “the aims are always going to be the same.” He spoke of the need to relate to the “age of the internet”, perhaps thinking that social media programs like ZunZuneo might do the trick by creating another color revolution of “smart mobs” in the streets of Havana.

Obama seems just as oblivious to the opinions of U.S. citizens. A recent Atlantic Council poll shows a majority of Americans want normal relations with Cuba and 61 percent believe Cuba should not be on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Yet all the Cuban Americans in the House and Senate down the street oppose any sign of rapprochement, including the idea that the President agree to negotiations without preconditions with Cuba. Such negotiations are the key to unlocking the prison doors for the three heroes who remain in U.S. prisons. So here we are again in the belly of the beast with a huge job to do because we have to find a way around the barriers of imperial injustice.

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