Rebecca Broad The Spark May 2009
The Obama administration announced changes to travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans in April, which allow travel to Cuba of unlimited frequency, no cap on money transfer amounts and the ability to send clothes and certain personal hygiene items. These are welcome but very minimal changes, which don’t even go so far as to include non Cuban-Americans.
In line with his presidential campaign, Obama has made public comment that he will seek new relations with Cuba. For instance at the recent Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, Obama said he would move to have Cuba invited to rejoin the Organisation of American States, after 47 years of exclusion, and was open to direct talks. However these changes don’t mark any significant change in foreign policy towards Cuba. The US government continues to uphold the trade embargo, illegally occupy Guantanamo Bay, and deny a fair trial for or the release of the Cuban Five.
US telecommunication companies are now able to seek contracts in Cuba, but aside from this Obama is continuing to uphold the trade embargo against Cuba. The embargo began during the early days of the Cuban revolution in 1958, was broadened by Eisenhower in 1961 and again by Kennedy a year later to full trade restrictions. Diplomatic relations since then have been stagnant. The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 remains, preventing normal relations between American diplomats and Cuba under the Castro Presidencies. Aimed at undermining and causing the downfall of the Cuban government, the embargo has been a resounding failure, but is among the primary reasons that Cuba has an extremely low level of material wealth, struggles to attain hard currency, and is limited in its ability to continue to develop its productive capacity. Despite this Cuba remains among the leading bastions of anti-imperialism and true internationalism in the world, and persists as a counter weight and an embarrassment to US imperialism. Cuban exiles and organisations of counter-revolutionaries who operate out of Miami and hold political influence in Florida, continue to oppose any relaxation of the firm isolationist policy towards Cuba.
The US has a more than 50-year long history of aggression against Cuba. The Cuban people were victorious in overthrowing the US backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in January in 1959. In April 1961 US backed mercenaries and opponents of the revolution invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, in an attempt to overthrow the revolutionary government. However the mass mobilisation of the Cuban people to defend their revolution and subsequent embarrassing defeat of the invading forces was clear proof that revolutionary sentiment and support for the new government was deep seated and popular. In October 1962 President Kennedy verged on using nuclear warfare when the former Soviet Union began to station missiles on Cuba.
Since March 1959 Cuba has demanded the return of the land occupied by the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, and accepted no rent money. However the US continues to illegally occupy this land and commit human rights atrocities on it.
The Cuban Five or Miami Five were falsely convicted of espionage, conspiracy and related charge sand are serving long and life sentences in US prisons. They have been made heroes of the Republic of Cuba. The men were operating undercover in Miami gathering information on terrorism against Cuba. They successfully infiltrated terrorist organsiations, with the aim of informing Cuba of imminent attacks. Terrorist operations against Cuba have been occurring since 1959, resulting in around 3,500 deaths and 2000 injuries to Cubans and people who actively support the normalisation of US policy toward Cuba. These groups operate with freedom out of Miami and have the complicit backing of the CIA and FBI.
The Five were arrested by the FBI in September 1998 and held illegally in a Miami jail for 17 months. After a 7-month trial in Miami, they were convicted June 2001. The Five were denied a fair trial beyond the near-hysterical anti-Cuba atmosphere of Miami.
In August 2007 the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions and ruled for retrials outside of Miami. However, the original panel of three judges was vacated and a new panel of 12 judges one year later reversed the original decision. The convictions were reaffirmed. Several issues still remain before the court of appeal.
The Cuban Five are political prisoners. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions ruled that irregularities in their trial and arrest denied them a fair trial. Obama says his administration is willing to engage with Cuba “on a wide range of issues, including human rights, free speech, democratic reform, drugs, immigration and the economy”. Yet, reaffirming his hypocrisy as the mouth piece of imperialism, Obama rejected an offer made by Raul Castro at the beginning of 2009 to send over 200 prisoners held in Cuba, and their families, back to the United States, in exchange for the return of the Cuban Five to Cuba.
An important international solidarity campaign exists for the defense and release of the Cuban Five. In New Zealand contact the Cuba Friendship Society: Inashina@clear.net.nz