BY DOUG LORIMER
Addressing 1 million people in Havana's Jose Mart¡ Revolution Square on May Day, Cuban President Fidel Castro warned that the US government was seeking to provoke a crisis with Cuba that Washington could use to launch an Iraq-style attack on the island.
Castro noted that on April 25 "Kevin Whitaker, chief of the Cuban Bureau at the State Department, informed the head of our Interests Section in Washington that the National Security Council's Department of Homeland Security considered the continued hijackings from Cuba a serious threat to the national security of the United States, and requested that the Cuban government adopt all of the necessary measures to prevent such acts".
On August 6, five Cubans hijacked a boat and sailed it to Florida. A second hijacking took place on November 11, when a crop duster was commandeered to the US. A boat carrying reinforced concrete and a Cuban Coast Guard vessel were then hijacked in January and February, respectively, and taken to the US.
However, the perpetrators of these crimes were simply released by US authorities, despite Cuba's request for their extradition.
The next incident took place on March 19, when six armed men hijacked a Cuban airliner and forced it to fly to Florida. While US authorities charged the hijackers with "piracy", they refused to return the aircraft. On April 10, US courts released the hijackers of the passenger plane on bail.
It was the first hijacking of a Cuban passenger plane in flight since an immigration agreement was signed in 1994, under which Washington agreed to grant a minimum of 20,000 visas to Cubans wishing to emigrate to the US.
In the first six months of this year, which for immigration purposes began on October 1, the US Interests Section (USIS), Washington's unofficial embassy in Havana, granted less than 600 visas. This massive reduction in the granting of visas was clearly a deliberate policy by Washington to provoke a wave of hijackings that could be used to claim that Cuba was creating a threat to US "national security".
After the hijacking of a DC-3 passenger plane on March 19, the Cuban authorities obtained evidence of 29 plans to hijack aircraft and vessels.
On April 8, a Cuban court found 10 people guilty of having hijacked a ferry six days earlier, using handguns and knives, in a failed attempt to reach Florida. The hijackers had been charged with "very grave acts of terrorism" and three men among them were given the death penalty and were executed on April 11.
In his May Day speech, Castro defended the use of the death penalty in this instance as a regrettable but necessary measure of deterrence.
"We fully respect the opinions of those who oppose capital punishment for religious, philosophical and humanitarian reasons", Castro said. "We Cuban revolutionaries also abhor capital punishment, for much more profound reasons than those addressed by the social sciences with regard to crime, currently under study in our country. The day will come when we can accede to the wishes for the abolition of such penalty...
"The special concern over this issue is easily understood when you know that the majority of the people executed in the United States are African American and Hispanic, and not infrequently they are innocent, especially in Texas, the champion of death sentences, where President George Bush was formerly the governor, and not a single life has ever been pardoned.
"The Cuban Revolution was placed in the dilemma of either protecting the lives of millions of Cubans by using the legally established death penalty to punish the three main hijackers of a passenger ferry or sitting back and doing nothing. The US government, which incites common criminals to assault boats or airplanes with passengers on board, encourages these people gravely endangering the lives of innocents and creating the ideal conditions for an attack on Cuba. A wave of hijackings had been unleashed and was already in full development; it had to be stopped.
"We cannot ever hesitate when it is a question of protecting the lives of the sons and daughters of a people determined to fight until the end, arresting the mercenaries who serve the aggressors and applying the most severe sanctions against terrorists who hijack passenger boats or planes or commit similarly serious acts, who will be punished by the courts in accordance with the laws in force."
On March 18, Cuban authorities arrested 32 opponents of the Cuban Revolution after they had been involved in three meetings, between December and March, with US diplomatic personnel at the USIS offices in Havana or at the residence of James Cason, chief of the USIS. In the following days, a further 43 opponents of the revolution were arrested.
Jailing of 'dissidents'
All 75 defendants were convicted and sentenced to jail terms ranging from six to 28 years on April 3-7 by courts in Havana and other Cuban cities on criminal charges brought by government prosecutors for violations of the Cuban penal code and law 88, known as the Act for the Protection of the National Independence and the Economy of Cuba. This stipulates prison terms for anyone who "seeks information to be used in the application of the Helms-Burton Act, the blockade, and the economic war on our people, aimed at disrupting internal order, destabilising the country and liquidating the socialist state and the independence of Cuba" or who "gathers, reproduces, [or] disseminates subversive material from the government of the United States of America, its agencies, representative bodies, officials or any foreign entity to support the objectives of the Helms-Burton Act."
Cuba's National Assembly adopted this law in 1999 to counter efforts by Washington to implement the so-called Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as Helms-Burton Act, after its initial congressional sponsors. Approved in March 1996, this law upheld all previous measures to enforce the US trade embargo against Cuba and required they remain in place until a "transitional government" approved by Washington is set up in Havana.
One of the defendants, Osvaldo Alfonso Valdes, a member of a group called Todos Unidos (All United), had testified: "We know that the resources we receive for our work comes from funds approved by the [US] government. I recall an occasion, a meeting with an official from [United States Agency for International Development], in his office, when he had come to verify if the resources from the office had reached us."
USAID is one of the institutions described in the Helms-Burton act as responsible for channelling financial and other material aid to anti-government agents in Cuba. According to the Associated Press, it has paid some US$20 million to US-based groups working to overthrow the Cuban government.
The jailing of the 75 paid agents of the US government has been presented in the corporate media as a Cuban government "crackdown" on "dissidents", an accusation echoed by some who have previously opposed Washington's policies toward revolutionary Cuba. For example, well-known US critics of Washington's imperialist foreign policy Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn signed a statement initiated by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy (CPD) on April 25. The CPD is led by Joanne Landy, a member of the US ruling-class Council of Foreign Relations think tank.
The CPD statement, titled "Antiwar, social justice, and human rights advocates oppose repression in Cuba", declares: "We condemn the arrests of scores of opponents of the Cuban government for their non-violent political activities... The imprisonment of people for attempting to exercise their rights of free expression is outrageous and unacceptable. We call on the Cuban government to release all political prisoners and let the Cuban people speak, write and organise freely."
Responding to such criticism in his May 1 speech, Castro said: "Today the so-called dissidents, actually mercenaries on the payroll of the Bush's Hitler-like government, are betraying not only their homeland, but all of humanity as well...
"The entire world has been mobilised by the terrifying images of cities destroyed and burned by brutal bombing, images of maimed children and the shattered corpses of innocent people.
"Leaving aside the blatantly opportunistic, demagogic and petty political groups we know all too well, I am now going to refer fundamentally to those who were friends of Cuba and respected fighters in the struggle. We would not want those who have, in our opinion, attacked Cuba unjustly, due to disinformation or a lack of careful and profound analysis, to have to suffer the infinite sorrow they will feel if one day our cities are destroyed and our children and mothers, women and men, young and old, are torn apart by the bombs of Nazi-fascism, and they realise that their declarations were shamelessly manipulated by the aggressors to justify a military attack on Cuba."
Taking up the possibility of a US Iraq-style attack on Cuba, Castro declared: "The aggressors would not merely be facing an army, but rather thousands of armies that would constantly reproduce themselves and make the enemy pay such a high cost in casualties that it would far exceed the cost in lives of its sons and daughters that the American people would be willing to pay for the adventures and ideas of President Bush. Today, he enjoys majority support, but it is dropping, and tomorrow it could be reduced to zero.
"The American people, the millions of highly cultivated individuals who reason and think, their basic ethical principles, the tens of millions of computers with which to communicate, hundreds of times more than at the end of the Vietnam War, will show that you cannot fool all of the people, and perhaps not even part of the people, all of the time. One day they will put a straightjacket on those who need it before they manage to annihilate life on the planet."
From Green Left Weekly, May 14, 2003.
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