Cuba Solidarity Campaign Statement
Campaign News | Thursday, 8 May 2003
BACKGROUND INFORMATION PERTAINING TO RECENT EVENTS IN CUBA
Cuba Solidarity Campaign
BRIEFING PAPER – SPRING 2003
The recent arrests and trials of some 65 Cuban oppositionists has caused an international media furore that has been fuelled by the reactions of western governments and some intellectuals of international standing. The general impression that has been presented is that the men in question were jailed for “merely opposing the government.” In addition, the recent executions of three hi-jackers under Cuba’s anti-terrorism laws have drawn condemnation and serious disquiet from many quarters.
This Briefing Paper seeks to clarify certain inaccuracies that have been widely disseminated. In relation to the arrests of the oppositionists and the recent executions, serious, highly relevant facts have been omitted and any objective political context has been clouded by disinformation, making a rational judgment on the situation virtually impossible. CSC is extremely concerned about the deterioration in US – Cuba relations. Progressive people throughout the world are rightly united in their opposition to the use of the death penalty and it is to be regretted that conditions have been created in which extreme reactions have been provoked in Cuba. For 44 years, Cuba has suffered the loss of 3,478 of its citizens from numerous acts of terrorism, invasions, assassinations, assassination attempts and biological warfare, launched with impunity from US soil. It is against this background that recent events must be viewed.
In addition, CSC also condemns the economic and political blockade imposed by successive US administrations on the island nation for the past 44 years, causing an estimated $70 billion damage to Cuba's economy, and inflicting unnecessary suffering on the most vulnerable in Cuban society. It is the conviction of the Cuban government that the recent increase in hostilities is a worrying extension of 44 years of aggressive US policy which could serve as a pretext to military action against Cuba. It is within this context that recent events must be considered.
1) Why has Cuba jailed 65 so-called ‘dissidents’?
The ‘dissidents’ who were arrested, tried and imprisoned in April 2003 were charged and convicted of conducting “mercenary activity in the pay of a foreign enemy power.” They were found guilty of receiving sustained financial assistance, gifts and equipment and of having been recruited by the head of the US Interests Section in Havana, James Cason, to carry out counter-revolutionary activities.
James Cason, an extremely rightwing and outspoken opponent of the Cuban government was posted to the US Interests Section in Havana by the Bush administration, with a specific brief to support and extend the Cuban opposition movement. This is an activity that is in breach of his diplomatic status, under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The US State Department labels these activities “outreach” operations. However, under the US code, similar “outreach” by foreign diplomats in the US could result in criminal prosecution and a 10-year prison sentence for anyone who “agrees to operate within the United States subject to the direction or control of a foreign government or official” (Title 18, section 951 of the Unites States Code).
All of those who were jailed were people who had been invited to James Cason’s official residence for meetings and parties on numerous occasions since his appointment in September 2002. Mr. Cason had been repeatedly warned of the consequences of his actions before the arrests were finally made.
2) Did the ‘dissidents’ receive a fair trial?
All 65 of the “dissidents” were tried in an open court. Only foreign journalists and foreign diplomats were denied access to the courts. Members of the public, including the defendants’ families were admitted to watch the proceedings.
All of the defendants had lawyers. 44 of them chose their own lawyer to defend them while the others were given court appointed defence lawyers free of charge.
They were convicted mainly on the evidence of 12 of their own number who revealed themselves to have been agents of Cuban security who had infiltrated their organizations (hence the distinction between the figure of 65 dissidents as opposed to the popular figure of 77, which includes Cuban “double agents”). These agents provided substantial evidence relating to the charges against the defendants.
All the defendants were given leave to appeal their sentences as is provided by the law and appeal hearings are pending.
3) What are the circumstances surrounding the hi-jackings?
Concurrent with the provocations emanating from the US Interests Section in Havana, there has been a serious crisis arising because of a sudden spate of hi-jackings by criminals attempting to illegally migrate to the US.
The Cuban government has revealed that the numbers of visas being granted by the Bush administration for Cubans to leave the island legally has been drastically reduced, and is accusing the US of deliberately creating the conditions in which people will steal boats and planes to get to the US. It is evident that the U.S. Interests Section has virtually stopped granting visas to Cubans applying for admission to the United States. Under the 1995 U.S.-Cuba Migratory Agreement, the U.S. agreed to grant 20,000 entry visas to the U.S. annually. The purpose of the 1995 agreement was to assure a safe, legal and orderly immigration process. However, from October 2002 to Feb. 2003, the first five months of the accord's calendar year, only 505 visas were granted to Cubans wishing to enter the U.S.
Furthermore, upon arriving in the US, those who have successfully hi-jacked air or sea craft, often having used guns, grenades and knives to threaten pilots or crew, have not been returned to Cuba to face trial. Instead they have in most cases been released without charge, or given bail.
This lenient treatment has therefore encouraged other Cubans to carry out such acts. Between March 19 and April 25 this year there were no less than 29 hi-jacking attempts in Cuba. Immediately preceding the hijacking of the ferry by the three executed individuals, there were two hi-jackings of passenger aircraft with foreign tourists, women and children on board. In the case of the ferry hi-jacking of 2nd April 2003, which resulted in the executions of three high-jackers, the ferry in question was hi-jacked at 1:30 am in Havana Harbour with 29 passengers on board.
The highjacking seriously endangered the lives of Cuban men, women and children and four foreign tourists. Eventually the hi-jackers were overpowered and arrested. The Cuban authorities took the decision to try the ferry hi-jackers with terrorism and endangering human life. The maximum penalty for this under Cuban law is death. Until these executions Cuba had placed a moratorium on the use of the death penalty that had been in place for four years.
The hi-jackers were all tried, again in the presence of their families and the public. They all had defence lawyers to represent them. Their appeal was heard by the Supreme Court and was upheld. Then, in accordance with the law, the Council of State, the Cuban Cabinet, met to hear the final appeal and make the decision whether or not to end the moratorium on the death penalty in this case.
The US has subsequently issued warnings to Cuba that any further hi-jackings from its territory would be regarded as a threat to US National Security. The White House says it is reviewing Cuba policy.
The Cuban government has taken the view in the context of the geopolitical situation following the invasion of Iraq that it too could face an attack from the United States.
They believe that the US government is attempting to provoke another migration crisis similar to that of 1994, in order to provide a pretext to attack the island. Regrettably, the Cuban President Fidel Castro has stated that the country’s moratorium on the death penalty has been suspended as a deterrent to others thinking of hi-jacking vessels. He said that this step was taken reluctantly to prevent a war.
4) What are the possible ramifications of this “crisis”?
On May 20th president Bush is to make a policy speech on Cuba and it is likely that he will announce further measures to tighten the economic blockade on Cuba.
He will possibly announce stringent limits on the money that Cuban Americans can send their families in Cuba, he may restrict flights to Cuba from the US and he may stop all trade between the two countries. The notorious right wing anti-Castro Cuban American organisations in Miami have already called for the Bush administration to invade Cuba and large public demonstrations have taken place under the campaigning slogan “Today Iraq – Tomorrow Cuba”. USAID has announced that it will grant one million dollars to the University of Miami’s so-called “Cuba Transition Project” aimed at planning for the privatisation of all services in “a post-Castro Cuba”.
The State Department has also retained Cuba’s inclusion on its list of state-sponsors of terrorism despite the absence of any evidence or information to support this accusation, an accusation utterly refuted by Cuba. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, when asked recently whether there were plans to invade Cuba, stated “not for the time being.”
In addition, last week, Hans Hertell, the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, said the removal of Saddam Hussein could serve as a "good example" for regime change in Cuba.
Across Europe, the UK, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands are calling for a toughening of Europe’s stance towards Cuba. There is an overall climate of opinion being whipped up that is apparently attempting to isolate Cuba. There was a move to have Cuba censured by the Organization of American States, and the US called for Cuba to be removed from the UN Commission of Human Rights. Both moves were defeated.
The extremely worrying noises and actions emanating from the US administration reinforce the urgent need for the broadest possible campaign to be built to counter US rhetoric and aggression, in order to ensure that Cuba’s right to sovereignty and self-determination are recognized and upheld by the international community.
More information available from CSC website