ILWU convention says
‘Free the Cuban 5, end U.S. blockade’
Published Jul 6, 2009 6:23 AM
The ILWU international president was instructed to write to President Barack
Obama asking him to look into the case of the Cuban 5 and immediately free
The ILWU tradition of solidarity has been guided by the principle that
“ILWU policies and actions on foreign affairs have always been built on
the belief that international labor solidarity and world peace are the
cornerstones of social and economic justice for all workers including the
membership of the ILWU.”
Clarence Thomas (right) hands a card to
Magali Llort, mother of Fernando
Photos: Delores Lemon-Thomas
In late April an ILWU delegation spent 12 days in Havana. While there they met
with spouses and mothers of the Cuban 5 and made a commitment to them to take
the issue of their loved ones’ imprisonment to the ILWU Convention.
The Cuban 5 have been imprisoned for more than 10 years for monitoring the
activities of right-wing paramilitary groups in south Florida that plot attacks
against Cuba. On June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review their
International Longshore and Warehouse Union members from Alaska, California,
Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia, gathered in Seattle
for the 34th ILWU Convention from June 8 to 12. The delegates adopted
resolutions introduced by Local 10 calling for freedom for the Cuban 5 and by
Local 34 to end the U.S. blockade of Cuba. These resolutions are evidence that
ILWU international solidarity is alive and well.
Right to left: Mirta Rodriguez, Maria Eugenia
Rodriguez, mother and sister of
Guerrero imprisoned in Florence, Colo.;
Adriana Pérez, spouse of
imprisoned in Victorville, Calif., denied any
visitation; Rosa Aurora Freijanes, spouse of
Fernando González, imprisoned
Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, told
“Democracy Now” on June 17 that even the June 2008 negative
decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals shed some important light on the
case. Five times that U.S. court stated the Cuban 5 didn’t gather or
transmit secret information affecting U.S. national security, resulting in its
decision to order resentencing for three of the Cuban 5. Even during their
trial in 2001, three U.S. generals and a rear admiral acknowledged that the
accused had not committed espionage against the U.S.
As a result of the recent Supreme Court decision not to review the Cuban 5
case, it becomes more critical for union leaders and others to demand their
The convention also reaffirmed the union’s decades-long opposition to the
U.S. trade embargo. The resolution adopted by the convention calls on the Obama
administration to seize the moment and finally bring an end to the embargo and
travel ban against Cuba.
One of the things this writer learned from the recent visit to Cuba was that
the U.S. government wants to make the Cuban people lose affection for Fidel
Castro and their commitment to the revolution by way of economic hardship. The
U.S. plan has tried to create an atmosphere of desperation brought on by lack
of resources, food, medicine and medical equipment that would lead to the
overthrow of the Cuban government. The plan has failed.
During my visit to Havana I learned first hand of the impact of the embargo on
the Cuban people. Construction supplies are scarce. Certain fruits like bananas
are not available all year round. People who were part of the delegation that
visited Cuba during the “special period” after the Soviet Union
collapsed in 1991 described tremendous food shortages on the island. Now there
is new “eco-socialism” where organic gardens thrive throughout the
city, even on top of buildings.
A growing wave of voices beyond the progressive community in the U.S. is
calling for an end to the embargo. These voices represent shipping companies,
port commissioners, farmers and the business sector.
In an interview on CNN on May 13 with correspondent Jim Acosta, a port
commissioner from Tampa, Fla., a shipping company tycoon and a U.S. cigar maker
agreed that it’s time to end the embargo. With the collapse of the
capitalist economy, various sectors view an end of the blockade as an
opportunity for business to create jobs.
Acosta reported that ports along the Gulf Coast are drawing up business plans
hoping for an end to the 47-year-old trade embargo against the island.
“Port officials with the Port of Mobile, Ala., are planning their own
trade mission to Cuba this July,” he said.
Arthur Savage, a Tampa shipping owner, said, “If we increase the ships,
that ties right to jobs.”
Cuba was once a playground for the rich, powerful and famous, with casinos,
prostitution and swank hotels. U.S. corporations and organized crime worked
hand in hand with the colonial Cuban government. There was racism and a color
and caste system, high rates of illiteracy and exploitation. All that changed
with the revolution that triumphed on Jan. 1, 1959.
Workers in the U.S. have much to learn from a socialist society like Cuba
which, despite the U.S. blockade, provides free education from kindergarten
through graduate school and has eradicated illiteracy. Despite the U.S.
blockade, the Latin American School of Medicine annually provides 4,500 medical
students from around the world with entirely free tuition and produces doctors,
including U.S. graduates, who agree to practice medicine for five years in poor
communities and/or communities of color.
Once the blockade is lifted, workers from the U.S. can learn firsthand the
benefits of living in a socialist country. Even with the U.S. travel ban, tens
of thousands of U.S. residents travel to Cuba every year. It is time for the
blockade and travel restrictions to end.
Clarence Thomas is a member of ILWU Local 10 in San Francisco, a
convention observer and co-chair of
the Million Worker March Movement.
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