The Cuban Five talk about their lives within the US working class
2016 by Pathfinder Press
A review of the book
The United States government has invested literally billions of dollars in their so-called, “War on Terror.” While the government has been spending all this money, working people in this country have experienced a different kind of terrorism. One out of about six people in this country doesn’t have enough food to eat and President Obama cut back on the food stamps program to the tune of $8.7 billion.
However, since the 1959 Cuban Revolution that nation has been a routine target of many different kinds of terrorist actions. Cuba sent spies to this country to gain evidence as to who had been bombing Cuban hotels. These defenders of Cuban sovereignty included: Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González.
Cuba gave this information to officials in this country notifying them as to the fact that terrorists were operating in the United States in full violation of the law. These terrorists murdered people because they don’t like the Cuban government.
The government in this country responded by arresting the Cuban agents who uncovered the illegal activities. The U.S. authorities then framed-up the five Cubans and placed them in prison for up to sixteen years.
Pathfinder Press as well as other publishing houses published several books about the Cuban Five, their story, and their artwork. The latest installment in this series is an interview where the five talked about the time they spent in the prisons of this country. One of the points of the book is how the millions of prisoners in this country are in fact a super-exploited section of the working class.
Before I write about this book, I’d like to review some of the people who spent time in prison in their attempt to liberate the Cuban people.
We can begin with José Martí, who was the theoretical father of the Cuban nation. At the age of seventeen Martí was arrested on charges of apostasy. Martí wrote a letter critical of a friend who marched in a parade in support of the Spanish authorities. At the time, during the 19th century, Spain was the colonial power that ruled Cuba
For this so-called crime Martí was placed in leg irons and forced to cut lime-stones twelve hours per day under the hot Cuban sun. Martí would loose the use of one of his eyes and develop a problem with a hernia that would pain him for the rest of his life. All of this happened during his time as a prisoner of Spain.
Martí reported that he worked beside the very old and very young. The prison guards routinely beat the prisoners bloody for not working fast enough. Even when prisoners could barely stand, the prison doctor ordered prisoners back to work. This was the case even when the prisoner might be eleven years old.
We might imagine that these conditions would break even the most courageous prisoner. However, Martí only became stronger in his resolve to free Cuba from Spanish tyranny.
When the Cuban independence forces were on the verge of ousting Spain, the United States entered the war and became the indirect ruler of the island. Like Spain, the U.S. government was not concerned with the welfare of the Cuban people, but with the profits they could amass from sugar cane.
Clearly the conditions reported by the Cuban Five are different in the United States today than they were in Spanish Cuba during the 19th century. However, today we see the same indifference by the U.S. prison authorities to the prisoners as Martí experienced while he cut lime-stones under the hot Cuban sun.
Fidel Castro & the raid on the Moncada Barracks
On July 26, 1953 Fidel Castro led a raid on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago, Cuba. These barracks contained an arms depot that the revolutionaries planned to use in a revolutionary war.
The military forces defeated this raid. Fidel Castro along with his compañeros went to prison. Others were tortured and or murdered by the authorities.
The July 26 raid on Moncada was an effort to continue the struggle for Cuban liberation. I believe we need to look at this raid in the context of other revolutionary events that took place in the Western Hemisphere.
On April 19, 1775 the battle of Lexington and Concord took place. The British attempted to secure an arms depot outside of Boston. The revolutionaries hid the weapons and resisted the raid using the arms at their disposal. While the revolutionaries suffered a defeat at Lexington and Concord, this battle marked the beginning of the first American Revolution that eventually won independence from Britain.
On October 18, 1859 John Brown led a raid on an arms depot at Harpers Ferry in what is now West Virginia. Brown’s idea was to use the arms at Harpers Ferry to launch a war against the slave owners in the United States.
The United States armed forces defeated this raid under the command of General Robert E. Lee. As a result, John Brown died because of his execution by hanging.
On April 9, 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. The United States government had already passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery.
The Thirteenth Amendment – Prisons in the United States & Cuba
However, there is an exception to the Thirteenth Amendment where slavery is abolished except when someone is convicted of a crime. This exception to the 13th Amendment was a clear violation of the Eight Amendment to the Constitution that prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” The current book interviewing the Cuban Five makes the unmistakable case that the prison system in this country is in open violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
In their book, the Cuban Five also talked about the prison system in Cuba. Sentences for crimes are usually of much shorter duration than those sentences in this country. In one prison in this country where one of the five lived, the average sentence was 90 years.
A case was sighted of a young Cuban who had been the victim of bullying. Unlike in this country, bullying is rare in Cuba. However, in this case a young person lost his life and the murderer received a prison sentence.
The person who went to prison had the right to an education and received a university degree in psychology. Today, this person is a professional psychologist in Cuba and there is no stigma associated with the fact that he took someone’s life.
There were other contrasts the Cuban Five pointed to between Cuba and the United States. One of the Cubans lived in a prison in California where gang members also served their sentences. One of these gang members spoke about why young people join gangs.
In the elementary schools that working people attend in the Los Angeles area gang members routinely bully young people. Someone can avoid this bullying by joining a gang. When the gang asks a member to murder someone, the choice is clear. Either the gang member carries out the murder, or that gang member will be murdered.
The Cuban Five acknowledged that they had more comfortable living conditions in the United States than in Cuba. However, Cuban children can feel safe playing in the streets all night long. This is one of the benefits the Cuban people won along with education and health care. In this country, working people routinely go into severe debt in order to pay the costs of health care and education.
The battle to maintain dignity in U.S. prisons
In another theme of this book the Cuban Five explained how they were able to maintain their dignity while experiencing the horrors of the prison system. They understood that when they volunteered for their assignment as spies there was the possibility of prison. So, they were prepared to loose the comforts life has to offer in order to carry out their assignment. This meant they were prepared to loose contact with their families as well as the right to come and go as they pleased.
Once they came to this realization that they might loose everything, they were able to adjust to the prison environment. They respected all prisoners and they received respect.
Several prisoners subscribed to The Militant newspaper because it supports prisoners rights as well as the rights of all workers. When prisoners saw how the case of the Cuban Five was winning international support in articles in The Militant, this won them even more support.
I believe that the example of the Cuban Five shows how human beings can develop the disciple needed to take on the immensely powerful world capitalist system. As more people become aware of the fact that the only way for humanity to advance will be with a government that makes human needs its only priority. The story of the Cuban Five is about individuals who gave everything they had to defend the Cuban government that makes people and not profits their priority.