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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 13, No. 54, 18 December 2014

In this Issue:


Red Alert

The release of the Cuban Five and restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States:

Statement by the South African Communist Party

The release of the Cuban Five

The South African Communist Party welcomes the release of the remaining three of the Cuban Five who were unjustly incarcerated for 16 years in the United States of America (U.S.) since 12 September 1998; Comrades Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero who were arrested together with Fernando and René González. The Cuban Five were essentially arrested by the U.S. for fighting against terrorism directed at the destabilisation of Cuba. The SACP celebrates with the families, friends and comrades of these great heroes of the Cuban revolution and people as a whole, and shares with all of them the sheer joy of their release from the jaws of imperialism in the U.S.

The release of the Cuban Five represents a symbolic victory over imperialism which is in the state of multiple crises and is unable to rule in the old way. This was admitted by the U.S. President Barack Obama in his statement on Wednesday 17 December 2014 when he said the old way of doing things did not work, and that the U.S. could not expect different results from doing one and the same thing over and over again. He then called “…for a new approach to advancing” the U.S’s “interests” and “values” in Cuba. This is the core of the remaining problem; the government of one country, i.e. the U.S., is seeking to extent its influence and jurisdiction, and impose its will over another, Cuba, and in fact also over the rest of the world. The SACP condemns this in strongest terms possible, and calls on all revolutionaries, progressives and peace loving people across the world to intensify mobilisation and the struggle against imperialism. The Cuban people and many in solidarity the world over have shown the way!

As President Raul Castro Ruz said on Wednesday 17 December 2014 announcing the release of the remaining Cuban Five and the restoration of diplomatic relations with the U.S., the heroic people of Cuba have demonstrated against great dangers, attacks, hardships and sacrifices that they are, and will remain, true to the ideals of independence and social justice. The release of all the Cuban Five followed years of consistent mobilisation in Cuba and across the world, including in South Africa. As acknowledged by President Castro who thanked all the people involved, this consistent mobilisation was carried out by “committees, groups of solidarity, governments, parliaments, organisations, institutions and personalities”. The SACP is proud to have been part of this just movement!

The SACP further wishes to thank all South Africans who tirelessly took part in this struggle through our own Party organisation and, but by no means exclusively, the Friends of Cuba Society South Africa (FOCUS-SA). The SACP also congratulates our government for active solidarity with the people of Cuba on this and various fronts. Our government has been vocal in this struggle, and has consistently voted at the United Nations for the lifting of the U.S’s illegal economic embargo on Cuba.

Restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US

The SACP welcomes the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed 53 years ago, in January 1961, two years after the Cuban revolution dislodged in 1959 the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista that was backed by the U.S in Cuba. The U.S further imposed an economic embargo on Cuba with the aim of collapsing Cuban independence and revolution through a series of interacting imperialist measures, this so-called “support for democracy”.

The SACP condemns right-wing groupings mainly in the U.S. but also elsewhere who are campaigning against the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S., and the lifting of the U.S’s economic embargo on Cuba. The SACP reiterates its call on the US to lift its economic embargo on Cuba unconditionally and completely with immediate effect! The “crime” that the Cubans have committed is to assert their right to national self-determination including policy sovereignty over the direction of their own society. The SACP is deeply concerned that, in its statement, the U.S. administration has made no shift whatsoever from its policy of interference in Cuban affairs or those of other countries. 

In essence the US government announced that it has adopted a new strategy to achieve the old objectives of imperialist interference in Cuba. The announcement essentially streamlines the pursuit of “regime change” based on new tactics and funding methods. The SACP condemns this bad faith in strongest terms possible, and calls on the U.S. government to stop meddling with the right of the Cuban people to freely determine their own development policies – in particular the path of socialism that they, on their own will, have chosen!

Released by the SACP


Alex Mashilo – Spokesperson
Mobile: 082 9200 308
Office: 011 339 3621/2
Twitter: @2SACP
Facebook Page: South African Communist Party


Statement by the Cuban President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Army General, Comrade Raśl Castro Ruz

Statement by the Cuban President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Army General, Comrade Raúl Castro Ruz

Fellow countrymen, Since my election as President of the State Council and Council of Ministers I have reiterated in many occasions our willingness to hold a respectful dialogue with the United States on the basis of sovereign equality, in order to deal reciprocally with a wide variety of topics without detriment to the national Independence and self-determination of our people.

Author: Granma | Gen. Raúl Castro Ruz | internet@granma.cu | December 17, 2014 12:12:51

Fellow countrymen, Since my election as President of the State Council and Council of Ministers I have reiterated in many occasions our willingness to hold a respectful dialogue with the United States on the basis of sovereign equality, in order to deal reciprocally with a wide variety of topics without detriment to the national Independence and self-determination of our people.

This stance was conveyed to the US Government both publicly and privately by Comrade Fidel on several occasions during our long standing struggle, stating the willingness to discuss and solve our differences without renouncing any of our principles.

The heroic Cuban people, in the wake of serious dangers, aggressions, adversities and sacrifices has proven to be faithful and will continue to be faithful to our ideals of independence and social justice. Strongly united throughout these 56 years of Revolution, we have kept our unswerving loyalty to those who died in defence of our principles since the beginning of our independence wars in 1868.

Today, despite the difficulties, we have embarked on the task of updating our economic model in order to build a prosperous and sustainable Socialism.

As a result of a dialogue at the highest level, which included a phone conversation I had yesterday with President Obama, we have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual interest for both nations.

As Fidel promised on June 2001, when he said: “They shall return!” Gerardo, Ramon, and Antonio have arrived today to our homeland.

The enormous joy of their families and of all our people, who have relentlessly fought for this goal, is shared by hundreds of solidarity committees and groups, governments, parliaments, organizations, institutions, and personalities, who for the last sixteen years have made tireless efforts demanding their release.

We convey our deepest gratitude and commitment to all of them. President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and acknowledgement of our people. I wish to thank and acknowledge the support of the Vatican, most particularly the support of Pope Francisco in the efforts for improving relations between Cuba and the United States.

I also want to thank the Government of Canada for facilitating the high-level dialogue between the two countries. In turn, we have decided to release and send back to the United States a spy of Cuban origin who was working for that nation. On the other hand, and for humanitarian reasons, today we have also sent the American citizen Alan Gross back to his country. Unilaterally, as has always been our practice, and in strict compliance with the provisions of our legal system, the concerned prisoners have received legal benefits, including the release of those persons that the Government of the United States had conveyed their interest in.

We have also agreed to renew diplomatic relations. This in no way means that the heart of the matter has been solved. The economic, commercial, and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damages to our country, [and] must cease.

Though the blockade has been codified into law, the President of the United States has the executive authority to modify its implementation. We propose to the Government of the United States the adoption of mutual steps to improve the bilateral atmosphere and advance towards normalization of relations between our two countries, based on the principles of International Law and the United Nations Charter.

Cuba reiterates its willingness to cooperate in multilateral bodies, such as the United Nations. While acknowledging our profound differences, particularly on issues related to national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and foreign policy, I reaffirm our willingness to dialogue on all these issues. I call upon the Government of the United States to remove the obstacles hindering or restricting ties between peoples, families, and citizens of both countries, particularly restrictions on travelling, direct post services, and telecommunications.

The progress made in our exchanges proves that it is possible to find solutions to many problems. As we have reiterated, we must learn the art of coexisting with our differences in a civilized manner. We will continue talking about these important issues at a later date.

Thank you.


Statement by FOCUS-SA on the release of the Cuban Five

"A person arbitrarily and illegally deprived of their freedom is a person subjected to kidnapping. In this case the kidnapper is the government of the United States" - Ricardo Alarcon De Quesada, describing the case of the Cuban Five

The Friends of Cuba Society - South Africa (FOCUS-SA) welcomes the release of the remaining three Cuban Five patriots serving time in prisons scattered across the United States (U.S.) – Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero. The Cuban Five were jailed in the U.S., on spurious charges of espionage, with immediate effect in a prisoner exchange which saw the release of Allan Gross and others by Cuban authorities. This comes after behind the scene diplomatic shuttling and involvement of leading personalities to facilitate the dialogue between Cuban President Raul Castro Ruz and U.S. President Barack Obama. For almost 16 years progressives across the world and in our country have campaigned and mobilised for the unconditional and immediate release of the Cuban Five and the last reminding three.

The restoring of full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which saw the prisoner exchange and the release of the remaining three (3) Cubans from U.S. jails, marks a turning point in U.S-Cuba relations. White House statement read, “Today, the United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba and further engage and empower the Cuban people”. Whereas, President Raul Castro said, "This does not mean that the main thing is resolved. The economic, commercial and financial blockade caused enormous human and economic damage to our country [and] must cease".

Furthermore, Cuba proposed “…to the Government of the United States [to] take mutual steps to improve bilateral climate and move towards normalisation of ties between our countries, based on the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter." Thus, there are still outstanding obstacles to the normalisation of relations between these two countries. The economic embargo is part of this package for FOCUS-SA. Together with other progressives FOCUS-SA will continue to mobilise and campaign against the embargo.

However, it is the case of the Cuban patriots and the remaining three who were released as part of the deal that is key at the present moment. The U.S. Administration always wanted to absolve and disentangle itself from this farce. Various U.S. presidential races have over the years counted on the votes of Florida and Miami in particular to make the difference and as such pandering to the whims of the Miami Cuban-American constituency was always a key tactic. Therefore, the release of the Cuban Five’s remaining three will have huge implications for presidential candidates and the parties in future U.S. elections. Obama will not be running for another term and can easily deal with the backlash and wave it away.

The “crime” of the Cuban Five (original number of those arrested and tried unjustly in the U.S.) was protecting their country and against terrorism. Arrested in September 12 1998 and subjected to a trial, which U.S. civil rights lawyer Leonard Weinglass, called a 'violation' from start to finish, the Cuban Five were locked away for a total of three life sentences plus 68 years. There are very few cases that are political by their nature. This was one. The U.S. even rejected the findings of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention established by the Commission on Human Rights on the Cuban Five.

According to an article published by the Miami Herald on 20 July 2005, the State Department said it would not accept a “ridiculous and perplexing decision” made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which ruled that that the detention of the Cuban Five convicted in Miami was arbitrary and in violation of international law. President Obama had no other option than to release the remaining three of the Cuban Five due a number of reasons not least the U.S’s claim to fighting terrorism and diminishing international cloud.

The case of the Cuban Five is more easily understood if you think of the case of Orlando Bosch, a member of that terrorist network (Cuban-American mafia in Miami), who planted a bomb on a Cuban airline in 1976, which exploded in mid-air, killing 73 people. Mr Bosch applied for residence in the U.S. After that episode, and the Justice Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service deemed him an undesirable person, pointed to 30 years of terrorist activity including the bombing, and asked that he be barred from entry in the U.S. But Orlando Bosch had a friend in Florida - a young man who wanted to be governor: his name was Jebb Bush.

The writing was always on the wall for President Obama, who is in his final stages of his tenure as president of the U.S. This much was also clear when for a couple of weeks in October-November this year, the New York Times took up the cudgels on behalf of Wall Street and pushed vociferously for a policy rethink on the part of President Obama and suggested he could (re)write history by normalising the relations between the U.S. and Cuba in the post-Cold War era. In a couple of group editorials, the New York Times urged the policy makers on Capitol Hill to consider taking the initiative and lead a process of normalisation of relations between Cuba and the U.S.

This against the backdrop of an international policy advance by Cuba, which in the midst of the Ebola scourge sent a large contingent of medical professionals to East African countries hard hit by the disease. Through this action Cuba won over many sympathetic voices on its side. The U.S. was also humiliated together with its ally Israel in the annual voting calling for the lifting of the economic embargo against Cuba on the UN General Assembly. The New York Times reportedly said “18 secret talks” hosted by Canada were held which led to President Obama to meet with Cuban counterpart President Raul Castro.

This is a culmination of years of campaigning and petitioning of the U.S. authorities demanding the release of the Cuban Five and the normalisation of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. This gesture and sign of thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuban can also be traced to the symbolic handshake which occurred last year during the memorial service for departed President Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. The conservative U.S. media had a field day chastising President Obama for his historic handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro. In many ways, this could be attributed to the reconciliation icon Nelson Mandela as both leaders came to pass their last respects to him and shared a podium together, which given the relations of the two states would be unheard off.

This also comes after intense and prolonged campaigning and mobilisation by progressives across the world, and in particular in South Africa led by the FOCUS-SA, and involved all of the progressive tripartite alliance components led by the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) affiliated trade unions. Since their unlawful arrest, trial and incarceration, the FOCUS-SA has always believed that theirs was a foreign policy backlash devoid of any legality but a foreign policy ping-pong. Regular pickets and marches to the U.S. Embassy to demand the release of the Cuban Five became a permanent feature of the internationalist work by various organisations such as FOCUS-SA, SACP, National Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) and numerous COSATU affiliates and others. This we believe also laid the basis for rejection of the then U.S. policy towards Cuba, both across the world and in the U.S.

These latest actions suggest the U.S. is “prepared” to normalise relations and will consider direct talks with Cuba against the wishes of the Cuban-American mafia based in Miami, Florida. The risks in this instance include alienating the support of these groups whose hard-nosed policy towards Cuba at the core involves overthrowing the Cuban government. Ricardo Alarcon said on the Moment Truth: “It has been said over and over again, for long time now. Firstly, they did it themselves - Gerardo Hernández, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez - to the very court which, as part of the macabre farce, sentenced them with perverse severity. The voices of solidarity which, little by little we're beginning to speak out around the world, denounced it time and again”. Through their arrest, trial and incarceration 'one of the most curious example of globalisation was the redefinition of which issues constitute news and which don't. For example, the fact that the U.S. has officially expressed its support of terrorism and has repeated this conviction several times over the years, in writing and before a court of law, has never made news'.

Released by FOCUS-SA, Chris “Che” Matlhako, General Secretary


Clever Banganayi – FOCUS South Africa Spokesperson and Deputy General Secretary 
Mobile: 072 142 6625


The release of Cuban Five:

Victory for the power of international solidarity

By Comrade Hope Mankwana Papo

The release of the remaining three of the Cuban five patriots on Wednesday 17 December 2014 by the United States of America (U.S.) should be welcomed by the international solidarity movement which has been campaigning for it. This follows 18 months of talks between Cuba and the U.S in Canada and the Vatican (with the personal involvement of Pope Francis). More measures are planned to start normalising relations between Cuba and the U.S.

The Cuban Five patriots are Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labanino, Rene Gonzalez and Fernando Gonzalez. They were arrested by the FBI in September 1998 and convicted in June 2001 after a lengthy trial for the so-called “espionage”. Gerardo Hernandez was also found guilty of “conspiracy to commit murder” for his alleged involvement in the incident in 1996 when Cuba shot down two planes that were carrying U.S citizens working with an exile group Brothers to the Rescue which was seen by the Cuban Government as part of a violent anti-Cuban terrorist groups based in Miami. The Cuban Five received sentences ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment. 

After years of legal battles and international pressure, Rene Gonzalez was released in 2011 and was required to serve the three probation years in the U.S. This was overturned by a judge in 2013 who ruled that he could serve them in Cuba where he had gone to attend his father’s funeral. Fernando Gonzalez was released this year (2014) and deported to Cuba.

During their trial, the five argued that they never meant to harm the U.S. and its citizens. Their mission was mainly to monitor groups of Cuban exiles such as the “United States Southern Command”, “Alpha 66”, “F4 Commandos”, “Cuban American National Foundation” and “Brothers to the Rescue” operating from Miami. Some of these groups were violently opposed to the Cuban government. This followed several terror attacks such as the shooting down of a Cuban airliner carrying their Olympic team in 1976 and bomb attacks at several Cuban hotels in 1997. Through their reports to the Cuban government, the five managed to prevent several terror attacks including a plan to explode bombs at the famous Havana Tropicana night club in 1994. It was also argued that having their trial in Miami was not fair and safe as they were faced with a hostile environment, this including the very groups they were monitoring.

The release of the Cuban Five patriots demonstrates the power of consistent international solidarity work which the South African progressive movement has been part of through the Friends of Cuba Society (FOCUS) and formations of the African National Congress-headed Alliance, the SA Communist Party, Congress of SA Trade Unions and the SA National Civic Organisation. The campaign to free the five was always understood within the bigger context of an ongoing international campaign for the lifting of the economic embargo by the USA against Cuba which followed the defeat of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in 1959. The blockade has been condemned by majority of the member states of the United Nations (UN) and many international organisations as illegal, unjust and aimed at harming the people of Cuba. The five are very popular in Cuba and are seen by the majority of its citizens as heroes who went out of their way to protect their country from terrorism which was planned and carried out from Miami in the U.S.

Cuban people have always questioned why Cuban-Americans and CIA agents such as Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, who are known for their involvement in various international terrorist activities against Cuba and other Latin American countries are not arrested and charged.  They have instead been and are still being protected by the U.S. government.

By being part of the campaign to free the Cuban five and the end to the economic blockade, as South Africans we were asserting the right of Cuban people (and other people around the world) to determine the type and form of political, social, economic and cultural system they want for their country without any interference by any country.
As a tribute to the Cuban five, the entire ANC-headed Alliance and mass sectoral organisations should individually and collectively strengthen FOCUS, intensify the campaign for the lifting of the economic blockade against Cuba and strengthen people to people relations with the Cubans. These are captured in the National Conference or Congress resolutions of our Alliance formations.


Hope Mankwana Papo is ANC Gauteng Provincial Secretary, SACP Gauteng PEC member and FOCUS-SA Gauteng Chapter Chairperson, and writes in personal capacity


The Significance of the freed Cuban Five

By Life Sihlangu, young South African who studied in Cuba

December to Christians around the world is time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, but for South Africans we were also walking and remembering the father of the nation President Nelson Mandela. For the Cubans this month will mark the beginning of an end towards one of the longest standing trade embargo, not forgetting the released world’s famous Cuban Five. However for the Americans this will be a moment they bowed down to the sounds of capitalism.  For 20 and 5 years respectively one un-named American spy and the later Mr Alan Gross, a 65-year-old American “sub-contractor” (possibly engaged in other undisclosed activities) had been arrested Havana. The two were also released in exchange of the remaining Cuban Five.

These developments will enable Cuba to continue assisting developing and developed countries with Education, Medicine and other scientific breakthroughs. During the intensified trade embargo, students like me benefited from good Cuban foreign policies, we can imagine how many now will benefit when the embargo is uplifted? Surely, the world is going to be a better place. Cuba will have a lot of catching to do as far as technological developments are concerned and the world will have to race fast to learn about social service to the people from Cuba.

The release of the Cuban Five is not only a victory to the Cubans but even those nations that continued to risk their economies and safety by supporting and voting for an end to the embargo at the United Nations General Assembly. This solidarity must be observed, as the developing countries were never afraid to stand up against goliath. This will surely allow Mandela to rest in peace, as we know that last year Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama were seen shacking hands during Tata’s Memorial Service. Many did not know that negotiations were going on for the release of the Cuban Five and an end to the more than 50 years of injustice imposed on the Cuban people by the U.S.

How will the Cubans and the world be affected by this? Families with relatives in Cuba — who have been able to travel to the nation since Obama​ eased the ban in 2009 — can now also send more money to their loved ones​, as much as $8,000 a year​, up from the current limit of $2,000. Moreover, Americans in Cuba will be able to use their own credit or debit cards and bring home up to $400 in goods — including up to $100 worth of Cuban cigars and booze.  The United States’s punitive approach has been overwhelmingly counter-productive.

Life Sihlangu is a South African student who studied for six years in Cuba and is now working in Johannesburg, South Africa; he writes in personal capacity