Cuba celebration in Chicago highlights plight of prisoners

Aug. 2016 Cuba 2

 By WILLIAM WOOD

— CHICAGO — On July 28, 75 people gathered in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago to Celebrate Cuba’s July 26 holiday and to demand that the U.S. government “End the Blockade of Cuba” and “Return Guantánamo.”

As the most important revolutionary holiday in Cuba, the Day of National Rebellion commemorates the assault of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary forces on Moncado garrison in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953.

The meeting was held at El Centro Autónomo, which co-sponsored the event along with the Chicago Cuba Coalition. El Centro, a popular community center located in the heart of one of the city’s predominantly Latino communities, is active in Chicago’s immigration rights movement.

Speakers at the meeting included Dr. Tom Hansen, director of El Centro Autónomo, who recently returned from one of his many trips to Cuba; Jose E. López, executive director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center; Rixio Barrios, deputy, Consulate of Venezuela; and Mary Johnson, a longtime community activist and founder of Families of the Wrongfully Convicted.

Chicago Cuba Coalition Co-Coordinator Steve Eckardt chaired the event and opened the meeting: “Washington’s new Big Lie—after 50 years of propaganda—is that U.S. relations with the island are now ‘normalized.’ But Washington’s boot is still on Cuba’s throat. For instance, it denies Cuba use of U.S. dollars in international commerce, and continues its illegal occupation of Cuban territory at Guantánamo.”

Jose E. López, brother of Oscar López Rivera, the longest-held Puerto Rican political prisoner, spoke of the 35-year campaign to free his brother and the most recent developments in the movement for independence of Puerto Rico. He emphasized the long history of solidarity between the Cuban and Puerto Rican people. “Relations between Puerto Rico and Cuba are a relationship deeply rooted in the struggle against colonialism,” he said

López then spoke of U.S. imperialism’s austerity offensive against the Puerto Rican people. On June 30, Barak Obama signed a bill into law that sets up a colonial-style, federally-appointed “fiscal control board.” This board is to “restructure” over $50 billion in Puerto Rico’s total debt, ”manage payments,” and implement austerity measures to ensure that capitalist bond-holders receive massive profits.

“Seven people will be on this board, and only one is allowed to be from Puerto Rico! … And four will be assigned by the Democratic Party,” said López. “This is colonialism at its worst!”

From Chicago’s Families of the Wrongfully Convicted, Mary Johnson expressed solidarity with Cuba and support for the immediate release of Oscar López Rivera.

She then described her lifelong fight to win the release of her son Michael, who was railroaded into prison in the 1970s on a trumped-up charge of murder. Michael refused four plea bargains, from 15 years down to 10. Finally, the judge asked him, “Is there any number of years that you would accept in your case?” Michael responded that he wouldn’t accept a plea bargain for 15 minutes if it meant confessing to something he didn’t do. At trial, he was given a life sentence.

Closing the event for the Chicago Cuba Coalition, Steve Eckardt noted that the theme of solidarity with political prisoners like Oscar López Rivera and Michael Johnson was one and the same with solidarity with Cuba, under continued attack from U.S. imperialism. “Why? Because the U.S. rulers consider the Cuban people’s revolution—and its enormous accomplishments of free health care, education, housing, and environmental protection—a ‘bad example.’

“Even ‘worse,’ Cuba’s revolutionary government has uniquely extended international solidarity: sending 350,000 volunteer soldiers to defend Angola against racist South Africa, a key factor in the overthrow of apartheid, rescuing some 25,000 children from the Chernobyl disaster, responding with more doctors than any country to the Ebola crisis, and currently having over 50,000 doctors and teachers serving in more than 100 countries.

Cuba is an inspiring example of what workers, farmers, and dispossessed can do when we come together. When we defend Cuba, we defend ourselves.”

Socialist Action photo (left to right): Mary Johnson, Jose E Lopez, Steve Eckardt, Dr. Tom Hansen.