IN RESPONSE TO U.S.THREATS: MILLIONS PLEDGE TO DEFEND CUBA'S SOVEREIGNTY

By Gloria La Riva
Havana
, Cuba

May 5, 2003--More than 1 million Cubans gathered in Havana's Revolution Square on May 1 for International Workers' Day and proclaimed this year's theme: "The First for Socialism."

As early as midnight, a proud and militant people left from their residences all over Havana province to assemble in the city. Half of Havana's 2 million were there. Across the country, almost 6 million more marched in all 14 provinces and the Isle of Youth.

As the people entered Revolution Square, small Cuban flags were distributed to all present. This has become a tradition in recent years. A sea of flags rises in the air as people show support for speakers' remarks.

In the aftermath of the Iraq war, and faced with increasing threats by the U.S., the Cuban people show a deep awareness of the need to mobilize in their defense.

That's why the mass rally was not just a day to honor workers and their accomplishments. Along with beautiful cultural performances, the speakers denounced U.S. imperialism's designs on the world, and pledged that Cuba is not alone.

Pedro Ross, general secretary of the 3-million-strong Cuban Workers Federation (CTC), opened the rally. He mentioned the actions taken by Cuba to defeat counter-revolutionary forces directed by the U.S., as well as to stop U.S.-backed hijackings.

"I want to put a vote to you. Are you in agreement with the measures that the government adopted to defend the integrity and sovereignty of the nation, and those that may be necessary to defend the lives of citizens and of socialism? Raise your flags if you agree."

The giant gathering turned red, white and blue with the paper Cuban flags as the people proclaimed a resounding yes.

U.S. INCITES COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARIES

At the same time that the U.S. was preparing its attack on Iraq, James Cason, the top U.S. diplomat in Havana, was inciting counter- revolutionary activity inside Cuba, personally handing out materials and money to nurture an opposition. The U.S. government was also encouraging hijackings by refusing to return to Cuba the criminals and property they had stolen. This crisis came to a head just as the bombs started falling on Baghdad.

In this dangerous situation, Cuba arrested and tried 75 people on charges of collaborating with U.S. officials against the revolution. Then three boat hijackers who had endangered the lives of many passengers were tried and executed in April.

This led some governments and prominent individuals to attack Cuba, but in recent weeks they have been answered by statements coming from many parts of the world.

Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, U.S. professor Noam Chomsky and Port uguese writer José Saramago were among those who immediately signed on to a particularly scurrilous statement circulated by the U.S. Campaign for Peace and Democracy.

This was answered by a declaration from well-known Cuban artists and writers, called a "Message from Havana for Friends Who are Far Away." It urged those who had signed the anti-Cuba statements to understand Cuba's embattled situation and reconsider their position.

The sponsoring Cuban Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) made a distinction between those who they consider to be friends of Cuba, like Galeano and Chomsky, from those who have long been hostile to the Cuban Revolution, like right-winger Mario Vargas Llosa. So far, this declaration has been signed by 13,352 Cuban artists, including Silvio Rodríguez, Amaury Perez, Omara Portuondo, Pablo Milanes, Miguel Barnet and others.

At the May Day rally, speakers stressed the urgency of solidarity with Cuba, among them Rev. Lucius Walker of Pastors for Peace and German writer Heinz Dieterich Stefan.

Well-known Mexican sociologist Pablo Gonzalez Casanova, who has circulated a declaration in Latin America called "To the Conscience of the World," available at www.granma.cubaweb.cu, said, "Many statements on the Cuban situation, although done in good faith, can seem supportive and yet still magnify issues that the U.S. seeks to justify an invasion of Cuba.

"That truth obligates all the peoples of the world--including the people of the United States, whose role in the survival of humanity is and will be very important--to think in concrete terms, how we can detain the cowardly offensive against Cuba, which is an offensive against humanity."

Galeano and Chomsky also signed Gonzalez's defense of Cuba. Several U.S. figures joined in, including Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte and Ramsey Clark.

Miguel Barnet, noted Cuban author and UNEAC vice-president, said, "Humanity is experiencing moments of crisis and extreme danger for the survival of the planet. ... Our obligation, as intellectuals and artists, is to avoid all possible risks for our country. We need to be conscious that our main priority is to defend our homeland.

"It is a matter now of closing ranks against the dark forces of fascism that destroy human beings, that oppress and alienate them.

"The world will not permit our people to be massacred, or Havana to go up in flames some day like Baghdad, or our heritage to be ransacked, our educational, cultural and scientific works leveled .... That is why to slander Cuba today, to turn one's back, is an act of injustice and irresponsible."

Claudia Cambia, Argentinian organizer for the Cuban Five political prisoners in the U.S., condemned the imperialist media's mercenary role.

"The media campaign launched against Cuba in these last weeks is indignant, dirty, disgusting ....

"Why don't they inform the public about the terrible violation of human rights that the five Cuban heroes are constantly subjected to in U.S. prisons? Why don't they write about the solitary confinement, the isolation. ... Why not?

"It's simply because one doesn't talk about the untouchable empire. They can imprison innocent people and torture them, they can massacre peoples, invade nations, carry out terrorist acts, they can have weapons of mass destruction with the certainty that they will not be condemned in the media, nor the United Nations or Organization of American States.

"But be careful, because we the people did condemn them when we came out throughout the world to repudiate the genocide and double standard of the U.S. government. And it will be the people who will put a brake on the empire and their emperor...."

'NEVER HAS THE WORLD WITNESSED SUCH AN UNEQUAL FIGHT'

As Cuban President Fidel Castro walked from the assembled crowd to the podium below a contemplative statue of José Martí, the crowd erupted into cheers and chants for the Cuban leader. His talk began with a vow that Cuba would never bow to the demands from 90 miles to the north.

"Our heroic people have struggled for 44 years from this small Caribbean island just a few miles away from the most formidable imperial power ever known by humankind. In so doing, they have written an unprecedented chapter in history. Never has the world witnessed such an unequal fight.

"Some may have believed that the rise of the empire to the status of sole superpower, with a military and technological might that has no counterweight anywhere in the world, would frighten or dishearten the Cuban people ....

"On a day like today, this glorious International Workers' Day, which commemorates the death of the five martyrs of Chicago, I declare, on behalf of the 1 million Cubans gathered here, that we will face up to any threats, we will not yield to any pressures, and that we are prepared to defend our homeland and our revolution with ideas and with weapons to our last drop of blood."

President Castro reviewed the feats of the revolution and its people, beginning with the 1959 overthrow of the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, with its 80,000 soldiers and police. He spoke of the literacy campaign, the 72-hour defeat of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, and the Cuban people's bravery during the precipitous 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

He talked of the impressive educational levels Cuba has achieved. "It has the highest school retention rate-over 99 percent between kindergarten and ninth grade--of all the nations in the hemisphere. Its elementary school students rank first worldwide in the knowledge of their mother language and mathematics."

Saying, "In no other people has the spirit of international solidarity become so deeply rooted," President Castro gave a sweeping overview of Cuba's internationalist missions in support of liberation struggles from Algeria, Republic of Congo, Guinea and Angola to Vietnam and Grenada.

Lastly, he warned that if the U.S. were to attack Cuba, "The aggressors would not merely be facing an army, but rather thousands of armies that would constantly reproduce themselves and make the enemy pay such a high cost in casualties that it would far exceed the cost in lives of its sons and daughters that the American people would be willing to pay for the adventures and ideas of President Bush. Today, he enjoys majority support, but it is dropping, and tomorrow it could be reduced to zero.

"The American people, the millions of highly cultivated individuals who reason and think ... will show that you cannot fool all of the people, and perhaps not even part of the people, all of the time. One day they will put a straitjacket on those who need it before they manage to annihilate life on the planet. ...

"We do not want the blood of Cubans and Americans to be shed in a war. We do not want countless numbers of lives of people who could be friends to be lost in an armed conflict. But never has a people had such sacred things to defend, or such profound convictions to fight for, to such a degree that they would rather be obliterated from the face of the Earth than abandon the noble and generous work for which so many generations of Cubans have paid the high cost of the lives of many of their finest sons and daughters.

"We are sustained by the deepest conviction that ideas are worth more than weapons, no matter how sophisticated and powerful those weapons may be.

"Let us say like Che Guevara when he bid us farewell:

"Hasta la Victoria Siempre!"

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