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By Gloria La Riva

May 12, 2002--More than seven million of Cuba's 11 million people joined in gigantic celebrations on May Day, the largest mobilization ever in the island's history. In Havana alone, 1.2 million rallied. Cuba's May Day demonstrations were the biggest in the world honoring workers on this May first workers' holiday.

This year's theme, "First for the homeland," stressed the struggle to liberate five Cuban political prisoners held in U.S. jails.

Also highlighted in the historic gathering was a forceful condemnation of Latin American leaders who sponsored a U.S.- created resolution against Cuba at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva on April 18.

The U.S.-Israeli war on Palestine was denounced by Cubans and international guest speakers.

In a 48-minute oration, Cuban President Fidel Castro slammed the leaders of Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico, El Salvador, and other Latin American countries as cowardly and servile for doing the U.S. bidding in Geneva.

He said, "We were condemned in Geneva by those who believe that this sea of people gathered here, which can be seen from every corner of the globe, has been deprived of its human rights. I am certain that not one of those Latin American countries that promoted, co-sponsored or supported this project could gather even 5 percent of the number seen here in their respective capitals.

"Are these fanatic, ignorant and uncultured individuals who lack any historical or political knowledge?"


The Cuban leader spoke proudly of the real human rights that are a reality for every Cuban--free health care and education, culture and democracy for the people--and contrasted them to the scandalous statistics of poverty, death and misery rampant in Latin America.

He said, "For 50 years [our Latin American sisters and brothers] have been told that the hundreds of thousands of children who die every year due to neglect and hunger; the millions who work for pitiful salaries cleaning car windshields or shoes, or being traded or sexually exploited instead of going to school, represent democracy and respect for human rights. ...

"It doesn't occur to them that the economic, political and social system that they defend is a total negation of all possibility of equality, freedom, democracy, human dignity and justice. ..."

"What kind of democracy and human rights could exist in these conditions? It would be like trying to grow flowers in the middle of the Sahara Desert."

Song, dance, poetry and speeches dedicated to the five "Heroes of the Republic, Prisoners of the Empire," heightened the spirit of solidarity. Celebrants waved their Cuban flags to punctuate the speakers' remarks.

It is hard for a worker who lives in the capitalist world to imagine such a powerful, united and revolutionary support for workers and socialism, but it exists and thrives in Cuba. Unfortunately, in the United States, where May Day was born in struggle in the late 1880s, it is only a remote footnote for most people.

Cuba's youth, from elementary school Pioneers to Young Communist Union members, not only organized and led the celebration but gave dynamic speeches.

Ten-year-old Lazarito Castro held the multitudes truly in awe as he spoke. Lazarito had no notes or written talk. As he himself said, he was "speaking from my heart." He said, "While in many parts of the world the workers are holding demonstrations and marches for the most elemental right of a person to work, in our country what we do is celebrate, because these rights are already won, they have become reality and are guaranteed for the future.

"I tell you this as a Cuban Pioneer, who, like hundreds of thousands of Pioneers across this country, appreciates the workers in their great effort so that the children can have more classrooms, more computer labs, more televisions and videos."


Gerardo Hernandez, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labanino and Rene Gonzalez are the five Cubans whose images permeate the island. They have been unjustly incarcerated since Sept. 12, 1998, in the United States, the result of a ruthless campaign by the U.S. government to persecute them under false charges related to espionage. They were sentenced last December to from 15 years to two life sentences.

Today in the heart of the Plaza of the Revolution, the more than 1 million people gathered there could see a huge billboard of the five heroes' images.

While International Workers Day in Cuba honors all workers' labor and achievements, the last three annual celebrations have also focused on the countrywide mobilizations to denounce increasing U.S. hostility against socialist Cuba.

It is for this reason that four foreign delegates were invited to share the stage with the Cuban hosts.

Pablo Micheli, general secretary of the Workers Confederation of Buenos Aires, spoke of the critical level of hunger in Argentina, a hunger "invented" by the International Monetary Fund in that agriculturally rich country.

Ramon Pacheco Llanes, leader of the independent Mexican Union of Electricians, denounced the betrayal of Mexico's historically independent foreign policy by President Vicente Fox and Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda.

Uruguayan union leader Jorge Castro spoke for the thousands meeting on May Day in his country who had sent over 7,500 signatures on a petition to the government protesting Uruguay's sponsorship of the United Nations resolution.

Gloria La Riva, coordinator in the U.S. for the National Committee to Free the Five, told the crowd that the struggle in the U.S. will be critical to win effective support and their liberation. She concluded, "Thank you, Fidel, for defending the world of the workers and oppressed. Thank you, Cuba, for showing that only socialism can create a just society. Thank you Fernando, Rene, Ramon, Antonio and Gerardo for your sacrifice, which you have never regretted. We will never let you down."

It was on May 1, 2000, that foreign guests were invited for the first time to speak from Cuba's May Day podium.

At that time Elian Gonzalez had still not been completely freed to return home, and the U.S. had just pressured a narrow majority of countries to vote against Cuba at the UN Human Rights Commission.

The numerous million-strong marches from early 2000 until Elian's return home in June 2000 proved decisive to the little six-year-old's freedom.

Popular mobilizations will also be critical in pressuring the United States to release the five Cuban prisoners. These heroes are truly in the dungeons of U.S. imperialism, separated from each other in a cruel way by U.S. federal authorities, who have moved them into maximum-security units scattered across the country.

The Cuban people, steeled in struggle over decades, know how difficult this one will be. Yet their fight-back spirit resonated through the streets of the Plaza area, signaling to Washington that Cuba will not tire of the battle nor give up.



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