On 12 September, it will be exactly 10 years since the Cuban Five were unjustly imprisoned in the USA. In Montreal at the invitation of the Table de concertation solidarity Quebec-Cuba and its Comité Fabio Di Celmo pour les 5, more than 60 people came forward to the U.S. consulate to demand the freedom of 5 Cubans imprisoned in the U.S..
350 informative leaflets were distributed to pedestrians and passing cars while demonstrators chanted slogans in support of 5 and their families. The participation of 5 people shackled and dressed as prisoners and musicians added to the animation of the event.
Earlier in the day, representatives of the committee handed over a petition to the U.S. consulate signed by 2020 Quebecers addressed to the Ambassador of the United States to Canada, David Wilkins. The signatories support the demand:
"Mr Ambassador of USA to Canada, David Wilkins: We demand the release of five Cubans Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo, Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, Ramón Labañino Salazar, Fernando Gonzalez Llort, Rene Gonzalez Sehwerert who are unjustly imprisoned in the USA for defending the Cuban people against terrorist attacks."
We continue to hold picket lines once a month before the U.S. consulate in Montreal since May 2007. The event was covered by national and local media.
Sean O'Donoghue, secrétaire
Table de concertation de solidarité Québec-Cuba
téléphone : 514-728-7222 (Montréal, Québec) http://www.solidaritequebeccuba.qc.ca/
by W.T. Whitney Jr.
The most destructive hurricane in 50 years hit western Cuba on August 30 with gusts up to 212 mph, the strongest ever recorded during any hurricane, anywhere, according to head meteorologist Jose Rubiera. Gustav's destruction was terrible: 20,000 homes on the Isle of Youth, 90,000 in Pinar del Rio, the entire electrical infrastructure in Western Cuba, crops on 32,000 acres, and 3,306 tobacco houses. The storm had already killed over 80 people in Haiti—where 15,000 houses were destroyed—and dozens elsewhere in the Caribbean. With its intensity reduced by half, Gustav went on to kill 18 people in Louisiana.
No Cubans died. The Mexican Daily Jornada describes "well oiled civil defense, a political-military system experienced in massive evacuations." This time, 467,000 citizens, 4.5 percent of the Cuban population, moved into public buildings and homes of friends and families.
Planes from Russia and Spain arrived with humanitarian assistance. Tiny East Timor donated $500,000. The U.S. government offered $100,000 and promised more - only to NGO's - pending assessment in Cuba by U.S. experts. Cuba's Foreign Ministry suggested instead that Washington drop its blockade, the cause of more losses by far than those from Hurricane Gustav.
In conjunction with Democratic congressional candidates running in Florida against the rightwing Diaz-Balart brothers and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama proposed that restrictions on travel and financial assistance imposed by the Bush government on Cuban émigré families be suspended for 90 days.
But how is Cuba able to prevent hurricane deaths? Mutual support, or solidarity, is one possibility, something much in evidence in Pinar del Rio if stories on Cubacoraje.blogspot.com are any indication. For example:
"It is not his home that Roberto Amador is working on, but in that of a neighbor. 'Mine had less damage, only ten roofing sheets. First one must help those most needy, this woman has four small children.' "
"Three men find some material to build a room. The temporary shelter will be for Tomasa Barbosa, an old woman that was left without a roof over her head and she doesn't have family."
"The brigade of 52 linemen from Camaguey, which had worked until 3:00 a.m., resumed their work at 6:30 a.m. and in very high spirit; they are expecting another group of some 60 men who will be coming from Holguin (at the other end of the island)."
"The conditions of the hospital are subhuman. Everybody is working intensively (patients, relatives and medical personnel). The 32 patients requiring hemodialysis—each accompanied by a relative and nurses—arrived in the capital yesterday at approximately 4:00 pm. They had spent 48 hours without treatment but they were still doing well."
"In Vinales they began to distribute coal to families so they could cook. From one house came food for neighbors. Coffee was shared. Some houses have been converted into storehouses for their neighbors."
Surely, however, reaching out to neighbors, to strangers, is hardly unique to Cuba. Perhaps Cuba's history has a role contributing to success in dealing with hurricanes.
Reporting on September 1 from Pinar del Rio, Jorge Jorge Gonzlez observed that, "It looked like recuperation would be impossible and those thousands and thousands of victims this time will have to wait for a heavenly miracle to help them palliate their hunger and thirst and retrieve a bit of their scattered or destroyed material. I know it's not like that since the miracle in Cuba is permanent."
"From 1959 on," he added, "there began a process developing here of social change in which the human being has been the protagonist for excellence. Everybody knows that for those who have lost everything and whose electricity has been out for just a few hours, help will arrive without fail, their houses will go back up and the roofs reappear, not through magic but because the country offers them moral and material support. Give or take a few days solidarity brigades from every province will fix the roads and electricity wires and life will return to normal. They know the top state leaders don't hide in some underground bunker or take an airplane keeping them at a distance from the tragedy. No, they will be there where things happened encouraging the neediest and carrying a message of hope and certainty that no one will be forgotten. Almost half a million of our citizens were moved to safety in sufficient time, some in schools, others in secure houses of family, friends, or neighbors with whom they've perhaps never exchanged even a greeting, sharing there the little bit of food and available blankets, but with confidence that their lives are out of danger. Nothing has been left to chance since months, years of accumulated work by Civil Defense exists in the background as sufficient guarantee that all the gears would function like a high precision watch... . Only one word comes to my mind now to put this all together and to express appreciation to anyone involved in preparations so that we might live: Revolution!
On August 29, former President Fidel Castro commented as Gustav threatened: "We are lucky to have a Revolution! It is a fact that nobody will be neglected. Our strong, forceful and farsighted Civil Defense protects our people." He added, "The growing frequency and intensity of these natural phenomena show that the climate is changing due to the actions of human beings."
Castro had heard from a resident of the Isle of Youth:
"I can't find the words to relate to you what I saw yesterday ... In my 38 years of life I had never seen anything like it and the people I talked to in my territory had never seen anything worse; it's incredible how their moral is so high…many have lost their homes and most have seen their belongings, beds, mattresses, TV sets, refrigerators, etc. ruined. Most of the population is in this situation." He continued: "At the moment, human solidarity is the most important thing. The people's moral is high but that will not last forever; it will be necessary to solve some things in the next few days. As the energy services are reestablished, it would be necessary to set up information centers where the people can gather to know what's going on in the country and the municipality, or even to listen to music or spend some time together."