2/2021: Reaffirmations and Complexities

Guantánamo and the Literacy Campaign of 1961
WOLA and In These Times Matters

In the face of the rush of webinars, petitions, news stories and commentaries greeting the Biden Administration’s reclamation of the Obama-Castro US-Cuba normalization efforts, we are struck by two clear reaffirmations and two complexities.

Reaffirmations

Guantanamo Prisoners / Literacy Brigadistas:  (left) Scene to promote the Rally to Close Guantánamo and Return It to Cuba, February 2018. July26.org also sponsored programs on Guantánamo in July 2016, March 2017, and May 2017. Above right, a crowd of Literacy Brigadistas as seen in the documentary “Maestra,” shown in February 2018 as part of a program with Griselda Aguilera Cabrera, who was a seven-year-old teacher in the campaign and featured in the film, one of several July26.org Literacy Campaign offerings.

GUANTÁNAMO — Returning Guantánamo to its rightful home, ending the closest and most obvious example of U.S. imperialism, and closing the U.S. prison/torture center are two clear-cut steps that we have sponsored programs on previously, that have broad-based popular support, and that can exemplify the new president’s desire for unity and to be president of us all. Last month ended with a letter published in the New York Review of Books by seven former detainees who have written books about their experience. February 12 saw the release of The Mauritanian, a film based on the 2015 memoir, Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Salahi, one of the NYRB letter’s authors, about his experience being held for fourteen years without charge. (The film stars Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, and Benedict Cumberbatch and has received two nominations at the 78th Golden Globe Awards.) During the week in between, more than 100 NGOs Called on Biden to Close Guantánamo. The recent stories of plans to close the prison have given rise to other supportive and reinforcing efforts; Veterans for Peace has set a national program “Close Guantanamo Now! A Call to Action” for 3:00 EST on Sunday, February 21.

THE CUBAN LITERACY CAMPAIGN OF 1961 — A recent posting on the US-CubaNormalization.org’s Organizers Forum provided a link to an interview, just published, with a participant in the Literacy campaign, Rosa Hernández Acosta, who was 10 years old at the time.  Another resource for this year, the 60th anniversary of the campaign, previously remembered and celebrated by the Boston-Cuba Solidarity Coalition in the film showing last September of Cuba’s iconic singer/songwriter and international recording artist, Silvio Rodriguez, who was a brigadista in the campaign at the age of 14; the February 2018 program with Griselda Aguilera Cabrera, who was a seven-year-old teacher in the campaign, one of nine women featured in “Maestra,” the award-winning documentary; and a May 2016 program featuring the Luisa Campos, Director of the Literacy Campaign Museum in Havana and of the “Si, yo puedo” Global Literacy Campaign.

Complexities

WOLA — At its monthly meeting on the evening of February 10, attending members of July26.org voted unanimously to sign onto the letter to President Biden organized by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) that “recommends immediate measures your administration should take to fulfill your campaign pledge ‘to reverse the failed Trump policies that inflicted harm on Cubans and their families.’” The draft letter emphasizes/underlines: “The almost sixty-year-old embargo is a relic of the past that should be replaced by a more constructive policy of engagement...” The final letter, dated February 10, includes the list of signed-on organizations; the press release, “56 groups urge the Biden-Harris administration to take immediate action to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations,” was posted on the same date.

While the absence of July26.org from the list of organizational sign-ons can be attributed to matters of timing, it is notable that few of the other members of the National Network on Cuba (NNOC.info) or those associated with US-CubaNormalization.org and neither of those coalition organizations have signed on. CODEPINK and the Seattle Cuba Friendship Committee stand out among the few Solidarity groups, as does the Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect (ACERE).

A June 2020 article published by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), “WOLA: Media’s ‘Left’ Source for Pro-Coup Propaganda in Venezuela,” supports uneasiness with the organization, and discussion of WOLA and its 24-page position paper on “The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement” is on the agenda for the July26.org March meeting, looking at our ideas about signing onto letters that support our overall goal of ending the blockade, presenting a broad-based End-the-Blockade strategy but with a number of statements with which some may disagree strongly.

IN THESE TIMES — A post on the NNOC members list by one of the co-chairs, “Write to In These Times about their smear job on Cuba ‘the Western Hemisphere’s most undemocratic government’ (Remember web meeting Feb. 7),” cites “an excellent rebuttal to IN THESE TIMES hit job,” and reprints the full rebuttal piece by the Alliance for Global Justice, complete with the same urging headline.

One of the problems here is that both the NNOC post as well as the AfGJ rebuttal fail to provide a link or access to the offending article which is not available online in the February issue. Accessible initially only to subscribers, Chicago ALBA Solidarity does include it in its printing of the AfGJ rebuttal, and, thanks to July26.org member and ITT subscriber Marilyn Frankenstein, we also now have a scan of the article.

The featured piece about Cuban dissident bloggers by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo contains an overview of the anti-governmental blogger movement in general and the artist-activist Movimiento San Isidro (MSI) over the last two years in particular, the government’s arrest of rapper Denis Solís last November and its reaction to the follow-up protest by MSI. This was not a proud moment for the government, and Lazo’s account is not so much refuted by AfGJ as minimized.

What it does alert us to, however, is that this is not a sole surprising incident on ITT’s part. As the article shows, Lazo has a history of critical pieces on Cuba’s treatment of dissident bloggers, including an ITT cover story from December 2009, prominently featured here, and an archival search on “Cuba” for other ITT articles shows an on-going criticism surprising for a generally well-regarded democratic socialist publication that emerged out of the New Left in the 1970’s. Thus, the AfGJ critique is much to the point in raising this issue occasioned by the current article, and we look forward to others providing a fuller assessment of ITT’s treatment of Cuba, raising the issue, and hearing the publication’s response.

Update note:  Unfortunately ITT has chosen to aggravate its intemperate anti-Cuba stance by its April issue choice of critical letter to publish and respond to.

—PM

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