Cuba pays tribute to Nelson Mandela with graduation of 700 medical doctors

Cuba paid tribute to South African hero Nelson Mandela on the 100th anniversary of his birth -- which will be celebrated this coming July 18th -- with the graduation on Wednesday in Havana of 700 medical doctors.

The function was chaired by Cuba’s First Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa. South African Presidency Minister, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in charge of National Policy Planning and Evaluation, and Cuban Healthcare Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda also attended the gala. 

Addressing the graduates, the dean of the University of Medical Sciences in Havana, Luis Alberto Pichs Garcia, recalled that “Madiba”, as Mandela was affectionately called, was a dear friend of Fidel Castro and that it was their extraordinary fraternity that had made it possible for a special South African medical training program to start in Cuba in 1997.  The dean said the program has resulted in hundreds of South African youths completing medical studies in Cuba, with 2,860 currently undergoing courses here.

South African Minister Dlamini-Zuma stated that more than 1500 South Africans had graduated as doctors in Cuba.  She expressed gratitude for such contribution, which the minister said has changed the face of South Africa’s medical coverage,especially in rural and poor areas.

Edited by Pavel Jacomino

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Fernando Gonzalez: ‘To strengthen the links of friendship around the world, that is our role’

CUBAN Five hero Fernando Gonzalez may have spent 15 years in US prisons, but he wears his sacrifice lightly.

Along with the rest of the Five, Gonzalez was working in Florida monitoring Cuban exile groups planning terrorist attacks on his homeland when he was arrested in 1998. Like them, he spent 17 months “in the hole,” solitary confinement, before being convicted in a trial that drew international condemnation and locked up until February 27 2014.

Miami-based terrorists have killed thousands of Cubans since the 1960s in attacks such as that orchestrated by Luis Posada Carriles that brought down Cubana Flight 455 in 1976, killing 73 people.

Infiltrating such groups was clearly a dangerous mission, but Gonzalez says it “wasn’t hard” to decide to go when he was asked.

Born in 1963 and a proud “child of the revolution,” he served with Cuban troops defending the progressive Angolan government from Unita rebels in 1987-89.

He was with troops moving towards the border with Namibia — then occupied by apartheid South Africa, which was intervening on Unita’s side — at the time of the great battle of Cuito Canavale to the east, a victory credited by Nelson Mandela, among others, with the withdrawal of South African troops from Angola and which played its part in securing Namibian independence and even the final defeat of apartheid itself.

“When I returned to Cuba I was 26. I was asked if I was willing to go to the US and work on anti-terrorist activities.

“I knew about the historic terrorism against Cuba, the lives lost in attacks on our people and our embassies. I said: ‘All right, if you think I can do it, I’m willing’.”

He is not bitter about his arrest, though he notes that the FBI were “not sincere” in dealings with the Cuban government when asking to share information on terrorist cells in high-level exchanges that took place in 1998.

“The attitude of Cuba was to share information, though not, of course, its source,” he says. “But the FBI were already aware of the source. They were not transparent. Two months later we were arrested.”

The 17 months in “the hole” were “an effort to break us,” he acknowledges when I ask what kept him going over 15 years in jail.

“But I had a conviction that what we had done was right, that there was nothing wrong in saving lives or defending people — not just Cubans but people all over the world, because tourists were killed in attacks.

“And I didn’t take it personally. I knew the US had nothing against us personally. It could be Fernando Gonzalez behind bars or anybody else. What was happening was an expression of US hostility to Cuba, not to me.

“That perspective helped me cope — that it wasn’t about me and what happened to me was not the most important thing. Our sacrifice was part of the course of history, part of something much bigger.”

Gonzalez is effusive in his thanks to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and friends in this country who wrote more letters in support of the Five than any other. International solidarity, rather than any serious change in policy by the Barack Obama presidency, was what secured their eventual release, he believes.

“The Obama concessions were simply because Washington concluded that their current policy wasn’t getting them the result they wanted, so they looked at achieving their aim in a different way,” he says.

“In Cuba we were happy to see any improvement. We don’t gain anything from their hostility. We just want to be left alone.

“There was some improved co-operation on law enforcement, fighting drug smuggling, a few changes. But the blockade stayed in place.

“There was more rhetoric about lifting it than any real effort. Now Donald Trump is trying to roll back what advances were made.”

But following the historic meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, could there be hope of a similar easing of tensions with Cuba?

“Well,” he muses. “It’s very positive that Trump and Kim have met. It’s good for peace. It’s good for the Korean peninsula and the region.

“But it’s ironic when combined with increased aggression in Latin America. I hope it teaches the US that, if they are willing to negotiate with another country, why not Cuba where the issues are much less complex?”

But the present reality is almost the opposite. “The left has been losing ground in Latin America, that’s obvious,” he says, noting the congressional coups that removed left-wing presidents in Paraguay and Brazil, the right’s victory in Argentina, the current unrest orchestrated against the Nicaraguan authorities and the repeated bids to overturn the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

“When these countries were moving left, the US didn’t sit and wait. They began to develop a counter-offensive.

“What we’re seeing now is an offensive by the centres of imperialism, most important of which is Washington.

“They always find local actors, sectors of society who for reasons of self-interest are willing to work with the US, but the strategy comes from the centre.

“This didn’t start with Trump. As you say, his rhetoric is more hostile — openly talking of military action against Venezuela, for example. But the reality is the same.”

Gonzalez’s role as president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship and Solidarity sees him work with 2,000-odd organisations in 155 countries that promote solidarity with the socialist country as well as co-ordinate Cuba’s own solidarity to other countries, as expressed in medical missions, emergency responses and the many other acts of humanity that make this Caribbean island loom so large on the world stage. He was also elected to Cuba’s parliament in March.

“To strengthen those links of friendship around the world, that is our role,” he says, “as well as to campaign on political causes — a free Palestine, an independent Puerto Rico.”

This work is so important to him because of the role solidarity played in their release.

“The Cuba Solidarity Campaign played a key role and today” (I met him at the CSC AGM) “showed the organisation and planning that goes into this important work on ending the blockade, putting pressure on the US to end its occupation of Guantanamo.

“It is well organised and strong. You fought hard for us and in part that is why we were released — a victory for you as well as us.

“I include the Morning Star in that for publishing information about our case other papers wouldn’t touch. Reading it in prison showed us we were not alone and, when we passed the paper on, many inmates would come back to us and say: ‘Oh, we didn’t know that about Cuba.’ It played a very positive role.

“I want to thank the trade unions too for showing us such support – Unison, Unite, RMT, the National Union of Teachers and others.”

As George Galloway later tells the Cuba rally following the AGM, it feels odd to be thanked by a man whose sacrifice puts most of us to shame.

The Cuban revolution remains a beacon to socialists and opponents of imperialism everywhere, a living example that another world is possible. Gonzalez and the rest of the Five paid a terrible price for their work to protect their people and their revolution. It’s we who should be thanking them.

Fernando Gonzalez addresses the Solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela: No to Trump fringe meeting at Unison conference on Tuesday. Meet in Auditorium 2, Brighton Centre at 5.15pm.

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The Liberation of Five Cuban Heroes: the Day Justice Triumphed

The return to Cuba, a year ago, of the antiterrorist Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, and Antonio Guerrero supposed the ending of the struggle of an entire people for the freedom of Five men, heroes of their Homeland.  

Hernández, Labañino, and Guerrero, next to René González and Fernando González (best known as the Five) were arrested by U.S. authorities in 1998 and sentenced, in a faked process, to top-heavy incarcerations for alerting of violent actions planned by terrorist groups from Florida against Cuba.

This fact was the beginning of a long and difficult battle for freedom of five exceptional men who despite the hardships of prison, never gave in to pressures, or injustice, neither betrayed their ideals.

This sparkled a struggle for more than a decade for the liberation of these men who embarked in that mission with the goal of protecting their homeland from the terrible effects of the scourge of terrorism.

For that reason the words of the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution were heard then asserting on, June 23, 2001: The innocence of those patriots is complete. I only tell you one thing they will Return!

And indeed, they returned. First it was René, later Fernando: in both cases, after completing their respective sentences they set foot in Cuban soil to receive homage and the love of a thankful Cuba. The cause of the Five had become the cause of an entire town and drew solidarity from all over the world.

However, happiness was not complete, as it was recognized then: three fight brothers were missing, René and Fernando said, and the relatives of the Five knew it, and all Cuba felt it.

Hence the magic of December 17, 2014 when a new stage was announced in the United States - Cuba relationships and Washington recognized that it had clearly failed in its hostile politics for more than half a century against Cuba and finally the three heroes who remained prisoners were set free and could return to their island.

The news became official during the Cuban president's memorable television address.

In his address, Raul Castro reminded Fidel Castro's promise and he said in a happiness shared by 11 million countrymen: arrived today in our Homeland, Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio.

When Raúl Castro welcomed them, he expressed the gratitude of the entire country and the Five - finally together - ratified their fidelity to Homeland and showed their will to keep on fulfilling the tasks the Revolution assigns them.

Later on, in February, the antiterrorists would be awarded with the Playa Giron Order, the title of Hero of the Republic of Cuba (distinction they already had since 2001) and they would fulfill a dream: the beloved meeting with the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro.

Cárdenas Presents Cuban Five with Key to the City

Heroes of the Republic of Cuba Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and René González were presented with the key to the city of Cárdenas, upon a unanimous decision by the Municipal Assembly of People's Power, located in the province of Matanzas, east of Havana.

The ceremony took place Sunday at the Cárdenas theater. Cuban Hero Gerardo Hernández spoke on behalf of the Cuban Five –- as these men are known internationally. He thanked the authorities and people of Cárdenas for their gesture of solidarity.

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Sam Nujoma meets the Cuban Five

Sam Nujoma, who was the first president of Namibia, held a private meeting with the five Cuban anti-terrorist fighters, who are visiting that African nation.

Nujoma welcomed Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González a smile and dressed in dark clothes at the Etunda farm in the north of the country.

The first question Nujoma asked the Five was "How is Fidel feeling? as he considers the Cuban leader a true friend, PL news agency reported.

During the 30-minute encounter, Gerardo Hernandez expressed, on behalf of his countrymen, that it was an immense honor to meet a personality like Nujoma, whose heroic actions for the liberation of Namibia are well known by the Cuban people.

Nujoma recalled how world solidarity favored the release of the five and noted "I am very happy that you are here today."

The meeting was also joined by current Namibian president Hage Geingob, who described the Five as revolutionary icons.

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International Solidarity Meeting with Cuba to Be Held

More than 1,000 working and trade union activists from all the continents will take part in the International Solidarity Meeting with Cuba on May 2 as part of the activities for the May Day.

Ernesto Freire, head of the Department of International Relations of the Cuban Workers Central Trade Union (CTC), said this event with more than 10 years of life will have a special character, with the presence of the five antiterrorirst fighters known as the Cuban Five.

The liberation of the Cuban Five was always a central topic in meetings like this, from where supporting initiatives came out to support their cause.

This is why a great chance for the Cuban Five to show their greatfulness to those who did things in favor of them, and mobilized the world's public opinion, Freire stated.

Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Rene Gonzalez and Fernando were arrested by US authorities in 1998 and sentenced in a rigged process to disproportionate penalties for warning of violent actions taken against Cuba from US soil by terrorist groups.

Of these, Hernández, Labañino and Guerrero arrived in Cuba after being released last December 17 (previously had returned after serving their sentences Fernando and René), in a context marked by the announcement of Havana and Washington to carry out actions after moving towards normalization of links.

According to reports, in this conclave the future agenda of solidarity with Cuba will be designed, which main points are the elimination of the economic blockade imposed by the United States, to take out the name of the island of the list compiled by Washington on countries sponsoring terrorism and the closure of the illegal military base in Guantanamo.

Also, Freire said that this event is one of the pre 70th anniversary of the creation of the World Trade Union Federation, whose president, Abdullah Motayo, attend sessions of exchange activities.

They will also participate, after a few years without attend the meeting, three representatives of trade unions in India, a country geographically distant but also makes us feel their support, like other remote countries like Australia or Nigeria, said.

The event, to be held at the Havana Convention Center, also will be attended by some 200 national participants, and the unions will be represented industries, hotels and tourism, gastronomy and services, as well as the public administration.

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Who writes about sports today in Cuba? Me, at least, won’t write about that right now. Thanksgivings, one of the most traditional festivities in the North American culture, is celebrated the fourth Thursday of November, but this year in Cuba Thanksgivings has come a bit delayed this December 17.

The historical broadcast of the future restoration of diplomatic relationships between Cuba and the United States shattered all possible expectations. I always thought I would see first Silvio and Pablo singing together, before bearing witness to this event.

Having born amid the cold war has conditioned my entire existence and blocked within me all possibility of believing that something so great could actually happen.

Barack Obama has had the courage to try to put an end to this meaningless struggle that survived in this XXI century, and Raul Castro has shown all his diplomatic audacity to converge with his lifelong political enemy.

What about the end of the blockade? Why not, if this first step was achieved, applauded practically to the brink of tears in every corner of the planet where there are Cubans, that is, in every corner of the planet. This is a unique opportunity that none of them must let pass. Like Obama said, if they have been able to coexist with China and Viet Nam, why not with Cuba?

At present I don't believe there is a shred of doubt on Raul’s will to take the country ahead like nobody else. This comes from someone who is not affiliated to the Communist Party of Cuba. If earlier he accompanied Fidel with weapons in his hands, now Fidel accompanies him onto the battle of dialogue, and both can succeed and find a place in History, with all the dignity of the world.

But if Obama and Raul are the two fundamental faces of this early Christmas gift, in this hypothetical Thanksgivings we cannot forget the mediators. People's Pope (it had to be a Latin American for the first time?), the appeasing Francisco, did something make to ennoble the work of the Church, like others before him didn’t do in many years.

All Latin American presidents and Governments of the world have voted against the genocidal blockade for decades, the Committees for the Liberation of The Five, the pressure of the people and the North American public opinion, and all those who have contributed in this fight, they deserve the greatest of recognitions.

The Cuban people that has worthily withstood all the pressures and resulting setbacks of the mistaken politics, has right now a lot of people to thank.

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Fernando Gonzalez Tours Nicaragua, Meets with Cuban Cooperators

Cuban anti-terrorist fighter Fernando Gonzalez met in Managua with members of the Cuban brigades of doctors and teachers and representatives of the diplomatic mission of his country in Nicaragua.

During the meeting, González stressed the importance of continuing efforts to achieve the return of his three companion prisoners in U.S. jails.

Fernando, along with Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and René González, was arrested in 1998 in the United States for monitoring groups that organized and financed violent actions against Cuba.

After fully serving their sentences, René and Fernando returned to their country, but Ramon, Gerardo and Antonio remain in prison and face long sentences.

Fernando, also vice president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, pointed out that this is a political case and the decisions to be taken about it must be political as well.

The decision of arresting us, the allegations against us, the manipulation of information, everything was tainted by political factors, he said.

After his arrival in Nicaragua last Saturday, Fernando toured Granada, Masaya and Leon, where he was declared Beloved Son and received the keys to these cities.

In addition, he was awarded the order Edgard Munguía Álvarez, granted by the student movement at the University of León, and in this city he received a copy of the letter testament of Rigoberto López, prominent Nicaraguan fighter.

  • Published in Cuba
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