Top Issue 1-2024

19 April 2001 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Cuba's defenders speak out

Earlier this month, Cuban solidarity groups from across Northern Europe met in Dublin. In the second part of An Phoblacht's coverage of the conference, SOLEDAD GALIANA spoke to Danish activist Suen-Eric Simonsen and Declan McKenna of the Cuba Support Group in Ireland.

Suen-Eric Simonsen is a member of the Danish-Cuban Friendship Association. He also works as a journalist for ''The Daily Worker'', which he describes as ''the second smallest newspaper in Denmark''.

''I think more people in Denmark consider that Cuba is not a democracy and that Fidel Castro is not a democrat. At the same time, more people recognise and know about the achievements within education and health care and the social achievements of the Cuban revolution. And there is a fast growing positive interest in Cuba among young people, mainly because of the culture. Trade unionists recognise that an opposition to the development of neo-liberal policies is needed and we help them to be more aware that Cuba is struggling for unity against this new world order and these neo-liberal politics.

''People admire and respect the achievements of Cuban revolution. They feel attracted by Cuban culture, dance and song. And then, there is this mechanism that makes ordinary people sympathise with the weakest and the smallest when in conflict with someone else. That is a good background to develop and support the small Cuba against the big US and we try to profit from that in our solidarity work as much as possible.

''There is no doubt that the blockade and hostility from the US is the biggest problem. Inside Cuba, the biggest problem may be the negative consequences of the reformed politics, the changes that have taken place in Cuba in recent years. But I am very optimistic about how the government is handling these problems, though they aren't completely solved yet.

''Even in the case of the disappearance of Fidel Castro and the current leadership, I don't think people would be very eager to change their society. I think there is a strong knowledge and understanding in the Cuban society that they cannot use the Western welfare society instead of what they have now. If they choose something fundamentally different, that is a market economy, they may well become a new Honduras or Nicaragua, and they do not want that.

''It seems obvious that Cuba can teach us how to do something rather than just accept how things are. I am referring to the politics of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation. There is a need for an alternative. This is obvious for the developing countries, but even in Western Europe, Cuban society is becoming attractive as an alternative. Our societies are divided in what we call in Denmark the ''Two-Third Societies''. Two thirds of society are very well off, but a growing third is becoming a kind of third world in our own country. Cuba shows that it is possible to maintain health care and educational systems that cover everyone for free. This is attractive to us, as our own institutions are being privatised and there isn't free access for everybody anymore.''

Declan McKenna, responsible for the Cuba Support Group in Ireland, will act as co-ordinator for the Northern European area for the next 12 months. One of the principal tasks of the organisations in solidarity with Cuba in this area is to campaign against the European Union's common policy towards Cuba.

''That common position says that all aid and trade with Cuba is linked to human rights and democracy in Cuba. This is discriminatory because the European Union trades with all the countries around the world and never places these conditions on them.

''We will be doing a lot of work at home and there have been major changes in the position of the Irish government.''

''Even though we are politically and economically so close to the United States, it has now emerged that Ireland is sitting in the Security Council but that the US did not vote for Ireland on that issue. So Ireland got there despite the US.

''The US stated that Ireland could not be trusted on foreign policy issues and their intelligence appears to have been good because Ireland, having relied on third world countries to get the seat, now has to made at least some effort defending third world countries. It seems they have picked three countries in which they are going to have an independent foreign policy. These are: Cuba, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This marks a significant shift in Irish policy.''

''The other thing that has happened recently is that the foreign minister Brian Cowen has conceded that there is a contradictory position on the part of Ireland in that at the United Nations Ireland votes against the blockade against Cuba and it does so unconditionally, yet the European Union has a conditional position. Cowen conceded that there is a contradiction but no one has worked out yet how to resolve it.

''I would ask people who have an interest in the world and its future not only to come along and support the Cuba Support Group but to look to the very negative role that the United States in particular, but also Britain and the developed countries of the world in general, are playing. We are living in very dangerous times that most people appreciate politically, militarily and certainly ecologically.

''I would urge people to get involved in politics at any level, whether it is community politics or world politics. Get involved, because the people who have power are running away with everything and we need to mobilise in so many different ways, whether with regard to Cuba, ecological issues, or in local areas.''

13 hunger strikers dead in Turkey

Sedat Gursel Akmaz, 41, has became the 13th political prisoner to starve to death in a hunger strike protest against Turkey's new maximum-security prisons.

Akmaz, a member of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, died in a hospital in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir on Monday 16 April. He had not eaten for 151 days, taking only sugared or salted water and vitamins.

About 250 leftist prisoners have refused food to protest their December transfers from large, dormitory-type wards to new prisons with small cells that house one to three people. Some relatives have also joined the strike.

A Turkish human rights group warned on Friday 13 April that death is imminent for 60 prisoners who have been on hunger strike for several months in a protest over the government's jail crackdown.

Akmaz's death brought to 11 the number of prisoners who have starved to death. Two relatives of prisoners have also died. A prisoner's niece, Canan Kulaksiz, 19, died after refusing food for 137 days at the home of another hunger striker in Istanbul early Sunday 15 April, said Ozgur Tayad, a prisoners' solidarity group. She was the 12th person to die.

The Turkish government has said it will not yield to prisoners' demands and abandon the prison transfers, which it says are needed to break up control of prisons by leftist, Kurdish or militant Islamic groups. Officials claimed they needed to put the prisoners in small cells to break their control of the prisons. The prisoners say the new cells leave them isolated and vulnerable to abuse by guards, and complain that they are beaten almost daily. International human rights groups and the Council of Europe have called on Turkey to investigate the brutality allegations, which the government denies.

In December, prisoners resisted their transfer for four days in clashes that left 30 inmates and two soldiers dead. Canan Kulaksiz's uncle, Mehmet Kulaksiz, a member of the outlawed Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, was among the prisoners injured in the clashes.

Last month, Ankara renewed a pledge to make political reforms to meet European Union entry criteria. Some 1,000 prisoners remain on hunger strike, consuming only vitamins and sugared water.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1