Thanksgiving in Guantanamo

The purpose of my recent trip to Guantanamo, Cuba, was to make clear to the U.S. government that to celebrate the tradition of Thanksgiving best, it needs to close Guantanamo prison it has held within the island of Cuba for over fifty years. This was the first Thanksgiving I spent away from family and friends in another country, protesting the vision for the world that Wall Street has. Protesting Guantanamo. It is the symbol of U.S. neocolonial rule that defies the sovereignty of Cuba. Kwame Nkrumah defined neocolonialism as the stage in which a state has all the trappings of political independence, but it is still economically dependent. Guantanamo is not only the site of continued U.S. neocolonial rule over Cuba, it is also the physical site of torture of one hundred seven detainees. The first two days of this conference included attending some very informative lectures as part of the Fourth International Seminary on the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases. At this seminary was Daniela Gonzalez who represented CODEP (Conseja de Defensa de los dererchos del pueblo or Defense Council of the Rights of the People) who pointed out the neocolonial relationship between the United States and Mexico. The current president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto has allowed privatization of natural resources, gas, electricity and public works. Gonzalez said that the neoliberals in the Mexican government has set it up in such a way where the indigenous cannot access their water. James Jordan also gave a very important talk on the theme of prison imperialism. He talked about plans by the U.S. government to make money of building prisons across the world. Columbian prisons are being used to train soldiers. Many historians have called Colombia a U.S. colony. The physical and psychological torture is widespread in jail. In his talk, Jordan said that the U.S. government cites “drug wars” as the reasons for a much larger investment in prisons, hower over 60% of those incarcerated are there for non drug-related offenses. U.S. funded prisons, Jordan summarized, are about social control, not fighting drug wars. Since 2000 he noted, the U.S. has been involved in prison construction in twenty five countries across the world. Another memorable speaker was the filmmaker and journalist Hernando Calvo Ospina who produced the important film The Blockade Against Cuba. He presented how sixteen thousand Colombian soldiers armed by the US government murdered peasants who wanted earth, health, and bread which helped the creation of FARC. Colombia is known as the Israel of Latin America and that there is a dirty war going on in Colombia that is funded by drug dealing and the hope that the drugs will eliminate the social movement. Ospina showed the Colombian government as the obvious aggressor in the war against FARC, and said Cuba was a site where they are supposed to have direct talks with FARC however, according to Ospina, they made no promises in Cuba to stop fighting FARC, and if they couldn’t promise the Cubans to stop fighting, they definitely unable to keep a peace truce with the people of Colombia. It was at this talk where I learned about the political prisoner Simon Trinidad from Colombia who is seen by the US government as a FARC sympathizer. On the third day of this trip as our bus went into the city of Guantanamo, I stopped at a tienda to buy for a few centavos a Granma newspaper. I noticed that one of the cover stories featured a mentor of mine, Nancy Kohn, saying that the United States is illegally occupying the naval base of Guantanamo. I was able to see an amazing dance troup directed by Xiomara Solis called “La Colmenita” perform Jose Marti’s poem “Guantanamera “ and John Lennon’s “Imagine.” We visited the town square of Caimanera, which has been called “the first anti-imperalist trench” because it was where on September 5, 1876, Antonio Maceo attacked the Spanish train between Guantanamo and Caimanera. We were given a police escort from a hill from which we were able to see the physical Guantanamo prison and the Guantanamo bay, then we were taken to the Caimanera town square where we had a public rally. At this rally I met some very special people : two English teachers and an elementary school natural science teacher. The next day we went to the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba which were seized by revolutionary forces on July 26, 1953. The attack was conceived by Fidel Castro Ruz who conceived the attack and who chose to begin the attack on the one hundredth birthday of journalist Jose Marti. The tour guide at these barracks was Odalis Jimenez and her tour was unforgettable. It gave a very comprehensive look as to exactly why the masses joined the Cuban revolution. I remembered a conversation with a Cuban history teacher Ilka who said that what took place at Moncada was remarkable because all the revolutionaries had were pistols compared to the technologically advanced weapons of Batista’s forces supplied by the U.S. When we left the museum and had lunch at a restaurant near Cespedes Plaza, a very beautiful Jamaican woman named Georgiana approached me, whose mother she told me worked at the Guantanamo naval base. She said her mother was from Jamaica and worked at the naval base in Cuba. When her mother died however, she was unable to collect the pension she was promised from the United States government, in part because of the embargo. I sensed a stronger connection in Cuba with the gods of the Santería religion namely Oshun, because it was the sight of the river that drew me to walk towards it from Cespedes Square, and when I did, I had a very dynamic conversation with a Jamaican woman. During this conversation, heavy rain began which led Georgiana to invite me to her home, meet her husband, her daughter, her grandson, and talk with another Cuban citizen, Robert Lewis Cobaer, whose work at the Guantanamo naval base was denied pension. In my first trip I learned that Santeria goddess of Santa Barbara played a key role in helping many revolutionaries defeat the U.S. imperialist forces. I have also seen first hand the instrumental role that women play all across the administration of the Cuban revolution today. They are certainly more involved percentage wise than women in the United States government in all levels of leadership. This was certainly eye opening. On our third day, we were invited to join a fast with the group Witness Against Torture to protest the opening of Guantanamo for torture and holding detainees without charge. This trip opened my mind about how endless the spiritual possibilities are in fighting neocolonialism. –RF.