Jose Pertierra*

Text of the speech delivered on June 24, 2003 at a Town Hall Meeting at All Soul's Church in Washington, D.C. concerning US-Cuba Relations.

I was only 9 years old, when we came to the United States in the early 60s at the urging of my mother. She saw the Cuban revolution as the perfect opportunity to escape . . . from her mother-in-law.

We first arrived in Miami-only a few miles from Cuba. But that was too close for comfort for her. Abuela was threatening to come from Cuba and live with us. Then my mother learned of a U.S. government program that gave away free one-way airline tickets out of Miami to any city in the U.S. to any Cuban who promised not to return to live in Miami.

I guess that even then . . . Americans had an inkling of just how important Florida would become in future U.S. Presidential elections.

My mother decided to take advantage of this bizarre government program, and she rushed to the government office (with my sister and me in tow) to get our one-way tickets out of Miami. She didn't bring her glasses with her, so she asked me the name of the city on the far extreme left of the map of the United States. When I told her Los Angeles, her eyes lit up and she said: " that's where we're going." Abuela never joined us in California. It was too far away, she said.

Although I missed Abuela, I'm grateful that I grew up 3,000 miles away from Miami, the city that was soon becoming a planet unto itself.

It is now a city dominated by right-wing extremists. Corruption is rampant. Rather than prosecuted, terrorists are treated like heroes and are given green cards and a parade simply because their bullets and their bombs are directed against Cuba and those who might favor dialogue with the island.

It's no surprise that Miami recently hosted the largest pro-war demonstration in the United States. Cuban-American demonstrators passionately shouted "Today Iraq, tomorrow Cuba" during their march.

Some Miami Cubans have been beating the war drums against Cuba for more than four decades-often on deaf ears, except for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961.

But many hardliners in Miami think that things are different now. Under the guise of promoting ethnic diversity within the Administration, President Bush appointed over two-dozen right-wing Cuban-Americans to positions of influence in the federal government. Emboldened by their inclusion in the highest echelons of power in the Washington, Elian's Miami relatives and their fanatical supporters think that the time is ripe to finally topple the Cuban revolution.

There now is a concerted effort to misinform the American people about Cuba. High-level officials in the Bush Administration routinely link Cuba to biological weapons of mass destruction, and mendacity pours out of the U.S. State Department where Secretary of State Colin Powell incredibly issued a declaration just the other day that Cuba permits child prostitution on the island. With a threat of further US sanctions, the State Department gave the island 90 days to "correct" a situation it full well knows doesn't exist.

The embargo's stranglehold on the island is greater than ever, and the European Union now appears to be a junior partner in Washington's efforts to foment regime change in La Habana.

For the first time since 1962, I fear for my friends and family back home. The possibility that US. "smart bombs" will soon fall on La Habana Vieja, El Vedado and El Malecon is real.

There is a political debt to pay, you see, to the Miami Cubans. Although this President was selected by the U.S. Supreme Court, the five justices who decided the selection for Bush would not have had the opportunity to do so, but for a little help from the Republican Party's friends in Miami.

The consequences of Bush's stolen election do not simply affect U.S. relations with Cuba. They affect all of us.

The specter of a police state haunts this country. Immigrants are viewed with suspicion as possible terrorists. Some are detained, tried and deported in secret trials using secret evidence. Americans of Middle Eastern descent are targeted for investigation, harassment and prosecution. And U.S. citizens who dare to disagree with the President's policies are boycotted and blackballed. The ghost of Joseph McCarthy is alive and well and in the White House.

Our social safety net of the last 70 years with important programs such as Medicare and Social Security are in danger of disappearing.

Since Bush Junior mentioned in his axis of evil speech that the "evil- doers" are found in the "dark corners of the earth," haven't you noticed that the sun rarely shines in Washington?

Bush Junior and his extremist friends now are in the midst of carrying out a military coup d'etat on the entire world: first Afghanistan, later Iraq. They want to dominate the planet. No country is safe. Not Iran, not Syria, not Colombia, not the Philippines and . . . and certainly not Cuba.

The hawks in the Pentagon and the White House want to impose on us a new world order in which, as Arundhati Roy calls him, "Bush the lesser" is king, and we are his loyal serfs.

These right wing republican extremists govern on the basis of lies and their control of the mass media. Was it the FCC that Clear Channel Radio bought recently?

It's a lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. On the basis of this lie, the United States conducted an illegal and immoral war against the Iraqis. It's a lie that Cuba has weapons of mass destruction. On the basis of this lie the United States wants to conduct an illegal and immoral war against the Cuban people.

The truth is that the weapons of mass destruction can be found near us. Several weeks ago, they found 100 buried vials of anthrax and of live bacteria called brucellis milentesis that was made at Fort Dietrick, Maryland, only 50 miles from Washington, D.C.

It's a lie that the invasion of Iraq made us a safer nation. The truth is that the war resuscitated a debilitated Al-Quaida that now is stronger with more recruits and even greater zeal.

It's a lie that anyone with a Hispanic last name represents the interests of Latinos. Somoza and Batista were Latinos. Neither represented their people. Bush's Miami friends in government do not represent us. I prefer a progressive Americano to a reactionary Batistiano.

It's a lie that the majority of Cuban-Americans support the U.S. efforts to isolate and destabilize Cuba. A recent poll taken by the Miami Herald tells us the truth: more than half of South Florida's Cuban-American population favors dialogue with Cuba's leaders.

Time makes for interesting changes, and new priorities emerge . . . even in Miami.

Before he passed away, I remember visiting my uncle Roberto every year in Miami. Roberto was the manager of the famous Versailles Restaurant in Miami's Little Habana. He had also been the fourth in command of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Every year, Roberto would take me bar hopping in Little Habana so we could talk to his aging buddies. The conversation would be dominated by talk of "el regreso", of Cuba and of course of Fidel.

Five years ago, I noticed that during an afternoon of conversation and mojitos on the bars of La Calle 8, not one of his buddies mentioned Cuba or Fidel. The entire topic of conversation centered around a little blue pill called Viagra that could be had on the black market for half the standard price . . . Priorities change! Miami is not what it was.

A new generation of Cuban-Americans wants a normal and respectful relationship with their home country. Although power remains concentrated in the hands of a few aging hard-liners, their powering is softening . . . so to speak.

Cuba's struggle for respect and sovereignty is not something born with the Cuban revolution. It dates back to the 19th Century, when men such as Ignacio Agramonte, Calixto Garcia, Maximo Gomez, Antonio Maceo and Jose Marti fought valiantly against the Spanish Empire on behalf of Cuban independence.

The forces of darkness want to extinguish Cuba's flame of independence. They will not do so.

In the last several weeks Cuba convicted 75 persons as U.S. government agents and sentenced them to long prison terms. Nonviolent offenders don't deserve long prison sentences. Neither in Cuba nor in the United States.

Cuba also swiftly executed three convicted hijackers. The death penalty is an abomination and should be abolished . . . in Cuba and in the United States.

Disagree with some of its policies if you must, but recognize that Cuba represents the hopes and aspirations of the poor, the ignored and the dispossessed all over the world.

The deck of cards that history dealt Cuba included lots of sugar cane, virtually no oil, and a powerful neighbor bent on ruling her from Washington. As they say on the streets of Cuba, "no es facil." It's not easy.

The premise of the blockade is to starve the Cuban people into submission. That is half of Washington's Cuba policy, yet it is immoral and a violation of international law to use hunger as a foreign policy tool. The other half of Washington's Cuba policy involves the millions of dollars that the U.S. government annually funnels to foment regime change in Cuba.

President Bush pledged to give more than $6 million in US aid during fiscal year 2003 to U.S. government agents in and outside Cuba. "No es facil" to survive Washington's onslaught, yet Cuba has done it for more than 44 years.

Cuban-Americans living in the United States have a choice. We can either support the rich and the powerful who have dictated Washington's policy on Cuba from the comfort of their homes in Miami. These families lost property and status in Cuba, when they came to the United States and are understandably very angry.

Or we can support the Cubans who despite their poverty live their lives with dignity and commitment to their fellow man. The Cubans who send doctors to treat the sick in places that Bush the Lesser considers to be nothing more than the "dark corners of the planet". Places where other doctors dare not go. The Cubans who send their teachers all over the world to teach the illiterate how to read and write.

The Cubans who make children a priority in society and provide for them the best educational system in the world. The Cubans who shed their blood in Africa in the struggle against apartheid and colonialism. The Cubans who shed their blood in Bolivia alongside el Che Guevara who would have been 75 just the other day, had he not been murdered by a soldadito boliviano con un rifle americano under the orders of the CIA. The Cubans who believe that a better future for mankind is possible and are struggling to make it happen.

I, for one, cast my lot on the side of our poet and patriot, Jose Marti, and say with him: "Con los pobres de la tierra quiero yo mi suerte echar. El arroyo de la sierra me complace mas que el mar." I hope you do the same.

*Jose Pertierra is an attorney in private practice in Washington, D.C. He is a Cuban-American. (At the 6-24-03 Meeting.)