Interviewed on 21 March during President Obama's historic visit to Cuba
Interviewed on 21 March during President Obama's historic visit to Cuba
Live commentary on BBC World News as Obama steps out onto Cuban soil with his family on Sunday 20 March 2016.
My piece in memory of Cuban commandante Jorge Risquet has been published on Counterpunch, 2 October 2015. Just waiting for them to correct the spelling of my name!
On Monday 28 September, Commandante Jorge Risquet died in Havana aged 85. Risquet participated in the revolutionary war and was a protagonist in Cuba’s military missions in Africa. He led Cuba’s intervention in the French Congo in 1965 and to Angola between 1975 and 1979 where Cuban troops fought alongside Angolans to defeat the invading army of apartheid South Africa. In 1988 he headed Cuba’s team of negotiators following South Africa’s surrender. In response to South African machinations at the negotiating table Risquet stated: ‘South Africa must face the fact that it will not obtain at the negotiating table what it could not achieve on the battlefield.’ In the words of Piero Gleijeses, an authority on revolutionary Cuba’s role in Africa, with the exception of Fidel and Raul Castro, and Che Guevara, ‘no Cuban has played a more prominent role in African affairs than Jorge Risquet Valdés, a man of intelligence, wit, and unswerving commitment to the Cuban Revolution.’
Jorge Risquet. Photo by Helen Yalle.
Ten years ago, I met with the veteran socialist and commandante to interview him for my doctoral thesis. My discussion with Risquet did not, however, focus on Cuba’s revolutionary armed forces or his role in Africa. I was in Cuba working with archives and conducting interviews to investigate the economic ideas of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in the Cuban Revolution. Risquet’s name had been added to my interview ‘wish list’ after consulting declassified documents from the British embassy in Havana dated 1967 and 1968 detailing the ‘top personalities in Cuba’. Listed as the new Minister of Labour, Risquet was described as: ‘A bearded, youngish man, who appears to be steadily rising in favour.’ I met Risquet in his office where he sat in the middle of a large, tidy desk. His distinctive black bushy beard had thinned and turned white. For several hours Risquet patiently answered my questions, showed me old newspaper clippings and journal articles and told me the stories behind the black and white photos hanging on the wall. He gave me a signed a copy of his book, El Segundo Frente del Che en el Congo (Che’s Second Front in the Congo) (2000).
The making of a revolutionary
Risquet was born in 1930. Gleijeses described him as ‘the descendant of an African slave, her white master, a Chinese indentured servant, and a Spanish immigrant.’ His early childhood were years of economic depression, revolutionary upheaval, democratic opening and then violent reaction as Batista took control of Cuba with US support in 1934. Risquet’s parents were cigar makers who belonged to a politically progressive worker collective with communist sympathies. ‘My parents were semi-literate’, he told me. ‘My father had completed 4th grade and my mother knew how to read but not write.’ In 1943, aged 13, Risquet joined the Revolution Cuban Youth (Juventud Revolucionaria Cubana), youth wing of the Partido Socialista Popular (PSP), later renamed Socialist Youth. Within two years he was elected onto the executive committee. In 1953, ‘Risquet was the first Cuban to meet Angola’s first president Agostinho Neto in 1953, in Bucharest, Romania, at the Fourth World Festival of Youth and Students’. The following year, as a representative of Cuba and Latin America on the organising committee of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, aged 24 years, he travelled to Guatemala where he met Ernesto Guevara (not yet ‘Che’) who had befriended the exiled Cuban revolutionary, Ñico Lopez. Che was two years his senior.
Following Batista’s coup, Risquet joined the urban underground resistance in Havana. It was a perilous existence. After being captured, tortured and incarcerated, he made it to the Sierra Cristal in Oriente Province, where Raul Castro had opened up the Second Front. There he directed political education for the troops. On 1 January 1959, he entered Santiago de Cuba with Raul and Fidel Castro’s Rebel Army columns.
Risquet at 15.
Political and military roles in the Revolution
Risquet became head of the Culture Department of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) in Oriente province, in charge of political instruction. He carried out numerous political roles between 1959 and 61 as well as serving as head of army operations. He recalled: ‘During those first years my work involved guiding the political tasks of the revolution. I went on to occupy more military roles too.’ Risquet joined the political leadership in Oriente province of the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations [ORI] formed by merging the three insurrectionary organisations which had participated in Batista’s overthrow.’ As a veteran of the PSP, Risquet’s role was particularly important in opposing the sectarianism (mainly from PSP stalwarts) which threatened unity between those groups. The ORI became the United Party of the Socialist Revolution [PURS] in 1962 and Risquet was deputy leader in Oriente. When PURS became the Cuban Communist Party in 1965 Risquet was named among its 100-strong Central Committee. Between 1973 and 1990, he served on the Cuban Communist Party’s Secretariat and its Politburo from 1980 to 1991. He was also a long-standing member of Cuba’s National Assembly of Peoples’ Power.
In the economic sphere
It was in his capacity as a political leader in Oriente Province in 1961 that Che Guevara, then Minister of Industries, asked Risquet to support his plans for the sugar industry, which was under Che’s jurisdiction. ‘At Che’s request, I concentrated on the sugar harvest, an activity which involves thousands of people’. Having joined Cuban macheteros (cane cutters) for voluntary labour, Che was determined to wipe out what he called ‘slave labour’ in the fields. He immediately set up the Commission for the Mechanisation of the Sugar Harvest. In the meantime, however, emphasis was placed on increasing and improving the harvest. Sugar exports were to create the capital necessary for investments in diversifying the economy and establishing socialist state provision. Risquet helped to create a movement of emulation in the sugar harvest. He recalled:
‘We created the Millionaires Movement in which a machetero had to cut a million arrobas, each arroba has 11.5 kilogrammes. In the first year we had 11 brigades with 48 men in each, then it became a national movement… the sugar cane workers are poor, but we called them millionaires. Organised into brigades, their work became collective for the first time … this task of organising emulation was very arduous. But Che praised this movement a lot.’
Che also enrolled Risquet’s support in introducing the first rudimentary machines into the sugar cane harvest. This required abating the fears of the cane cutters who had historically resisted attempts to introduce machinery for fear of losing employment.
Returning to military action in the Congo
On 26th July 1965, during the Moncada Day celebrations in Las Villas, Fidel revealed to Risquet that Che had left Cuba at the head of a secret military mission in the former Belgian Congo (DRC). Meanwhile, as a consequence of previous discussions with Che, the president of the neighbouring French Congo, Alphonse Massamba-Débat, had requested military assistance from Cuba to defend that country’s recent independence. The following month, Risquet sailed to the French Congo with 260 Cuban soldiers on a legal mission of military assistance. The Cubans began training fighters from the MPLA, Angola independence fighters, initiating the political and military cooperation which would culminate in Cuba sending tens of thousands of troops to fight the South African occupation of Angola and ultimately end the occupation of Namibia.
Risquet at a meeting with Fidel Castro.
Back to the economy
One day after returning from the Congo to Cuba in January 1967, Risquet was named Minister of Labour. ‘I was not expecting that’, he told me, having little knowledge about the laws, policies and institutions linked to the post. However, the task was principally a political one, involving coordination with workers and trade unions. ‘The Minister of Labour is responsible for distributing salaries and it was my task to apply the salary scale that Che had devised’; an integral part of his Budgetary Finance System of economic management. A principal objective was to reduce the 25,000 different salary grades in pre-revolutionary Cuba into eight basic categories. ‘As Minister, I spent several years applying that salary scale and doing so was hard work.’ Workers received an overpayment for exceeding the ‘norm’, but the bonus was split between the worker and the state. ‘I remember in one meeting with the Dockers’ Union the workers told me that they felt a lot of respect for Che, but that they did not understand the scale.’ According to Risquet the new arrangement was never implemented among dockworkers. In Risquet’s view this became a brake on productivity, because workers stopped trying to exceed the norm. However, he concluded that the new system ‘did work in organising the salaries’.
I concluded by asking Risquet what was Che’s most important contribution to the Cuban Revolution. He said:
‘Che was one of the most admired and outstanding men of the Cuban Revolution, an example of solidarity, originality, simplicity, naturalness. He had a profound hatred for imperialism…a great willingness to volunteer [and] was a master of revolutionary war. He had great faith in human beings, in ideas and examples. Cuban soldiers who passed through Africa had his name on their lips… He was very stoic and self-critical, with absolute sincerity.’
In many ways, the same could be said for Risquet; a revolutionary socialist and anti-imperialist who dedicated his life to fight for the poor and oppressed in Cuba and in Africa. His legacy lives on as part of a proud chapter of Cuban internationalism.
 Piero Gleijeses, (2006), Risquet, Jorge. Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History.
 My research was adapted for publication as Che Guevara: the economics of revolution, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
 British Embassy in Havana, Top Personalities in Cuba, Havana, 20 September 1967, National Archives document FCO 7/529 211465.
 Gleijeses, (2006).
 This and all following Risquet quotes are taken from my interview in Havana, 8 February 2005.
Helen Yaffe is an Economic History Fellow at the London School of Economics and the author of Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Between 2011 and 2014, she was a Research Associate at Leicester University on a project investigating the history of the anti-apartheid movement in Britain.
This interview was broadcast by Namibian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday 14 April. It follows a meeting between US President Obama and Cuban President Castro at the Summit of the Americas on 11 April. The interview had to be edited down in order to fit the programme, particularly in the first part (and consequently it's a bit jumpy!).
This article is published in the Routledge journal International Critical Thought, 2015 Vol. 5, No. 1, 23–41.
It is based on my experience of studying and collaborating on the development of the Communal Economic System in Venezuela.
On 21 and 22 January, Cuba and the US held direct talks about restoring diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961, exploring cooperation on various issues and reviewing existing migration accords. The meeting in Havana took place one month after the historic announcements made simultaneously on 17 December 2014 by Presidents Obama and Raul Castro about a thaw in US-Cuban relations. This included a prisoner swap which finally freed the remaining Cuban anti-terrorist agents imprisoned in the US, known as the Cuban Five. The announcements followed 18-months of secret talks facilitated by Canada and the Vatican. The tactical change by the US administration reflects the failure of its Cuba policy, and economic and (geo)strategic developments which put competitive pressure on US capitalists who do not benefit from the blockade.
The head of Cuba’s delegation, Josefina Vidal, gives a press conference following talks with US representatives in Havana in January 2015.
Historic announcements: 17 December 2014
Obama announced three broad policy changes: First, the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba, the re-establishment of a US embassy in Havana and a visit to Cuba of high-ranking officials to initiate talks about these issues and shared interests ‘on issues like health, migration, counterterrorism, drug trafficking and disaster response’. He cited health collaboration in Africa, where Cuba has sent hundreds of medics to fight the spread of Ebola, as an example. He asserted that the US would raise its differences ‘on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba.’ Second, he indicated that the US would consider removing Cuba from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Third, ‘we are taking steps to increase travel, commerce and the flow of information to and from Cuba’ - making it easier for people in the US to visit Cuba, authorising financial transactions and easing some trade restrictions.
‘These are the steps I can take as President to change this policy’, Obama stated. He cannot, however, unilaterally end the US blockade of Cuba which is ‘codified in legislation’. He made explicit, however, that he considered the US blockade to be a failed policy, and hopes the US Congress would ‘lift the embargo.’
It is important to be absolutely clear. Obama is not supporting Cuba’s right to self-determination; to develop its socialist system without interference and sabotage 90 miles from the US shore. He believes that a more effective strategy to destroy Cuban socialism is to distort, seduce and pervert it through, what he calls, ‘engagement’, by imposing the logic of the capitalist market, social relations and cultural values on Cuba.
‘[W]e will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests… these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach… through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values.’
Obama’s speech exposed the hypocrisy of US policy towards Cuba when he welcomed ‘Cuba’s decision to provide more internet access for its citizens’ just after having admitted that ‘our sanctions have denied Cubans access to technology’; a tacit admission that the US blockade is the principal reason for Cuban’s limited internet access.
Perhaps referring to the brutal chaos resulting from US and Nato interventions in North Africa and the Middle East, he said: ‘it does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse… we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.’ Likely Obama believes that increasing US access to Cuban society will improve the effectiveness of ongoing covert operations aimed at generating an internal opposition – a tactic which has also failed.
Cuban President Raul Castro began his brief speech by making two political assertions: first, of his political continuity with Fidel Castro who, likewise, pursued efforts to ‘normalise’ relations with the US on the basis of sovereign equality. Second, to pre-empt critics claiming that rapprochement with the US would lead to the restoration of capitalism, he reiterated that ‘the task of updating our economic model [is] in order to build a prosperous and sustainable socialism’.He continued:
‘The economic, commercial, and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damages to our country, must cease…While acknowledging our profound differences, particularly on issues related to national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and foreign policy, I reaffirm our willingness to dialogue on all these issues… The progress made in our [prisoner] exchanges proves that it is possible to find solutions to many problems.’
In a speech to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit on 28 January, Raul stressed issues on which Cuba would not compromise: ‘[the] normalisation of bilateral relations… will not be possible as long as the blockade exists, or as long as the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is not returned, or radio and television broadcasts which violate international norms continue, or just compensation is not provided to our people for the human and economic damage they have suffered… If these problems are not resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States makes no sense.’
On 16 January, new US rules did indeed come into effect enabling US citizens to visit Cuba without applying for licenses, although they still had to certify one of 12 ‘legitimate’ purposes for travel. Restrictions were eased on sending money to Cuba, and on spending money and using credit and debit cards in Cuba. The new rules facilitate US telecommunications, financial and agricultural companies to do business on the island.
The talks on 21 January constituted the annual review of existing Cuban-US migration accords. Despite talk of ‘normalising’ relations, the head of the US delegation confirmed that the Cuban Adjustment Act would remain in law. This encourages illegal emigration from Cuba by automatically granting US residency to any Cuban who enters the US, regardless of how they arrived. No comparable law exists for the population of any other country – so much for normalisation!
On 22 January the delegations discussed steps towards the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and reviewed the state of existing cooperation on air security, aviation and oil spills, and identified new potential areas: drug trafficking, terrorism and epidemics (starting with Ebola), seismic monitoring and protecting marine biology. The Cuban delegation proposed scientific collaboration on environmental protection, mitigating the effects of climate change and preventing natural disasters. The issue of human rights was also addressed although the discussion went beyond the US’s discredited neo-liberal script. The head of the Cuban delegation, Josefina Vidal expressed Cuba’s concerns about the guarantee and protection of human rights in the US, highlighting the continued illegal detentions and torture in the US base at Guantanamo, alarming police brutality and increasing racial discrimination. She also raised the issue of the racially-biased application of the death penalty, wage differentials which see women paid 25% less than men, the incidence of child labour and limits on trade union freedoms. The talks concluded on the need to continue talking.
A victory for Cuba
These developments represent a victory for the Cuban Revolution; a tribute to its tenacity, principles and resistance. Clearly, opening up to US capital and the ‘economic hitmen’ who fight its political battles, implies risks for Cuba that have to be managed. However, the revolutionary government understands those risks and is implementing measures to manage them. All proposals for foreign investments must be vetted by the central government. Foreign capital will be channelled to priority areas to develop Cuba’s productive infrastructure. Most foreign investments are carried out through joint ventures with the Cuban government, as Ivonne Vertiz Rolo, Vice Director the Ministry of Foreign Trade recently explained: ‘with the aim of guaranteeing the participation of our enterprises in projects of strategic interest, to effectively transfer new technologies, to raise the qualifications of the Cuban labour force and protect the environment’ (Granma, 11 December 2014). There are also legal limits on private accumulation and property ownership, while socialist state ownership predominates. Cuba is not the Wild West or the former Soviet Republics in the 1990s. It is not open to carpet baggers, oligarchs and exploiters. Only those who are ignorant of, or ignore, the devastating impact of the US blockade can argue that the opportunity to improve Cuba’s access to international markets, including in the US, should be shunned for some idealistic notion of soldiering on in isolation.
Any rapprochement with Cuba, whatever the motivation, faces ardent opposition from the right-wing Cuban exile community whose strategic handle on political and economic power has enabled it convert Cuba policy into a US domestic issue. Although the majority of Cuban-Americans support improved relations, there are politicians in the Senate and Congress who will attempt to block progress. The Obama administration has calculated that there is more to gain through ‘engaging’ Cuba than there is to lose in a conflict with a political elite that losing its leverage.
In autumn 2014, the New York Times published a series of editorials criticising US policy towards Cuba and arguing for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. The editorials were clearly contrived to generate public support for Obama’s announcement. Policy changes introduced in Cuba since 2008 and as part of the 2011 ‘guidelines for updating the economic and social model’, especially those promoting private-farming, self-employment and small businesses, and permitting the free sale of property, have allowed US commentators to claim that Cuba is making the liberalising reforms stipulated as prerequisites for an improvement in relations. It is unlikely that the current political rapprochement would have been possible without these measures.
However, the US has also been forced into this concession by the rejection of its Cuba policy throughout Latin America, where even right-wing governments criticise US attempts to isolate Cuba. In the 1960s the US demanded that the rest of the continent break off diplomatic relations with Cuba. All except Mexico obeyed. But over the years every sovereign nation has restored relations with Cuba, leaving the US behind in a region of growing global significance that the US historically treated as its own backyard. Today, Cuba is central to the movement for regional political and economic integration; a regionalism which rejects US interference. Several countries had threatened to boycott the annual Summit of the Americas in Panama in April 2015 if the US continued to exclude Cuban participation. Obama was forced to back down: ‘This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas’, he said.
Despite the US’s unilateral, punitive legislation prohibiting third countries from trading with Cuba, the revolutionary government has been busy diversifying trade and securing investment partners. The pace of these collaborations is speeding up, especially with the new super-port and development zone being built in Mariel, with Brazil as a major partner. Benefiting from Cuba’s important geostrategic location, the port will accommodate the world’s largest container ships (see FRFI 238). Foreign investment is set to increase significantly since Cuba’s new foreign investments law was approved in 2014 (See FRFI 240).
In his annual speech on 14 January 2015, Thomas Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, enthused about the prospects of trade with Cuba, which he perceives as a new market of pent-up demand for consumer goods, such as computers, smartphones and cars. The Chamber of Commerce is a powerful lobby which spent $35 million on the mid-term elections in 2014, and Donohue travelled to Havana in summer 2014. ‘Somebody is going to sell’ to the Cubans, Donohue said, ‘and it’s not going to be all us.’ He pointed out that many countries were increasing trade with Cuba, including Russia and China. Indeed, the Presidents of both Russia and China also visited Cuba last summer on missions to increase trade and investment.
During Putin’s trip, $32bn of Cuba’s Soviet-era debt was written off, leaving just $3bn to be paid over ten years. Repayments will be spent by Cuba on projects jointly decided with the Russians. ‘We will provide support to our Cuban friends to overcome the illegal blockade of Cuba’, Putin said on 11 July. Russia is exploring for oil and gas in Cuban waters and assisting the Mariel port construction. Cuba will host navigation stations for Russia’s own satellite global positioning system, Glonass. Other economic, financial, military and intelligence projects between the two countries are underway.
Two weeks later, Chinese President Xi Jinping made his second visit to Cuba in less than four years. Cuba’s annual bilateral trade with China is worth almost $2 billion. President Xi signed 29 trade, debt, credit and other agreements. China will continue to restructure debt, estimated at $6 billion, import Cuban nickel, sugar and cigars, digitalise the television system, upgrade communications and cyber security and cooperate in the health, education and science sectors. China is providing a $120 million loan and assistance with the construction of another new port and industrial development zone in Cuba’s second city, Santiago de Cuba. President Xi thanked Cuba for advancing cooperation between China and Latin America and strengthening South-South cooperation.
Meanwhile, the European Union is Cuba’s biggest external investor and second most important trading partner, accounting for 20% of total Cuban trade. In October 2014, British Foreign Officer Minister, Hugo Swire was the first government Minister to visit Cuba in a decade. He was there to discuss trade and investments.
In early January, some 30 US agricultural and food companies announced that they would pressure Congress to end the blockade. Other companies have stated that they will initiate trade and investments with Cuba. Meanwhile the stalwarts of the Cuban exile-community have promised to block Congressional moves to end the blockade. Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart complained bitterly that ‘president Obama has given everything, all the concessions that that regime was asking for’ and ‘getting, frankly, very little’ in return. Well played Cuba!
*Dr Helen Yaffe, completed her doctorate in Cuban economic history at the London School of Economics. She is the author of Che Guevara: the economics of Revolution, first published by Palgrave MacMillan in English in 2009.
On the morning prior to his historic announcement about plans to restore diplomatic relations with the United States on 17 December, Raul Castro greeted Ramón Labañino, Gerardo Hernández and Antonio Guerrero, the three remaining members of the Cuban 5, back onto Cuban soil after 16 years of incarceration in the US. They were reunited with Rene Gonzalez and Fernando Gonzalez who were released in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The return of the Cuban 5 is an historic victory for Cuba, particularly for anti-terrorist Gerardo Hernandez who was serving two life sentences plus 15 years. It also represents a defeat for the corrupt US justice system and for the right-wing Cuban exile community whose political leverage is weakening.
Their return was part of a prison swap in which Cuba also agreed to release 53 prisoners named by US authorities and a US spy, imprisoned for 16 years for providing information about the Cuban 5 and other Cuban intelligence operatives to US authorities. Raul Castro also announced the release on humanitarian grounds of US mercenary Alan Gross, detained in December 2009 for participating in a $500,000 USAID-funded programme of subversion. Noticeably absent on the prison swop list, despite being on the top ten of the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ list, was black US revolutionary Assata Shakur, in exile in Cuba since 1986. The Cuban government has made it clear that she won’t be extradited.
The Cuban intelligence officers were arrested in Miami in 1998, convicted on trumped up charges and condemned to long prison sentences. They were in fact trying to prevent acts of terrorism against Cuba by infiltrating violent anti-Cuban groups in Miami. None of the charges against them involved violence, weapons or damage to property. Since 1959, nearly 3,500 Cubans have died and over 2,000 have been permanently injured as a result of terrorist attacks or aggression – mainly launched from Miami.
Evidence gathered by the Five about terrorist plots, including plans to bomb tourist planes travelling to and from Cuba, was passed by the Cuban government to the FBI and other US agencies. The US government’s response was to arrest the Cuban agents for spying. Meanwhile, infamous terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles, who boasted about organising the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airlines flight killing 73 civilians, live freely in Miami. So much for the ‘war on terrorism’!
The Cuban 5’s court case took place in Miami; a fair trial was impossible. Journalists on the pay of the US government whipped up public hostility to demand harsh sentences. They were convicted of false identification, conspiracy to commit espionage and, in Gerardo Hernández’s case, conspiracy to commit murder. They received sentences ranging from 15 years to double life. The Five received ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment, including long stretches in isolation and being denied access to lawyers or family-visits. This treatment is part of the political war against Cuban socialism.
The Cuban Five’s legal representatives had pointed out that given the political nature of the case, a political movement was needed to demand justice. Cuba had reiterated the demand for their freedom from every platform and in every scenario. Their call was increasingly taken up around the world and becoming a challenge for the US government. By negotiating their release the Cuban government has demonstrated its political strength.
In his live broadcast on 17 December Raul Castro announced, ‘As Fidel promised in June 2001, when he said, “They shall return!”, Gerardo, Ramon, and Antonio have arrived today to our homeland. The enormous joy of their families and of all our people, who have relentlessly fought for this goal, is shared by hundreds of solidarity committees and groups, governments, parliaments, organisations, institutions, and personalities, who for 16 years have made tireless efforts demanding their release. We convey our deepest gratitude and commitment to all of them.’ Adding to the personal and public joy was the news that Gerardo’s wife, Adriana, was heavily pregnant with Gerardo’s baby. How did this happen, everyone wanted to know. US authorities had denied Adriana a visa to visit her husband since his arrest. It soon transpired that this ‘remote control’ pregnancy, as Gerardo discretely referred to it, was part of the secret negotiations between Cuba and the US. Their daughter, Gema, was born on 6 January 2015.
Since their return, the Cuban five have made many public appearances, being swamped with admiration and gratitude by Cubans in the streets and neighbourhoods, talking about their ordeal on the daily televised round-table discussion, appearing in the Cuban National Assembly and joining musician Silvio Rodriguez on his concert tour of Cuban communities.
An edited version of this article is printed in the Feb/Mar 2015 issues of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!
*Dr Helen Yaffe, completed her doctorate in Cuban economic history at the London School of Economics. She is the author of Che Guevara: the economics of Revolution, first published by Palgrave MacMillan in English in 2009.