TIJUANA, Mexico — Winning justice for the Cuban Five, now serving long and unjust sentences for trying to defend their country against U.S.-based attacks, was a special focus as labor and solidarity activists from throughout the Americas gathered here last month. The annual Cuba/Venezuela/Mexico/North America Labor Conference organized by the U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange was held here for the third time Dec. 7-9, to ensure that labor and government representatives from Cuba and Venezuela, often denied visas to enter the U.S., could participate.

An opening reception honored Irma Sehwerert, mother of Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban Five, and Cuban National Assemblymember Silvia Lozano. Sehwerert shared updates on the legal and personal struggles of the Five as they endure the extraordinary sentences imposed on them, and emphasized the importance of the international solidarity shown the Five and their families.

Lozano said international legal experts have called for immediate release of the Five and an end to all arbitrary detentions, have challenged irregularities in the trial process, and have urged respect for the rights of family members including granting them visas to visit the Five in the U.S.

Many conference participants contrasted the U.S. government’s unjust treatment of the Five, in the name of “fighting terrorism,” with its protection of Luis Posada Carriles, a known terrorist responsible for many attacks on civilians including the bombing of an airliner in which 76 people died.

Plenary panels addressed the ways war, globalization and resistance affect labor struggles across the Americas, the contrast between U.S.-initiated trade agreements NAFTA and FTAA and the Venezuela-initiated ALBA alternative, and immigration’s impact on relations between the U.S. and Latin American countries.

Raymundo Navarro Fernandez, Director of Foreign Relations for Cuba’s CTC national labor federation, put U.S.-Cuban relations in the context of Washington’s historic domination in Latin America. He cited the heavy burden the U.S. blockade has placed on the Cuban people and on those around the world trying to do business with the island nation, and the doubling of U.S. funding for subversion in Cuba in recent years.

However, Navarro said, international solidarity with Cuba has grown, in response to the Cuban people’s many contributions to humanity across the globe.

Andres Luis Morejon Ballarte of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with Peoples (ICAP), told participants that ALBA, which Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua have now joined, reflects the growing trend toward Latin American economic and social integration, embracing solidarity, cooperation and respect for the sovereignty of peoples.

Oswaldo Vera, national coordinator of Venezuela’s Socialist Bolivarian Workers Force and Jacobo Torres of the UNT trade union federation spoke of the dramatic drop in the percentage of the population living in critical poverty from 80 to 20 percent since President Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998, as well as the elimination of illiteracy and the significant increase in people engaged in educational activities.

Vera said power is increasingly being transferred to popular organizations such as cooperatives, community councils and organizations of workers, women, rural poor and indigenous communities. At the same time, geopolitical boundaries are being restructured toward more efficient production, development and land reform, and a mixed economy of private, collective, state and cooperative property is emerging.

To resist these changes, he said, the U.S. government has invested more that $200 million in opposition efforts, which are permanently housed in the U.S. Embassy and reinforced through private media sources. In addition, there have been numerous threats and attempts against Chavez, including the 2002 coup and kidnapping of the popularly elected president.

Torres called the ALBA trade pact an “historic necessity” grounded in the liberation struggles and visions of Latin American liberation heroes Simon Bolivar and Jose Marti and propelled by the life work of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and others across the Americas.

Participants from Mexico spoke of workers’ struggles to confront neoliberal trade policies, resist privatization of electricity and defend the social security benefits of teachers across the country, as well as issues surrounding immigration.

U.S. participants spoke of teachers’ resistance to the privatization of education and the increasing efforts to militarize schools, and cited the need to increase union membership among U.S. education workers.

Besides the U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange, sponsors included the Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (SME); World Organization for the Right of the People to Healthcare, SEIU 1199 NY; National Network on Cuba (NNOC); Venezuela Solidarity Network (VSN); International Action Center (IAC); Cuba Solidarity New York (CSNY); and the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five.