WASHINGTON – A standing-room crowd of Cuba solidarity activists packed the Cuban Interest Section April 26 for a briefing on the current U.S.-Cuba crisis. Cuba’s response to so-called “dissidents” including the execution of three men who hijacked a ferry has stirred widespread concern among many who have been active in Cuba solidarity. The ferry hijacking was one of seven hijackings of Cuban airliners and boats in as many months, placing at risk the lives of scores of men, women and children.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque sent a message thanking participants for their solidarity. “Now we are facing a clear anti-Cuban plan to overthrow the revolution by any means,” Roque said. “To avoid a war and to save lives, we had to adopt a painful decision. We do not like the death penalty. It is not part of our philosophy and we hope it won’t be in the future.”

Ambassador Dagoberto Rodriguez pointed out that Cuba was among the first to condemn the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S., to express condolences and to offer cooperation in combating terrorism. The Bush administration response to these gestures was stepped up hostility against Cuba, he said. At the heart of the hijackings is an attempt to instigate a “mass exodus” that would destabilize Cuba and sow the seeds of war, he said.

“We are responsible to protect the lives of 11 million Cubans,” Rodriguez said. “We knew many people in the U.S. would be very critical (of the executions). We are not naïve. We were forced to act. Our enemies are trying to take advantage of the situation to see to it that the Cuban revolution is destroyed. We had to stop this disastrous trend of hijackings.”

The Rev. Lucius Walker, founder and executive director of IFCO-Pastors for Peace, urged an outpouring of solidarity with Cuba in the face of sharply escalated provocations against the island nation by the Bush administration.

“The Cuban people are facing the clearest threat yet of an invasion by the United States,” he said. “I think our 14th Friendshipment caravan this July is even more important than the first caravan that arrived when Cuba was in the grips of the double blockade. This will be a powerful statement from the people of the United States to the people of Cuba that we stand with them against the provocations of our own government.”

The onus for Cuba’s tough measures, Walker said, should be placed on the Bush administration. “If you organize and inspire treason against a nation, you bear responsibility for the consequences,” he said. The peace and solidarity movement should dialogue with those condemning Cuba to convince them that solidarity with Cuba is more urgent than ever, Walker said.

In a statement last week, IFCO-Pastors for Peace warned, “While the world’s attention has been riveted to events surrounding the buildup and subsequent invasion of Iraq, the U.S. has launched a series of hostile actions to undermine Cuba, promote terrorism, destabilize its economy and instigate treason … While the world waits to see which Middle Eastern country is the next invasion target, the Cuban people are justifiably concerned that Cuba could be next.”

More than 20 right-wing Cuban Americans, including Otto Reich, an Iran-contra criminal, have been appointed by Bush, the statement said. Since he became chief of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, James Cason “began organizing meetings with Cuban citizens where opposition to the Cuban government was the main topic. Cason also began traveling throughout Cuba, distributing money and equipment explicitly designed to build internal dissent. This behavior on the part of a foreign diplomat is a clear violation of laws governing diplomatic conduct. Such behavior would never be tolerated by the U.S. government within its own borders.” Cason has openly proclaimed that his job is to instigate Cuba’s “rapid transition” to an “open market economy.”

The Bush administration has issued only 500 visas for Cubans to visit the U.S. even though a 1995 agreement permits 10,000 visas for Cubans. “This stonewalling by the U.S. not only encourages illegal immigration, it puts families at risk.”

The statement concludes that IFCO-Pastors for Peace “has opposed the death penalty for more than 35 years. This opposition includes the 71 executions carried out in the U.S. in 2002, the 152 executions carried out in Texas while George W. Bush was governor, the eight executions of youth offenders in Texas and the three executions in Cuba. Cuba’s decision to execute three of the hijackers in no way discredits its genuine concerns to prevent the escalation of terrorist actions instigated against it by the United States. What Cuba faces at this moment is nothing short of its survival as a nation.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com