CubaBrief: The rise and fall of Cuba’s Independent Labor Movement. The state of worker’s rights in Cuba today.

May Day 2023 is a good moment to revisit Cuba’s labor history and the state of Cuban worker’s rights today.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Special Rapporteurship for Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) in their new Report on Labor and Union Rights in Cuba (available online in Spanish) “warn about the persistence of systematic patterns of labor rights violations, particularly due to the lack of democracy that prevents the full exercise of labor rights, which are affected by the socioeconomic context that the country is going through, and which are linked to situations of precarious labor conditions, worsening hiring conditions, absence of occupational health and safety measures, lack of freedom of expression. Likewise, persecution for political reasons in the labor context and the structural discrimination that affects Afro-Cubans, women, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and LGBTI persons are particularly highlighted in the report.”

Havana Times on April 27, 2023 reproduced the article “International Report Reveals Workplace Violations in Cuba” by Elena Nazco that offers a damning indictment of workplace conditions under the Castro regime. Collective bargaining and the right to strike are legally prohibited in Cuba, and Cubans know it, reports Nazco in the following excerpt from her article.

Of the people interviewed by IACHR and REDESCA, 92.3% believe that workplace and union rights don’t exist in Cuba. Meanwhile, 98.4% believe that union rights aren’t respected, are limited by the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC), that operates as the only legally recognized union and limits freedom of assembly, protest, and negotiation with employers, even in the case of foreign companies. 93.8% say that the labor standards complaint process is useless or isn’t carried out properly. Lastly, 72.3% are afraid of or reluctant to access the labor justice system. These numbers are backed by accounts from interviewees who have suffered censorship, ostracism, and unfair treatment at the hands of their employers, in one sector or another. Some of the women reported sexual harassment by their superiors, while members of vulnerable communities were discriminated against because of the color of their skin, sexual orientation, or disability. Others were fired or sanctioned for their political stances and are normally labeled “anti-establishment” or “counter-revolutionary” (which earns them the title “ideologically untrustworthy”). In short, approximately 56% of the population believes that there is discrimination in the workplace, based on statistics compiled by the OCDH. Another sector affected by government policy is medical brigades and other missions abroad, whose workers suffer forced labor – according to the IACHR and REDESCA. The so-called “internationalist missions”, which include around 35,000 Cubans in the medical sector alone, make up a valuable source of revenue for the State, which takes up to 90% of the wages other countries need to pay its professionals. 

This is in stark contrast to the achievements of the Cuban labor movement over the first half century of the Cuban Republic (1902 – 1952). A high point for Cuban labor was also a low point for Cuba’s communists that cut a deal with Cuba’s first dictator, Gerardo Machado.on May 20, 1925 was elected Cuba’s fifth president, but overstayed his welcome, and became a dictator. Historian Pedro Roig in 2018 described what happened.

“The end of the dictator was ignited by a minor labor dispute.  On July 25, 1933, Havana bus drivers went on strike protesting a municipal tax increase.  The strike turned into a political confrontation that escalated when streetcars operators (tranvias) and taxi drivers joined the protest.  Capital transportation came to a halt.  By August 1, it had spread to other labor sectors and grown into a general strike. Machado called for a meeting with the communists perceived by the dictator to be the leaders of the strikes.  Machado offered them legal recognition and state support.  Rubén Martínez Villena, and Joaquín Ordoqui met with Machado and accepted the offer. The communists called off the strike but failed.  It turned out to be the agreement of the impotent, since neither party had the strength to control the mounting crisis.”

Machado was driven out of office on August 12, 1933 and Cuba’s communists were discredited for having made a deal with him that was viewed in most quarters as a betrayal of the workers. With the communists discredited, a revolutionary moment took place that benefited Cuban trade unions, and workers. Ram6n Grau San Martin’s provisional government lasted a hundred days, and marked a before and after in Cuban history. Grau  between October and December of 1933 issued a first package of popular and nationalist measures:

“University autonomy; the dedication of 2% of the National Budget to the university and the granting of a thousand free enrollments for poor students. He created the Ministry of Labor, since there was no body specifically in charge of labor matters. He established employer liability for accidents; he suspended the evictions of tenants and canceled 50% of the taxes and contributions not paid in due time. He decreed the forced repatriation of West Indians who came to Cuba at harvest time and who were unemployed the rest of the year, which generated many different problems. He established the eight-hour work day and the right to unionize. He promulgated the Labor Nationalization Law that established the obligation that 50% of the workers and employees had to be native Cubans. He lowered the cost of electricity.”

With the end of the 100 days government, Fulgencio Batista became Cuba’s strongman ruling behind the scenes from 1933 until 1940 with Cuban presidents coming and going through free elections, but subjected to his authority. Labor legislation passed in 1938 guaranteed workers’ rights such as the minimum wage, pensions that assumed a constitutional character; and the creation of the Central of Workers of Cuba  Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC in Spanish) on January 28, 1939. All of the above made trade unionism an important factor in Cuban civil society.

In 1940 a new Constitution was drawn up that respected labor rights, and strengthened them, and ushered in a period of competitive elections in which power was contested. The right to strike was recognized in the 1940 Constitution. This translated into real world gains for Cuban workers. For example, the sugar union “managed to impose a guarantee clause, thanks to which the workers of the sector obtained an extra salary of 13.42%, known as the sugar differential.” In 1945, with half a million affiliates, the CTC was the second largest trade union in the region.

Fulgencio Batista, in alliance with the Cuban Communist Party, ran and won the presidency in 1940. In 1944 Ramon Grau San Martin, of the Autenticos, an anti-communist party, won, and his successor Carlos Prio Socarras won in 1948. These were all free and fair elections. Batista sought to return to power in 1952, but not able to win at the ballot box, carried out a coup against the democratic order, but he did not dare attack the labor unions.

Nevertheless labor union leaders such as David Salvador Manso of the national CTC and Mario Chanes de Armas, a regional leader of the Cuban Brewery Workers joined Castro’s efforts to overthrow Fulgencio Batista. Both were jailed by Batista for their anti-regime activities. Mario Chanes took part in the July 26, 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks and was wounded. He was put on trial with the Castro brothers, and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was pardoned with them after 22 months.

This all came to an end following the 1959 communist revolution in Cuba led by Fidel and Raul Castro. All the hard fought rights gained by Cuban workers were ended by the communists: 

David Salvador Manso

On January 22, 1959 the CTC was replaced by the CTC-Revolucionaria. In the X Congress, held in November 1959, the Secretary General, David Salvador Manso,”said that the workers had not gone to the event to raise economic demands but to support the revolution.” And in the XI Congress, November 1961, the delegates renounced almost all the achievements of the labor movement: “the nine days of leave for sickness, the supplementary Christmas bonus, the weekly shift of 44 x 48 hours, the right to strike and an increase of 9.09%, among many others.

The Hotel Habana Libre that had been owned by the Hotel Workers Labor Union (Sindicato Cubano de Trabajadores de la Gastronomía ) retirement fund was seized by the revolutionary government. The Hospital Maternidad Obrera (built 1939) was taken and fell into disrepair without adequate funding and maintenance by the revolutionary government.Workers were required to do “voluntary work” that was not voluntary.

The two above-mentioned labor union leaders who sided with Fidel Castro and risked life and limb in the struggle against Batista, would both be tried and sentenced in Castro’s revolutionary courts to 30 years in prison.

Mario Chanes would be cropped out of photos with Fidel Castro when they emerged from prison together.

David Salvado Manso’s early backing of the revolution, and the first steps in carrying out Castro’s agenda did not save him.

Amnesty International recognized them as prisoners of conscience. Unlike in the case of Batista, their only crime was not being enthusiastic supporters of the revolution’s turn to communism, and dissenting when workers were stripped of their rights. The labor rights that Cuban workers achieved during the first fifty years of the Republic have not been restored in the island after 64 years of communist rule.


Havana Times, April 27, 2023

International Report Reveals Workplace Violations in Cuba

April 27, 2023

Photo: El Toque

By Elena Nazco (El Toque) 

HAVANA TIMES – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDECSA) presented their Report on Workplace and Union Rights in Cuba at the University of Miami, on April 21, 2023. Focusing on exposing the state of workplace and union rights on the island, the analysis identified different violations caused by the country’s socio-political situation and “lack of democracy.”

The IACHR, an independent body belonging to the Organization of American States (OAS), was founded in 1959 and removed Cuba from its member states in 1962 because the country adopted policies linked to Marxism-Leninism, which are considered incompatible with the organization’s principles. 

Ever since its inception, the IACHR has paid special attention to Cuba, and has analyzed the human rights situation on the island under the Castros’ and after today’s president Miguel Diaz-Canel was appointed in 2018. The most frequent problems the Commission faces when trying to diagnose the Cuban situation include the Government’s constant refusal to make statistics public, which they need to write up any kind of report. While they only need to send a questionnaire to government agencies in the rest of the Americas, they need to work directly with the population in Cuba, often undercover and protecting the identities of participants who fear reprisals. 

For its latest report, IACHR and REDESCA carried out 80 interviews with workers from different sectors between 2021 and 2023; only 65 were used as a sample (the rest didn’t meet the basic requirements for analysis). Meanwhile, the Commission announced it had also surveyed people linked to Cuba’s legal sector (lawyers, judges, and former district attorneys). Data in the report challenges figures provided by the Cuban State over recent decades, as well as its public and workplace policies.

According to the Cuban Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) in 2021, out of the 7,051,300 Cubans of working age, only 4,619,100 are really employed, the report states. This figure contradicts statistics declared by the regime in 2020, when it announced that the unemployment rate only stood at 1.4% of the population. By contrast, reports from the Observatory of Social Rights in Cuba (SDG-Cuba) and the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCHD) cited in the report put the unemployment rate above 30%, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Out of the total number of active employees (over four million), 3,120,600 belong to the public sector, and only a quarter of the total (approximately 1,498,600) are linked to the private sector (foreign and mixed enterprise, churches and other institutions). The numbers make the Government Cuba’s number one employer, while there are only 596,000 self-employed. 

According to the document, the employment rate of women is 38.9%, just over half the rate of men, which stands at 61.1% of the total working age population. Official statistics don’t feature the number of people working in informal employment or jobs on the sly. A large number of women workers fall under the informal labor category (up to 90%), as these are mostly domestic, caregiving or street selling jobs). 

In terms of human rights, the main violations of workplace conditions are: the lack of free access to work and employment instability; precarious conditions and the lack of a fair wage; harassment in the workplace; lack of freedom of speech, discrimination and harassment for political and ideological opinions; structural discrimination in the workplace; and the lack of regulations for special working relations (for example, the situation of professionals providing services outside Cuba, such as doctors and teachers).

Of the people interviewed by IACHR and REDESCA, 92.3% believe that workplace and union rights don’t exist in Cuba. Meanwhile, 98.4% believe that union rights aren’t respected, are limited by the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC), that operates as the only legally recognized union and limits freedom of assembly, protest, and negotiation with employers, even in the case of foreign companies. 93.8% say that the labor standards complaint process is useless or isn’t carried out properly. Lastly, 72.3% are afraid of or reluctant to access the labor justice system.

These numbers are backed by accounts from interviewees who have suffered censorship, ostracism, and unfair treatment at the hands of their employers, in one sector or another. Some of the women reported sexual harassment by their superiors, while members of vulnerable communities were discriminated against because of the color of their skin, sexual orientation, or disability. Others were fired or sanctioned for their political stances and are normally labeled “anti-establishment” or “counter-revolutionary” (which earns them the title “ideologically untrustworthy”). In short, approximately 56% of the population believes that there is discrimination in the workplace, based on statistics compiled by the OCDH.

Another sector affected by government policy is medical brigades and other missions abroad, whose workers suffer forced labor – according to the IACHR and REDESCA. The so-called “internationalist missions”, which include around 35,000 Cubans in the medical sector alone, make up a valuable source of revenue for the State, which takes up to 90% of the wages other countries need to pay its professionals. 

Cuban workers aren’t the only ones affected by the ruling elite’s control. Foreign or mixed enterprise are also subjected to the rules of this game if they intend to make money in Cuba. They lose the power to choose their employees once on the island. There are employment agencies, under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, who charge a fee to supply a workforce. 

The Cuban Government takes advantage of these conditions to introduce “well-behaved labor”, according to the report. Chosen employees are restricted when it comes to agreeing working conditions and salaries (in the currency they want) directly with the employer. Furthermore, it’s this Cuban intermediary company that collects foreign currency and pays wages in national currency, way below what it should be.

IACHR and REDESCA are both concerned about the state of labor rights in Cuba, as national legislation restricts workers’ freedoms. The right to protest, union freedom and free association are criminalized. Plus, institutions responsible for protecting workers – ministries, unions, and courts – have been hijacked by the Cuban authorities.

The State’s monopoly control, the presence of a single party, the centralization of power, the absence of democratic mechanisms and the judiciary’s subordination to the Government’s interests and expectations, are some of the more worrisome points for international organizations, as they brutally compromise the wellbeing and human rights of Cuban workers and prevent them from having a decent job on the island.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times

https://havanatimes.org/features/international-report-reveals-workplace-violations-in-cuba/


IACHR, April 21, 2023

IACHR and REDESCA present the Report on Labor and Union Rights in Cuba

April 21, 2023

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Special Rapporteurship for Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) present the thematic report on labor and union rights in Cuba, which aims to make visible the human rights violations faced by workers in the country; and provide recommendations to the State to contribute to the protection of labor and union rights, as well as access to justice in relation to such rights.

In this report, the IACHR and REDESCA analyze the situation of labor and union rights in Cuba in light of Inter-American standards, while identifying areas of concern affecting workers on the island. Information provided by civil society organizations, international organizations, academia, and specialists was used, including information gathered during the ex officio hearing on the “Situation of Labor and Trade Union Rights in Cuba” held in June 2022.

In this report, the IACHR and REDESCA present the voices of the Cuban people and incorporate testimonies of workers and former officials of the Cuban Justice System, who describe their experiences and share the realities they face.

The report includes 7 chapters: i) introduction; ii) context of human rights in Cuba; iii) labor rights; iv) union rights; v) access to justice, due process, and judicial protection; vi) business and human rights; and vii) conclusions and recommendations to promote actions to guarantee labor and trade union rights.

Throughout the report, the IACHR and REDESCA explore the labor rights situations of workers considering the Cuban social and political context, in light of the international conventions ratified by the State and the Inter-American standards. They analyze the main challenges in trade union matters and emphasize freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the right to strike, as well as the topic of business and human rights. In addition, they present the main obstacles faced by Cuban workers in access to justice, due process, and judicial protection and expose the international obligations of the State.

In particular, the IACHR and REDESCA warn about the persistence of systematic patterns of labor rights violations, particularly due to the lack of democracy that prevents the full exercise of labor rights, which are affected by the socioeconomic context that the country is going through, and which are linked to situations of precarious labor conditions, worsening hiring conditions, absence of occupational health and safety measures, lack of freedom of expression. Likewise, persecution for political reasons in the labor context and the structural discrimination that affects Afro-Cubans, women, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and LGBTI persons are particularly highlighted in the report.

In publishing the report, Commissioner and Country Rapporteur Stuardo Ralón emphasized: “The Commission and REDESCA deepen the analysis of the situation of labor and trade union rights to establish objective and specific guidelines, which will make it possible to address the issue from an approach of indivisibility and interdependence of human rights. All the recommendations of the report can only be fulfilled if the Cuban regime evolves towards a democratic transition, as without democracy human rights cannot be respected”. For her part, the Special Rapporteur on DESCA, Soledad García Muñoz, said: “This report is the first to examine the situation of labor and trade union rights in Cuba. Its findings and recommendations leave no doubt about the urgency of protecting workers on the island, as well as in internationalism missions in which health professionals are part of”.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate stems from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission is mandated to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 071/23

4:35 PM

https://www.oas.org/en/IACHR/jsForm/?File=/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2023/071.asp

Cuban Studies Institute, August 12, 2018

This Day in Cuban History – August 12, 1933. Machado’s Downfall

By Pedro Roig

Gerardo Machado

Machado’s Downfall.   On August 12, 1933, with the Cuban army’s support, the U.S. Ambassador Benjamin Sumner Welles, presented Gerardo Machado a plan for his resignation as President of Cuba.  A defiant dictator visited the Columbia Military barracks where he found that he had lost the support of the Army and had to resign.  That afternoon Machado left the Presidential Palace and flew to Nassau in the Bahamas.
 
Eight years before, Machado’s political fortune was on the rise when on May 20, 1925, he was elected Cuba’s fifth president and the Cuban Republic was 23 years old and seemed to be moving in the direction of political stability and economic growth.  Machado won the presidency on a platform of national regeneration under the slogan “water, roads and schools.”  He called for an end to the Platt Amendment and improved health care.  During the War of Independence, Machado fought mostly in the Santa Clara region, where he rose through the ranks to brigadier.  After the war, Machado briefly held various government positions and later became manager and vice president of the Cuban Electric Company, the largest utility company in Havana.
 
Machado’s first three years in office were probably the most successful of the Cuban Republic.  Several aqueducts were built to supply the water needs of major cities; a vast program of road construction got underway, creating thousands of jobs, and a modern communication system that opened new agricultural and industrial markets.  Completion of the Central Highway, finally linking Havana and Santiago de Cuba, was the culmination of Machado’s successful road network program.
 
Education improved with the addition of new classrooms in the public-school system and several vocational-technical schools through the island. Teacher salaries were raised, and the University curriculum modernized, with an emphasis on science and engineering.  The Machado administration also developed an urban renewal program, paving streets and improving the sewer system of major cities. Havana’s Malecon (boardwalk) was widened and extended to its present splendor as a majestic water front boulevard.  The “escalinata” or stairs leading to the University’s Alma Mater square and Capitol building were constructed in Machado’s first term.
 
During the first two years of his administration, he was named “favorite son” of 25 municipalities, and, in a shameless showing of adulation, journalists called him “El Supremo,” “El Titán,” and “El Egregio.”  An unfortunate syndrome of flattery and adulation on segments of our public that returned 32 years latter with Fidel Castro, who, by 1959 was being referred to as “El Caballo,” “El Jefe,” and “El Maximo Leader.”
 
By 1927, Machado had stirred up nationalistic fervor and a sense of confidence in the ability of Cubans to govern themselves.  Commenting on Machado’s charisma, professor Luis Aguilar Leon said: “Considering the immediate past of Cuba and the spectacular programs and actions of the new government, it was no wonder that Gerardo Machado became, after a few months in power, the most popular president the island ever had.”  It is difficult to measure the impact of the intense respect on the Machado sequel.  By 1927, the president had decided to remain in power believing himself indispensable to Cuba’s welfare.
 
The pro-Machado congress extended Machado’s term in office (la prórroga de poderes) for two more years, agreed to call elections for a Constituent Assembly to consider revising the 1901 Constitution and extend the president’s term in office to six years without reelection.  In April 1928, the newly elected Constituent Assembly approved the reforms proposed by Congress and solemnly declared: “The Constitutional Convention does not hesitate to reaffirm that General Gerado Machado y Morales, because of his commitments and his antecedents as founder of the Republic, is faced with the inevitable obligation of accepting a new presidential term.”  Machado accepted and was reelected.  His term, which began May 20, 1929, would run until May 1935.
 
The “prórroga de poderes” was an unpopular political move, specially among the Cuban youth.  By 1933, the rejection to Machado had turned violent.  In addition, Cuba’s successful economic fabric began to fall apart as the U.S. economy sank into depression.
 
Hardest hit was the Cuban sugar industry whose share of the U.S. market dropped from 51.9% to 25.4% in 1933 sending over 240,000 heads of household into unemployment.  By this time most opposition groups were engaged in urban terrorism and the use of explosives and political assassination became common practices.
 
As the level of violence increased in the island, the Roosevelt administration decided to send a political mediator to work out a peaceful settlement. Benjamin Sumner Welles, an influential diplomat and close friend to President Franklin Roosevelt, was appointed U.S. Ambassador in Havana.  But pragmatic solutions were not options to a nation caught in a fiercely emotional political struggle and pulled by an intense nationalistic feeling.  The island was ripe for dramatic social and political change.
 
The end of the dictator was ignited by a minor labor dispute.  On July 25, 1933, Havana bus drivers went on strike protesting a municipal tax increase.  The strike turned into a political confrontation that escalated when streetcars operators (tranvias) and taxi drivers joined the protest.  Capital transportation came to a halt.  By August 1, it had spread to other labor sectors and grown into a general strike.
 
Machado called for a meeting with the communists perceived by the dictator to be the leaders of the strikes.  Machado offered them legal recognition and state support.  Rubén Martínez Villena, and Joaquín Ordoqui met with Machado and accepted the offer. The communists called off the strike but failed.  It turned out to be the agreement of the impotent, since neither party had the strength to control the mounting crisis.
 
On August 6, rumors that Machado had resigned swept the capital.  Thousands of people went out to celebrate and were gunned down by the police.  Twenty-two were killed and more than seventy wounded.
 
On August 12, trying to promote a peaceful transition of power, the Army requested Machado’s resignation and the dictator fled to the Bahamas.  
 
With the news of Machado’s departure, the people went wild with enthusiasm, but the economy was prostrated, and members of the revolutionary organizations roamed the streets with weapons in hand.  Army morale was low with officers’ future uncertain and afraid to restore order.  The old political parties were discredited, and a new era of social justice and national sovereignty was dawning.  The fall of Machado had unleashed the 1933 Revolution.

* Pedro Roig is Executive Director of the Cuban Studies Institute. Roig is an attorney and historian that has written several books, including the Death of a Dream: A History of Cuba. He is a veteran of the Brigade 2506.

https://cubanstudiesinstitute.us/this-day-in-cuban-history/this-day-in-cuban-history-august-12-1933-machados-downfall/

The Miami Herald, Mon, Feb. 26, 2007

MARIO CHANES DE ARMAS, 80

Funeral today for former Cuban political prisoner

A one-time comrade of Fidel Castro and former Cuban political prisoner will be buried Tuesday in Miami after suffering a heart attack.

BY WILFREDO CANCIO ISLA
El Nuevo Herald

Mario Chanes de Armas, the Cuban political prisoner who served the longest sentence in modern times and symbolized the struggle for civic freedom in 20th century Cuba, will be remembered today with a funeral service in Miami.

Chanes, 80, who suffered a fatal heart attack Saturday, spent his life in prison and in exile, but no adversity convinced him to halt his quest for a democratic future for his homeland.

Certainly not during the 30 years he spent in prison for opposing the regime of Fidel Castro, his comrade-in-arms during the failed raid on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba in 1953.

In the past two years, Chanes’ health deteriorated rapidly as a consequence of Alzheimer’s disease. His memory failed, and in 2005, he was admitted into an assisted living facility in Hialeah.

Chanes died at Hialeah Hospital, where he had been taken in serious condition. His closest relatives were at his bedside.

”He died with the serenity and peace that accompanied him his whole life through,” said his sister, Belén López. `He was a marvelous and kind man, willing to help everybody in exchange for nothing, a man of an earlier era.”

THE EARLY YEARS

Born in the Marianao neighborhood of Havana on Oct. 25, 1926, Chanes took up commerce after graduating from high school.

Because of his leadership abilities, he soon became a labor leader in the Havana areas of Puentes Grandes and Ceiba and later extended his influence as an organizer to other provinces.

He was on his way to becoming an influential figure in Cuban labor circles, when the military coup of March 10, 1952, led by Gen. Fulgencio Batista, forced him to reassess his future.

Chanes gave up his labor work and joined the underground, where he conspired against Batista. That is where he met Fidel Castro, during a meeting with young people opposed to Batista’s regime.

”A dear friend of ours, photographer Fernando Chenard Piña, knew a gentleman named Fidel Castro Ruz, and we began to meet in a house at 109 Prado in Havana,” Chanes recalled during a long interview with El Nuevo Herald in 2003.

Along with Chenard, Chanes became chief of the secret cells that trained young men in the use of firearms, in preparation for the raid on the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953. Chanes drove in the third car behind Castro and was wounded in the hand before retreating.

Captured days later outside Santiago de Cuba, he was tried and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, but he was released in 1955 in a general amnesty to the raiders. He then moved to Miami and worked here as a dishwasher.

CASTRO CALLS

Not long thereafter, Castro summoned him from Mexico and asked him to join the expeditionaries aboard the yacht Granma. Chanes did not hesitate to take up arms again. On Dec. 2, 1956, he and 81 other rebels landed on the eastern coast of Cuba.

After the failed landing, Chanes managed to reach Havana, where he directed sabotage teams. He was arrested again, and was in prison when the revolution triumphed, on Jan. 1, 1959.

Chanes became disenchanted by the shift in the revolutionary process toward communism and tried to pull away from the circles of power.

On July 17, 1961, he was arrested on charges of conspiring to assassinate Castro and sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment. He always maintained that the charges were fabricated, pointing out that no weapons or compromising documents were ever found in his possession.

`A PLANTADO’

Refusing to accept the routine in prison or even wear prison garb, Chanes identified himself as a plantado — a disobedient inmate — until July 16, 1991, when he was released.

Chanes found exile in Miami in 1993.

He went on to became a tireless activist for the release of Cuban political prisoners and called for the democratization of Cuba at numerous international conferences. Until 2003, Chanes worked actively in the group Plantados, along with other well-known former political prisoners with whom he served time in Cuban prisons.

Chanes took up the banner of peaceful reconciliation among Cubans and vigorously supported all activists who practiced domestic opposition on the island.

Chanes is survived in Miami by his sisters Belén, Mercedes, Aleida and Merceditas. His son, Mario, died in 1984.

Visiting will begin at 5 p.m. today at the Bernardo Garcia Funeral Home, 4100 NW Seventh St., Miami. Burial has been set for Tuesday.

Miami Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report.

https://www.latinamericanstudies.org/moncada/chanes-obit.htm

Tampa Bay Times, July 26, 2003

“It’s like I never existed’

By DAVID ADAMS

Published July 26, 2003|Updated Sept. 1, 2005

He was once a hero of the Cuban revolution, but today most of his countrymen have never heard of Mario Chanes de Armas. That’s because his deeds at Fidel Castro’s side were not just forgotten, but literally erased from the pages of Cuban history.

After the revolution, Chanes de Armas abandoned the movement because he says he opposed Castro’s communist path. That not only earned him three decades in prison, but he also was airbrushed from photos that showed him with Castro.

“It’s like I never existed,” Chanes de Armas, 76, said.

Today, Cuba marks the 50th anniversary of the ill-fated attack on the Moncada barracks that launched the revolution. Analysts say Chanes de Armas’ experience is typical of the way Castro has dealt with his domestic rivals and enemies over the years. While the dictator has chosen not to build a personality cult around himself _ there are no statues, monuments or streets named after him _ Cuba has systematically demolished any reference to those who have gotten in his way.

With a few notorious exceptions, Castro hasn’t physically eliminated his enemies. Instead he makes sure they are never heard of again.

Human rights activists say that Castro became a harsher jailer than his predecessor, dictator Fulgencio Batista. Under Batista, political prisoners were held apart from the common prison population. In fact, after Moncada, Castro and other rebels served prison time in one of Cuba’s newest jails.

Today’s political dissidents, including the 75 who were tried and jailed earlier this year, share wards with some of Cuba’s most violent criminals.

“I have no reason to expect that Fidel Castro will show his political prisoners the magnanimity that he himself benefited from 50 years ago, or that he too will give them amnesty,” another Moncada prisoner, Gustavo Arcos, 76, wrote from Cuba in the New York Times on Friday. “I hope to be proved wrong. It would be the only fitting way to mark the anniversary.”

Castro is expected to speak today at a ceremony in the eastern city of Santiago, where the Moncada attack took place in the early hours of July 26, 1953.

Castro was joined by some 160 rebels, about 80 of whom were killed or captured. Castro was sentenced to 15 years, and Chanes de Armas received 10 years.

Castro and 25 other Moncada rebels were sent to Cuba’s model prison on the Isle of Pines, a new jail off the south coast, modeled on the Joliet facility in Illinois.

“I accepted responsibility for my acts. After all, blood was spilled,” said Chanes de Armas.

Castro never did. In a famous speech answering the charges against him, Castro declared, “History will absolve me.”

Just to be sure, he also rewrote it.

After 22 months in jail, the rebels were given amnesty by Batista. A photograph shows a group of men, led by Castro, leaving the prison administration building carrying suitcases. Among them is Chanes de Armas, to Castro’s left. But in the official Cuban photos of that day, Chanes de Armas’ image was brushed out.

After his release, Castro decided it was too dangerous to remain in Cuba. To prepare for the next step of the revolution Castro traveled to Mexico. Chanes de Armas followed him. Batista’s days were numbered. Despite the failure of the Moncada attack, it had inspired a clandestine urban force known as the “26 July Movement” that led resistance to the regime.

In November 1956, Castro and Chanes de Armas and 80 other revolutionaries tried again to topple Batista and landed by boat on Cuba’s southeast coast. They were surprised by Batista’s troops. Castro and a handful of men escaped to the mountains. Chanes de Armas fled to Havana, where he adopted a false identity and linked up with the 26 July Movement.

He was arrested again in October 1958 on a smuggling run to the Florida Keys to pick up a load of dynamite.

But two months later Batista fled and the revolution had triumphed. Castro’s rebel army marched into Havana, and Chanes de Armas was released from jail.

Despite his elevated status after the revolution, Chanes de Armas turned down offers of an official job. He says he abandoned politics to work in a brewery with his father and brother.

“We had what we always wanted _ a free country,” he said.

Soon after Chanes de Armas discovered that communists were taking over. “That was never our plan,” he said.

He now believes the revolutionary cause for which he fought was hijacked. He says that Castro, not originally a communist, was only able to take power thanks to backing from the Soviet Union.

Back in the 1950s, he said, discussions between Castro and the other conspirators were always focused on democracy.

“I used to meet once a week with Castro for training and tactical sessions,” he said. “In those days he wasn’t a communist. He adopted that later.”

In February 1961 Chanes married his wife, Caridad. But he was already conspiring again, this time against Castro.

In July he was arrested and accused of subversion. A good marksman, Chanes de Armas had been sought out by Castro’s opponents as a hit man. But the plot was betrayed before serious plans were laid.

“I was innocent,” he said. “There were people I knew who were conspiring to kill him, but I was not involved.”

This time his sentence was 30 years. After six months in jail he learned that his wife was pregnant. His son was named Mario, after his father.

Chanes de Armas insisted that his wife forget about him. He instructed her to find another man better able to take care of their son and told her not to bring the boy to visit him.

In jail Chanes de Armas refused to accept the blue prison uniform of common criminals, or a communist rehabilitation program. He led what were known as the “plantados,” meaning those who refused to budge. Punished with solitary confinement, they were forced to wear only their underwear.

Chanes de Armas was permitted to attend the funeral of his father in 1971 and his mother in 1979. But when his son died at age 22 in 1984 from glandular fever prison officials told him he could only attend the funeral if he dropped his resistance to prison rules. He refused.

He eventually walked free in July 1991, one day short of the end of his 30-year sentence. He had been jailed three years longer than former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Cuba’s state media made almost no mention of his release. A press statement was issued stating that it was no act of mercy and that he had simply done his time.

He then remarried his wife. In 1993 they were allowed to leave Cuba to join Chanes de Armas’ four sisters in Miami.

These days he avoids political discussions about the rights and wrongs of the revolution. Instead he does volunteer work on behalf of Cuban political prisoners.

Like Castro _ they are both 76 _ he watches his health. He notes the Cuban leader hasn’t looked too well lately. Indeed, Castro’s Moncada speech has been pushed back to 7:30 p.m. to avoid the heat of the day. Castro fainted during a speech two years ago, prompting questions about his health.

Chanes de Armas is philosophical about his misfortunes, saying he bears no bitterness: “I don’t have feelings of hatred, or vengeance. Vengeance is for cowards.”

https://www.tampabay.com/archive/2003/07/26/it-s-like-i-never-existed/

AFL-CIO News, January 7, 1991

VOLUME 36, NUMBER 1 JANUARY 7, 1991

Joined by Cuban trade unionists, AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland lays wreath at memorial of Jose Marti in Miami.

By Michael Byrne Bal Harbour, Fla .

Armed with specific new evidence of Fidel Castro’s continued abuse of human and worker rights in Cuba, the AFL-CIO pledged to join in an international campaign to end his brutal regime. Pointing out that “the collapse of the Soviet bloc has knocked the props from under the inefficient Cuban economy,” the Executive Council predicted that Castro’s “reckless, cruel and murderous tenure over the people of Cuba (is) coming to an end.”

‘ ‘At this time of democratic possibility … the AFL-CIO looks forward to the day when the working people will take to the streets of Havana in celebrations that rival those we have witnessed in Prague, Budapest, Gdansk and Berlin,” the council said in a statement.

Accepting the report of the federation’s Labor Committee for a Free Cuba, which has spent the past six months documenting worker rights abuses in Cuba, the council pledged a series of concerted actions that “together with the struggle of the Cuban people can lead to Castro’s fall from power, and the establishment of democracy.”

The AFL-CIO designating Feb. 21 as “Free Cuba Day,” with various activities that highlighted Castro’s tyranny while celebrating the resiliency of the Cuban people and demonstrating solidarity with the many Cuban expatriates and freedom-fighters now living in the Miami area.

After the council action, the federation held a luncheon to honor two Cuban trade unionists — Mario Chanes de Armas and Ernesto Diaz Rodriquez — who have been imprisoned since the 1960s.

Later in the day, AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland laid a wreath at the monument of Jose Marti, “Cuba’s George Washington,” and AFL-CIO Vice President John DeConcini, chairman of the Free Cuba committee, hosted a reception honoring Cuban community and labor activists.

Kirkland, addressing the luncheon, said the AFL-CIO will pursue its campaign for a free Cuba through the international labor movement and through diplomatic channels. “We will organize and agitate for democratic elections, freedom of association for workers and full amnesty for the 30,000 political prisoners now being held in Cuba’s jails,” Kirkland said.

DeConcini and the Cuba committee held three regional meetings last year to hear testimony on the conditions in Cuba. DeConcini, president of the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers, also introduced members of the committee to the AFL-CIO Executive Council, which named Mike Ruano of the Ladies’ Garment Workers as the twelfth member of the committee.

The committee has compiled a 30-page report on worker rights abuses in Cuba that will be presented to the International Labor Organization in Geneva later this year. Last year, it called attention to the plight of Chanes and Diaz by attempting to deliver to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington letters from trade unionists around the country, protesting their political imprisonment. “

The committee has arranged four radio interviews with Eastern European trade unionists to be broadcast into Cuba,” DeConcini reported. “Ultimately, the committee seeks to provide direct assistance to workers inside Cuba who wish to build democracy and free trade unions.”

Kirkland told the luncheon gathering that “Cuba has become one of the world’s worst places to work — a place of abusive and degrading working conditions, forced labor thinly disguised as ‘volunteerism,’ religious and ideological discrimination at the workplace, and relentless pressures to produce more for the glory of the state.

“In order to enforce its directives, the Castro regime has devised an Orwellian scheme of ‘merits’ and ‘demerits’ for individual workers — all neatly recorded in personal dossiers that follow them through their lives,” Kirkland said. In its report to the council, the Cuba committee said its fact-finding revealed that Cuban trade unions function as instruments of the Communist Party and the Castro regime, working with the government to set production quotas.

“When quotas are not met, workers must labor extra hours without pay,” the committee reported. ‘The official trade unions then dispense permits for housing and consumer goods based upon a workers ‘integration into the Revolution,’ including willingness to perform ‘voluntary’ labor.”

One witness told the committee that he was aware of three occasions in which workers bypassed the official trade union to seek redress of their grievances, establishing independent committees to represent them. “These informal groups were quickly dismantled by the official unions and state security police,” the panel said.

The hope for Cuba, the council said, lies in the strength of its working people. “To this end, we will foster communication and contact between Cuban workers and trade unionists in the United States and elsewhere in order to share ideas and resources for the transition to democracy.”

https://archive.org/stream/mdu-labor-040708/labor-040708_djvu.txt

Amnesty International, April 1964

PRISONER OF THE MONTH
DAVID SALVADOR (CUBA)

(Jailed by Batista, now a prisoner of Castro)

David Salvador was born in Ciego de Avila in August 1923, of a working-class family. At an early age he became convinced that only socialism and nationalism could free Cuba’s peasants from their perennial poverty.

At the age of twenty-two he made a radio speech in which he accused the Communists of betraying the workers. Subsequently, an un-successful assassination attempt was made against him.

Salvador became associated with the Cuban People’s Party which was almost assured of winning the 1952 election, but on the 10th of March that year Batista staged his coup d’etat, and set up a second dictatorship.

Salvador immediately set up an underground resistance against Batista which was to last seven years.

When Fidel Castro made his attack on Moncada barracks on the 26th of July, 1953, Salvador began to make contact with Fidelistas, and he became one of the founders of the 26th of July Movement in Cuba.

Soon he took over as the leader of revolutionary  labour throughout Cuba, a position which he held until 1960. On October 18th, 1958, Salvador was arrested by the Batista police in Havana.

He was released when the revolution triumphed on January 1st, 1959, and he became the secretary-general of the revolutionary CTC.

But by September 1959, people began to question why so many 26th of July leaders were being replaced by Communists. The purge of leaders had begun.

Salvador complained about what was happening, and in March 1960, he resigned as secretary-general.

On the 5th of November, 1960, just two years after he had been arrested by Batista’s police, Salvador was arrested by Castro’s police.

He was sent to La Cabana prison for political prisoners where the living conditions are inhuman, and the guards frequently brutal.

His collar bone was broken by the butt of a guard’s rifle.

David Salvador was still the elected leader of 1,200,000 Cuban workers during his first year of imprisonment, but he remains in La Cabana serving a thirty-year sentence for his loyalty to the cause of the Cuban revolution.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/nws210151964en.pdf