Labor Leaders for Cuban Freedom

Friday, June 19, 2009
Geneva, Switzerland, (Committee for Free Trade Unionism) - Hearing an impassioned account of the depth of repression inside Cuba's prisons, former political and trade union prisoner Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, leader of the banned independent trade union movement the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers (CUTC) called for the release of all political and trade union prisoners in Cuba.
The forum sponsored by the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers, Solidarnosc and the Committee for Free Trade Unionism brought together an international group of worker delegates to the ILO, human rights advocates, journalists, influential leaders and observers to discuss the current labor situation and the prospects for change on the island nation long throttled by political repression.
"Hundreds of political prisoners are today in inhumane Cuban prisons designed by the dictatorial regime in Havana to silence the truth. In this cruel and systematic manner, the regime deprives these men and women, without any respect for their personal dignity, of their most sacred rights, and the freedom to express their thoughts.  For five years, I experienced with these men and women the abuses and violence committed every day by the Cuban government," said Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, the exiled Secretary General of the United Federation of Cuban Workers (CUTC).
He continued, "As one of those arrested and subsequently incarcerated, I witnessed and suffered alongside the other victims of those terrible acts, which were perpetrated against human rights activists, journalists, union members and political party members who supported and still support the new civil society emerging in our country."
In a new report on labor violations released by the International Group for Corporate Social Responsibility (GIRSCC), Joel Brito, Executive Director of the group described the current level of repression and how the Cuban government continues to deliberately shut down efforts by independent worker groups to organize freely.  "These are clear violations of all ILO Conventions and standards and Cuba has violated all of them repeatedly with impunity." 
"We want to fight for the legalization of independent trade unions in Cuba in accordance with international labor standards, its time to stand up for Cuban workers who want free trade unions --- they should not be jailed," noted Manuel Cova, General Secretary of the Confederation of Workers of Venezuela.

The report noted that despite the fact that Cuban workers find themselves without any true labor or political representation, the government continues to pursue independent unionists and to deny the creation of independent unions without ties to the CTC, the government's official representative. 
"There are many independent labor unions in Cuba that have solicited the legalization of their organizations before the corresponding authorities, however none of these organizations have ever received a reply," noted Brito.
"We know from our communications with worker activists and their families on the island that the Castro regime continues to harass and imprison those who dare to speak up and speak out," said Thomas R. Donahue, the former president of the AFL-CIO and chairman of the Committee for Free Trade Unionism.
"We are proud to support their struggle for freedom of association, a basic right."

Tom Donahue, Chairman of the Committee for Free Trade Unionism discussed the most egregious labor violations orchestrated by the Cuban government discussed at the forum focusing on a recent historic decision by a U.S. District Court at the end of 2008 to award $80 million to three Cuban workers who were victims of a Cuban forced labor scheme operating in Curacao, the Netherland Antilles. 
"Forced labor is not a crime according to Cuban law.  Cuban statutes permit it.  The result is that the state has absolute power to compel labor from its citizens, and that is what happened in the case of the Cuban workers in Curacao.  They were sent to Curacao, but held captive there at the drydock, and the Cuban government got paid for their work.  It was essentially an outpost of the Cuban forced labor system and funneled millions of dollars to the Cuban government and we want the ILO and other democratic countries to lead an effort to put an end to these practices," Donahue said.

"I want to ask for support of all democratic unions here at the ILO that care about freedom for all workers in Cuba and our international campaign is demanding their freedom," noted Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos.