back the Cuban Five
Steelworkers host meeting in Toronto
Event in solidarity with Cuban Five at United Steelworkers hall in Toronto August 8. From left to right: Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party in Canada; Olga Salanueva, wife of Cuban Five prisoner René González; Adriana Pérez, wife of Cuban Five prisoner Gerardo Hernández; and Irma González, daughter of René González.
BY ROSEMARY RAY
TORONTOSome 150 people filled the United Steelworkers hall here August 8 at a solidarity event for five Cuban revolutionaries imprisoned in the United States for nearly 12 years. The event was hosted by the United Steelworkers of Canada; Workers Uniting, an association of United Steelworkers in Canada and the United States and the Unite union in the United Kingdom and Ireland; Worker to Worker Canada-Cuba; and the Toronto Forum on Cuba. Speakers on the panel described the growing international movement calling for their release. The featured speakers of the evening were three family members of the five Cubans in U.S. jails.
Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, René González, Antonio Guerrero, and Fernando González were arrested in September 1998. Since then, they have been unjustly held in U.S. prisons on a variety of trumped-up charges of which they were convicted in June 2001 and given draconian sentences. Charges include both acting as an unregistered foreign agent and conspiracy to do so, the use of fraudulent identities and documentation, and conspiracy to commit espionage. Hernández was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder, for which he was given one of his two life sentences.
Known internationally as the Cuban Five, they had been gathering information on right-wing Cuban exile groups in Florida that had a history of carrying out violent attacks against Cuba.
Hernández was recently held in the hole at the U.S. maximum security penitentiary in Victorville, California, for 13 days in atrocious conditions. He was put in the tiny cell just one day after doctors said he needed medical treatment. The cell had no air conditioning and poor air circulation as outside temperatures reached more than 100 degrees.
Adriana Pérez, who is married to Hernández, told the crowd he would have been held there in inhumane conditions indefinitely if it had not been for the international protests that forced the prison authorities to release him back into the general prison population August 3.
The U.S. government has refused to allow Pérez to visit Hernández since his imprisonment. In 2002, after being granted a visa and flying to Houston, she was stopped, detained, and interrogated for 11 hours, and forced to return to Cuba.
Olga Salanueva also spoke. She has not seen her husband René González since August 2000, when she was arrested in Miami and taken to see him on her way to jail. By arresting Salanueva the cops hoped to pressure González into signing a confession and testifying against the other defendants. He refused.
Salanueva was jailed for three months and deported six days before the trial of the five began. In July 2008, officials at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana told Salanueva she is permanently ineligible for a visa.
Irma González, the daughter of Salanueva and René González, also spoke.
Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, the largest union in the United Kingdom, said it was scandalous that Salanueva and Pérez have been denied visas to visit their husbands for the 12 years they have been held in jail. We need to raise the game to get the Cuban Five freed, he said. Woodley was introduced by Andrew Stern, president emeritus of the Service Employees International Union.
Ken Neumann, national director of the United Steelworkers of Canada, said that it was a joint priority of the Steelworkers and Unite to win the release of the Cuban Five.
Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada, pledged his support to the families and said the NDP commits itself to raising consciousness about the Cuban Five.
On September 12 the Toronto Forum on Cuba will host another solidarity event called 12 Years of Injustice: Free the Cuban Five, which will include family members of the five, lawyer Leonard Weinglass, and, via live broadcast from Puerto Rico, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Puerto Rican independence fighter who spent 27 years in U.S. prisons. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on this event.
Seth Galinsky contributed to this article
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