The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 77/No. 23      June 17, 2013

(front page)
 Fight to free Cuban 5 pressed at
week of activities in Washington

Militant/Seth Galinsky
White House rally June 1 demands freedom for Cuban Five. “We need to reach the American people,” said René González from Cuba during week of activity in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — A week of activities here to advance the international campaign to free five Cuban revolutionaries held in U.S. prisons drew hundreds of participants from the United States, Canada and several countries in Europe and Latin America. In addition to a June 1 rally of 250 in front of the White House, the “Five Days for the Cuban Five” included panel discussions, workshops, cultural events and lobbying.

“We need to reach the American people, and that is the importance of these events,” René González told an opening press conference May 30. González, one of the Five, spoke via Internet from Havana. Having won his battle to return to Cuba in May, he continues to fight to free his four comrades, who are serving sentences from 17 years and nine months to a double life term plus 15 years. (See “Who Are The Cuban Five?” below.)

“The American people have been denied knowledge” about the trial and frame-up, González noted. He emphasized the need to win broad support — a “jury of millions” — in the political fight to free the Cuban revolutionaries.

Despite the U.S. government’s efforts to isolate and break them over the past 15 years, González said, the long stints of solitary confinement and other abuses meted out to the Five in federal prison have “made us stronger.” And “the political nature of the case helped us with the general prison population,” he said. They have “a lot of respect for us.”

The press conference was chaired by Alicia Jrapko, coordinator of the International Committee to Free the Cuban Five. Also making remarks were journalist Ignacio Ramonet, former editor of Le Monde Diplomatique; Wayne Smith, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana during the James Carter administration; and Dolores Huerta, a founder of the United Farm Workers.

Cuban Five in Angola
That evening more than 100 people participated in a panel discussion on the “Role of Cuba in Africa and the Cuban Five in Angola,” held at the Howard University Hospital auditorium.

Three of the Five — René González, Fernando González and Gerardo Hernández — were among 375,000 Cuban volunteer combatants who between 1975 and 1991 helped the newly independent nation of Angola defeat invasions by the white-supremacist regime in South Africa, with U.S. backing. That internationalist mission was key in forging the generations of Cuban revolutionaries the Five are part of.

The event was opened by Howard University students Daina Lawes, speaking on behalf of students and faculty in the Political Science department, and Nishaun Battle from Students Against Mass Incarceration. Eugene Puryear, a leader of the ANSWER coalition and 2008 vice presidential candidate of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, gave brief remarks and introduced the panel. The featured speakers were Alberto do Carmo Bento Ribeiro, Angola’s ambassador to the U.S; José Ramón Cabañas, chief of the Cuban Interests Section; Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report; and Mary-Alice Waters, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party and president of Pathfinder Press.

Ford noted Cuba’s record of internationalist aid to Africa, from the column of Cuban fighters led by Ernesto Che Guevara that joined the liberation struggle in the Congo in 1965 to the tens of thousands of Cuban doctors, teachers and other volunteers working throughout Africa today. The shared historical and cultural legacy of Cubans and Africans, he said, was underscored by the name the Cuban government gave the Angola mission — “Operation Carlota,” after a Cuban slave who was executed for leading a rebellion in 1843.

Angolan Ambassador Bento Ribeiro said Cuba’s support was decisive to preserving Angola’s independence. It also led to the independence of Namibia, he said, and gave impetus to the mass struggle that won Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and overturned apartheid in South Africa.

“We had powerful enemies,” Bento Ribeiro said. In 1975 forces backed by Zairean President Sese Seko Mobutu, “a puppet of the Americans and an instrument of its policies,” invaded Angola from the north, while South African forces moved in from the south. Their aim was to block the government led by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola from declaring independence.

“The myth of the invincibility of the apartheid regime was definitively defeated” in the victory of Cuban and Angolan forces over South Africa’s army at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, the Angolan ambassador said. Expressing gratitude for Cuba’s aid he said, “My small contribution is to be here to help liberate the Cuban Five.”

The nearly 16-year internationalist mission had a deep impact in Cuba itself, said Mary-Alice Waters, noting remarks by Raúl Castro, then head of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, at a 1991 ceremony welcoming home the final volunteers.

“Without Angola we would not be as strong as we are today,” Castro told the Cuban people.

“That is the most important understanding we can take from this meeting,” Waters said. “Those not willing to fight for the freedom of others will never be able to fight for their own,” she said, quoting Fidel Castro, the longtime central leader of the Cuban Revolution.

None of the volunteers “thought we did anything special,” said Cabañas, who was himself a combatant in Angola in 1987-89. The experience René, Fernando and Gerardo had there “helped them face what they’ve been facing in jail these 15 years,” he said.

“Usually when people talk about the mission, they mention the men, but don’t forget the women,” Cabañas, added, to applause. “There were a lot of women who fought in Angola.”

During the discussion after the presentations, Waters responded to a comment from the audience about the disproportionate numbers of Blacks in U.S. prisons today. “What the Cuban Five faced through the entire ordeal,” she said, “is what millions of working people in the U.S. face — the 2.5 million who are today incarcerated, the 5 million living under one or another form of supervised release, as René was.

“There is hardly a working-class person, especially among African-Americans, who haven’t themselves been in jail, or have a family member, close friend, or coworker who has experienced the reality of the U.S. courts and prisons,” Waters said.

“When they learn the facts and see how the Five conduct themselves, they identify with them and gain respect for their integrity, steadfastness and principles,” she said. “These ordinary working people, men and women ‘from nowhere,’ whose capacities are so discounted by the powers that be — they are the ones we can count on as part of the ‘jury of millions.’”

The next evening the Cuban Interests Section hosted a reception. Among participants were parliamentarians, attorneys, artists, political activists, and others, a number of them from other countries, including Canada, Brazil, Ecuador, Cuba, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Greece.

Protest at White House
Joining the June 1 action outside the White House were two busloads from New York and dozens of demonstrators from other cities, including vanloads from Montreal and Chicago.

Speaking at the rally, Andrés Gómez, president of the Antonio Maceo Brigade, said a contingent of 38 Cuban-Americans organized by the Alianza Martiana had come from Miami to participate in the activities to free the Cuban Five.

Other speakers included Alison Bodine from Vancouver Communities in Solidarity With Cuba; Santos Crespo, president of Local 372 of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in New York; Denis Lemelin, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers; Omari Musa of the Socialist Workers Party; Gloria La Riva from the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five; Meches Rosales from the May 1 Immigrant Rights Coalition; Gilberto Villa from Casa de las Américas in New York; and Gail Walker, co-executive director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)/Pastors for Peace.

“More people have to be made aware of the injustice,” Belinda Banks, who came on a union-sponsored bus, told the Militant. “The same government that keeps the Cuban Five in jail puts hardships on families.” Banks works for the New York City school board and is a member of AFSCME Local 372.

“I wasn’t surprised our government would do a frame-up job,” said Michael De Barra, an unemployed worker from Chicago attending his first such demonstration. “I’m learning about the Five and the Cuban Revolution at the same time.”

“I went to Cuba in 2009 on vacation and there were billboards about the Five everywhere,” said Myriam Marceau, a university student from Montreal. “That’s how I first found out about them.” Marceau was active in student protests against tuition hikes in Quebec earlier this year.

The fight to free Oscar López Rivera, a fighter for Puerto Rican independence jailed in the U.S. for 32 years, “is the same as the fight for the Five,” said longtime independence supporter Rita Rodríguez.

Later that evening, nearly 300 people crowded into Saint Stephen’s Church for an event that included several religious figures and featured Angela Davis, who in the 1970s was framed up and jailed by the U.S. government when she was a leader of the Communist Party USA.

Also joining events during the Five Days for the Cuban Five were a number of participants in the annual congress of the Latin American Studies Association, held here May 29-June 1. An information booth on the defense campaign was staffed throughout the congress. Among the 4,000 people at the gathering was a delegation of more than 70 from Cuba; 12 Cubans were denied visas by the U.S. government.

Next week’s Militant will carry further coverage on the week of activities for the Cuban Five.
Related articles:
Actions in Puerto Rico, Cuba, US demand ‘Free Oscar López’
Puerto Rican political prisoner in US jails for 32 years
Raising literacy, culture of Cuba’s toilers began in Rebel Army
Who are the Cuban Five?
Chicago meeting concludes ‘32 days for 32 years’ events
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home