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Vol. 78/No. 20       May 26, 2014

Prison art event in San Francisco
draws new forces to back Cuban 5
(front page)
SAN FRANCISCO — A showing of Antonio Guerrero’s “I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived” prison paintings here May 4 drew together people from the working-class and historically African-American Bayview neighborhood, fighters for rights of immigrants and prisoners, unionists and students to learn about the U.S. government’s frame-up of the Cuban Five and the international fight to free them.

Guerrero’s 15 watercolors tell the story of the first months the Cuban Five spent in the “hole” in Miami’s Federal Detention Center, awaiting trial on trumped-up charges that included conspiracy to commit espionage. (See “Who Are the Cuban Five below.)

Welcomed by Beverly Hayes, branch manager of the Bayview library, which sponsored the meeting, the crowd overflowed the library’s community room. More than 80 people attended the event, which included a panel of speakers.

“I have two children in prison,” Guillermina Castellanos, a leader of La Colectiva de Mujeres, an organization of home cleaners and caregivers, told the crowd. She wanted to be part of the event, she said, “to focus attention on the broken prison system and to fight for our Cuban brothers.”

“The fight for the rights of immigrants is my life,” Castellanos said. “When I was in Washington, D.C., as part of a two-day hunger strike, I was struck by how many children are on the verge of being deported, traumatized psychologically, in tears because of their experiences. They are criminalizing our husbands, deporting them for minor traffic infractions.”

Referring to a video of interviews with wives of the Cuban Five that was recently shown at a meeting of La Colectiva de Mujeres, Castellanos said, “We were impacted by the courage and strength of these women. Immigrant families know what the case of the Cuban Five is about.”

Tamika Chenier, program director of the African American Art and Culture Complex, said that after reading about the Five in the book Voices From Prison: The Cuban Five and elsewhere, she was “inspired by their solidarity, their willingness after so many years to never give up.” At the art center, “we teach the importance of telling your story through art,” she said. “The stories behind these images have so much meaning. We must encourage people to read more about the case and organize more exhibits of the watercolors.

“During their 15 years in jail the Five have become part of the struggles waged by workers caught up in the prison system here in the U.S., said Betsey Stone, a member of the Socialist Workers Party who has covered for the Militant the recent hunger strikes by prisoners in California against solitary confinement and other abuses. “Many might wonder what the title of this exhibit means, ‘I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived.’ The Five are products of the Cuban Revolution, and they are saying they will remain what they have been — revolutionaries.”

“We need to believe in the union, like the Cuban Five believe in each other,” said Richard Kuan, an organizer for UNITE HERE Local 2. “The Cuban Five stick together. They know they were wrongfully convicted and know that they can last one day longer than the authorities.”

Jose Guerra, a janitor and member of Service Employees International Union Local 87, said after the meeting that he liked the link the speakers made between the immigration system and the Cuban Five. “In our union, 800 people were taken out of work by ‘E-Verify’ two years ago.”

Several students came from Skyline College with their Spanish teacher. “The U.S. court system is becoming more and more conservative — like the secret courts,” said David Latt, 20, a student from Myanmar.

“I feel that here, today, we are seeing the truth,” Luis Ortiz, 29, a warehouse worker, told the Militant. “The media and newspapers don’t tell us the truth about what’s going on. This exhibit is good. People need to stand up.”
Related articles:
Who are the Cuban Five?
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