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Vol. 78/No. 24      June 23, 2014

(front page)
Hundreds gather in DC for
3rd ‘5 Days for the Cuban 5’
Militant/Osborne Hart
June 7 march and rally in Washington, D.C., called for freedom for Cuban Five.

WASHINGTON, June 8 — Several hundred people from more than 30 countries converged here in early June for a week of activities demanding the release of three Cuban revolutionaries, who remain behind bars after nearly 16 years, framed up and imprisoned by the U.S. government.

The “5 Days for the Cuban 5” was organized by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 and supported by groups across the U.S. and around the world. Events began with a June 4 press conference and included a two-day conference, a rally in front of the White House, a concert by the hip-hop group Dead Prez, and two days of lobbying visits to members of Congress by parliamentarians from Latin America and Europe.

In recorded messages, René González and Fernando González — two of the Five now back home in Cuba after completing their entire sentences, some 15 years in U.S. custody in each case — urged conference participants to broaden the campaign to free their three brothers: Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero (see “Who Are the Cuban Five,” below). Guerrero also sent greetings on behalf of the Five from the federal prison in Marianna, Florida.

Some 200 people from 31 countries registered for the June 5-6 conference, organizers said. Most have long been working to win release of the Five. Participants came from a number of U.S. cities, as well as several dozen from Europe and Latin America, including a number of parliamentary deputies and government officials. The largest delegation was a group of mayors and legislators from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, the governing party of El Salvador.

Speaking on conference panels were numerous lawyers, authors, professors, Democratic Party figures, artists and retired military personnel. Prominent religious figures included Rev. John McCullough, president of Church World Service; Rev. Graylan Hagler of the United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C.; and Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, former general secretary of the National Council of Churches. The conference was held at the downtown Calvary Baptist Church.

The honor of generations

José Ramón Cabañas, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, addressed the opening session. Recounting a visit to Fernando González a few days before his release last February, Cabañas said Fernando told him that while his body had been behind bars, “my soul, my spirit, my principles were never in prison.”

“Their will was never broken, not even in isolation cells and separated from their families,” Cabañas said about the Five. “They represent the honor of several generations of Cubans born during the revolution.”

Rev. Joan Brown Campbell and actor Danny Glover, who has visited Hernández in prison numerous times, also spoke at the opening session.

Panel topics included “Prospects for U.S.-Cuba Relations,” “History of Terrorism against Cuba and the Case of the Cuban Five,” “Books Dispelling Misinformation Against Cuba” and a legal update on the case.

A highlight of the two-day gathering was the intervention of Rafael Cancel Miranda, a longtime leader of the Puerto Rican independence struggle, who pointed to the example of the Cuban Revolution for those fighting against imperialist oppression and exploitation worldwide. Cancel Miranda himself spent more than 27 years in U.S. prisons for his actions protesting U.S. colonial domination of Puerto Rico. He spoke about the history of resistance to U.S. rule and the growing campaign today to free independence fighter Oscar López.

The legal battlefront

Martin Garbus, lead attorney for the Five, described the harsh conditions Gerardo Hernández has been subjected to in the maximum-security prison in Victorville, California, where he is serving a double life sentence on frame-up charges of conspiracy to engage in espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. Garbus noted the “extraordinary demeanor” and inner strength of Hernández, and the respect he has earned from fellow prisoners and even some guards.

Garbus outlined the habeas corpus appeal currently pending before the federal court in Miami. The appeal is based in part on evidence, which came to light following the conviction of the Five, that several Miami reporters, whose articles helped fuel bias against them during their trial, were receiving payments from a government agency.

Joining Garbus on that panel were Rafael Anglada López, a Puerto Rican independence fighter and longtime member of the Cuban Five defense team, and Peter Schey, director of the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.

The conference took place under a banner that proclaimed “A New Era in U.S.-Cuba Relations.” Numerous speakers addressed why, in their opinion, the second term of the administration of President Barack Obama represented such a turning point.

“A new window has opened,” said Alicia Jrapko, coordinator of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, in her opening remarks. “We have to seize the moment now, before it closes, and ask the Obama administration to find a humanitarian solution and end the injustice” against the Five.

“We have to have the president’s back,” said Mavis Anderson, a senior associate of the Latin America Working Group, a congressional lobbying organization. “Only Obama can do something. He can free Hernández, Labañino, and Guerrero by signing an executive order.”

Tom Hayden, former Democratic state senator in California and director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center, most clearly put forward the argument that winning the freedom of the Five can only be achieved through electoral gains for the Democratic Party.

“Normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba is already underway,” Hayden said, referring to the conference banner. “It is taking place secretly and there is a deadline. Three years from now, neither Barack Obama nor Raúl Castro will be in office.”

In that period of time, a “principled accommodation” can be reached between the two governments, he said, “one that will end with a big opening to capitalism — let’s say it out loud.”

Hayden pointed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce delegation that had just returned from Cuba. “We are in an alliance with the Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “They want an end to the travel ban and the opening of trade.” Hayden ended by saying there are no guarantees and that this “historic opening” could be lost if any one of three things happens: “One, time runs out. Two, they succeed in destabilizing and overthrowing the Venezuelan government. Three, we lose the Senate to the Republicans in November.”

The next day Ignacio Ramonet, Spanish author and former editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, who spoke at the closing plenary session, echoed the political course advanced by Hayden from a different angle.

Ramonet pointed to the economic steps the Cuban government has been obliged to take in the last several years to obtain much needed investment in basic infrastructure. “Change is underway in Cuba,” he said. “It is becoming more like Venezuela and Bolivia.” Citing other capitalist countries of the region, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile, Ramonet added that “what is needed is for Cuba to get in step with the progressive countries” of Latin America.

Alan Gross and the Cuban Five

Numerous speakers took up the case of Alan Gross — a U.S. government contract agent serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for his role in a covert program to undermine the Cuban government — and argued that the defense campaign should focus on appealing to the White House to release the three imprisoned members of the Cuban Five in exchange for Gross.

Wayne Smith, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, both pointed to the Obama administration’s recent prisoner swap of five Taliban leaders for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, saying it set a good precedent for an exchange of Gross for Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero.

Tom Hayden, who was on the panel with Smith and Wilkerson, argued the opposite. The administration’s political bungling of the U.S.-Taliban prisoner deal, he said, meant they were less likely, not more, to consider trading Gross for the remaining Cuban Five.

Saturday’s rally at the White House and march to the Justice Department was joined by many who had been unable to take time off work to attend weekday activities that were part of the “5 Days for the Cuban 5.”

The spirited rally was joined by many who came from the Washington area as well as a busload of about 50 from New York and some 20 from Miami organized by Alianza Martiana, a Cuban-American group that opposes the U.S. embargo. Defenders of the Five came from Philadelphia and other cities as well.

Several from New York had decided to attend the rally after seeing a recent showing of prison paintings by Antonio Guerrero at the Jackie Robinson Community Center in Manhattan. Triessy Nelson, 30, a hair stylist, came with her daughter in a stroller. “That was the first time I heard about the Cuban Five. I was inspired and wanted to do more. They need to be set free,” she said.

Several Latin American parliamentary deputies, Cancel Miranda and others gave brief remarks at the rally.
Related articles:
Who are the Cuban Five?
‘Cuban Five are fighters – in and out of prison – I like that’
Antonio Guerrero’s paintings exhibited in Philadelphia
Exhibits of paintings by Antonio Guerrero
Supporters of Cuba join debates at LASA conference
NY Puerto Rican Day wins support to free Oscar López
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