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Vol. 78/No. 30      August 25, 2014

‘Need to show US, world
who Cuban 5 really are’
Fellow prisoner: Ramón Labañino ‘earned
respect and helped you become a better person’
(feature article)

“I have to thank God for the time I shared with Ramón. It was an experience that left a deep impression on me.” Those were the words of Secundino Pérez as he talked to Militant reporter Róger Calero about getting to know Ramón Labañino when they were imprisoned together at the Miami Federal Detention Center (FDC) in 2009-10.

Labañino is one of the five Cuban revolutionaries arrested and framed up by the U.S. government in 1998. Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and Labañino have now been locked up for 16 years. René González and Fernando González are both back in Cuba after having completed their entire sentences. (See “Who Are the Cuban Five?” below.)

Labañino was transferred to the Miami FDC in September 2009 to await a resentencing hearing. A year earlier, an appeals court had overturned the sentences for Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González as exceeding federal guidelines. The U.S. authorities hoped to calm what a federal prosecutor called the “contentiousness” and “noise” of the international outcry against the draconian sentences imposed on each of the Five and the broad campaign for their release. Hernández, Labañino and Guerrero had all been given life without parole. At a December 2009 hearing, Labañino’s sentence on false charges of “conspiracy to gather and transmit to a foreign government information relating to national defense” was reduced from life to 30 years.

The interview with Pérez took place in Havana in two parts. The first was March 1. At the time, Pérez, who is from western Cuba, was visiting Elizabeth Palmeiro, Labañino’s wife. She put him in contact with Militant reporters who were covering the annual Havana International Book Fair as well as Fernando González’s return to Cuba. One of the books presented at the fair was Voices From Prison: The Cuban Five, published by Pathfinder Press, which includes an interview that Pérez gave Edmundo García on Miami-based Radio Progreso. The interview printed below was completed July 20.

Translation from Spanish is by the Militant.

RÓGER CALERO: Secundino, tell us a little about yourself.

SECUNDINO PÉREZ: I grew up in Pinar del Río and graduated from medical school there in 1992. I left for the United States in 1999. My father was living in Miami and I wanted to reunite with my family. I was 31 years old.

From the outside you get a different idea of what the United States is like. Yes, it’s a developed country. But I was jarred not to find the human solidarity that exists here in Cuba.

I lived in the United States for 13 years. During that time I got in trouble with the law. After I completed my sentence in February 2012, I went to Mexico, where I had legal resident status. I found work in Cancún and started over again. I’m working in a restaurant there.

CALERO: How did you meet Ramón?

PÉREZ: I met him when I was transferred to the FDC in Miami — “Downtown,” as they call it. That was Oct. 31, 2009. He was in Unit F East, on the 10th floor.

When I arrived, the other Cubans said, “Hey, look — it’s a Cuban!” Ramón immediately came over to greet me. He asked, “Do you need anything?”

Afterward he told me that during my first days there I looked a little anxious and depressed. He approached me and said, “Take it easy. You’ll see that you’re going to be okay here. There are Cubans here. I’m Ramón, one of the Five.” That’s how our friendship began.

CALERO: Did you already know about the Five?

PÉREZ: Yes. They’d been arrested in 1998, a year before I left Cuba for the United States. When I was in Miami, it was all over the radio and press, especially during the trial in 2000-2001.

CALERO: Did Ramón have the same attitude toward other prisoners that he showed toward you?

PÉREZ: He was the same with everyone. It didn’t matter if you were from Honduras or from the U.S. or anywhere else. Ramón would help you in every way he could. He would treat you with respect. And he earned the respect of others. That’s the real Ramón.

Because of the big campaign carried out against the Five in the United States, you might develop a certain image of them — that they were dangerous spies or some kind of terrorists.

When you learn the truth, you find that it’s totally different. You tell yourself, “Damn, the whole thing was a lie.”

What’s more, Ramón would show you the documents from the trial. He would say, “Look, don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. We were in the United States to defend the people of Cuba. We were trying to prevent attacks.”

Then you begin to realize who the Five really are.

CALERO: How long were you in prison with him?

PÉREZ: For about six months. Ramón was resentenced in December 2009 and he was transferred out around June 2010. Before that, they moved me to the unit across from his, and we maintained contact. Every unit had a door with a window that led to the common recreation area. So when one of us was in the gym, we could see each other through the window and greet each other through the crack under the door.

I have to thank God for the time I shared with Ramón, because it was an experience that left a deep impression on me. He would help you with anything. He would talk about any subject — about both Cuba and the U.S. And he’d never tell you, “This is how things are.” He’d give you facts to think about. He used to get newspapers and other literature and he’d share it with all of us.

Another thing — he would never ask why you were in prison, what you had done. Instead, he would help you become a better person. All those things gave you confidence in Ramón.

He was approached by everyone. If someone was cooking a meal — we could cook meals in prison, using a microwave — they would say, “Hey, Cuba,” or “Come over here, Ramón.” They would make him feel welcome when he came to watch TV or play chess. He liked to play chess and played a lot with an African-American guy in the unit. People would invite him to play handball. They just liked to be around him.

CALERO: Fernando González finally returned to Cuba after completing his sentence of more than 15 years. During a press conference at the airport, Fernando said the U.S. immigration police who were deporting him didn’t take off his handcuffs until the plane touched down on Cuban soil. He said he didn’t feel free until that moment.

PÉREZ: It was outrageous, even cruel. They know the Five are not dangerous men. In my opinion, the U.S. authorities did that to punish him right up to the very last moment.

The Cuban people are delighted about Fernando’s return. But we need to continue the campaign that will eventually bring all of them home. We need to show the people of the United States and the world who the Cuban Five really are.
Related articles:
Prison paintings on Cuban 5 shown at Liverpool, UK event
Who are the Cuban Five?
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