The 256 volunteers now in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea-Conakry are viewed as heroes in Cuba as are the Cuban Five, who were arrested by the FBI and framed-up in the United States in 1998. The five — Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, René González and Fernando González — were gathering information on right-wing groups in Florida to prevent them from carrying out violent attacks on Cuba. (See box below.)
“From an unjust imprisonment that has lasted more than 16 years, I look at you and I am filled with the strength and pride of being Cuban,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero’s message and a recent exchange of letters between Hernández and one of the Cuban doctors in Sierra Leone show how the internationalist volunteers in West Africa and the Cuban Five inspire each other and strengthen the proletarian moral values of Cuba’s socialist revolution.
“Since we heard the news of the departure of the Cuban medical brigades to West Africa to combat the Ebola epidemic, we have tried to stay informed about the extraordinary work that our compatriots have been doing,” Hernández wrote Rotceh Ríos Molina, a doctor from Jaruco in Cuba’s western Mayabeque province, Nov. 24.
“On more than a few occasions over the years, we Five have been asked what has inspired us to resist this unjust imprisonment for so long, so far from Cuba and family,” Hernández wrote. “Even before the Ebola crisis we’ve always mentioned the doctors and other Cuban internationalists as an important source of encouragement, pride and inspiration.”
“Now, with this extraordinary lesson in heroism that you are giving the world, we are even prouder, and there are no words to express how much you strengthen us by your example,” he added. “I know that one day, when you have won that battle for the benefit of humanity, and when justice has been done for the Five, we will have the opportunity to embrace in our country.”
The letter from Hernández and a reply by Ríos the next day, was the result of an the initiative by Marlene Caboverde Caballero, a journalist at the local radio station Radio Jaruco. Upon learning that a doctor from Jaruco was one of the volunteers in Sierra Leone, Caboverde decided to find a way to put the two in touch with each other. She asked Alicia Jrapko, of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, headquartered in Oakland, California, to help. Jrapko maintains regular communication with Hernández and visits him periodically at the Victorville, California, prison.
“Jaruco is a very small town and the children of Marlene and Rotceh went to the same school,” Jrapko said by phone Dec. 1. “Marlene is always thinking about how to write stories that show the human side. The Cuban doctors in Africa, they’re really considered heroes in Cuba. So she wanted to connect two heroes. Ríos Molina is risking his life to save lives, the same as Gerardo was doing.”
“I hope this connection helps to strengthen the 165 Cuban collaborators who are defying death every second in Sierra Leone as well as those who are working in the other West African countries ravaged by Ebola,” Caboverde said on the Cuba Debate website about the exchange.
Ríos readily agreed to the proposal. He wrote Caboverde that “it will be an honor for me to get to know a real fighter of our time.”
Hernández’s words “inspire us to stay focused on the mission of saving and bettering lives in these remote locations that have been battered by the great scourges of hunger, immense poverty, illiteracy, the exploitation of man by man and war,” Ríos wrote Nov. 25. “Because of their example we will not only be able to accomplish this, but to always remain firm and do whatever it takes to keep moving forward. I note that this is not only from me, but from all of us who were moved by his words, so much so that we were shouting revolutionary slogans. We take as a given our victorious return home.”
Who are the Cuban Five?
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