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Vol. 78/No. 47      December 29, 2014

Absolved by Solidarity: 16 watercolors
for 16 years of unjust imprisonment
New paintings by Antonio Guerrero tell story of
Miami frame-up trial of Cuban Five and how they
‘defended truth against colossal injustice’
(feature article)

Absolved by Solidarity a full-color book of new paintings and text by Antonio Guerrero, is being released by Pathfinder Press in January. Guerrero is one of five Cuban revolutionaries arrested by the FBI in 1998 and railroaded to federal prison. “16 Watercolors for 16 Years of Unjust Imprisonment,” Guerrero entitles it.

Published in a bilingual English-Spanish edition, Absolved by Solidarity conveys “the strength, integrity, and creativity of five human beings — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González — today known throughout the world as the Cuban Five,” writes Mary-Alice Waters, the book’s editor. Her introduction, “The Cuban Five: Who They Are,” follows Guerrero’s August 2014 message about the new watercolors and a note written for the book by Labañino. All three are reprinted below.

The book also includes the first statement released by the Five, after their 2001 convictions; letters by them; parts of an interview with Hernández, serving the longest sentence, double-life; and excerpts from a 2005 U.S. Appeals Court decision ordering a new trial and dissents by judges opposing the later reversal of that decision.

Absolved by Solidarity will be an invaluable tool in explaining the victory won in freeing the Cuban Five and using that victory to advance the fight against the U.S. embargo on Cuba and to strengthen the Cuban Revolution. It can be gotten into the hands of workers resisting bosses’ attacks from Walmart to the railroads, those protesting the cop killings of Eric Garner and others.

‘In that courtroom we won an immeasurable victory’
— Antonio Guerrero

I don’t recall the exact moment the idea came to me to do sixteen watercolors for the sixteen years of unjust imprisonment we served as of September 2014. I do know I decided several months ago that the paintings would focus on our frame-up trial in Miami. This project grew out of the fifteen watercolors I did in 2013, which sought to tell the horrendous story of our seventeen months in punishment cells. In essence, this is a continuation of that story.

While taking care of all sorts of “little tasks,” I realized it was already August and I hadn’t even started my first painting. So on August 3 I said to myself, I’ll give it a go.

I knew that between September 4 and October 6, important events were being planned in our country, Cuba, and many other places as part of a new round of activities on behalf of our freedom, and I wanted to contribute.

By August 11 I had finished eleven paintings. By August 19 I was sending the other five — in short, sixteen watercolors in sixteen days. Such was the pace, working nonstop, using every minute I could given the conditions here.

Telling the story of the trial in sixteen images is impossible. That would take many, many more paintings. Even then there would be important details of our nearly seven months in a Miami courtroom to take up. From the first day we knew we couldn’t get a fair trial there.

But in that courtroom we won an immeasurable victory: in their own den, we denounced terrorism against our people.

Each picture is accompanied by text. There will be a few documents supporting the facts we want to convey. We hope this work will serve in some way to provide a picture of those days when, with the dignity we learned from our people, the five of us defended truth against colossal injustice.

We never felt defeated. We knew we would be acquitted by the honest men and women of the world, who have today become a growing wave of solidarity that won’t break until it carries us home.

Federal Correctional Institution Marianna, Florida, Aug. 29, 2014

The truth that cannot be locked in the ‘hole’
— Ramón Labañino

These new paintings by our brother Tony remind us, with their simple strokes and colors, of the cruel, deeply painful injustice we experienced outside the walls of the Miami federal prison.

We who lived through those moments together know exactly what each of the sixteen watercolors represents. We never fail to be struck by their depictions of those “moments of spring” when the honor of principled men proved once again that it’s better to fight and die on your feet than to live on your knees.

Art in the service of justice. Art as a weapon to expose and speak the truth that cannot be locked away or isolated in the “hole.” Dignity that is worth more than all the gold in the world. Those are the clearest messages our brother Tony offers us in each of his paintings.

Once again the Five send our embrace to express our heartfelt gratitude for the solidarity and the love of people everywhere.

Venceremos! We will win! Five strong embraces!

Federal Correctional Institution Ashland, Kentucky, Nov. 6, 2014

The Cuban 5: Who they are
Art in the service of justice. Art as a weapon to expose and speak the truth that cannot be locked away in the “hole.” Dignity that is worth more than all the gold in the world. Those are the clearest messages our brother Tony offers us in each of his paintings.

Ramón Labañino FCI Ashland, Kentucky November 6, 2014

Absolved by Solidarity is the second set of watercolors by Antonio Guerrero proudly conveying the strength, integrity, and creativity of five human beings — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González — today known throughout the world as the Cuban Five.

These paintings are not the work of a longtime professional artist. Tutored by fellow inmates, Guerrero taught himself to draw and paint after he was incarcerated at the US Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, in 2002, sentenced to life without parole. During sixteen years behind bars, his powers of expression through art have grown in tandem with his political strength.

Guerrero’s first set of watercolors in this series, I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived, was completed in 2013. Entitled “Fifteen watercolors for the fifteenth anniversary of the imprisonment of the Cuban Five,” that work portrays, and transforms into art, the conditions the Five confronted at the Miami Federal Detention Center during their first seventeen months of imprisonment. Those were months when they were confined to punishment cells isolated from the general inmate population, and initially from each other, as well — the “hole.”

Above all, the paintings convey the integrity, dignity, courage, truthfulness, self-discipline — and humor — with which each of the Five heroes of the Cuban people defended themselves and the revolution they represent, as US authorities subjected them to the harshest pretrial conditions hoping to make them turn traitor to themselves and their comrades. Refusing to “cooperate” with agents of the state that held them hostage; refusing to cop a plea in return for a lesser sentence; refusing to renounce their right to a trial and the presumption of innocence — on all these fronts the Five took the moral high ground in response to their accusers.

“Betraying never crossed my mind,” Gerardo Hernández tells filmmaker Saul Landau in an interview included here. “It’s so obvious that it’s difficult for me to explain. Not only would it mean betraying myself as a person, as a revolutionary, but betraying an entire country.”

Absolved by Solidarity, the title Guerrero has given this set of paintings, itself echoes the famous 1953 courtroom defense delivered by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, “History Will Absolve Me.” Later printed clandestinely and passed from hand to hand across Cuba in the tens of thousands of copies, Castro’s speech systematically presented the proletarian goals and ethics of what became the founding program of the movement that culminated in the revolutionary triumph of 1959. That mass popular insurrection overthrew the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and opened the door to a victorious socialist revolution in what the US ruling families considered solely their own domain.

Today Guerrero’s first set of watercolors hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, part of an installation created by world-renowned Cuban artist Kcho (Alexis Leyva Machado), built around a true-to-life replica of the punishment cells depicted in Guerrero’s paintings.

This second set, entitled “Sixteen watercolors for sixteen years of unjust imprisonment,” continues the story, as Guerrero says. It focuses on the frame-up trial in a Miami federal court that ended — unsurprisingly — with the summary conviction of the Five on every single charge brought by the US government. Each was given the maximum sentence on every count.

With insight and wit Absolved by Solidarity blasts through the opaqueness of capitalist “justice,” allowing us to see the normal workings of the courts and prisons of the United States, the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world. Like the earlier paintings, these new watercolors shine a spotlight on the oppressive class-based system so many millions of US working people, from their own life experience, know all too well.

Even more important, the paintings show us the expressions of respect and solidarity the Five have received from hundreds, perhaps thousands, of working people with whom they have shared the calculated brutalities and indignities of the federal prison system of the United States of America.

Who are the Cuban Five?

Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González were living and working in southern Florida in September 1998 when each of them was arrested in coordinated predawn raids by the FBI.

What were their allegedly criminal activities?

On behalf of the Cuban government they were gathering information on the actions and plans of counterrevolutionary Cuban organizations, including murderous paramilitary outfits that operated with impunity on US soil. These groups and the individuals who belong to them have a more than half-century-long record of carrying out bombings, assassinations, and other assaults on supporters of the Cuban Revolution — not only in Cuba but in the United States, Puerto Rico, and other countries as well.

Since 1959, when the mass revolutionary struggle of Cuban working people ended US economic and political domination of their country, nearly 3,500 men, women, and children in Cuba have been killed in such attacks, most originating from the United States. The task of the Five was to keep the Cuban government informed of deadly operations being prepared by these groups and individuals in order to prevent as many as possible of these plans from coming to fruition.

The Five were tried and convicted by a federal court in Miami on frame-up charges that included conspiracy to commit espionage and, in the case of Gerardo Hernández, conspiracy to commit murder. The latter charge, added some eight months after his arrest to ratchet up pressure on the Five, was based on a false allegation. Prosecutors claimed that Hernández had advance knowledge of the Cuban government’s decision in February 1996 to shoot down two planes that had penetrated Cuban airspace.

The Miami-based operators of those flights had for months rebuffed Havana’s repeated warnings to cease their recurring provocations. Four Cuban Americans ended up dying while carrying out one of those deliberate acts of aggression, hoping to precipitate a confrontation leading to military retaliation by Washington against Cuba.

Admitting it could produce no evidence against any of the Five of any act of espionage — that is, gathering and transmitting to a foreign government information relating to US national defense — Washington resorted to its long tradition of “conspiracy” charges to obtain convictions and impose draconian sentences.

Each of the Five forthrightly acknowledged before the court and to the world that they were working for the Cuban government to prevent future murderous attacks on the Cuban people from taking place. Each of them affirmed they would do so again without a moment’s hesitation if asked.

On their unbowed heads, in December 2001 the judge laid sentences ranging from fifteen years for René González, to nineteen for Fernando González, to life without parole for Guerrero and Labañino, and a double life sentence without parole for Hernández, who led the effort.

Four years later in 2005, citing the blatantly prejudiced atmosphere surrounding the Miami trial, a three-judge federal appeals court panel unanimously overturned the convictions and ordered a new trial. In response to a US government petition, the full appeals court twelve months later overturned that decision and reinstated the convictions.

In 2009 the same appeals court ruled that, “in the absence of a finding that top secret information was gathered or transmitted” by Labañino, Guerrero, or Hernández, the life sentences imposed on each of them for conspiracy to commit espionage exceeded federal guidelines. Labañino’s sentence was reduced to thirty years, and Guerrero’s to just under twenty-two. At the same time Fernando González’s sentence was reduced by a number of months.

The court refused to allow Hernández’s life sentence on the espionage conspiracy charge to be reconsidered, however. The judges ruled that any reduction would be “irrelevant to the time he will serve,” since he is sentenced to not one but two concurrent life terms!

After completing more than fourteen and a half years in prison and on parole, in May 2013 René González became the first of the Five to return to Cuba. Fernando González, who also served every minute of his sentence, was released and deported to Cuba in February 2014. Were they to serve their full time, Antonio Guerrero would not be released until September 2017, and Ramón Labañino seven years later, in October 2024.

For Gerardo Hernández, however, there is no release date. Moreover, as an additional, intensely cruel punishment, for more than sixteen years Washington has denied his wife, Adriana Pérez, a visa to enter the United States to visit him.

Growing worldwide condemnation of the trial of the Cuban Five, and of the unconscionable sentences and other vindictive treatment, has not been without effect. At the court hearing where Guerrero’s sentence was reduced, federal prosecutors acknowledged the pressure, admitting they hoped that decision would “quiet the waters of contentiousness” and “noise” swirling around the case internationally.

Evidence has come to light, however, that a number of journalists writing about the trial in the Miami press were at the same time receiving payments from the US government’s Office of Cuban Broadcasting. This further proof of the corruption of the trial proceedings — negating the possibility of empaneling an impartial jury of peers — has become part of the habeas corpus appeals filed on behalf of Hernández, Labañino, and Guerrero. It is adding to the international outcry for their release.

Why are the Cuban Five in prison for even a day?

“They dealt with us harshly, as yet another way to punish Cuba’s resistance,” René González writes here. The trial was “an extension of the confrontation between those who claim the prerogative to attack Cuba and those of us who believe in Cuba’s right to defend itself.” The US government “regarded both terrorism and military aggression against Cuba to be among their legitimate prerogatives. That’s what the trial showed. We thought it was important to demonstrate they would have to confront an entire people who think otherwise.”

The Five were imprisoned precisely because they exemplify the Cuban Revolution — they exemplify the strength of the men and women who brought into being and defend “the first free territory of the Americas.” They are held hostage to punish the Cuban toilers for their audacity in making a socialist revolution in what Washington still considers its “backyard.”

It was for these deeds that the Cuban Five were arrested, framed up, and have been locked away through three imperialist administrations, two Democrat and one Republican. During those same years, however, growing knowledge in North America and the world over of the consistency of the revolutionary conduct of the Five — from Cuba and Angola to US prison cells — has been decisive in winning them ever-widening admiration and support.

Absolved by Solidarity is one more powerful weapon in the fight to win their freedom. In the words of Antonio Guerrero, “Those harsh sentences had only one purpose: punishing Cuba. But they could not stop our truth from being heard, the truth of our honorable, humane, and revolutionary country.”

That is the truth one finds in Antonio’s paintings.

December 2014
Related articles:
The Cuban Five are free!
Emulate, defend Cuban Revolution
‘An example of what it means to be a revolutionary’
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