Less than 100 miles from Guantanamo, 200 delegates from 54 nations and all seven continents converged in Holguín, Cuba between November 19-23rd. The occasion was the Fifth International Colloquium dedicated to five Cuban political prisoners who have been held for eleven years in prisons across the United States. I was one of the U.S. participants who gathered to bear witness to decades of terrorism that have been unleashed against the Cuban people by organizations based a mere ninety miles away in Miami. We came together to accelerate the struggle for the freedom of the Five — Fernando Gonzáles, René Gonzáles, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández and Ramón Labañino — at a particularly strategic moment in the case.
According to Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, president of the Cuban National Assembly, who opened the plenary session of the Colloquium, the reduction of Antonio Guerrero’s sentence on October 13, 2009 from life plus 10 years to 21 years and 10 months was a result of the global movement in solidarity with the Five. This movement effectively complemented work in the legal arena to force the U.S. government to re-examine the excessive sentences that had been given to three of the Five. In the next period, the role of international solidarity activity will become key to freeing the Five if the legal tactics to win complete freedom for all five men are exhausted.
The global corporate media has imposed a nearly total information blockade about the case. When they do write about the Five they work hand-in-hand with the U.S. government to invert the truth and label them as spies. In reality, the Five were defending Cuba against the violent attacks which had increased during the nineties. They were gathering intelligence about Cuban exile extremist groups in Miami, including the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), Brothers to the Rescue, and Alpha 66, to prevent further destruction and loss of life in a period when Cuban tourism was targeted by these forces who hoped to further isolate the island. The intelligence that the Five were able to collect about their activities was shared with the U.S. government, yet the U.S. failed to act against those who had perpetrated the violence and ironically turned around and prosecuted the Five. These facts have been deliberately kept from the American public and need to be widely disseminated in order to build popular pressure demanding their freedom. Alarcón urged the delegates not to ignore “any space that we can utilize from denunciation to prayer” in order to defend the Five.
While Alarcón’s presentation provided an analytic framework for understanding the aggressive activities launched against Cuba, family members who had been directly impacted gave testimony that enabled delegates to understand the physical, psychological, and emotional damage these acts caused. Giustino DiCelmo, the father of an Italian tourist who was killed in the 1997 bombing of the Copacabana Hotel in Havana, painfully expressed what it meant to lose a son in such a brutally random manner. Odalys Pérez Rodriguez is the daughter of the pilot of Cubana flight 455 which exploded while flying from Barbados to Jamaica in 1976, killing all 73 people on board. She spoke angrily of Luis Posada Carriles, the CANF leader who has boasted of his responsibility in the bombing. The U.S. government refuses to prosecute him and his cohorts, so he continues to live in freedom in Miami where he is able to continue his activities against Cuba with impunity. A group of delegates also visited the small town of Boca de Samá, meeting some of those who had resisted an attack by the anti-Cuban group Alpha 66 (supported by the CIA) on October 12, 1971 in which two people were killed and several others were injured.
The strong presence of the mothers, wives, and daughters of the Five throughout the Colloquium demonstrated the courage and commitment of these women despite the fact that their loved ones have been locked up far away in U.S. prisons for so long. Olga Salanueva, René’s wife, and Adriana Pérez, Gerardo’s wife, explained that the U.S. government has denied their requests for visas on nine separate occasions preventing them from visiting their husbands. An International Commission for the Right of Family Visits, with members in 27 countries, has been established to expose the illegality of the U.S. policy and to build popular support for the inarguable right to family visits.
One of the most moving aspects of the Colloquium were the trips that delegates made to surrounding communities — Gibara, Báguanos, Rafael Freyre, and Calixto Garcia. In each town, community members put together an educational and cultural program followed by a culinary feast. These local events showed the breadth and depth of community support for the Five and their families. They are recognized by young and old as national heroes for defending the right of Cubans’ to live in peace. Community members expressed resounding appreciation for the solidarity that the international delegates offered. They emphasized again and again that they held the U.S. government responsible for the terrorist activities of the extremist groups but only felt friendship for the American people, especially those who opposed their government’s policies regarding Cuba.
At the final plenary, a unitary declaration was released on behalf of all of the participants which summarized the demands of the Colloquium and laid out a plan of action to be implemented over the next year. An end to U.S. logistical and financial support for anti-Cuban terrorist organizations, the prosecution of Luis Posada Carriles, and the right to family visitation were included as key demands. The central demand — to free the Five — was directed at President Barack Obama since he has the legal and constitutional power to release them and a moral, political, and judicial obligation to do so given their innocence. Their unconditional release would clearly demonstrate a changed direction for U.S.-Cuban relationships and open up opportunities for friendship in Latin America as a whole (see www.icap.cu for full text of the statement).
The Colloquium was very successful in mobilizing the next stage of global solidarity with the struggle to free the Five. Delegates from Latin America and Africa in particular emphasized their belief that the incarceration of the Five was an attack against all freedom-loving people around the world. And the message for progressive people within the United States was crystal clear. It is time for us to insist unequivocally that the U.S. end its 50-year economic and military war against Cuba by ending the blockade and freeing the Five.
On December 8th, Ramón Labañino and Fernando Gonzáles will be appearing in a Miami court for re-sentencing. To get updates on the case and become involved please go to www.thecuban5.org. For a full history of the Five see the CounterPunch series by Ricardo Alarcón: “The Untold Story of the Cuban Five.”
Diana Block is a member of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five. She is also on the Advisory Board of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.