The time is now put the fight to liberate Gerardo Hernandez, Ramón Labañino, René Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez on a campaign footing. On September 12, these Cuban men will have served 12 years in U.S. federal prisons. Their fate at U.S. government hands represents a terrible wrong. Supporters worldwide are renewing the fight for their freedom from September 12 through October 8, a period set aside for that purpose.
October 6 marks the 34th anniversary of the bombing of a Cuban airliner in flight off Barbados with the death of all 73 people aboard. Perpetrators Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch live undisturbed in Southern Florida. That horror is emblematic of terror carried out against Cuba for decades. The Cuban Five volunteered to defend their people.
In Florida they monitored and reported on the schemes of private paramilitary groups, terrorist bands serving as U. S. proxy warriors. Rebuffed in undoing the Cuban revolution, Washington persecutes the Cuban Five as stand-in targets. The worldwide movement to free them includes anti imperialists and others focused on human rights and common decency.
Prisoners Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Gerardo Hernandez were given life sentences for conspiracy to commit espionage – against, we add, private parties. Sentences for the first two were reduced, but judicial remedies have otherwise served for little. An appeals court, for example, overruled a three-judge panel decision invalidating their trial because of bias.
Gerardo Hernandez’ plight is desperate. He’s been subjected to punishment cells despite an unblemished disciplinary record. His life sentence for conviction on conspiracy to commit espionage stands, as does a second life sentence for conviction on conspiracy to commit murder
Hernandez was alleged to have informed Cuban authorities that “Brothers to the Rescue” aircraft were en route to Cuba in March 1996. The Cubans, however, knew of the flights via radar monitoring and shot down two planes after they crossed into Cuban air space. Lawyer Leonard Weinglass noted that Hernandez “is the first person in U.S. history to be charged for the shooting down of an aircraft by the armed forces of another country.”
U. S. government refusal to allow Adriana Perez to visit her husband Gerardo for twelve years constitutes a humanitarian and human rights outrage, condemned by Amnesty International and religious groups. Olga Salanueva has likewise been prevented from visiting husband Rene Gonzalez for over ten years.
The Cuban Five have as a recourse the pressure of popular mobilization brought to bear upon President Obama. He has the power to release them. Toward that end, an understanding of current realities is essential.
Public awareness in the United States of the case of the Five is almost non-existent, even after 12 years. The movement on their behalf here, where the need is greatest, is rudimentary. Anti-imperialist consciousness is undeveloped, so advocates for the Five must fashion an appeal based on both human rights and fairness and on U.S. hypocrisy and imperial overreach.
The fight for the Five will be served if defenders can engineer a skillful balancing act. At times, they meld the cause of the Five with other projects, removing the travel ban, for example, or lifting economic sanctions. In other situations, they acquiesce, briefly, in prioritizing gains in these areas over freeing the Five.
The situation of Gerardo Hernandez and the fight for visiting rights for Adriana Perez and Olga Salanueva warrant special focus and mobilization.
A U.S. campaign gains strength by placement within a world context. Committees for the Five exist in 150 countries. Demonstrations before U.S. embassies and consulates are routine. An exemplary letter to President Obama sent recently by three Canadian and British union leaders is noteworthy. Representing three million workers, Tony Woodley, Joint General Secretary of Unite the Union; Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada of the USW; and Wayne Hanley, National President, UFCW-Canada cited Hernandez’ harassment, denial of visiting rights, and U.S. hypocrisy on terrorism.
The movement for the Five needs caucuses, sub-committees, and focus groups within labor councils and union locals, left political parties, churches and religious groups, political education endeavors, and more. Development or rejuvenation of regional and national coordinating councils is required to fill an apparent leadership void.
For current information on the Cuban Five, go to www.freethefive.org, www.antiterroristas.cu, or http://www.thecuban5.org/.