A delegation from the Communist Party USA recently visited Cuba. On Feb. 27 we stopped by the Institute for the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) to discuss building friendship, cooperation and people to people exchanges in light of the Dec. 17 announcement to reestablish diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Among those who warmly greeted us was Fernando Gonzalez, one of the Cuban 5 who was imprisoned in the U.S. in 1998 as part of a mission to monitor right-wing Cuban terrorist activities in Miami being directed against Cuba. Gonzalez was convicted of spying and began serving a sentence in 2001. He was released Feb. 27, 2014 and returned home to Cuba the next day.
The rest of the Cuban 5 were released on Dec. 17 (Rene Gonzalez was released in 2011) as part of the agreement between the two countries. During a national ceremony on Feb. 24 the Cuban 5 were honored as Heroes of the Republic and received the Order of Playa Giron, the Cuban name for the Bay of Pigs invasion, in which Cuba defeated a CIA backed effort by Cuban exiles to overthrow the new revolutionary government in 1961.
It would be understandable if Gonzalez were bitter about his years of imprisonment and didn’t want to have anything to do with the US. But Gonzalez asked to work with ICAP and now serves as a vice president of the group.
We found Gonzalez warm, gracious and eager to speak about exploring ways to build friendship with the U.S. people. He also shared stories about his time in U.S. prisons, the people he met and the extraordinary solidarity he and the Cuban 5 received over the years.
Gonzalez was imprisoned in federal penitentiaries in Terre Haute, Ind. and Oxford, Wis. While at Terre Haute, Gonzalez met Oscar Lopez, a Puerto Rican political prisoner incarcerated since 1982. Gonzalez is part of the growing worldwide campaign for Lopez’s freedom. Cuba has a special historical connection with Puerto Rico and supports the right of the Puerto Rican people to determine their own path.
Here are a few of Fernando Gonzalez’s remarks to us:
“The most important thing to say, to express on my behalf, my family and relatives, is my deep gratitude to the CPUSA because of the years of participation in the struggle, the solidarity you accorded us during the time we were in prison and for our liberation.
“You were side by side with us. Even when things look dark, there’s always a bright side. No one wants that experience (of imprisonment). It gave us the chance to experience the best of the U.S. people and those we worked with for many years, side by side in that fight.”
“Your participation during the campaign for our release, the information you shared, your ideological guidance and understanding of the reality in Cuba and social conflict in the U.S., what is really happening – that is why we are so appreciative.
“It’s not easy to be in the struggle to end the blockade. Many have worked with us and we always express profound gratitude to them.
“The announcements of Dec. 17 to reestablish relations and to return (the remaining Cuban 5 prisoners) show we have to fight, that we shouldn’t give up the struggle, that we have to continue to mobilize. It’s a lesson. We have learned that fact.
“The beginning of negotiations with the U.S. to have regular links between our countries, is a testament to the strength and resolve of our people who been fighting for more than 50 years.
“During the second round of negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba we haven’t made any concessions. And with the return of all the Cuban Five it was a great victory for the Cuban people and all friends in the U.S. who have participated in struggle and for friendship between our countries.
“The struggle for the freedom of the Cuban 5 occupied a big part of the solidarity campaign. But now we hope people will continue to mobilize in the new context, of the process toward normalization of relations. The reality is the economic blockade still exists and the U.S. government still plans to subvert the revolutionary process here. President Obama said the goal is right, but the U.S. needs to change how it achieves the goal. It’s important for people to be clear about what is happening.
“Keep the solidarity movement going in the fight to lift the blockade. Please extend our deepest gratitude to all.”
Photo: From left, Alberto Prieto, (CPC International Relations Department), Zenobia Thompson, Camila Valenzuela, Fernando Gonzalez, Kenia Puig (ICAP president), Joshua Leclair, John Bachtell | PW