Voices rising worldwide: Free the Cuban 5

On Feb. 14 attorneys in the case of the Cuban Five took judges’ questions for an hour before the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Meanwhile demonstrations of support for Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González were breaking out all over the world.

The men were arrested Sept. 12, 1998, in Florida, where they had been monitoring right-wing, anti-Cuban terrorists operating there with the connivance of the U.S. government. The five were subsequently convicted of an assortment of crimes, including various “conspiracy” charges. Two of them are serving life sentences; one of them, two life sentences.

Last August, a three-judge appeals court ordered a new trial, saying the atmosphere in Miami, scene of the first trial, prevented the five from getting a fair trial. At the time, the case of young Elián González was roiling the area, and anti-socialist-Cuba forces were working at a feverish pitch.

Defying precedent, U.S. officials refused to accept that ruling, and pushed instead for a new appeals process before the full 12-member court.

It’s unclear if the full court will act any differently. Defense lawyers say that at this most recent hearing, U.S. prosecutors were hard put to answer the judges’ questioning about protective safeguards against bias at the original trial.

Noting the political nature of the case, Leonard Weinglass, appeals attorney for Antonio Guerrero, steered away from predictions. Speaking to the press, he said he hoped that “this court will not convert that ‘perfect storm of prejudice’ [words from last year’s panel decision] into a bright and sunny day of neutrality in Miami.”

“We feel hopeful and even optimistic,” Weinglass said.

International observers and reporters attended the Feb. 14 court session, along with prisoners’ family members, U.S. supporters and a few right-wing Cuban Americans.

Irish journalist and filmmaker Bernie Dwyer, reporting for Radio Havana, and the Rev. Geoffrey Bottoms, leader of the British campaign for the prisoners, were on a speaking tour for the prisoners prior to arriving in Atlanta. Large, diverse audiences heard the pair in Washington, New York, Providence, R.I., Cambridge, Mass., and four cities and towns in Maine, as did radio audiences in the region.

Bottoms, a Catholic priest, described a meeting with clergy in Washington as “groundbreaking.” Almost 500 people showed up Feb. 8 at the appearance in Cambridge with author Noam Chomsky. Along the way, tour organizers raised money for the Freedom Fund for the Cuban five.

Meanwhile, voices were being raised throughout the world for the five. European Trade unionists, meeting at a London-based Cuba solidarity conference on Feb. 24-25, called for releasing the prisoners. A solidarity conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil, did the same, with Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel conveying the message.

Peruvian Cuba Solidarity activists issued a similar demand in Lima on Feb. 17. In Valencia, Spain, Paco Bernal’s paintings devoted to the five went on display there on Feb. 20. In Madrid, the Cuban ambassador honored the city’s coordinating committee for the five for its new web site, www.libertadparaloscinco.org.es.

Delegates to the Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre passed a resolution for the release of the five on Feb. 17. Magaly Llort, mother of prisoner Fernando González, thanked the delegates: “The Christians who are here are people with an open heart, and like ourselves, struggle for a better world.” Olga Salanueva, wife of René González, was on hand too.

In Belgium, 32 parliamentarians denounced violations of the prisoners’ human rights. Earlier in the month, 110 Members of the British House of Common demanded their freedom in an open letter to the U.S. attorney general. Nobel Prize-winner Harold Pinter joined them, as did 15 heads of British trade unions, London Mayor Ken Livingston, and 10,000 others in Britain.

The cry, “U.S. justice is a lie” rang out in front of the U.S. consulate in Edinburgh, Scotland. A banner showing the faces of the five and calling for their freedom waved “high and clear” over Trafalgar Square in London.

The campaign to free the five continues. Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon announced last week a “Time of World Dedication to the Five,” set for Sept. 12 through Oct. 6.