Ivette Gonzalez, 6 years old and the daughter of one of the “Cuban Five” imprisoned by the U.S., opened the World Social Forum Jan. 26 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The U.S. government has not allowed Ivette and her mother to visit her father, Rene, in jail, although Ivette is a U.S. citizen. She was a tiny baby when her father last saw her.

Ivette asked the 200,000 people in the audience for a moment of silence for the victims of tragedies, particularly the tsunami of Dec. 26. She called upon them to light candles to symbolize human dignity and to illuminate the other world that is possible. She was reminding them that hope, decency, and human connectedness come first.

Adriana Perez O’Connor, interviewed by Bohemia Magazine last October, brought these values into focus as she shared memories of her life with her husband Gerardo Hernandez, another of the prisoners. She spoke about the love and yearnings of two idealists, whose spirit of optimism is astounding.

The passageway to their house is festooned with plants of many varieties. The two of them had collected and planted the seeds. She portrays Gerardo as a person of strength and delicacy. “I look at my life with Gerardo and feel passion for the good man I have come to know.” Photographs of Gerardo, memorabilia, and his letters and books fill the apartment. “His presence is absolutely necessary for me. We may not be together, but we are united.”

Gerardo takes after his parents, whom Adriana greatly respects — he has the generosity, honesty, and sweetness of his mother and the strength and principles of his father. She quotes Jose Martí: “No pompous words are needed in speaking of people who are noble.” For both herself and Gerardo, it is the thread of action that has defined their lives.

The moral compass of states shows up through deeds also. The U.S. government, after a terribly flawed trial, gave long sentences to five brave men who fought against terrorist plotters. That same entity, never short on pontification and platitudes, allows the “killer pediatrician” (Granma’s words) Orlando Bosch to live a life of freedom and honor in Miami, even though he was responsible for a 1976 bomb attack on a Cuban airplane and the deaths of 73 persons.

Gerardo, says his wife, makes mistakes, has failings and virtues. “In spite of loving me so much, he gave up living with me in order to be where he was most useful.”

Early in their marriage, 17 years ago, Gerardo served with Cuban forces in Angola. He left again in 1994, this time for the United States, returning only for vacations. She last saw him in 1997, when he returned to Florida. She is sad. No longer can they go to the beach together, or the theater, talk all night, listen to “Silvio” (Rodriguez), or read poetry.

She chose not to have a child, because Gerardo was away so often. “It would be egotistical of me not to let him take part in the rearing and education of our child.”

Gerardo was sentenced to two life terms in jail, plus 15 years, “but we make plans all the time for life in the future.” In letters and over the telephone, they joke and talk, “as if nothing had changed for the two of them.”

Only once, in 2002, did the U.S. State Department issue a visa for her to visit her husband in jail. On that occasion, after 11 hours of FBI interrogation, she was sent back to Cuba, as “a danger to the security of the country.”

At the World Social Forum, the American Association of Jurists introduced a resolution calling upon the U.S. government to let family members visit husbands, sons, and fathers in jail, as a matter of human rights and treaty obligations. It called for a new trial for the prisoners.

The fight for the prisoners is both a legal and a political one, but in the end is a struggle for human values — those elements that enable regular people to carry on with love, celebration of their culture, and loyalty to principles and purpose.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a pediatrician in rural Maine.