Activists eye anniversary of the arrest of the Cuban Five

Organizations and activists who have been fighting, for sixteen years, for freedom for the Cuban Five will descend on Washington D.C. during the week starting Thursday, Sept. 11, for a series of political actions. The events, which will be coordinated with similar ones in 38 countries around the world, are intended to mark the 16th anniversary of the arrest of the five.

The Cuban 5 are Cuban citizens who had been monitoring the actions of far-right wing exile organizations in South Florida, to detect possible terrorist actions aimed against Cuba.  Although the Cuban government had passed on to the FBI some of the information that the Five and their colleagues had gathered, the United States government arrested the Five instead of the exile terrorists, on September 12, 1998. 

In a joke of a trial, in which the U.S. government turned out to be subsidizing local journalists who were smearing the Five in Miami-area media, all of them were sentenced to long prison terms. Two of them, Rene Gonzalez and Fernando Gonzalez, have finished their sentences, but the other three remain in prison. One of them, Gerardo Hernandez, is facing two life sentences on absurdly trumped up charges. 

The released prisoners are playing a high profile role to free the remaining members of the Cuban 5. Rene Gonzalez was a featured speaker at the Avante Festival of the Portuguese Communist Party last week, and more activities will follow.

The cause of the Five has turned into an international campaign of vast scale, which has mobilized labor unions and other organizations, Nobel Prize winners, noted artists and authors, and thousands of ordinary people around the world. It is linked to a similarly large campaign to end the 53-year U.S. economic blockade of Cuba. Every year, the United Nations General Assembly votes by a huge margin to denounce this country’s anti-Cuba policies, and this will happen again this year without a doubt.

Currently, much of the focus of the “Free the Five” movement has been aimed at getting the United States to accept a humanitarian trade deal with Cuba in which the Five could be freed in exchange for Cuba’s freeing of Mr. Alan Gross, an employee of a U.S. contractor who was caught carrying out destabilization activities in Cuba. The U.S. has demanded that Cuba unilaterally free Gross. The result, of course, is that both he and the three remaining members of the Five remain in prison.

The activities that start in Washington D.C. this coming Thursday have been organized by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five and numerous other organizations.  They will include a picket of the White House on Friday, Sept. 12 at noon followed by evening cultural activities.

On Saturday, there will be an exhibit of art by one of the Cuban Five, Antonio Guerrero, with an evening program hosted by the Service Employees’ International Union (AFL-CIO) and featuring a panel of speakers including Jose Ramon Cabañas, Yeidckol Polevnsky, former Vice President of the Mexican Senate; Stephen Kimber, author of “What Lies Across the Water,” an authoritative book on the Cuban 5 case; and Ann Wright, a former U.S. Army colonel who is now an anti-war activist.   The following week there will be lobbying activities on Capitol Hill, focused on the issue of the Five and of U.S. Cuba policy.

In other countries, organized labor has been a major part of the struggle to free the Cuban Five, with British trade unionists in particular playing an outstanding role. The hosting of the Saturday activity by SEIU shows a growing tendency for U.S. unions to play a role in this issue also.

Besides SEIU, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the San Francisco Labor Council, and others have also been lending their voices to these efforts.

A full listing of activities that start next week can be found on the website of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five.

Photo: Renee Gonzalez at the Portugese Festival of the Communist newspaper, Avante. Photo courtesy of Cuba Si.


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.