Marchers demand freedom of Cuban 5

WASHINGTON — The struggle for the freedom of the Cuban Five reached a new level Sept. 23 when activists from 30 U.S. cities across the nation marched on the White House to demand their release. The march was followed by a public forum at George Washington University.

The five Cuban nationals — Antonio Guerrero, René González, Fernando González, Gerardo Hernández and Ramón Labañino — were arrested by federal agents in 1998 while they were monitoring the activity of right-wing extremists in Miami. The extremists were organizing bombings and other acts of terror against Cuba.

The five men were later convicted of conspiracy-related crimes and sentenced to long prison terms. Their case is being appealed.

The activities were part of the International Days of Action on behalf of the Five. That campaign ends Oct. 6, the 30th anniversary of the bombing of a Cuban airliner by a group that included Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles. Seventy-three people were killed in the incident.

Posada is currently in U.S. custody on immigration charges. The news that his U.S. handlers may soon set him free outraged the gathering in Washington.

During the march, banners called for U.S. authorities to immediately allow family visits for all five prisoners. After picketing the White House, some 600 demonstrators gathered in Lafayette Park where Andrés Gómez, leader of the Antonio Maceo Brigade in Miami, read out names of those who died in the downed civilian airliner. After each name, listeners intoned “Justicia!” (Justice!).

The forum at the university focused on the history of right-wing terrorism, old and new.

Posada, for example, helped engineer a series of hotel blasts in Havana in 1997, one of which killed Italian tourist Fabio DiCelmo. At the forum his brother Livio DiCelmo spoke of his family’s anguish.

Leonard Weinglass, appeals attorney for Antonio Guerrero, said it was during this time period that the U.S. government betrayed a working agreement with Cuba. Instead of using intelligence provided by the Cuban government, collected by the Cuban Five, to stop the hotel bombings and other plotting, the FBI arrested the five men.

Francisco Letelier recalled the car-bombing assassination of his father, Orlando Letelier, at Sheridan Circle in Washington on Sept. 21, 1976. Luis Posada was implicated in that crime, as well.

Orlando Letelier served as Chile’s foreign minister in the socialist government of Salvador Allende, who was deposed by a CIA-backed coup in 1973. Orlando Letelier’s colleague, Ronni Moffitt, was also killed in the explosion.

Francisco Letelier spoke of similarities in “the tactics of state terror, [whenever] people confront power with truth or take their destiny or their human rights into their own hands.” He likened “the campaign that is being waged against these Five” to the smear campaign launched against his deceased father, killed by Posada and others.

In a moving presentation, Letelier drew the “historical relationship” between the campaign for the Five and “people throughout the Americas pursuing sovereignty, direct liberty, self determination, justice and human rights.”

Weinglass recalled a Miami press conference held just after the demise of socialism in Eastern Europe. At the press conference, right-wing paramilitaries defined Cuba as a war zone, explicitly warning potential tourists that they would be “entering a combat zone.”

That declaration, said Weinglass, figured into Cuba’s decision to send the men now known as the Cuban Five to south Florida. Cuban leaders could no longer tolerate disregard by Washington and the UN of their demands for action against terrorists.

“They [the Five] infiltrated the private groups,” Weinglass said, although they did not obtain “one page of classified information” from the U.S.

Highlighting the political nature of the case, Weinglass outlined the prosecution’s version of conspiracy, which was, in essence, that “although they hadn’t committed espionage, at some unspecified time in the future, they might commit espionage.”

Other presenters included Washington lawyer José Pertierra, who represents Venezuela in its fight to extradite Posada for trial for the airliner bombing; Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild; Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Five; Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana; Saul Landau of the Institute for Policy Studies; and Akbar Muhammad of the Nation of Islam.

Sponsors of the action included the National Network on Cuba, National Lawyers Guild, National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, the Communist Party USA, Alianza Martiana and many other groups.