MILWAUKEE – The Milwaukee Committee to Free the Cuban Five kicked off its efforts with a gathering here May 19 of about 30 activists and a discussion with special guest Esperanza Luzbert, head of the United States group of the Cuban Peoples’ Friendship Institute.

Luzbert began by explaining that Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and René González were arrested in September 1998, accused of spying against the United States. Two were U.S. citizens. In December, 2001, they were given maximum sentences for every charge, ranging from 15 years to 15 years plus two life sentences. Guerrero was sent to the U.S. penitentiary at Florence, Colo., which, Luzbert noted, is “one of the worst prisons in the United States.”

Luzbert said the men were indeed spies, but never against the United States. Rather, they infiltrated terrorist groups. “Cuba was the first country to condemn the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States,” said Luzbert, “We in Cuba have been the victims of terrorism many times.”

Luzbert particularly mentioned the 1997 bombing of a Cuban hotel that killed an Italian citizen, and a plot to bomb the Havana tunnel connecting the East and West portions of the city, a plot she said was foiled “thanks to the work of people like [the Cuban Five].” The Cuban government has declared the five heroes for their efforts, at risk to their own lives, to stop terrorist attacks. Former heads of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Southern Command testified that the actions of the five did nothing to compromise U.S. security.

The trial, Luzbert said, reflected “manipulation” by expatriate Cubans in Miami, noting that Judge Leonard refused to move the trial, despite jurors saying they feared violence at the hands of anti-Castro Cubans if they did not convict. The FBI has listed Miami Cuban groups as the top U.S. domestic terrorist threat. Yet Miami officially enacted “Orlando Bosch Day,” honoring the mastermind of a 1976 Cuban passenger plane bombing that killed 73.

Luzbert held up a copy of the book, With Honor, Courage and Pride, distributed free at the event, about the five and showing their faces on its cover. She pointed in turn to each face and told a little about that person and their family. “This is cruel, this is criminal,” she said of the U.S. government’s refusal to grant visas so the family of René González could visit him in prison. The book contains the allocutions of the five at sentencing, speeches in the tradition of Fidel Castro’s 1953 “History will absolve me” speech, to which Luzbert alluded.

“We would appreciate whatever you can do to spread the word,” said Luzbert. She noted that once informed, 80 percent of Americans sided against the Miami expatriates, favoring return of Elián González to his father.

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