Call to 'Free the Five' resounds in Toronto
by W. T. Whitney Jr.
Nov. 15, 2007
Reprinted from People's Weekly World Newspaper
TORONTO, Canada — Over 200 friends of Cuba from throughout North America gathered here, Nov. 9-11, to hear legal updates, retool strategies and rededicate themselves to the liberation of five Cuban men jailed in the United States.
At a press conference, Cuban Ambassador Ernesto Senti described the presentations, panel discussions, informal gatherings and separate meetings of U.S. and Canadian solidarity networks as a “high moment” in the struggle for the Five.
The conference, called “Breaking the Silence,” was organized by two Canadian national coordinating groups and the U.S. National Network on Cuba. Cuban officials based in Canada and Havana participated.
Lead appeals attorney Leonard Weinglass reviewed developments in the appeals process on behalf of Gerardo Hernández, Ramon Labañino, Fernando González, Antonio Guerrero and René González. The five men had joined private paramilitary gangs in Florida in the 1990s to provide Havana with advance notice of terrorist plots against the island.
“Very confident” is how Weinglass characterized his expectation that an appeals court decision expected in early 2008 would back, at least partially, defense claims of “prosecutorial misconduct.” Earlier, the same conservative court rejected the prisoners’ argument that prejudice marred the original trial.
The case is at a “critical juncture,” said Weinglass, pointing out, however, that the appeals process may last for years.
Jurors, he explained, follow the law “if they have to,” but try to square evidence with their own experience. “That’s where you come in,” he told over 400 listeners at an evening session, alluding to the political climate surrounding the case. In fact, conference deliberations did center on strategies for informing and persuading a much wider section of the public about the case and its implications.
Continued efforts to cast the U.S. government as hypocritical for having criminalized the Five’s anti-terrorist efforts while waging a “war on terrorism” were applauded. For example, Montreal resident Livio Di Celmo contrasted Canada’s “anti-terrorist” troop presence in Afghanistan with Canada’s refusal to regard Cuban American paramilitary groups as terrorist organizations. His brother Fabio, an Italian citizen, was killed in a bomb attack on a Havana hotel by such groups in 1997.
Canadian lawyers Paul Copeland and Bill Sloan explained how political contamination of judicial proceedings, exemplified by the case of the Five, threatens the legal rights of all. Who would not agree that 17 pretrial months spent by the Five in solitary confinement is cruel, asked Weinglass.
Retired Judge Claudia Morcam pointed out that condemnation of the “arbitrary detention” of the Five — a UN judgment rendered in 2005 — led the Detroit City Council last year to call unanimously for their freedom.
Speakers held up respect for family and women’s rights as a message that carries wide acceptance. Elizabeth Palmeiro, wife of prisoner Ruben Labañino, movingly described the suffering of Adriana Pérez and Olga Salenueva, long denied visas for entry into the U.S. and prevented from visiting husbands Gerardo Hernández and René González. Palmeiro also reported on interference with her own family’s visits with Ramon at his Texas prison.
For Nova Scotia author and historian Isaac Saney, the prisoners’ cause takes on universal significance as an example of perennial struggle in the Americas to realize the right to national self-determination and the associated right of self-defense.
Discussion turned to action. Plans were laid for an international outpouring of demonstrations, press communiqués and political actions immediately following the appeals court announcement of its pending decision. Speakers called for stepped-up agitation in cities and regions throughout both countries and augmented pressure put on legislators and government officials at all levels.
Plans are afoot for establishing local organizations focusing specifically on the Five, examples being the D.C. Metro group recently formed in Washington and the Fabio Di Celmo group in Montreal. The point, all were agreed, is to break the “information blockade.”
In British Columbia, stepped-up public meetings, literature availability, and one-to-one talk sessions may be working. Now, reported Noah Fine, hands rise when new listeners are asked if they have heard of the Five.
For Vancouver activist Tamara Hanson, work for the Five should be a “way of life.” “Make it a political issue, make it a campaign,” she advised. In Canadian cities, supporters of the Cuban Five have been carrying out regular demonstrations outside U.S. consulates throughout 2007.
North American activists gather to support the Cuban Five
by Julie Fry
Nov. 15, 2007
Reprinted from Workers World
On Nov. 9-10, hundreds of North American activists gathered in Toronto for a conference on the case of the Cuban Five. During the two days, Canadian and U.S. activists shared their ideas and experiences in the campaign to free the five Cuban political prisoners being held in the U.S.
One of the common problems cited by the activists in their work was the mainstream media suppression of information about the case. People discussed the work they are doing to break through what they called an information blockade about the Five. The participants, who included people from all over the continent, discussed the rallies, film screenings, public forums, and media campaigns they are working on to spread information about the case. In Detroit, for example, activists were able to have a city council resolution passed in support of the Five.
Also participating in the conference were several Cuban leaders. Among them was Elizabet Palmeiro, the wife of Ramon Labañino—one of the Five. She read a message of solidarity from Ramon to the conference, and spoke about how difficult it is for many of the family members of the Five to visit them in prison. The U.S. government continues to deny visas to family members of the Five; several of the Five have not seen their loved ones since they were detained in 1998.
Leonard Weinglass, one of the attorneys for the Five, attended the conference and provided a legal update on the case. He stated that he expects a decision from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the most recent appeal sometime after the new year, but he does not know for sure when they will issue a decision.
Conference participants made a proposal for an international day of action in support of the Five, which would take place on the day after the court of appeals issues its decision, whenever that is. The proposal calls for activists all over the world to organize actions in support of the Five on that day, regardless of how the Court of Appeals rules. In addition, the conference participants adopted a resolution affirming their support for the Five and their continued dedication to the struggle for their freedom.
U.S.-Canada conference boosts defense of Cuban Five
by Beverly Bernardo
Nov. 26, 2007
Reprinted from The Militant
TORONTO, Canada—Some 250 people attended a U.S.-Canada conference November 9-10 to step up the international campaign to win the release of five Cuban revolutionaries being unjustly held in U.S. jails. The event was organized by the Canadian Network on Cuba, La Table de Concertation de Solidarité Quebec-Cuba, and the U.S.-based National Network on Cuba.
“This is an important moment in our case and we are certain that we always can count on you,” wrote Ramón Labañino, one of the Cuban Five, as they are known, in a message he sent to the conference. “This is a political case and it can only be won through international solidarity.”
The five Cubans—Gerardo Hernández, René González, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, and Fernando González—have been locked up since their arrest in 1998. They were convicted in a 2001 federal trial in Miami for “conspiracy to commit espionage” and other frame-up charges, and are serving sentences ranging from 15 years to a double life term.
The five were in the United States to gather information on Cuban counterrevolutionary groups that have organized attacks against Cuba from south Florida with the complicity of the U.S. government. Such terror attacks included a string of bombings of hotels in 1997, one of which killed an Italian tourist.
Conference participants discussed the recent success of a month-long series of events in North America, part of an international campaign in defense of the Cuban Five, which demonstrated greater openings today than ever before to broaden this campaign.
Those at the gathering decided to step up the campaign to demand that Washington grant visas for Adriana Pérez and Olga Salanueva to visit their husbands—Gerardo Hernández and René González, respectively—who for nine years have been prevented from seeing their loved ones.
They projected continuing to campaign for CIA-trained murderer Luis Posada Carriles—who today walks free on U.S. streets—to be extradited to Venezuela to stand trial for his violent attacks against Cuba over nearly five decades.
The conference also decided on organizing a “Week of Free the Five” actions as soon as a federal appellate court in Atlanta rules on an appeal filed August 20 by the attorneys of the Cuban Five.
The two-day meeting was preceded by a press conference at City Hall, addressed by Elizabeth Palmeiro, the wife of Labañino, and representatives of the three sponsoring organizations. Palmeiro was interviewed afterward for “As It Happens,” a popular radio program.
Numerous successful events
At the opening session, participants reported on many recent events on behalf of the Cuban Five. Bill Sloan, an attorney from Montreal who defends refugees and immigrants, reported that a picket line is held in front of the U.S. consulate there every second Thursday.
Two participants from Washington, D.C., Banbose Shango, from the newly formed D.C. Metro Committee to Free the Cuban Five, and Sam Manuel, from the Socialist Workers Party, reported on successful activities organized in the U.S. capital, including a September 12 meeting of 175 at the Howard University Law School.
Sobukwe Shukura and Jacob Perasso reported on a broadly sponsored meeting in Atlanta on October 2. The event focused on Cuba’s role in defeating invasions of Angola by the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1970s and ‘80s. Three of the Cuban Five served as volunteer combatants in that war.
Another report highlighted an October 11 meeting in Calgary marking the 40th anniversary of the death in combat of Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara that also featured the defense of the Cuban Five.
Later in the conference, Ike Nahem from Cuba Solidarity New York announced plans for an East Coast Free the Cuban Five conference to take place in New York April 4-5.
Palmeiro and Leonard Weinglass, an attorney for the five Cubans, were featured speakers at a public rally held in Toronto’s city hall as part of the conference.
“My husband is in prison,” Palmeiro said, “because he refused to betray his country, his brothers in prison, or his principles. The Five represent the best of Cuban society and our revolution.”
Weinglass reviewed the facts surrounding the conviction of the five and stressed the stakes in waging a public campaign in the months ahead as the defense awaits a decision on its appeal. Ernesto Sentí, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, also addressed the rally, among others.
Many at the conference were longtime activists in the defense of the Cuban Revolution, but others were attending such an event for the first time.
Rachel Cooper and Ian Jones came from Ladysmith on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. They said they plan to write articles for the local media and build support for the Cuban Five at Malaspina College where Cooper teaches.
Sofia Shank, 20, a student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told the Militant she was “glad to plug myself in to this longterm fight.”
Ernie Mailhot contributed to this article.