On Friday morning, Feb. 1, nearly two dozen solidarity activists gathered on famous Hollywood Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles, California, to unveil the only non-electoral political billboard currently standing in a city filled with billboards advertising movies, cars, and other products. "Free the Cuban Five Unjustly Held in U.S. Prisons" proudly proclaims the eye-catching red billboard to the traffic passing by, coming and going from the busy Hollywood Freeway.
The small but vocal crowd were thrilled to see this tribute to five heroic men, and happy to know that the message of the Five will reach hundreds of thousands of people over the course of the next month. A series of prominent activists in solidarity with the Cuban Five spoke to the crowd during a rally chaired by Ian Thompson, an organizer with the Los Angeles chapter of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five. Jim Lafferty, President of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and interim general manager of progressive Los Angeles radio station KPFK, highlighted the hypocrisy of the U.S. government. "If ever the bogus nature of the so-called 'war on terrorism' was made evident, it was made evident when the U.S. government did what they did and are continuing to do to our brother from Cuba, the Cuban Five. It's important for the people of the United States to demand of their own government not only that we normalize relations with Cuba, but that we free the Cuban Five."
Blase Bonpane, the Executive Director of the Office of the Americas, spoke next, noting the particular signficance of the Hollywood location of the billboard. "We're extremely happy to see this wonderful billboard here in the heart of Hollywood because Cuba has been victimized by terror for over 50 years, and some of the organizations involved over the past years have even struck here in Hollywood. We have groups named Alpha-66, Omega-7, and other groups of that type, that have been given free reign here in Hollywood. We had a gathering place known as the Haymarket. These people came in and burned it to the ground, practically killing those who were inside." Bonpane also addressed the crowd in Spanish at the end of the program.
The A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition has been intensively involved with the effort to extradite Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela, as well as in the effort to free the Cuban Five, featuring speakers about the Five at all of its large antiwar demonstrations they have organized. Cela Esguerra, student organizer with A.N.S.W.E.R., told the crowd "The Los Angeles chapter of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition stands today with other community activists to inaugurate this billboard for the Cuban Five. This billboard is a dramatic display that will bring to light to tens of thousands of Angelenos not only a grave case of injustice, but the campaign to free them."
Gloria La Riva, Coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five which originated the billboard campaign, talked about the reason for the campaign. "If there was national coverage as there should be of this case, about a case involving United States support for terrrorism against Cuba and the United States' unjust imprisonment of the men who were fighting terrorism, we wouldn't have to place a billboard in the streets of Los Angeles. But we will do whatever we have to do to help free our men. We will do whatever we have to do involving collecting the thousands of dollars that it takes. This billboard was possible because we got donations from everywhere, from around the world and across the United States. So we'll move on to the next city after Los Angeles. In the meantime, the people of Los Angeles, the progressive movement, should be proud that it started here in L.A."
Arturo Garcia of the Alliance for Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines was the final speaker. "As a representative of the Filipino-American community in Los Angeles," he said, "I am proud to have this billboard that breaks the monopoly of the capitalists and imperialists. Cuba and the Philippines share the same fate. As it was on Dec. 10, 1898, the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico were sold down the river by the American imperialists to the tune of 10 million dollars. We want the Cuban Five freed!"
Although it arrived too late for the program, the Committee received a moving message from Cuba from Roberto González, the brother of René González and an attorney on the legal team of the Cuban Five.
Although we knew that it was coming, I couldn't help but feel emotion on seeing the billboard with the image of the Five on the boulevard, on television. When we spoke of that project a few years ago, it seem like an unrealizable dream. It has only been possible for us to carry out this battle since the first days by counting on dreamers like yourselves.
I don't know on behalf of how many people I can give you all thanks for the work you do, but I assure you that at least on this island yesterday, you made the lives of millions of people happier and you made us feel that the return of our brothers is that much closer.
Many thanks to all of you.
A strong embrace, Roberto
And this message was received from the families of the Five in Cuba:
Receive our warmest embrace for this magnificent action that you all have achieved, the result of your tenacious effort and the sense of responsibility with which you all have worked. Please transmit our message of appreciation to each and every person who, in one form or another, has made it possible for this project to become a reality. This shows that we are not mistaken when we say, the people of the United States have it in their hands for justice to prevail in the case of our Five sons.
The families of the Five
The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, which organized the billboard campaign with important financial assistance from supporters of the Cuban Five around the United States and around the world, is still collecting funds to continue and expand the campaign, extending the presence in Los Angeles past one month and bringing the message of "Free the Cuban Five" to other cities. Donations are very much needed and welcomed. Click the button below to donate, and please be as generous as possible.