Italian Activists Demand Freedom for the Cuban Five in the US
Well-known Italians expressed their solidarity with the Cuban Five in an Italian left-wing national newspaper
by Julieta García Ríos
August 6, 2007
Reprinted from Juventud Rebelde
The meeting was being held to analyze an issue of key importance that required creativity. The Italian friends who had been summoned there knew that their actions were also essential for the liberation of five Cubans, described as «spies» by the US government, though considered heroes by the Cuban people.
They knew that the term «spies» was used by the Miami media in their campaign against the men, who came to the US only to infiltrate terrorist groups that had organized attacks against Cuba.
However, directors of the Rome Branch of the Italy-Cuba Friendship Association were convinced of the innocence of the Cuban Five. Therefore, they looked for the most efficient way to promote the men’s cause, especially when another hearing on the case has been set for August 20 before the US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
Neither the demonstrations held in front of the US embassy in Rome, nor the talks by the prisoners’ relatives or those by foreign intellectuals who are aware of the unjust sentences were enough for these friends. They had to think of wider-reaching alternatives. That’s why the proposal by Maria Fierro, one of the members of the board of directors of the Rome Branch, was so well received. It consisted of getting the support of well-known Italians.
«Each member of the board of directors contributed with one idea. They took out an ad in the national newspaper il manifesto, a communist paper that represents progressive ideas rather than party-specific thought.
«The ad was set to be published on Sunday. On this day, more copies are printed and a greater number of people read the newspaper, which has a daily circulation of between 35,000 and 40,000 copies,» explained Marco Papacci, secretary of the Rome Branch of the Italy-Cuba Friendship Association. Marco Papacci. In 1988, Marco visited Cuba for the first time. Since then, he had visited Cuba every year until 1997. As his family grew he could then only travel to the island every two years. He fell in love with the friendship and happiness of the Cuban people, and with a social system that he considers authentic.
The persevering work in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and its people were why he was presented in November 2006 with the Friendship Medal, an award presented by the Council of State and proposed by the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The following interview with this man of medium height and a picture of Che on his shirt took place in one of ICAP’s offices.
—How and when did the members of the Rome Branch learn about the Cuban Five’s case?
—Since the moment they were arrested in September 1998. The first thing we heard was that a group of Cuban «spies» had been arrested by the FBI in the United States. The press repeated what was spread from Miami, and never explained what these men were doing there.
«We thought that it was a very strange piece of news. Immediately, we asked the Cuban embassy for information. As soon as we learned that their real mission wasn’t to uncovere State secrets but rather terrorist plans against the island and its Revolution, we began to take actions to counter the media campaign surrounding the case.»
—What were the initiatives you promoted?
—The first major activity was a demonstration in front of the US embassy in Rome. We publicized it through the local newspaper and public radio channel, which can be done for free. We also publicized it through email and phone messages.
«On another occasion, we invited over Guatemalan Percy Alvarado, a veteran of Cuban State Security; and American professor Bruce Jackson, from the University of Buffalo, who gave a presentation on how the Cuban Five’s actions stemmed from the island’s just right to protect itself from attacks. More than 300 people attended the talk. The fact that the guests were not Cuban gave more credibility to their arguments.
«The Cuban Five’s theme is very hard to confront in Italy. It’s very difficult to change people’s minds after they were initially told the men were «spies.» We take advantage of every activity to distribute brochures with information about the issue. These documents have our web site and email addresses for those who would like to get more information.
«In addition, we invited the relatives of the Cuban Five to visit our country so that they could directly raise people’s awareness, because this is a clear case of the violation of human rights. In one of our meetings, we plastered the city with placards to announce an address by Cuban lawyer Roberto Gonzalez — brother of Rene Gonzalez, one of the prisoners— and European Parliamentarian Marco Rizzo. We held the event with the participation of more than 400 people.
«On the day of the talk, the RAI International TV chain interviewed Roberto Gonzalez. They had a 75-minute conversation about Cuba and the Cuban Five’s case. The interview was broadcasted for three days in the morning programming.»
—When was the first ad about the Cuban political prisoners published in il manifesto?
—On April 1, 2007. On that occasion, the ad showed a picture of eight people: four Italians and the rest were Cuban people living in Italy. On top of the picture could be read, Noi con i 5 e tu? (We are with the Cuban Five, and you?) Below the picture, we asked for their liberation and explained that they were being held in US prisons – for having defended Cuba from terrorism. Then, there was our branch’s phone number and web site address.
«After that collective picture, we continued the campaign through well-known Italians. The European Parliamentarian Marco Rizzo was the first to call for support for the liberation of the Cuban Five. He has helped us to contact some of the other people.»
—What other well-known people have joined the campaign? Cristiano Lucarelli, football player. —Franca Rame, senator of a party of the center, theatre actress and wife of the Nobel laureate for literature Dario Fo; philosopher Gianni Vattimo; Andrea Mingardi, singer-song writer; and Cristiano Lucarrelli, a football player from the Liborno team.
«Another person committed to the campaign is actor Jonis Bascir, one of the leading actors of the TV series A Doctor in the Family, which is broadcasted by RAI 1 and has a huge audience. Jonis has shown himself to be interested in the case; so much that he invited me over to one of his programs in Future City Radio, a radio station that is listened to in Rome. He interviewed me there and I could explain who were Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez and Fernando Gonzalez and why they are in jail».
—Did all those who participated have some previous knowledge about this case?
—Some of them did, and right after I contacted them, they agreed to participate in the campaign. Others such as Jonis, Mingardi and Lucarelli didn’t know who these men were. However, they asked for information, and after reading all the information we sent them, they had no doubts about committing themselves.
—What has been the impact of the initiative?
—The visits to our web site have increased by 35 percent. A month ago, before I travelled to Cuba, another four well-known Italians contacted us to participate in the campaign: astronaut Umberto Guidoni; Oliviero Filiberto, president of the Italian Communist Party; Fosco Giannini, senator of Communist Re-foundation; and Fausto Sorini, a communist leader.
«Publications such as Le Rimesse, which belongs to the transportation workers of a locality in Rome, have joined us and in its last edition, from June to July, repeated our campaign with the position of football player Cristiano Lucarelli saying, Io con i 5 e tu? (I am with the Cuban Five, and you?).»
—Are you bothered that someone else is taking up the same initiative?
—To the contrary, we are happy that the initiative is multipling itself. The important thing is that the theme gets broadcast, that more and more people from all over the world learn and support their liberation. We are not interested in the copyright.
—How do you finance this and other initiatives?
—All our support is voluntary. We devote our spare time when we finish working to cooperate with Cuba. From the Association, we give Spanish courses, organize parties and sell Cuban food, drinks and handcrafts. Part of the membership fees go to the Italy-Cuba National Friendship Association and the rest go to our branch. This money is used to pay for expenses, and if more money is needed we pay out of our own pockets.
—Why does someone who lives so geographically far away from Cuba defend Rene, Ramon, Antonio, Gerardo and Fernando?
—What the US government is doing to them is disgusting. It is amazing to see how they have imprisoned those anti-terrorist fighters while the US government declared a fight against the very problem of terrorism. Nonetheless, the US protects renowned criminals such as Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch, Rodolfo Frometa, Jose Basulto...
«The American government has created the theory of good terrorism —the one carried out by the abovementioned criminals, that of the ex-soldiers of the dictatorships in Argentine, Chile, Uruguay— and bad terrorism, when the United States is the affected country.»
—What is the highest aspiration of your campaign?
—That many people join us and struggle for the liberation of the Cuban Five, so that they can travel to Italy and celebrate with their friends from this part of the Atlantic Ocean.