GERARDO Hernández, one of the five Cubans imprisoned in the U.S. for 13 years, is a strong-willed man, according to renowned American art critic Gilbert Brownstone.
President of the Foundation which bears his name and an important figure within the art world, Brownstone visited Gerardo in the Victorville maximum security prison in California, to offer his support and solidarity.
He said that meeting Gerardo was a striking moment, coming face to face with such a brave, yet sensitive man. "That’s how he can overcome such a nightmare and detach himself by talking about beautiful things," Brownstone stated to Prensa Latina.
Brownstone had been informed that the visit could last up to six hours. He said, however, "To my surprise, our time together seemed more like five minutes."
Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González, identified as the Cuban Five, were arrested on September 12, 1998 in Miami, where they were gathering information to warn their country of criminal plans launched by anti-Cuban groups based in South Florida.
During the trial, the defense substantiated many irregularities but the Cuban Five were sentenced to long terms in prison. Gerardo Hernández is serving a double life sentence plus 15 years.
Brownstone is also a museologist, art specialist, and curator. He graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris and studied art history with the Pierre Francastel (1900-1970), one of the founders of sociology of the arts.
"We talked a lot. We shared views on the world in which I work, as well as my deep love for Cuba and its people, and to my amazement, he knew everything about me," Brownstone said of his conversation with Gerardo.
"The prison is located in the middle of a desert. There is nothing there. When you arrive, you only see a pile of cement, control towers, and wire. It's startling, the coldest and most inhumane place I've ever seen."
Located in Victorville, California, with the Mojave Desert to the south, it is about 130 kilometers northeast of Los Angeles.
"When I got there, I noticed that people respected Gerardo, but the rules are rigid. While we were talking he couldn't stand up and had to keep his hands on the table. Discipline is strict."
Brownstone confirmed that Gerardo lives in very poor conditions. "He is not allowed to see his wife and is punished for no reason, sent to the hole and not permitted regular communication with his lawyers – not to mention that he was condemned to life sentences for crimes he did not commit."
Nevertheless, "His mood is very good. He avoids talking about these things and talks about life without sadness. I did not find him sad.
"Gerardo radiates strength, he is someone who loves. He deeply loves his wife Adriana, his family, his country," Brownstone reiterated.
He emphasized that during the meeting the two did not discuss the case very much, although Gerardo did ask about Cuba, for details about what's been happening. "It's impressive, that someone living a nightmare could talk with such life."
On August 16, Gerardo's defense presented a reply to the government's opposition to his habeas corpus petition submitted to Judge Joan Lenard, who within an undetermined period of time will decide if his request to submit new evidence will be granted.
Gerardo was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder. "He is innocent. It's not enough just to say it, the evidence is there," Brownstone said.
He reiterated that Gerardo had nothing to do with the 1996 downing of two light aircraft belonging to the anti-Cuban organization Brothers to the Rescue. "That was a sovereign decision made by the Cuban state. I understand that the planes violated Cuban airspace and it was not the first time they had done so," Brownstone commented.
The humanist, art critic and collector donated works of renowned 20th century artists to the people of Cuba last year. His foundation, established in 1999, is devoted to supporting and taking action on behalf of cultural development and education.
"The time to act is now," he said, when he donated the more than 100 pieces, including works by Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, Georges Rouault, Donald Judd and Joan Miró, among others.
The works were given to the Museum of Fine Art in Havana and constitute the most important gift made to the institution since its reopening in 2001. Brownstone said that, with this gesture, he hopes to repay a debt to the Cuban people and the Five, to whom he dedicated the donation.
"I have a Cuban heart," he said, "I've been involved with the country for 10 years now and after visiting Gerardo, there's nothing I wouldn't do for the Five." (PL)