BY BEVERLY BERNARDO
TORONTO—“The case of the Cuban Five is a political case like that of Nelson Mandela and the Puerto Rican independence fighters,” Elizabeth Palmeiro, wife of Ramón Labañino, one of the five, told participants at the opening ceremony of the “Peoples’ Tribunal and Assembly.” The ceremony was held Sept. 21 at the Steelworkers hall here.
Some 250 people turned out for the public three-day event, called to broaden support for the fight to free Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González. Among the participants were trade unionists, political activists, writers and journalists, filmmakers, religious figures, prominent lawyers and family members of the five.
The five Cuban revolutionaries were framed up and jailed by the U.S. government more than 14 years ago for carrying out missions from the Cuban government to prevent murderous attacks and provocations by counterrevolutionary Cuban-American groups intent on overthrowing Cuba’s socialist revolution—an aspiration they share with Washington. (See “Who are the Cuban Five” on this page.)
Cuban Ambassador to Canada Teresita de Jesús Vicente Sotolongo welcomed those attending the event. Tony Woodley, the executive officer for Unite—the largest trade union in the United Kingdom—brought “greetings from the British trade-union movement with its 7.5 million members.”
“An injustice of this scope deserves international support,” said Woodley. “We need to keep reaching out to the hundreds and thousands of Leonard Weinglasses, to trade unionists and ordinary workers to free the Cuban Five. I personally won’t rest until they are free.” Weinglass, who died last year, was a prominent attorney who defended the rights of many who became targets of the U.S. government, including the Cuban Five.
“Voices around the world must be heard,” wrote Gerardo Hernández, in a letter from prison read to participants. “The efforts each one of you makes is important. We count on you to assure our victory.”
A Peoples’ Tribunal was held at the City Hall Council Chambers Sept. 22 where Magistrates of Conscience heard testimony from witnesses who detailed the decades of attacks on Cuba and supporters of the revolution and explained the U.S. government’s frame-up of the five.
Juan Carranza, a lawyer and current president of the Hispanic Development Council, opened the tribunal and introduced the panel of judges. They included Denis Lemelin, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers; Ken Neumann, national director for the United Steelworkers in Canada; Marie Clarke Walker, vice president of the Canadian Labour Congress and an executive member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; Naveen Mehta, general council to the United Food and Commercial Workers union; Cindy Sheehan, anti-war activist from the U.S.; Miguel Barnet, president of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba; and Wes Elliott, a native leader from the Six Nations, who opened and closed the tribunal’s proceedings.
Witnesses testified on decades of murderous attacks and acts of sabotage that have killed more than 3,400 and seriously injured more than 2,000 Cubans since the overthrow of the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. These include the U.S.-organized mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961; arson attacks on schools, factories and department stores; biological attacks introducing dengue fever that killed more than 150 children in 1981 and thrips palmi insects devastating crops on the island in 1996; and bombings, including of the La Coubre freighter in 1960, Cubana flight 455 in 1976, and hotels in 1997.
Isaac Saney, co-chair for the Canadian Network on Cuba, introduced the first session of the tribunal. It is in the context of a long history of violent attacks on Cuba that “Havana, in a measure of self-defense, sent the Cuban Five to the U.S.,” Saney said. “These five patriots represent the best of what the Cuban Revolution has produced.”
Saney also drew attention to the fact that 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the defeat of the invading white supremacist South African army at Cuito Cuanavale in Angola. Three of the Cuban Five—Hernández, Fernando González, and René González—were among more than 370,000 Cuban volunteer combatants who, between 1975 and 1991, helped repel the apartheid forces from Angola.
“The Cuban Five are in jail as a punishment for the Cuban Revolution,” said Keith Bolender, a journalist and author based in Toronto.
Arnold August, an author living in Montreal, described attacks by CIA-trained Cuban counterrevolutionaries carried out in the Montreal and Ottawa areas between 1964 and 1980. These included “an explosion at the trade section of the Cuban delegation in Montreal on April 4, 1972, that killed Sergio Pérez Castillo and left seven people wounded. None of the suspects in these crimes have ever been charged by the courts,” he said.
Later, August also informed the meeting that Canadian Customs officials denied entry to Stan Smith, a member of the Chicago Committee for the Release of the Five on his way to the tribunal. The assembly voted to send a protest note to Ottawa.
Raymundo Navarro, a member of the Cuban Trade Union Federation (CTC) National Secretariat and of Cuba’s National Assembly, spoke about some of the accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution and why the U.S. government fears Cuba’s revolutionary example. “Cuba has the eighth lowest infant mortality rate in the world. The empire 90 miles away has a hard time doing that,” he said.
Navarro also said that “after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, we didn’t abandon the Haitians.” In contrast, Ottawa quickly pulled out its medical personnel and others who were there.
In his testimony, defense attorney Richard Klugh said the Cuban Five legal defense team is pursuing habeas corpus motions for each of the five based on information not available at the time of the trial, including a secret campaign organized by the U.S. government to fund Miami-area journalists, to the tune of millions of dollars, to flood the local media with stories critical of the five between 1998 and 2001. “This was a political conviction, the purpose of which was to prosecute innocent people,” said Klugh. “The U.S. government is prosecuting Cuba’s right to exist.”
Jose Pertierra, a lawyer for the Venezuelan government, talked about Caracas’ efforts to extradite CIA-trained Cuban counterrevolutionary Luis Posada Carriles. Posada is wanted in Venezuela on 73 counts of murder for his role in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner over Barbados in which every passenger was killed, many of them teenage members of the Cuban fencing team. Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985 and today freely walks the streets of Miami as a big personality among Cuban-American counterrevolutionaries.
Posada bragged to the New York Times in 1998 about his CIA training and involvement in a series of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997.
Also testifying was Livio di Celmo, whose brother Fabio, then living in Montreal, was killed Sept. 4, 1997, in one of those hotel bombings. “The Canadian government did nothing to help the family. Only Cuba responded,” he said in explaining his resolve to back the fight to free the five Cuban revolutionaries.
Referring to Rafael Cancel Miranda, a leader of the fight for Puerto Rican independence who spent 27 years in U.S. prisons, Alicia Jrapko, U.S. national coordinator of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five, said Puerto Rican revolutionaries “could not have been released without people like you.”
Gloria La Riva, coordinator in the U.S. for the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, outlined the many facets of the government’s frame-up, including the court’s refusal to move the trial venue out of Miami.
“The U.S. government is responsible for what five Cuban families face today. Their cruel policies were what made the five undertake their mission,” charged Adriana Pérez, wife of Hernández, who like Olga Salanueva, wife of René González, is barred from entering the U.S. to visit her husband in prison.
The tribunal’s panel of judges issued a 12-point ruling concluding the prosecutions and sentences of the five to be “contrary to international and U.S. domestic law, including the U.S. Constitution.” They proposed the five “be set free immediately” through an overturn of their convictions or presidential clemency.
The participation of unions in the fight to free the Cuban 5 was a prominent feature of the weekend’s activities, which included a rally outside the U.S. Consulate Sept. 23. “The trade union movement in Canada has opened its doors” to the campaign to Free the Cuban 5, said Navarro. A letter to the tribunal from the Quebec Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) was read to the gathering.
On the tribunal and assembly’s final day those present participated in workshops aimed to strengthen work to free the Cuban Five. In addition to a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, the meeting sent a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging him to take action to help free the Cuban Five.
Vol. 76/No. 37
October 15, 2012