Morning Star: Political victims

Lizzie Cocker   2010-06-22

Monday 21 June 2010

When Miami judges condemned five Cuban men to prison for espionage in a political show trial in 2001 it was hoped they’d quietly disappear, along with their embarrassing investigation into anti-Cuban terror groups operating out of the US city.

But in its high-stakes war against the truth Washington misjudged the ferocious fight it had prompted – not with Cuba or human rights groups, but with the families of the prisoners now known as the Miami Five and solidarity activists from across the world.

During a visit to England two of the prisoners’ wives, Adriana Perez and Olga Salanueva, told Your browser may not support display of this image. the Star that in the face of the US government’s unrepentant commitment to this stitch-up they have not wavered in their dedication to securing the return to Cuba of their husbands, Gerardo Hernandez and Rene Gonzalez, and their comrades Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez.

The fortitude of these women is overwhelming. Adriana and her husband Gerardo, who has received the cruellest punishment of the five – two life sentences plus 15 years – married at the age of 18 after a whirlwind teenage romance, making a pact to finish their studies and build careers so that in 10 years they would be ready to start a family.

By the time Adriana was 28, the young couple were buying things for their unconceived baby. Then, as she explains, “he was arrested and everything was interrupted.
“We thought we had so many years ahead of us to plan and to achieve our dreams,” she says.

Repeated visa denials on the grounds that Adriana and Olga are threats to US national security have meant that the women have not seen their husbands since they were arrested in 1998.

The US government, which maintains a strangling 50-year blockade against Cuba along with other forms of state aggression, reserves a more intimate hostility for the wives of the Cuban prisoners, limiting their interactions with their husbands to monitored, recorded and interrupted 15-minute phone calls.

“As Cubans we always feel that hostility from the United States. Precisely because of that kind of hostile policy I have had to be separated from the things that I want the most,” Adriana says. “We didn’t want to live in this way.”

The wives’ goal, after securing their husbands’ freedom, is “to try and recover the time we’ve lost and everything we have not been able to do throughout these years. Every day we wake up dreaming of this.”

The wives’ eyes look as though they contain the suffering of a people, but they also betray an invincible humanity which is determined to fight.

Adriana reflects that “sometimes you don’t know where to get strength from and you think ‘I can’t survive all these years.’ You look for reasons to survive.

“The first one is the love we have for each other, for our husbands, our respect and admiration for their strength and the work that they did.

“And the strength that they have to get through the psychological torture and all the other violations against them. All of their strength has been transmitted to us.

“Another very important reason is the support that we have received from our own people and the international solidarity – to know that it’s not just our struggle.”

Olga was left to raise two daughters, Irma and Ivette, by herself when her husband Rene was ruthlessly torn from their home in the US at 5am on September 12 1998. They were forbidden from saying so much as goodbye. Three years later he was sentenced to 15 years.

“From the beginning I felt very sad about what was happening to my husband. I felt alone with my two daughters and it was a very difficult feeling,” she says.

“We suffered an injustice and, although I felt pain because of my husband, at the same time I felt motivated to keep struggling because of my daughters.”

Central to the strength of the global campaign for their husbands, which has attracted figures including 10 Nobel laureates and celebrities such as actor Danny Glover, has been the prioritising of collective over individual struggle.

Just as Rene bravely refused to accept the condition that if he did not testify against his comrades his family would be deported from the US, the five refused to submit to initial pressure from their counsels. Olga emphasises that individual justice “is not the essence of any of the five or of the families.” Whenever she is asked about her own circumstances she always stresses that their biggest fight is resolving Gerardo’s situation.

“Even though each one of them suffers from their own problems, they know that Gerardo is in the worst situation .”

The second to last hope within the US judiciary system of freedom for Gerardo was exhausted last year when the Supreme Court refused to review his case.

But last month the US wing of the campaign to Free the Five released evidence showing that as their trials took place bigshot Miami journalists were paid tens of thousands of dollars to write defamatory articles, the purpose of which was to whip up public hostility towards the Cuban anti-terrorism agents. This evidence has offered new hope for justice for the five.

Although a number of the guilty journalists have been named and shamed, the Obama administration continues to block the release of government contracts with these journalists. Cuban Five Committee co-ordinator Gloria La Riva says this secrecy adds to other evidence of a cover-up of potential violations of the Smith-Mundt Act, which prohibits the state from seeking to propagandise the US public.

This new evidence has helped defence lawyer Leonard Weinglass to pursue the last legal recourse in the US – a collateral appeal or “attack” on the conviction.

Adriana stresses that this is an important moment. “Now we have very real evidence with which we can denounce US policy,” she says. “And being victims of that kind of policy allows us to speak out about what that really means in terms of our families and our husbands.

“I trust that a solution can be achieved. I don’t know if it will happen with Obama or another president, but I think it will be possible with global support.

“Because the truth always triumphs, we are fighting very hard to make that truth be known.”

The families of the five say that, not only do global solidarity campaigns play a crucial role in raising awareness and subsequent pressure which feeds into the US system, they also directly touch the central fighters in this battle, the five themselves. They receive tides of solidarity letters from around the world, most of them from Britain. They also receive the Morning Star every day – when the prison guards allow it.

With the prospect of being isolated from their loved ones for many more years to come, the families say their inspiration to keep going comes from these men’s ability to break through the cell walls by staying engaged with the rest of the world.

Adriana says that receiving the Morning Star in prison plays a part in the men’s desire to stay informed about international struggles.

“It shows you that their minds are out of prison,” she insists.

While the families have no illusions that their battle is with nothing less than “the power of an empire over families,” Olga asserts that “hope is ours and we can’t allow anyone to take it away from us.

“It is like a challenge. We know that we have an enemy in front of us that has hatred for five people and five families.

“At the end of the day, we will win”.

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