Students organize to support Cuban Five

From left, speakers Ike Nahem of July 26 Coalition, Randolph Caar of the Black Students Organization, Venezuelan Ambassador Julio Escalona, Imani Brown, Cuban Ambassador Rodolfo Reyes, and Chicano Caucus members David Luna and Geraldo Romo.Photo: Robert J. Mercado

From left, speakers Ike Nahem of July 26 Coalition, Randolph Caar of the Black Students Organization, Venezuelan Ambassador Julio Escalona, Imani Brown, Cuban Ambassador Rodolfo Reyes, and Chicano Caucus members David Luna and Geraldo Romo.
Photo: Robert J. Mercado

New York — Students at Columbia University held an important forum on campus to build solidarity with the Cuban Five. The event was co-organized by several student organizations with the July 26 Coalition in New York City.

The Five are Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, Cuban citizens held unjustly for 15 years in U.S. prisons, and René González, recently released but still serving time on parole in Florida.

Their conviction was allegedly for con­spi­racy to commit espionage and, in Hernández’s case, conspiracy to commit murder. In reality, their crime was to defend Cuba from terrorism carried out by right-wing, Miami-based Cuban exiles with the full knowledge of the U.S. ­authorities.

After welcoming the audience, Imani Brown, of the Caribbean Students Association, described the students’ desire to increase visibility and action around the gross human rights violations carried out against the Five. She noted that the students experienced difficulties while trying to organize an event that was deemed controversial, but that did not stop them.

Student organizers also sought to ground themselves in the historical and political context of the case and to identify intersections with struggles they already identified as their own. As a Caribbean student, she noted that Cuba’s social, cultural and economic history, and long history of real solidarity with its neighbors, has had a deeply lasting impact on the region and provides an unparalleled model for alternative modes of development.

David Luna and Geraldo Romo read a statement affirming that the Chicano Caucus stands in solidarity with the Cuban Five, whose case they see as a manifestation of the corrupt U.S. justice system, which disproportionately target Black and Latino youth, Latina and trans women.

This justice system, they said, violates individuals’ and families’ basic human rights, including physical, emotional and sexual violence, as it capitalizes on immigrant labor by day and detains undocumented laborers under the harshest conditions by night, and continuously deports people it deems “illegal.”

U.S. gov’t pressured jurors

Martin Garbus, lead attorney for the Five, gave a legal update, stating that four of the Five are in the midst of habeas corpus appeals. Motions have been filed by their attorneys seeking evidence the U.S. government withheld and asking the judge to grant evidentiary hearings. A decision is awaited.

Garbus also described some of the many violations that occurred during the trial, some unreported at the time. He discussed how the U.S. government paid up to 40 journalists to demonize the defendants, how the trial was pursued to influence Florida elections in 2000, and how jurors’ names and images were repeatedly displayed on TV to intimidate them so they wouldn’t acquit.

Rodolfo Reyes Rodrigues, Cuban ambassador to the United Nations, remarked that several of the Five could have been in his shoes, and vice versa. Two of the Five, Hernández and González, had studied with him to be diplomats. They had volunteered, like Reyes, in Angola, helping to defend the newly independent country from invading forces from apartheid South Africa.

Reyes raised known terrorist Luis Posada Carrilles, responsible for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airline that killed 73 people and bombings of Cuba’s essential tourism industry in the 1990s, which killed an Italian tourist in addition to Cuban citizens. The U.S. allows him to live freely in Miami, where exiles continue to plot against the Cuban revolution, highlighting why the Five had to undertake their mission.

Reyes thanked everyone in the audience for all their efforts to spread the story of the Five and win their freedom, for it is also a show of solidarity with all of Cuba. He concluded by describing the five heroes as “the best part of the generation born after the revolution.”

Luis Rosa, who spent 18 years in prison for his struggle for Puerto Rican freedom, said that the U.S. government denies it has political prisoners in order to perpetuate the lie that it is the ultimate defender of freedom, justice, democracy and human rights in the world. But in reality there are hundreds like Rosa still locked up in the world’s largest prison population.

While the U.S. government continues to violate prisoners’ basic human rights with isolation, sensory deprivation and other forms of torture, Rosa noted that the prisoners persevere, getting energized with each act of solidarity by their supporters on the outside. Speaking up for the Cuban Five is also speaking up for Oscar Lopez Rivera, Mutulu Shakur, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sudiata Acoli and many other prisoners.

5 days for Cuban 5

Rosa encouraged the audience to participate in an important rally in Washington, D.C., on June 1, as part of the “Five Days for the Cuban Five” activities (see thecuban5.org). For bus information from New York City, call 347-201-3728.

Nancy Cabrero, co-chair of Casa de las Americas, and people’s lawyer Michael Tarif Warren, presided over the event. Julio Escalona, Venezuelan deputy ambassador to the U.N., also spoke in defense of the Five. Actor Danny Glover sent a videotaped solidarity message, and La Brigada Bolivariana gave a musical performance to conclude the evening.