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Union support grows for Cuban 5

Published Aug 25, 2011 9:33 PM

The following is excerpted from an email issued by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 (www.thecuban5.org).

On Aug. 13 more than 200 workers, labor leaders and community activists came together at the United Service Workers West Hall to participate in an event in solidarity with the Cuban Five. That same day Rene González, one of the Five, spent another birthday in prison far away from his loved ones.

Those attending the event were able to see a traveling exhibit of Gerardo Hernández’s political cartoons. They also watched a short video of Danny Glover and another on the campaign of British unions in support of the Five.

This meeting marked the first [time] that a union from the U.S. organized an event solely to inform their rank and file and leadership about the colossal and ongoing injustice being committed against the Cuban Five. The purpose was to expand exposure of the case, which is boycotted by the [corporate] media, to the U.S. labor movement and ask them to join the struggle.

Tony Woodley, former president of UNITE, the largest union in England, traveled all the way to Los Angeles to participate in the event. He spoke about the importance of solidarity: “Make no mistake about it, this is a historical event. The Cuban Five enjoy a great deal of support on the international level, but that is not the case inside the U.S. Solidarity is absolutely crucial in this case; the political struggle will be decisive for the return of the Five to Cuba.” Woodley shared an emotional meeting he had with the families of the Five on his last visit to Cuba. “The Five and their families are all people with great pride, and nothing will break their spirit.”

Workers and union leaders represented a number of Southern California unions, including teachers, musicians, electricians, service, transportation and health care workers, among others. Mike Garcia, president of [the United Service Workers West, an affiliate of the Service Employees union], reminded the audience that the struggle is the only tool the workers have in their fight for justice. “The struggle for the freedom of the Cuban Five should be part of the struggle of U.S. workers, because it is part of the same fight.”

Cristina Vazquez from Workers United briefly explained who the Cuban Five are, saying: “Many of you are learning about the Cuban 5 for the first time ... because this story has been kept out of the news media. Every day we fight against injustice, and one of our biggest struggles has been the reunification of families and immigration reform. This fight is no different than that; here we have wives, children and parents who have been separated for 13 years. We need to be the voice of the families of the Cuban Five. We need to be the voice here for the people of Cuba who want their five heroes back home.” Vazquez encouraged the audience to pick up postcards designed by the union she represents to be sent to President Obama asking for the release of the Five.

Alicia Jrapko from the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five spoke about the different campaigns in the U.S. to spread the word about the case. Jrapko explained that this is a case of human rights and basic justice. “These men came to the U.S. unarmed simply to defend their country from terrorist attacks coming from U.S. soil. With a stroke of a pen Obama can free them.”

Members of the International Committee presented plaques on behalf of the Cuban Five to Woodley, Garcia and Vazquez. Another plaque was awarded to Natasha Hickman, editor of Cuba Si!, a publication in solidarity with Cuba produced by unions in the United Kingdom.

An informational table received a lot of attention, with people signing up to receive updates and taking hundreds of postcards to send to Obama. Many copies of the new documentary, “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?” were also purchased.