The Cuban Five, as they have become known, were arrested in Florida in 1998 and convicted on various trumped-up “conspiracy” charges. Three were convicted of “conspiracy to commit espionage.” Among them was Hernández, who was also convicted on false charges of “conspiracy to commit murder.”
All but René González remain in prison. He was released last fall after 13 years, but is forced to serve an additional three-year parole in the U.S. Hernández is serving double life plus 15 years.
The U.S. government claims Hernández bore responsibility for the Cuban government’s 1996 shootdown of two hostile aircraft that provocatively entered its airspace in disregard of repeated warnings. The plane was flown by Brothers to the Rescue, a counterrevolutionary group of Cuban exiles based in southern Florida. The Cuban government’s defense of its sovereignty put an end to what had been a growing pattern of provocative incursions.
At the time of their frame-up arrests by the FBI, the five were living and working in southern Florida gathering information for the Cuban government on activities of Cuban-American counterrevolutionary groups with a long history of violent attacks on Cuba and supporters of the Cuban Revolution. For decades these forces carried out various acts of murder and sabotage with the complicity of Washington.
The April 21 action took place on the last of five days of activities by supporters of the framed-up revolutionaries around the world. The actions were initiated by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five and endorsed by more than 270 organizations.
In the big-business media “there is silence about the Cuban Five, but every day that passes more people can learn about this case,” Erik Fundora, 40, who came from Cincinnati, told the Militant on the picket line.
On the day of the action a Joint Declaration was issued, demanding freedom for the five as well as three Puerto Rican political prisoners—Oscar Lopez Rivera, Avelino González Claudio and Norberto González Claudio—incarcerated in the U.S. The declaration was signed by 14 former Puerto Rican political prisoners and dozens of groups and individuals supporting this fight.
The declaration said: “Today, when our sons, heroes of our homelands, suffer unjust prison sentences in the dungeons of the Empire and when their most basic human rights are being trampled upon by the government of the United States, our people demand with one voice the freedom of our patriots: Freedom for the three Puerto Rican heroes and for the five Cuban heroes … their only ‘crime’ has been to defend the freedom, peace and tranquility of the Cuban people and to demand the right to freedom of the Puerto Rican people.”
A Puerto Rican contingent organized by ProLibertad joined the picket line with a large banner that included photos of all eight political prisoners.
Four busloads traveled from New York to participate in the picket. One of these was sent by AFSCME Local 372, which organizes New York City Board of Education workers. Many of the workers decided to make the trip after hearing a report at a recent union meeting by Local 372 President Santos Crespo on his recent trip to Cuba. They were eager to learn more about the case of the five and the fight for their freedom.
A special edition of Local 372’s newsletter on Cuba, which includes a section outlining the frame-up, was distributed to everyone on the bus.
“Many more can be educated on what the Cuban Five case is all about,” Shaun Francois, 45, an African-American who works for the Board of Education delivering food goods to local schools, told the Militant after participating in the White House action. “Power is in numbers and we need more to participate. Many workers living here need to learn more about Cuba.”
At a rally held at the conclusion of the picket line, a message was read from Gerardo Hernández on behalf of the Cuban Five. “We are overwhelmed by the success of the five days for the Cuban Five in Washington, D.C.,” he wrote. “It is the perfect example of the power of solidarity in our struggle to win over the hearts and minds of others into our road to freedom.
“We know that justice is on our side and in the end we will be victorious because of our friends around the world that continues to grow not just in numbers but in determination and energy. …
“After almost 14 years of unjust imprisonment, the cause of the Cuban Five is in a very special moment. A moment that requires us to double our efforts for our claim to be heard and to make it impossible for the U.S. government to ignore,” he wrote.
The evening before the demonstration, a public meeting was held at the Festival Center in northwest Washington that included an exhibit of political cartoons by Hernández. Among the speakers were Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers; actor Danny Glover; professor and filmmaker Saul Landau; and Wayne Smith, former chief of U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
The five days of events was wrapped up following the picket with a meeting at the Venezuela Embassy.
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