This was the message Rafael Cancel Miranda, a leader of the fight for Puerto Rican independence who spent 27 years in U.S. prisons for his intransigent opposition to U.S. colonial domination of his country, conveyed when he spoke at a meeting here Sept. 14 demanding freedom for five Cuban revolutionaries: Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González.
More than 100 turned out for the meeting, marking 14 years since the FBI’s Sept. 12 night-raid arrests and subsequent frame-up of the Cuban Five, as they are known internationally.
Cancel Miranda, the event’s keynote speaker, was imprisoned in 1954 after he and three other Puerto Rican independence fighters walked into the U.S. Capitol in Washington, unfurled a Puerto Rican flag and fired pistols, wounding five congressmen. In 1979 he and four other Puerto Rican nationalist prisoners were released under mounting political pressure.
A resurgence of the Puerto Rican independence movement—heightened by the struggle for Black liberation and mass opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam—accelerated in the early 1970s. Leading up to the prisoners’ release, working people were dealing major blows to U.S. imperialism around the world, including Washington’s 1975 defeat in Vietnam and the 1979 revolutionary victories in Nicaragua, Grenada and Iran only months before they were freed.
“There was an international campaign,” Cancel Miranda explained. “The United States was going around the world talking about human rights—human rights!—but then people would ask, what about the five nationalists? Why have they been in jail for so long?”
“Today the international campaign is helping to keep the Cuban Five alive,” said Cancel Miranda. “We’re protecting their lives. The more people know about this, the more indignant they will be and more people will fight for them. I am still alive because of people like you.”
“Thanks to the five,” said Cancel Miranda, “thousands have been enlightened about who the enemy is.”
Other speakers included Tom Hayden, editorial board member of the Nation; Liz Derias of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; Michelle Tingling-Clemmons of the African Awareness Association; and José Pertierra, a lawyer for the Venezuelan government in its efforts to extradite CIA-trained Cuban counterrevolutionary Luis Posada Carriles, wanted in Venezuela on 73 counts of murder.
In the front row of the audience was Ambassador Jorge Bolaños, Chief of the Cuban Interests Section here. Vicente Feliú, a world renowned nueva trova musician from Cuba, performed several numbers. Two days earlier, a concert here by Feliú, dedicated to the five, drew a standing room only audience of nearly 200.
Derias talked about the conditions millions of men and women, disproportionately African-Americans, face in U.S. prisons today. She drew attention to the expanding use of long stints of solitary confinement like those meted out to the Cuban Five, designed to break and demoralize workers behind bars.
Pertierra described in detail the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner, masterminded by Posada, that killed 73 people. The bombing is an example of the kind of murderous acts the five were trying to prevent by monitoring and informing the Cuban government of activities of armed counterrevolutionary groups in southern Florida.
Arrested, framed up and convicted by Washington, they were given sentences ranging from 15 years to double life plus 15 years, opening yet another front in the U.S. rulers’ unrelenting campaign to punish Cuba’s working people for making and defending a socialist revolution 90 miles from U.S. shores.
“Cuba sent five men to protect themselves from these terrorists,” Pertierra said. “Cuba provided files of information on their activities, assuming the U.S. government would arrest them. Instead, they arrested the five.”
Pertierra was referring to a June 1998 meeting between officials from the FBI and Cuban State Security in which the FBI was given voluminous evidence collected by Cuban intelligence on plans for assassinations, bombings, and other murderous acts by counterrevolutionary groups based in the United States.
A message from Angela Davis was read at the meeting. “There can be no doubt that my freedom and that of others, like Rafael Cancel Miranda, was won because of relentless pressure by a movement that refused to go away,” said Davis, who in 1972, and at the time a member of the U.S. Communist Party, was acquitted on trumped-up charges of murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy after 18 months in jail.
“While Cuba stands as a beacon of possibility for other nations striving for sovereignty,” Davis said, “the Cuban Five represent the ongoing commitment to protect a people who have chosen the path of socialism.”
The meeting opened with a short video in which actors Danny Glover and Peter Coyote reenact testimony at the 2001 trial of the Cuban Five from then retired Gen. James Clapper, a government witness who is today director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Clapper testifies that Cuba is “absolutely not” a military threat to the United States and states that there is no evidence they ever engaged in espionage.
The event was sponsored by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five and endorsed by the D.C. Metro Coalition to Free the Five, Institute for Policy Studies, National Network on Cuba and the Takoma Park Free the Five Committee.
One of the highlights of the event was a message from Labañino.
“We have lived truly difficult moments, lockouts in cells of hellish punishment for prolonged periods (something that in spite of being against every human right, is becoming more common in this country), violation of our legal and constitutional rights, lies, distortions, infamies,” wrote Labañino.
“But the struggle continues. We should be more united and stronger each time, with more solidarity, until we achieve final victory.”
In a similar message, read at the Feliú concert two days earlier, Guerrero asked, “Why does the United States blockade us? Why does it support terrorism against Cuba? Why does it nourish a group of mercenaries who call themselves dissidents? Why does it constantly distort our reality? My first answer, and I believe it summarizes everything, is: Because they want to kill the example.”
Who are the Cuban Five
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