The meeting, sponsored by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 and held at the headquarters of the Service Employees International Union, featured the first U.S. showing of 16 new prison paintings by Antonio Guerrero, titled “Absolved by Solidarity.”
The watercolors tell the story of the Miami frame-up trial — from the denial of 11 motions for a change of venue to the long sentences and the sending of the revolutionaries to five distant prisons. The event included music, poetry, a short video, and a panel of speakers.
“It is an impossible task to show the entire trial through just 16 images,” Guerrero said in a statement displayed along with the exhibit. “We knew that we could not receive a fair trial. But nevertheless in that place, we achieved an invaluable victory and that was to denounce terrorism against our people in its own lair.”
Cheryl LaBash, an activist with the International Committee; Maria Naranjo, assistant district leader of SEIU Local 32BJ in Washington, D.C.; and Valarie Long, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union: made brief remarks to kick off the program.
José Ramón Cabañas, chief of the Cuban Interests Section, was the featured speaker. The U.S. government “called it a trial,” he said, “but we called it a political vendetta” aimed at punishing the Cuban Revolution. Cabañas took time to walk through and comment on Guerrero’s paintings.
Each of the watercolors were accompanied by an explanatory note from Guerrero.
“When we arrived at the dormitory unit, to our great surprise, we were greeted with loud applause by the vast majority of the prison population with which we had lived together during those months of trial,” wrote Guerrero wrote about the painting “The Decision of the Jury.” It portrays fellow prisoners clapping for the Five after they were declared guilty. “We received that gesture of respect, admiration, and support from the other inmates, which could be called the first act of solidarity with our cause.”
After Cabañas spoke, Jrapko introduced the panel of Piero Gleijeses, author of Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington and Africa, 1959-1976 and Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991; Yeidckol Polevnsky, former vice president of the Mexican Senate; and Stephen Kimber, author of What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.
Gleijeses noted that three of the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernández, Fernando González and René González were among the hundreds of thousands of Cuban volunteers who helped the Angolan people defeat invasions by the white supremacist regime in South Africa. “Cuba changed the course of history in southern Africa despite the best efforts of the United States to prevent it,” he said.
The U.S. government “protects the real terrorists and punishes the real heroes,” said Polevnsky.
Kimber said that the Five were arrested and framed as a result of pressure from Cuban exile groups in Miami, who were upset that Cuba didn’t fall like the Soviet Union and disrupted growing cooperation between the U.S. administration of President William Clinton and Havana.
“What Cuba does around the world is mind boggling,” Siona Walldeselassie, 19, a journalism student at Northern Virginia Community College, said after the event. “I wasn’t surprised by the case of the Cuban Five, but I saw how unjust it is.”
Juan Acosta, 22, whose family is from Cuba, liked Guerrero’s “Five Distant Prisons” painting. “It represents the level of cruelty of the U.S. government in separating the Five,” he said.
The meeting was the culmination of three days of activities in the area that included a house meeting of 35 in Takoma Park, Maryland, a reception, lobbying visits to congressional offices and a picket line at the White House.
“In the beginning of our incarceration, when we were being held in isolation in Miami in 1998, no one knew about our case or even knew that we existed at all,” wrote Gerardo Hernández in a message to the meeting on behalf of the Five. “How far we have come! There are now committees in support of the Cuban Five in many countries and dozens of U.S. consulates around the globe now have to endure regular protests at their doors calling for our freedom.”
“On this 16th anniversary of our imprisonment you can count on the three of us who remain in prison to keep resisting,” he said. “You can also count on René and Fernando to keep going forward, leading our struggle for justice.”
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Washington’s trade embargo, hostility toward Cuba is matter of US state policy
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