On Dec. 17, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero were freed, joining René González and Fernando González in Cuba — ending 16 years of imprisonment of the Cuban Five on frame-up charges in the U.S.
Below is a section from Absolved by Solidarity: 16 Watercolors for 16 Years of Unjust Imprisonment of the Cuban Five , just published by Pathfinder Press. The book contains 16 new paintings by Guerrero that focus on the trial and conviction of the Five on fabricated charges of “conspiracy” for their activities in defense of Cuba on U.S. soil.
The book, which also includes a statement by the Five, letters and documents, highlights the dignity, courage and discipline of the Five that was key to winning their freedom and showing the world what it means to be a revolutionary and a communist.
‘The longest letter I will ever write’
In September 2012 René González wrote to his wife, Olga Salanueva, recalling how and why, a dozen years earlier, he had begun composing “the longest letter I will ever write.” That November 2000 letter from René to Olga is depicted in Antonio Guerrero’s painting THE DIARY (above right).
At the time González wrote the two letters below, he had completed his prison sentence of thirteen years. Under court order, however, he was still in the United States serving a three-year term of “supervised release.” As throughout González’s years in prison, Washington continued to deny Salanueva a visa to enter the US to see her husband. The letters were posted on the website of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry.
Fourteen years have passed since that brutal September 12, 1998. By midmorning that day, after a series of lightning arrests, we were all being processed at Miami’s Federal Detention Center. We were beginning to adjust to all the implications of the new reality that confronted us so abruptly — what we would have to forego, the challenges and future personal sacrifices. But even in our most pessimistic predictions, we never imagined that fourteen years later we would still be awaiting justice. We had much to learn about the capacity for cruelty of some societies and their guardians.
When you’re in solitary confinement, the first month lasts a century. The second month lasts a year. The third feels like the month it really is, and each subsequent month seems like two weeks. Time is compressed by monotony, by learning to survive, by discovering and mastering ways to outwit the carefully thought-out restrictions designed to make you despair and feel helpless. Fleeting moments of camaraderie are enjoyed to the fullest. Acts of complicity sustain you, and at times are even funny.
Then comes the battle. In the hands of judges and prosecutors, laws become an amorphous mass. Evidence becomes slippery, manipulated at the prosecutors’ whim. Time with your lawyers is scarce and precious. Every inch of a pencil is treasured. Even so we prepare, discuss, and study the case. We get ready for a struggle we know is unequal but to which we’ll bring the truth the prosecution is trying to conjure away. In the thick of battle, time flies. Suddenly we’ve gone through two years, and we’re on the eve of the trial.
Then comes the blackmail: if you agree to plead guilty and give up your right to a trial, your wife can avoid deportation.
Olguita was detained by immigration authorities on August 16, 2000. After three months in prison she was deported to Cuba on November 21, just a week before the trial began. That same day I started to write her a letter that turned into a diary of the trial:
Today I’m beginning the longest letter I have written or will ever write in my life. I dedicate it to you on this day when I am overwhelmed by so many conflicting feelings. On one hand, the relief of knowing that at last you’ve been released from prison, that you find yourself among so many people who love and support you unconditionally, that you’re no longer an instrument in this crude blackmail they fruitlessly tried to use against me.
On the other hand, the uncertainty of not knowing when I’ll see you again, the emptiness that you always filled on visiting days or during court hearings, and knowing how much you wanted to be here at my side during the entire trial to give me your support and encouragement. …
No matter what, be happy. Don’t allow yourself a pessimistic thought or an unpleasant memory. Don’t let yourself be marked by some vile act that upset you. Just remember that you defeated all that, both inside and outside prison, through the strength of your character, your moral values, and your principles. Lean on those values and principles to be happy and keep up the faith.
Don’t deny yourself a single moment of joy, a smile, a game with the girls, a family gathering, an outing to have some fun, a vacation you can enjoy, a camping trip, a movie, an activity at work, or any of those moments that make life enjoyable and allow us to socialize. Any time the shadow of my situation stands in the way of one of those moments, shoo it away! It won’t be my figure casting that shadow.
Fourteen years have passed since that brutal September 12, 1998. But the spirit of the Five continues and will continue to be what the words in that letter expressed.
Some of us had never met each other at the time we were arrested. Our first contact was purely visual, through a small window in the cell door, surrounded by the silence imposed by walls, steel doors, and, yes, understandable mistrust. Only the mandatory court appearances broke up those initial days of self-reflection when each of the Five, alone with his thoughts, faced a vital personal decision. Once we were together, waiting for that first appearance before a judge that was turned into a circus, our thoughts turned to History Will Absolve Me.
I think it was from that moment on, as if by tacit agreement, that the words of each one of us came to represent the viewpoint of all. Because of that, I know what all of us have felt during these years of fighting for freedom. And I know my four brothers in arms can add much more in this regard.
It was always clear to us that the fight for justice in our case was a fight in defense of Cuba, a fight in one more trench. The trial was simply an extension of the confrontation between those who claim the prerogative to attack Cuba and those of us who believe in Cuba’s right to defend itself — this time in the arena of the courts. The US prosecutors regarded both terrorism and military aggression against Cuba to be among their legitimate prerogatives. That’s what the trial showed. We thought it was important to demonstrate they would have to confront an entire people who think otherwise.
They dealt with us harshly, as yet another way to punish Cuba’s resistance. We were determined to make clear to them that the roots of this resistance go far beyond the Five. The spite they’ve shown us indicates we succeeded.
Obviously, on a personal level we share with anyone deprived of their freedom the same worries, the same desire to return home, to rejoin our people and rebuild our lives. No less important, however, is the struggle within ourselves to prevent our persecutors from planting seeds of hate or resentment. Under these conditions, the fight for our own happiness and that of our loved ones has been an important part of our battle, and the degree to which we achieve it will be a good measure of victory.
While to those who have principles it may seem deranged, the prosecutors still hope to surmount the obstacle that Gerardo’s dignity represents to their efforts to indict Cuba. For us, the struggle to free the Five remains first and foremost a struggle for the defense of our country.
After fourteen years of despicable punishment, the possibility we could get justice is ruled out. This is a reality I believe we have accepted with the necessary decorum. Nonetheless, they still want to put Cuba on trial through us.
The day reason prevails at last and, by whatever means, our absurd punishment comes to an end, the US government, even without saying so, will be conceding its biggest defeat: they could not take from us the moral high ground to judge Cuba.
Knowing that justice is impossible, our release from prison will be one more vindication of Cuba.
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