A press conference held at the National Press Club on Thursday, May 30th marked the beginning of five days of action calling for the release of the “Cuban Five” and fundamental changes in U.S.-Cuba policy. The panelists included Wayne S. Smith, Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy and former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Dolores Huerta, President of the Dolores Huerta foundation and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, Ignacio Ramonet, Spanish writer and former editor in chief of Le Monde Diplomatique, and Rene Gonzalez, the only one of the Five to be released to date. Thursday morning’s press conference was the first time Rene Gonzalez, speaking live from Havana, has addressed the American people about the Five’s imprisonment and the politically-charged trial that preceded it. Rene recently gave up his U.S. citizenship in exchange for permission to stay in Cuba after a two-week authorized visit due to the death of his father. His remarks focused on the lack of awareness amongst the American public regarding the realities of the trial and the severity of the human rights violations that have roots in it.
The panelists discussed the injustices of the trial and the unreasonable sentencing of the Five, who were assigned to the U.S. to obtain information about the terrorist activities of exiles attacking Cuba. The Five were arrested after Cuba had invited FBI representatives to Cuba and presented them with evidence of exile terrorist activities in hopes that the FBI would act against the exile terrorist groups. But rather than acting against the terrorist groups, the FBI arrested the Five for espionage. The lack of evidence for their prosecution on charges of espionage led to their conviction on charges of “conspiracy;” yet the sentences allotted were far longer than those given even to spies from Iraq under Hussein. The panelists emphasized that the trial was carried out in a climate of emotional fervor perpetuated by the media, partly due to its location in Miami where anti-Cuba exiles abound. Additionally, President Obama’s recent statements justifying counterterrorist activities reveal the paradoxical policies in practice in the case of the Cuban Five. While the U.S. supports dubious methods of counterterrorist efforts such as drones, we have imprisoned the Five for their nonviolent counterterrorist actions and denied them even the right to see their families.
Although the plight of the Cuban Five is not new news in itself, the five days of action come at a time when there is new opportunity for changes in the overall U.S. -Cuba policy, following the appointment of John Kerry to Secretary of State and the hints of rapprochement in Obama’s policy changes relaxing travel restrictions to the island. Perhaps the most important question fielded by the panelists was regarding how this campaign to free the Cuban Five will be different from unsuccessful campaigns in the past. All answers emphasized the opportunistic political climate and the need to create a public push to get normalization on the policy agenda while Obama is in his second term. Other issues of discussion during the coming five days will include removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, ending the embargo, and closing Guantanamo naval base. While the sentiment among realists about these issues has continually remained that they will be solved in time, the sentiment among the panelists, as expressed by Dolores Huerta, is that the time is now. Ya es la hora.
A calendar of the events planned for the Five Days for the Cuban Five can be found at this link: http://www.freethefive.org/calendar.htm