The Cuban Five heroes visit Britain

By Frieda Park

In 1998 five Cuban anti-terrorist agents were jailed by the United States and given sentences ranging from 15 years to double life. (See The Socialist Correspondent issues 21 & 22) Two served out their sentences before being released and the others were released after 16 years in US jails. That they are all now free men and back in Cuba is thanks to the massive international campaign for their release.

In July this year two of the five, Rene Gonzalez and Gerardo Hernandez, along with their families were at last able to visit Britain. But not without a fight. A visa for Rene was originally turned down in 2014 when he was scheduled to give evidence to the International Commission on the Cuban 5 in London. This time the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, granted visas only two days before the group was due to travel. This was conceded only after intense lobbying and the threat of legal action. In the end these obstructive tactics made no difference to the programme of events they attended and the wonderful reception they received everywhere they went. Kicking off the tour at the Durham Miners Gala, Gerardo said: “Your solidarity has never been crushed and that is a lesson for Cuba and the world”

Coinciding with the attempted coup against Jeremy Corbyn, the theme of the tour was solidarity and socialism. Corbyn was and is a consistent campaigner for the 5, his intervention helping Rene and Gerardo get their visas. He appeared with them on platforms during the tour, speaking directly about their struggle and the campaign for their freedom at a reception in parliament.

There were also packed out rallies in: Glasgow, Manchester, London and Cardiff, a standing ovation at the Unite policy conference and finishing with an appearance at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival.

Throughout Rene and Gerardo emphasised the importance of the campaign for their release and for the thousands of individual messages of support they received while enduring inhumane conditions in US jails.

As well as celebrating their release and the power of solidarity, for us here in Britain the visit was also a great opportunity to renew campaigning for an end to the US blockade of Cuba and its occupation of Guantanamo Bay. As Baroness Angela Smith Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords said: “The fact that the Five are free and here today shows that when we organise, when we campaign and when we fight together - we can win.”

Read more about the tour and view pictures and video on the Cuba Solidarity Campaign website.



Why did Cuba believe it was necessary to send agents to the US to infiltrate and spy on terrorist groups based there? Firstly, since the victory of the revolution in 1959, Cuba has suffered constant threats and terrorist attacks from groups based in Miami. These attacks have claimed the lives of nearly 3500 people. Secondly despite Cuban efforts to collaborate, the US authorities were failing to do anything about the terrorist threat. The Cubans felt then that they had no alternative but to send agents to gather information on the activities of these groups to prevent further loss of life. None of the information gathered was secret and none of it related to US national security. The Cuban agents were not involved in planning any acts of violence. In fact the Cuban authorities shared information uncovered by the 5 with their US counterparts.

However, when It became politically expedient for the US to make an example of the 5 they were arrested and subjected to appalling treatment and a monumental miscarriage of justice. These abuses included being held in solitary confinement for 17 months, being denied access to their lawyers and to vital evidence. They were tried in Miami where they could not get a fair trial and denied rights of appeal. Two of their wives were denied visiting rights. They all received extremely lengthy sentences.

There was a massive international campaign, sustained over all the years of the 5’s imprisonment, to free them and right this miscarriage of justice. Rene Gonzalez and Fernando González both served out their full sentences before being released and returning to Cuba. Then finally the pressure paid off. In the context of Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba the release of the remaining three was agreed and last year Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero returned to Cuba.

The Cuban 5: Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Rene Gonzalez and Fernando González