Students Host Event at Columbia U, Help Expand Fight to Free Cuban 5
BY RUTH ROBINETT, in The Militant
NEW YORK — “We can learn from the Five a lesson for our own struggle of how to stand tall and never bow,” said Randolph Carr, political chair of the Black Students Organization in opening remarks at a March 29 student-organized event of some 200 people at Columbia University on the fight to free the Cuban Five — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González. (See Who are the Cuban Five?) “For me the story of the Five is one that is, unfortunately, similar to the story of the many unseen and forgotten that sit, waiting and waiting, behind the wall of America’s dungeons.” said Carr, who is also a leader of Students Against Mass Incarceration. “Similar to the Five, people are swept into the system of incarceration by whatever means and forced to bow down to the weight of that machine. The Five have been swept into that system, and to this day remain unbowed.” He then posed the question: “What do we have to learn about how to live free from those forced to live in cages because of their politics?”
Sponsored by eight campus organizations, the event was attended by dozens of Columbia students. Speakers included representatives from the Caribbean Students’ Association and the Chicano Caucus of Columbia University; Martin Garbus, lead attorney for the Five; Rodolfo Reyes, Cuban Ambassador to the United Nations; Julio Escalona, Venezuelan Deputy Ambassador to the U.N.; and Luis Rosa, a Puerto Rican independence fighter and former political prisoner who spent 19 years behind bars in the U.S. It was chaired by Nancy Cabrero, president of Casa de las Américas, and civil rights attorney Michael Warren, who provided an extensive overview of the U.S. government’s frame-up.
‘Cuba gives meaning to solidarity’
Imani Brown speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Students’ Association talked about why the group decided to “stand in solidarity with the Cuban Five and what they stand for.” Brown pointed to the role and example of Cuba in the Caribbean and beyond. “In the history of independence struggles and movements to end the reign of colonialism and neocolonialism worldwide, Cuba has not hesitated to lend its support and strategic partnership to what it has seen as its Caribbean and African family,” Brown said, “ranging from sending freedom fighters to Angola — fighters who include three of the Cuban Five, I should note — in order to end South African apartheid, to providing scholarships to Cuban medical schools to the rest of the Caribbean. Cuba has given new meaning to ideals of solidarity, unity, and support within its community.”
Hernández, Fernando González and René González all took part in Cuba’s internationalist combat mission to defend Angola from the invading white supremacist army of apartheid South Africa (see article on page 7). Like Hernández and Fernando González, Cuban Ambassador Reyes served during the later years of the 1975-91 mission, after graduating from Cuba’s Institute for Advanced Study of International Relations, where they were studying to be diplomats. “We were not professional soldiers,” Reyes said. “We volunteered to go to Angola to fight apartheid and help defend the sovereignty of the Angolan people.” “Fernando and Gerardo could have been in my place,” said Reyes. “But they agreed to take on responsibility for a mission to defend the dignity, sovereignty and life of the Cuban people.”
When Fernando and Gerardo returned from Angola, Reyes noted, counterrevolutionary paramilitary groups operating with impunity from southern Florida were stepping up a campaign of bombings in Cuba, targeting the island’s tourist industry and carrying out other provocations designed to draw Washington into a military confrontation with Havana. The Five’s mission, Reyes said, was to protect the revolution by gathering information on the activities and plans of these rightist groups.
In the days leading up to the event, students organized a successful free-speech campaign to prevent the university administration from limiting participation from outside the campus to 15 people on the pretext of “public safety.” Most who wanted to were able to attend as a result of their victory. But dozens who were not on an RSVP list were turned away by university officials. “We have run into some difficulties, as events like this centered around things others deem controversial often are,” said Brown. “But that’s not going to stop us when it comes to our voices being heard about this important topic.”
‘Fight to free 5 is fight for ourselves’
“I would not be here today if not for your voices,” former political prisoner Rosa told the meeting, urging everyone to keep speaking out to free the Five and other U.S. political prisoners, because it helps the prisoners to resist and helps protect them. “When we speak of supporting … political prisoners, we do this not just for them,” Rosa said. “We fight to free ourselves in the process.”
He quoted Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera who wrote that the U.S government denies it has political prisoners in order to “hoodwink its own citizens into believing it doesn’t criminalize dissenters… and to perpetuate the lie that it’s the ultimate defender of freedom, justice, democracy and human rights in the world.” May 29 will mark López’s 32nd year in prison in the U.S., Rosa pointed out.
Rosa encouraged participants to join a June 1 rally at the White House in Washington, D.C. to demand freedom for the Five. “The Chicano Caucus of Columbia University stands in solidarity with the Cuban Five and stands against any manifestation of the United State’s corrupt justice system,” said a statement read by David Luna and Gerardo Romo. “The Chicano Caucus says no to a system that labels some politics, cultures, skin colors — entire human lives and their survival — as illegal. The freedom of the Cuban Five would not just be a blow against the severe human rights violations done to those men. It would also strike a blow against a system that profits off the violence and dehumanization suffered by immigrants and people of color every day in this country.”
Attorney Garbus talked about several aspects of the case, including the role of the media, which carried out a campaign of prejudicial reporting and helped fuel an environment of intimidation, including by capturing jurors’ faces and licenses plates on camera. This stage of the legal defense, Garbus said, is centered around one aspect of the frame-up unknown at the time of the trial: evidence that dozens of journalists writing or broadcasting about the case were on the U.S. government’s payroll. A court response to the defense’s appeal on these grounds is due in April, he said.
Venezuelan Deputy Ambassador Escalona closed the program saying that through the frame-up the U.S. government is “trying to put the Cuban Revolution on trial.” “But the Cuban Revolution is alive and its example is an inspiration for the peoples of the world,” Escalona said, “Cuba remains an example of dignity in the world.”
Sponsoring organizations from Columbia University and Barnard College were the Caribbean Students’ Association, the African Students Organization, Barnard Organizations of Soul Sisters, Black Students Organization, Chicano Caucus, Haitian Student Organization, LUCHA and Students Against Mass Incarceration. The meeting was endorsed by Casa de las Américas, Popular Educational Project to Free the Cuban Five, and the July 26 Coalition, a group in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution.