4th-19th March 2012 hosted by the Free the Cuban Five Campaign Ireland and the Swedish Free the Five Committee
Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González are unjustly held in U.S. prisons since 1998. Rene González, released last October, is forced to stay in Miami to serve three years of supervised probation after serving his full 15 year sentence.
Their freedom became an issue for anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan at the 2006 Caracas World Social Forum. On March 4, she carried her commitment to campaign to free them to Ireland and Sweden.
It all started for us at the International Colloquium held in Holguín, Cuba, last November. During a very moving public event Cindy Sheehan presented the mothers of the Cuban Five with her “most precious possession”; a locket given to her by her son Casey before he was killed on duty in Iraq, to be kept by the mothers until their sons were released from US prisons and back with their families in Cuba.
At that moment I vowed that Cindy would come to Ireland to highlight the case of the Cuban Five. I spoke to Vania Ramírez from the Swedish Free the Five Campaign and she was just as enthusiastic as I was so the Irish Swedish initiative was born to bring the US peace activist to our countries to bring home the message of the peaceful nature of the Cuban Five’s actions in Miami, Florida.
Cindy Sheehan arrived in Dublin Airport on March 4th and the following day she was outside the US embassy in Dublin reading out a letter to US President Barack Obama demanding the release of Antonio, Gerardo, Ramón and Fernando and permission for René Gonzalez, who was released last October but must carry out three years supervised probation in Miami, to return to his country for at least two weeks on humanitarian grounds to see his dying brother, Roberto.
When Cindy tried to hand in the letter to the official at the front desk, she was told that she would have to make an appointment to enter. She replied that she is a US citizen and has the right to enter. The official said that could only happen if she had a problem. “I do have a problem” said Cindy “my government is illegally holding the Cuban Five anti-terrorists fighters in US prisons”. Needless to say, she wasn’t allowed to put a foot on the “hallowed” soil.
Members of the Free the Cuban Five Campaign Ireland accompanied Sheehan to the embassy, five of them wearing masks depicting each of the Cuban Five to remind the public and embassy officials that these five men are human beings suffering inhumane conditions and forced to stay away from their families and country.
Shortly after the action at the US embassy in Dublin, we drove to Belfast stopping off for lunch at Rostrevor to meet with troubadour and composer Tommy Sands. Tommy was the one who suggested and facilitated our meetings with Irish Nobel Peace laureates Mairead Maguire and John Hume.
We arrived in Belfast around 7.30pm and checked in to Malone Lodge Hotel, courtesy of the Peace Centre, Belfast. On the morning of the 6th march we went to the Stormont Building where the Northern Ireland Assembly holds their parliamentary meetings. Our first point of contact was with Eamonn Mallie, one of the best known political correspondents at Stormont. He had arranged to interview Cindy for his website at 10am. Afterwards she was interviewed by Michael Fitzpatrick for Downtown Radio and Cool FM.
After the interviews we met with Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly and a member of Sinn Fein. The meeting was also attended by Catriona Ruane, MLA Sinn Fein. Martin McGuiness reiterated his party’s support for the campaign to release the Cuban Five and spoke very warmly to Cindy about the death of her son, Casey, on duty in Iraq.
We then had a tour of the Stormont building before returning to out hotel.
Gerry Grehan from the Peace House collected us later that afternoon to meet members of the organization including Irish Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire. Cindy and Mairead warmly embraced and their mutual recognition of their struggle for peace in a war-torn world was palpable. After a chat and a cup of tea we went to eat in a nearby restaurant before the public meeting at 7pm. About 30 members of the Peace House came to the meeting to hear Cindy speak and to get an up-date on the legal situation of the Cuban Five. Along with 12 other Nobel Prize winners, Mairead Maguire had signed an amicus brief in 2010 asking the US Supreme Court to hear the case of the Cuban Five. Unfortunately the request was turned down. However Maguire has retained her interest in the case and shortly after the meeting with Cindy Sheehan issued a statement to express her request to free the anti-terrorists fighters from their respective US prisons.
Next morning, March 7th, Cindy Sheehan, and Jimmy Kelly, Irish Regional Secretary of the UNITE Trade Union jointly launched the new Cuba Support Group mural on the International Wall in West Belfast in the presence of Danny Devanny who painted the mural. Tommy Sands gave us a few verses of the song he has written for the Five called “Mission against Terror” with all of us joining in for the refrain “send them home, send them home”.
It was a very cold windy morning at the International Wall in Belfast so Cindy was happy when we got into Tommy Sands car to drive to Derry to meet with Irish Nobel Peace laureate John Hume. John and his wife Pat were waiting for us at their home overlooking the Bogside. We had a very pleasant lunch and chat even though John’s short term memory is not good. However he could still recount his involvement in the incidents leading up to Bloody Sunday just over his garden wall. He also talked about his time as a Member of the European Parliament.
Then we drove back to Belfast, collected our car and set off on the road back to Dublin.
Our next day in Dublin, 8th March, was International Women’s Day, and Cindy’s first event was a meeting with members of the Irish legislature in Leinster House, organized by Maureen O’Sullivan, Independent TD. Cindy held a question and answer session for the members of the Irish government about her peace actions against the war in Iraq after her son was killed on duty there. Senators and TDs present were also given an update on the five Cuban anti-terrorists fighters by the chairperson of the Free the Cuban Five Ireland Campaign. They showed real interest in the case and most left contact details for further information.
The meeting was also attended by the Cuban Ambassador to Ireland, Teresita Trujillo.
After lunch we had an informal meeting with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams who presented Cindy with a book about the history of Sinn Fein. Gerry Adams told us that he has raised the plight of the Cuban Five several times with prominent US government members and will continue to do so until they are all released.
At 6pm Cindy addressed a meeting organized by the Cuba Solidarity Forum of the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU).
The case of the five Cuban anti-terrorists, four of whom are incarcerated in US prisons and the fifth is serving a three year supervised probation in Miami after his release last October, sparked a lot of interest amongst the audience. Cindy also spoke about the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) promoted by Venezuela and members countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as a way forward free from interference from the US. She pointed out that this is a very feasible alternative to the capitalism and neo-liberalism practiced by the countries of the Northern Hemisphere.
Cindy Sheehan public tour of Ireland to highlight the case of the Cuban Five ended with a public meeting organized by the Amnesty International Society in Trinity College, Dublin, where a group of students and activists listened to her denunciations of the war mongering tendencies of the United States and the injustice perpetrated against the Cuban Five by the same government.
During that busy day, March 8th, Cindy also went to Marconi House to be interviewed by Sean Moncrief for Newstalk Radio.
On Saturday March 10th, we traveled to Stockholm as part of the Irish Swedish initiative to invite Cindy Sheehan to Ireland and Sweden.
Cindy’s Stockholm programme started on March 12th with a meeting at the Swedish branch of Amnesty International hosted by Maja Åberg, advocacy officer. We all felt that this was a very special meeting as it was attended by several young interns who were visibly moved by the plight of the Five and particularly the injustice of the repeated refusals of visas by the US authorities to Olga and Adriana to visit their husbands, René and Gerardo, in prison. The majority of the interns did not have previous knowledge of the case, but the staff members present had met Irma González, Renés daughter, during her visit to the Nordic countries in April 2011, and have since then been in contact with the Swedish Free the Five Committee.
Later that day, there was a lively meeting at the “Casa de la Solidaridad”, hosted by the Free the Five Committee and the Swedish-Cuban Friendship Association. The audience listened with interest when Cindy Sheehan explained how she first came to know about the Cuban Five at the World Social Forum in 2006. Since then she says, it is part of her mission to expose the injustices perpetrated against the Cuban Five. The chairperson of the Free the Cuban Five Ireland Campaign gave an up-date on the legal situation of the Cuban Five. At the end of the meeting, Cindy received a bouquet of roses from Cuban residents in Stockholm, members of the Association of Cubans for Cuba.
The following day, Tuesday 13th, Cindy continued her range of activities which included a meeting with members of the Swedish parliament from the Left Party and the Green Party. Prior to the meeting, Amineh Kakavabeh, MP from the Left Party, had received a phone call from the Amnesty advocacy officer, Maja Åberg, who was very impressed by the meeting with Cindy, and we discussed therefore the possibility of achieving, with the support of Amnesty, a declaration about the Cuban Five from the Human Rights Department of the Swedish Parliament. We also discussed the possibility of forming a Nordic parliamentary delegation to go to Washington DC in support of the 5 Days of Action for the Five organized by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, and/or to the “VIII Colloquium for the Liberation of the Five Heroes and against Terrorism” to be held in Holguín, Cuba in November.
Later on that day, Cindy was hosted by the Iraq Solidarity group in Stockholm at a public meeting where she also raised the topic of the struggle to bring about the release of the Cuban Five.
Cindy Sheehan’s last political action in Stockholm, on Wednesday 14th, was a demonstration outside the US embassy, where she read out a letter addressed to US President Barack Obama, the letter she had read out in front of the US embassy in Dublin. In Stockholm, Cindy got the same reaction as she did in Dublin when she tried to deliver the letter. She was told by the Swedish police officer in charge of maintaining order, that the permit to protest did not allow her to go beyond the allowed area. Cindy was accompanied at the demo outside the US embassy in Stockholm by members of the Swedish Committee to Free the Cuban Five, the Swedish-Cuban Friendship Association and the Association of Cubans for Cuba, who held banners and Cuban/Swedish flags and chanted “Obama, you can, free the Cuban Five!”
During her time in Stockholm Cindy Sheehan got plenty of media coverage from the alternative press, thus breaking the silence imposed by the mainstream media which hadn’t even responded to various press releases sent by the Free the Five Committee or the Iraq Solidarity group. Journalists from “Feministiskt perspektiv” and the magazine “Folket i Bild-Kulturfront” were present at both Cindy’s public meetings on the Cuban Five and Iraq and interviewed her. She was also interviewed by journalist Johan Wiman from the weekly Proletären, as well as giving an interview filmed by journalist Nils Lundgren, from “Folket i Bild-Kulturfront“. In addition, the US-born free-lance journalist Ric Wasserman interviewed Cindy before the public meeting on the Cuban Five, and also covered the demonstration outside the US embassy.
At the end of the tour in Stockholm, the Cuban ambassador to Sweden, Francisco Florentino, hosted a buffet meal at his residence attended by staff from the Cuban embassy, Cindy Sheehan and Vania Ramírez and Bernie Dwyer from the Stockholm and Irish organizing campaigns to Free the Cuban Five.
We returned to Ireland on the 15th March and Cindy returned to San Francisco on the following Sunday. Teresita Trujillo, Cuban ambassador to Ireland treated us to a meal in an Indian restaurant on Cindy’s last evening in Dublin, which also happened to be St. Patrick’s Day.
To sum up: Cindy Sheehan’s visit to Ireland and Stockholm was very successful inasmuch as we had nearly two weeks of action focused on the Cuban Five campaigns in both countries. There certainly was value in the two countries working together sharing expenses, ideas and energies, both physical and mental. We learned from each other and we also learned from Cindy Sheehan. Her knowledge of the complicated case of the Cuban Five grew throughout the tour from listening to the campaign members talking at meetings. We learned more about the total blockage of news about the Cuban Five in the US and how more radical action is needed to bring public attention to their plight.
Our plans for the future include consultation with the other Nordic country campaigns for the release of the Five to see how we can best present a unified group of European countries working together in a concerted fashion to focus on the most effective actions to achieve our goal: the release of Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández, Fernando González and Ramón Labañino from US prisons and the return of René González to Cuba.
Free the Cuban Five Campaign Ireland
Free the Cuban Five Campaign Sweden