Photos: Bill Hackwell
With the same vitality and fighting spirit that has driven them for more than a decade, activists, artists, academics, diplomats and friends came together on the evening of Friday February 6 in Washington D.C. to talk about a victory and remembering moments, facts and people who took on a struggle for justice that today has become a reality.
Alicia Jrapko, U.S. coordinator of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, opened the program by welcoming those attending, “it is with great joy that today we can finally say that the Five are free and back in Cuba, safe and sound with their loved ones and their people. Many have asked us if we could see it coming and even though we saw some signs we were as surprised as anyone. In fact we were already moving ahead on the organizing of the fourth “5 days for the Cuban 5″ that was to take place in September of this year. For example we had already secured a permit for a demonstration at the White House on September 12 and Cheryl LaBash had just signed a lease for a house here in Washington for us to use as an organizing office and a place to stay. We cannot tell you how happy we are that we will not have to do this!” she said with happiness and a visible hint of surprise.
Netfa Freeman, another member of the International Committee, thanked organizations and individuals for their support in recent years to ensure the success of the activities carried out in Washington D.C. including the three annual “5 days for the Cuban 5”. Freeman reminded those present that it was 39 years ago on this day that American Indian political prisoner Leonard Peltier was unjustly imprisoned.
With both opening remarks the program at the Festival Center, in Columbia Heights began. The agenda for the evening was certainly loaded with the promise of emotions, and that came very soon when a few minutes later, attendees were able to see on a big screen next to the podium a familiar face and heard the greetings from Havana of the Hero who until December 17 was serving an unjust 2- life sentence in a U.S. penitentiary. It was Gerardo Hernández, smiling and affable via skype from Havana. He told the audience with a lot of emotion that, “On December 17 we thought of all of you”, and over and over again he thanked the activists, many of whose faces he recognized and acknowledged while he was greeting everyone at the meeting. With his usual joviality and vision of the struggle that still awaits, Gerardo reminded those present, that in current times, “we have to defend the right of Cuba to choose their own destiny and the blockade continues being the greatest injustice that must also end.”
From Washington, activists, friends and brothers and sisters in struggle, greeted Gerardo, and reaffirmed to him their willingness to continue to defend the cause of Cuba. There was a familiarity in the exchange that no one seemed to want to end. Spontaneously Alicia commented that Gerardo’s lengthy intervention was the best possible thing that could happen to tonight’s celebratory event.
Following Gerardo was a slide show given by social documentary photographer, and member of the International Committee, Bill Hackwell who presented dozens of images depicting the reception that the Five received when they returned home. Many of the photographs showed the Heroes in their homeland interacting with the people in their communities and in public places.
During a portion of the meeting that carried special significance, Nalda Vigezzi and Nancy Kohn, both members of the International Committee, narrated a remembrance and tribute for more than a dozen people who had left a significant mark in the struggle for the Five but who were no longer with us at the end. Among those honored were filmmaker Saúl Landau, attorney Leonard Weinglass, Judge Claudia Morcom, the journalists Marie-Dominique Bertolucci and Bernie Dwyer, the Reverend Lucius Walker, along with other important figures, including close family members of the Heroes.
The evening was filled with songs of hope and encouragement relating to the release of the Five performed by musicians and groups including the D.C. Labor Chorus, the Chilean song writer and singer Patricio Zamorano and the talented rap duo from the D.C. Slam Team.
The activity at the Festival Center closed an important chapter of more than 10 years of struggle for the freedom of the Five, but opened a new stage that without doubt will bring new challenges.
Due to the unexpected turn of events of December 17, preceding the Friday night activity, members of the International Committee met in Washington D.C. for two days to start making plans for future work in the immediate period. Alicia commented on the new commitment of the International Committee that came out of those meetings by saying, “No matter what the reason for the willingness of the U.S. to change a 50 year old policy of aggression against Cuba we applaud it. But as long as the official policy here is one of regime change our work will not end. As long as Cuba’s sovereignty is not respected, as long as Cuba is on the list of countries that sponsors terrorism, as long as Guantanamo remains occupied by the US, as long as there are restrictions on travel to Cuba, as long as any aspect of the blockade remains, our work is not done.”