21 June, 2015
The so-called Cuban Five have arrived in South Africa on a 13-day visit to thank the nation for campaigning for their release from a US jail where they were held for up to 16 years for spying among other offences.
Also known as the Miami Five‚ the five Cuban intelligence officers - Gerardo Hernandez‚ Ramón Labañino‚ Fernando Gonzalez‚ Antonio Guerrero and René Gonzalez - were arrested in September 1998 and later convicted in Miami of conspiracy to commit espionage‚ conspiracy to commit murder‚ acting as an agent of a foreign government‚ and other illegal activities in the US.
One was released in October 2011 and another in February 2014. At the end of 2014‚ the US swapped the remaining three members for an American intelligence officer held by Cuba.
Welcoming the Cubans to South Africa in a statement on Sunday‚ the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation acknowledged Cuba’s contribution towards a democratic South Africa.
“Cuba has furthermore participated in the reconstruction of South Africa after the demise of apartheid by training‚ inter alia‚ scores of South African youth in medicine in Cuba. Cuba’s ongoing support for the South African government’s main priorities through the implementation of joint programmes in health‚ social development‚ defence‚ housing and infrastructure is significant‚” the department stated.
The department added that the deployment of Cuban doctors‚ engineers and technical experts throughout South Africa was a further demonstration of Cuba’s commitment to work with South Africa to address the infrastructural back-logs inherited from the pre-1994 period.
International relations and cooperation deputy minister Luwellyn Landers will host the Cuban Five in Cape Town from June 22-23 under the theme “Cuban Five Heroes: Tribute to International Solidarity”.
Landers described the visit by the Cuban Five from 21 June to 3 July as an historic event due to the long years of support that South Africa had rendered to the campaign for their release.
“The Cuban Five all served in Angola during the liberation struggle against Apartheid Forces‚” he noted.
On Tuesday‚ the Cubans will meet with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation‚ which said last week there was no better time to enhance Cuba-SA relations than now.
The committee’s chairperson‚ Siphosezwe Masango‚ said the committee had invited the Cuban Five delegation to Parliament so that it could express its appreciation for their “heroic personal involvement” in the crucial Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola in 1987‚ which had “brought the dawn of independence in Namibia‚ the withdrawal of the South African Defence Force from Angola‚ and ultimately freedom in South Africa”.
“The Cuban Five will in return be afforded an opportunity to thank SA’s Parliament for passing resolutions calling upon the United States to release them and to end the economic blockade on Cuba‚” he said.
Masango expressed the hope that the government would enter into bi-national commissions and trade agreements with Cuba that would benefit both countries in the long term.