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    Our Job is to Break the Silence
    Report on Breaking the Silence – International Conference in Solidarity with the ýCuban 5, November 9 & 10 2007

    By Tamara Hansen
    “The silence surrounding the Case of our 5ive Cuban Heroes is beginning to shake and crack… our job is to break it!”

    There were 8 organizers with Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver (FC5C-Van) who flew across Canada with pride and excitement to attend the first International conference co-organized by the US National Network on Cuba (NNOC), the Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC), and the Table de Concertation de Solidarité Québec-Cuba (TCSQC). This conference, entitled “Breaking the Silence”, was an important landmark in the over 9 year struggle for the Freedom of the 5 Cuban Heroes unjustly held in US jails. The Vancouver delegates joined together with groups and organizers from all over the U.S., Québec and Canada along with prominent guests from Cuba and the honoured Cuban diplomats from the Cuban Embassy in Canada for this important event.

    Who are the Cuban 5ive and why must the silence around their case be broken?

    Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, René González and Gerardo Hernández are held in U.S. prisons for defending the people of Cuba against U.S.-sponsored terrorism. Between 1994 and 1995, Cuba sent five unarmed men, on a mission to infiltrate and expose Miami-based terrorist groups such as Alpha 66, Omega 7, Brothers to the Rescue and the Cuban American National Foundation. The list of atrocities committed by these groups is long, one of the most horrendous attacks was the bombing of a Cuban airliner, which took the lives of 73 people in 1976.

    After gathering evidence to expose the terrorists, Cuba released the information to the US government. Despite then having information about terrorists living and working in their country the US government chose to go after the 5 Cubans who had collected the evidence. On September 12th 1998 the 5ive were arrested and put in solitary confinement for 17 months. In 2001, their seven- month trial was held in Miami, a city well known for its heavily anti-Cuban bias. After what was at that time one of the longest trials in U.S. history, the 5ive were sentenced to between 15 years and two life sentences, on charges of “conspiracy to commit espionage” and in one case “conspiracy to commit murder”. Interestingly, not a word of all of this was mentioned in the US mainstream media outside of Miami. However, as people have learned about this case they have not stood by and waited for this injustice to mend itself.

    “If preventing the deaths of innocent human beings, defending our two countries from terrorism, and preventing a senseless invasion of Cuba are the reasons I am being sentenced today, then I welcome that sentence! I will wear the prison uniform with the same honor and pride with which a soldier wears his most prized insignias! This has been a political trial and therefore we are political prisoners! All of the evidence is here; this is where history is written. And it is history that will do us true justice!”
    - Ramón Labañino, one of the Cuban 5 at this sentencing hearing, December 13th 2001.

    The 5ive, their families, the people of Cuba and social justice fighters around the world have started and pushed forward the campaign for justice. This led to the most recent development in the case. On Monday, August 20th 2007, the 5ive anti-terrorist fighters were in court for another round of appeals hearings in Atlanta, Georgia. The Cuban 5 set out to prove that the 1998 trial in which the US government sentenced them had many flagrant violations of court process and convicted them without substantial evidence. The results of this appeals hearing are still pending, but this conference was an important opportunity to organize and coordinate our actions for whatever the US government will try to impose on the 5ive next.

    The Conference

    "The solidarity movement for Cuba, for the Cuban Revolution, is the most precious treasure we have. Because they are with us despite governments, they are with us anytime. And you know, to have friends like that also fuels us to keep fighting for the faith and for the good of humankind."
    - Ernesto Senti, Cuban Ambassador to Canada

    The morning of November 9th marked the first day of the International Conference. It began in Toronto’s City Hall with a press conference, a first step in breaking the mainstream media’s silence. Representatives with the NNOC, CNC and TCSQC welcomed the 150 supporters and media reps who had gathered for the press conference. The meeting was very informative and featured Elizabeth Palmeiro, the wife of Ramón Labañino and Livio Di Celmo, the brother of Fabio Di Celmo, an Italian resident of Canada who was killed in a Cuban hotel by a bomb placed by anti-Cuban terrorists in 1997.

    The afternoon session, “Sharing and Learning,” was also held at City Hall on November 9th. This was a dynamic discussion, facilitated by Tim Louis, former Vancouver City Counselor. This was an important time to be updated on the work groups across Canada, Quebec and the US are organizing for the Case of the Cuban 5 and some perspectives on where we need to go with our work.

    The evening was a decisive free public event, “The Cuban 5 – a Travesty of Justice”, attended by over 400 people and held in the Council Chambers of City Hall. The program featured a prominent list of speakers, who delivered motivating and inspiring talks. From Basilio Gutierrez from the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP); to the honourable ambassador of Cuba in Canada, Ernesto Senti; to Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five; to Cuban 5 attorney and keynote speaker, Leonard Weinglass; to the featured guest Elizabeth Palmeiro; to Livio Di Celmo; to Soffiyah Elijah, Deputy Director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School; to Judge Claudia Marcom and wrapping up the evening with Alicia Jrapko from the International Committee to Free the Cuban Five. The speakers outlined the importance of the upcoming Appeals Court decision. Many speakers urged activists to organize and prepare and use this potential turning point (whether or not the verdict is favourable to the 5ive) to raise knowledge and awareness about the case.

    “We, the relatives of the Cuban 5 have been used by the American government to cause more suffering and pain in this sad experience we are living. Mothers without their sons, children without their fathers and wives without their beloved ones. From this tribunal, I denounce the US government for having double-speech in this world marked by their war on terror. They are the real terrorists.”
    - Elizabeth Palmeiro, Wife of Ramón Labañino (one of the Cuban 5)

    The second day, November 10th, was held at the Steelworkers’ Hall and featured three sessions to develop ideas and dynamism to carry forward our work for the freedom of our 5 Cuban heroes. The first panel was the “Lawyers’ Panel” which outlined the legal injustice of this case. The second was “Where do we go from here?” in which speakers explained their ideas for the next steps in the campaign, expanding and building the movement, and the conference’s action plan. After this panel, an important example of breaking the silence was presented, which was a recent interview of Leonard Weinglass, one of the Cuban 5’s lawyers, on CNN’s “The Situation Room”. The third panel of the day was entitled, “Cuban 5 and Human Rights” which touched on a lot of the more human aspects of this case, including the rights of the 5ive’s family members to visit them in prison. As the conference came to a close there was a special letter for the Cuban 5 and action plan passed by the general membership of the conference.

    Soon after the Noche Cubana began, this was a special evening hosted by the Cuban Consulate in Toronto. It featured a delicious dinner, poetry about the Cuban 5 read by James Cockcroft, Catherine Boemen and Keith Ellis; the powerful songs of local musician Faith Nolan; and a special song for the Cuban 5 sung by a choir made up of members of the Vancouver delegation and the Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade 2007.

    What Next? Steps to Breaking the Silence

    “What we need is unity, action and coordination.”
    – Basilio Gutierrez, Vice President of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP)

    Some of the most important ideas established by the conference were that work around this case needs to become more consistent. We need take on the case of the 5ive heroes as a campaign, this means that our work must be ongoing and focused. Consistency in action is the key to their freedom.

    Groups that have had the most success in broadening the case have been those who have reached people beyond leftist and progressive communities. They have gone to regular people, and new communities who might not have regular access to progressive news and information. This can include but is not limited to religious groups, unions, high schools, colleges and universities, non- governmental organizations (NGOs), cultural groups and basically anyone who is against injustice. Along with this, a number of groups have had success reaching out to politicians at a national, provincial/state, and local level.

    The single most important reason to host a conference entitled, “Breaking the Silence,” is that we need to popularize the case of Cuban 5 heroes. The reason there is not more support for this case is simply because people do not know about it. We need to make the Cuban 5 a household name!

    By the end of the conference the energy and inspiration brought from a weekend of amazing speakers could be felt. As the resolution and action plan passed their was a collective agreement to stand with our 5ive heroes until they are free!

    Join the world wide campaign to free the Cuban 5:

    http://www.vancubasolidarity.com/freeth efivevan.html

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