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    Vancouver Joins International Days of Action to Free the 5 Cuban Heroes

    By Andrew Barry

    June 6-8, 2009 were International Days of Action to Free the 5 Cuban Heroes who have been held in US prisons for over ten years. These days of action were called by participants in the recent Second International Youth Summit to free the Cuban 5 in Havana, Cuba. In Vancouver, Canada two events took place in an effort for supporters to learn more about the case as well as to inform the public of who the Cuban Five are. On June 7th, the Free the Cuban Five Committee-Vancouver (FC5C-Van) organized a report back from the International Youth Summit on the Cuban Five. This was followed by a passionate picket action outside the US Consulate on June 8th.

    The report back and forum on the Youth Summit was MC’d by Sarah Alwell, coordinator of the FC5C-Van, who began the evening with a poetry reading from, “Volveran”, the book of poems for the Five created and published by FC5C-Van. Local supporters of the Cuban 5 Payvand Pejvack, Luis Velasquez and Max Tennant expressed their solidarity and support for the Five through emotional poetry.

    Tamara Hansen and Aaron Mercredi traveled to Queen’s University in Ontario for the conference “The Measure of a Revolution: Cuba 1959-2009” and then on to Havana for the Second International Youth Summit on the Case of the 5 Cuban Heroes. Aaron, who is an organizer with the FC5C-Van and the Indigenous Rights and Action Project, outlined the conference in Kingston and also spoke about the cultural aspects of the youth summit and its final declaration.

    Tamara, the coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba and a co-chair of the Canadian Network on Cuba, outlined the program of the youth summit and some other meetings they had in Cuba following the conference. Alison Bodine, a US citizen, was the third Vancouver Cuba solidarity organizer who attended the Youth Summit, but she was not at this report back as she is currently banned from Canada. Alison was politically targeted by the Canadian Border Services Agency in 2007 and was banned from Canada for two years. She currently lives in New York and has continued doing Cuba solidarity work with IFCO/Pastors for Peace. Alison met up with Aaron and Tamara in Cuba and attended the Cuban 5 Youth Summit as a delegate from FC5C-Van.

    Both Aaron and Tamara’s reports gave an important foundation for the multimedia slideshow which followed with photos of the fantastic trip. The talks sparked some interesting discussion about the future of the campaign to free the Cuban 5, which Sarah, the MC, wrapped up very poignantly by saying, “everything we have heard tonight makes it clear that the Cuban 5 are not relying on the US judicial system for their freedom. They are truly relying on us, the solidarity movement. There has been over 10 years of injustice committed against Rene, Antonio, Ramon, Gerardo and Fernando… the time to get involved in the struggle for their freedom is now!”

    The following day the FC5C-Van organized their 42nd picket line in front of the US consulate as a continuation of the International Days of Action. The picket began with MC Nita Palmer, an organizer with the FC5C-Van, leading chants demanding “Freedom for the 5 Now!”, and “Justice for the 5 Now!” After the first round of picketing, Alison Bodine spoke to the picket via cell phone, telling Vancouver picketers about the importance of the recent Youth Summit in Cuba, and gave greetings from New York where actions to free the Five also took place.

    Tamara Hansen spoke next and highlighted the importance of continuing to have these International Days of Action to demand freedom and justice for the Cuban 5. She passionately spoke of the continuing injustice against two of the wives of the Cuban 5 who have been prevented from entering the United States to visit their husbands in prison for the last 10 years by the US State Department.

    Charles Boylan, a radio host on Co-op Radio and member of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) highlighted other cases of political prisoners held by the US government in Guant?namo Bay and around the world. The picket came to a close as participants vowed to continue protesting in front of the US Consulate and taking part in organizing more international days of actions like these until the 5 Cuban Heroes are free. Nita encouraged all human rights activists and supporters to take up the case of the Cuban Five and get involved in winning their freedom.

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