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Full Report on March 5th-8th 4 Days of Actions and Events for the 5 Cuban Heroes
Unite around the world to demand:
Free ALL the Cuban 5 Now!
CELEBRATING THE RELEASE OF CUBAN 5 HERO FERNANDO GONZALEZ AND MARKING THE 100TH PROTEST ACTION IN VANCOUVER, CANADA:
The first picket action for the 5 Cuban Heroes in front of the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver, Canada took place in December of 2005. On this day, organizers with the the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver and supporters of the Cuban 5 made the commitment to return to the steps of the U.S. Consulate every month until all of the Cuban 5 were free. Looking back at that day it would be hard to imagine returning for the 100th time, 8 years later, with 3 of the Cuban 5 still in U.S. jails.
The 100th picket of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver was marked on March 5, 2014, after over 15 years of cruel and unjust imprisonment of the Cuban 5 Heroes in U.S. jails. In order to honour this important occasion, the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver organized a protest action, as well as a tour of events featuring prominent speakers on the case of the Cuban 5. The West Coast tour reached a wide variety of audiences through 8 events in 4 days spanning to both the province of British Columbia and Washington state with events in Vancouver, Nanaimo, Kamloops, Victoria and Seattle held in community centres, libraries and universities. Notably, the 100th picket and West Coast tour also received broad media coverage, reflected especially in the Cuban press.Throughout the campaign there were also numerous interviews on radio in British Columbia, including the popular “Latino Soy” program.
The Cuban Ambassador to Canada, His Excellency Julio Garmendía Peña; Miraly González González, First Secretary and Political Attache of the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa; Stephen Kimber, journalism professor at King's University College in Halifax, Nova Scotia and author of "What Lies Across the Water: the Real Story of the Cuban 5," and Don Foreman, Union Representative for the Central Region of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and Co-Chair of the Cubacan Committee for Freedom of the Cuban 5 in Ottawa, Canada were among the featured speakers.
The 100th picket action was a loud and powerful show of support for the Cuban 5 Heroes by more than one hundred peace-loving people in Vancouver. It was made louder still with an echo of voices demanding freedom for ALL the 5 Cuban Heroes coming from those out on the streets internationally on March 5th in solidarity with the Cuban 5 and Vancouver's milestone 100th picket action. At least 8 solidarity events were organized in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, Canada, Chicago, San Francisco, and Hartford, U.S., as well as Mexico City and Basel, Switzerland.
Whether in a protest action, or on the West Coast tour in support of the Cuban 5, each event also celebrated the return of one of the 5 Cuban Heroes, Fernando González, to Cuba the week before. On February 28, Fernando became the second of the 5 Cuban Heroes to return to his homeland, only after serving every day of his unjust sentence, a total of 15 years and 5 months. He joined René González, who had been allowed to return to Cuba in April of 2013. Fernando's return to Cuba, taking his position alongside René in leading the struggle to free ALL of the Cuban 5, was a great step forward in the struggle to free the Cuban 5. The energy that it brought could be heard, felt and seen in the faces of the over 450 people that participated in the events marking Vancouver's 100th picket action.
Events celebrating the release of Fernando González and marking Vancouver's 100th picket action, were a great success and a step forward in the international campaign for freedom of the 5 Cuban Heroes. They were evidence that united and consistent action for our 5 Heroes is possible and necessary.
In the words of Cuban 5 Hero Antonio Guerrero, inscribed on a beautiful wooden carving presented to the Free the Cuban 5 Committee-Vancouver in recognition of the 100th Monthly Picket Action on behalf of the Cuban 5, “To you, our eternal gratitude for you immense and constant support that makes us continue to be resistant and makes us taste our inevitable freedom each day.”
Together, we will free ALL the Cuban 5!
Click for photos from British Columbia and International events
Click for international greetings of solidarity to Vancouver's 100th picket action
Click for media coverage of events
Events organized by the Free the Cuban 5 Committee Vancouver: http://www.freethe5vancouver.ca Member of the Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC)
A BIG Thank You to event endorsers and co-sponsors: Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC), Vancouver Island Regional Public Library, Kamloops & District and Labour Council, Thompson Rivers University Faculty Association Human Rights Committee, Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC), Thompson Rivers University Socialist Club, Center for Global Justice - Seattle University, Latin American Studies Program - Seattle University, School of Law Latin America Program - Seattle University, Diversity, and Citizenship & Social Justice CORE Track Program - Seattle University, Seattle-Cuba Friendship Committee, Seattle A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition, U.S. Women and Cuba Collaboration, Wallingford Neighbors for Peace and Justice (Seattle), Communist Party of Canada Marxist-Leninist (CPC-ML) and Cuba solidarity activists in Nanaimo, Kamloops, Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle.
FULL REPORT ON 4 DAYS ACTIONS AND EVENTS FOR THE 5 CUBAN HEROES
Day 1: March 5, 2014 – 11AM
After months of consistent organizing for events marking Vancouver's 100th picket action in front of the U. S. Consulate, it all began at 11am on March 5, 2014. The first banner went up and gradually the sidewalk began to fill with more and more hands ready for picket signs. However, the first voices to be heard were not of those shouting demands for freedom for ALL of the Cuban 5, but those of musicians that came to share their art at a concert and vigil at the doorstep of the U.S. Consulate.
Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver co-chairs Alison Bodine and Noah Fine hosted a program that included a diverse array of musicians, from renowned Latin American guitar players to some of Vancouver's best hip-hop artists.
The concert began with Marcos Uribe, a Chilean musician who brought with him the spirit of struggle, playing some of Latin America's best classic songs of love and solidarity. He was followed by Maria Melendez,an organizer with the FMLN- Vancouver from El Salvador whose powerful voice inspired everyone gathered for freedom of the 5 Cuban Heroes.
The program for the day also included poets, beginning with Shakeel Lochan, an organizer with the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver, whose imagery expressed the struggles that the Cuban 5 have faced from behind prison bars. Following Shakeel was Joose Justis, a Vancouver hip-hop artist and constant supporter of the Cuban 5, whose beats and rhymes echoed truth off the Consulate walls. Next came Joaquin Ernesto, a Latin-American “trovador”, who always closes his set by bringing everyone together with the words of John Lennon's “Imagine.”
Although the day had begun with clouds and a forecast of rain, by the time hip-hop artist Estea El took to the stage, a bright sunshine had appeared. Estea El performed a song he had written just the night before, in special dedication to the 100th picket and the Cuban 5. His words were soon followed by an entire array of drums and horns, as Vancouver Carnival Band took to the steps with their original compositions, introducing an entire new energy to the protest concert. This energy carried forward to Honduran musician, MX Katracho whose voice conveyed the longing of the 5 to return to their loved ones and Cuban homeland.
Words of solidarity were also shared from International participants in the day of action. This included poetry from Hap Bockelie, a poet as well as organizer with the Seattle-Cuba Friendship Committee, who came up to Vancouver to participate in the March 5 actions. Greetings from Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5 to the 100th picket were also read – coupled with a report from their solidarity action held in the streets of Chicago earlier that day.
Day 1: March 5, 2014 – 4PM
At 4pm it was time for the 100th picket action to begin. Following 5 hours of poetry and music, everyone was ready to march and raise their voices for the 5 Cuban Heroes! After over 8 years of protests, the occasion of the 100th picket and the release of Fernando Gonzalez brought a new tone to united voices demanding immediate freedom for ALL the Cuban 5, with a total of 100 people attending the picket and concert throughout the day.
The protest action included a strong line of picketing that overflowed beyond the area in front of the U.S. Consulate, as well as a line-up of speakers representing the local and international struggle for the Cuban 5. The picket itself included peace-loving people in Vancouver from many walks of life, students, workers, retired people and people from many different communities. Also, the protest included experienced activists like Nestor Ortero, an organizer with the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver that has been to 95 out of 100 pickets, to those that just had seen an ad in the newspaper, or a poster on the street and decided to make the 100th picket action their first.
After a few initial rounds of lively chanting, the picket program was opened up by Free the Cuban 5 Committee Coordinating Committee members Alison Bodine and Azza Rojbi. They explained the significance of the day and the support from all around the world coming for the 100th picket action. This included report of the 8 solidarity actions happening in North America and in Switzerland that day. Other speakers included David Whittlesey, U.S. Civil Rights activist and long-time supporter of the Cuban 5, Charles Boylan, with the Communist Party of Canada – Marxist-Leninist, Nino Pagliccia, long-time Cuba Solidarity activist and editor of the upcoming book “Cuba Solidarity in Canada – Five Decades of People-Driven Foreign Relations”, Don Foreman, Union Representative for the Central Region of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and Gurpreet Singh, Radio India host and freelance journalist who brought with him strong representation from Vancouver Southeast Asian community.
The picket also had special greetings from Alicia Jrapko, the coordinator of the International Committee to Free the Cuban 5, Steve Patt, organizer with the National Committee to Free the Cuban 5 who spoke live from their solidarity action in San Francisco and Julio Fonseca, Executive Member of the Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC) and President of the Association of Cuban Residents in Toronto "Juan Gualberto Gomez," who also reported live from their solidarity action in Toronto. A message of solidarity was also read out from Imagination for International Solidarity (IFIS) in Seoul, Korea.
Tamara Hansen, Coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) spoke following the final round of energetic and determined picketing. She reminded everyone of the very first picket in December of 2005, and of the commitment made on that day to return every month until all the Cuban 5 are free. Following Tamara, Azza and Alison closed the milestone 100th picket action in Vancouver with a special appeal to everyone in attendance that day to get involved in the campaign in Vancouver to free ALL the Cuban 5.
Day 1: March 5, 2014 - 7PM
At the conclusion of the 100th picket action of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver, the 4 days of actions for the Cuban 5 Heroes were really just beginning. With all of the energy and exhilaration that comes from a day of protest in front of the U.S. Consulate for the Cuban 5, activists and supporters of the Cuban 5 made their way to the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House for a special evening for the 5 Cuban Heroes.
This event was both inspiring and educational, and a remarkable show of support for the Cuban 5 Heroes in Vancouver. Tamara Hansen, Coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) was the MC of the evening which began with words of solidarity from Tim Louis, lawyer and former Vancouver City Councillor. He was followed by a musical opening by Maria Melendez, an El Salvadorian musician and FMLN – Vancouver organizer. Tamara then asked Alison Bodine and Noah Fine, the co-chairs of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver, to give a report on the day's 100th picket activities.
Next to speak was special guest Don Foreman, Union Representative for the Central Region of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) as well as Co-chair of the Cubacan Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five in Ottawa, Canada. Don brought with him words of support and continued commitment to fighting for the freedom of ALL of the Cuban 5 from one of Canada's largest unions. He also brought a very special surprise for the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver. This gift was a wooden carving for the 100th picket sent on behalf of the Cuban 5 by Cuban 5 Hero Gerardo Hernandez through the Cubacan project.
His Excellency the Cuban Ambassador to Canada, Julio Garmendía Peña, then addressed the full and attentive room of 100 workers, students, immigrants, Latin American community members, young and old. He also came with a very special gift, this time for two long-time organizers with the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver, David Whittlesey and Nestor Ortero, whom he presented with plaques of recognition from the Cuban Embassy in Canada for their commitment to the campaign to free ALL the 5 Cuban heroes.
The highlight of the evening was the presentation by author Stephen Kimber, Professor of Journalism at King's University College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is author of "What Lies Across the Water: the Real Story of the Cuban 5," a newly released chronicle of the case of the Cuban 5. He spoke about his own experience in coming to know about the case of the Cuban 5, as well as shared many of the interesting and incredible aspects of the case that many people, even those long involved in the campaign for their freedom, did not know. Once some time was opened up in the program for Stephen Kimber to sign books a long line quickly formed behind the table, which became a centre of lively discussion and questions for the author.
The final section of the evening was a tribute to Comandante Hugo Chávez, whom passed away exactly one year before on March 5, 2013. Wilson Muñoz, an Executive Committee member of the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) in Vancouver and long time Latin-American community organizer, gave the tribute, speaking about the legacy of Comandante Chávez as well the dedication of Comandante Chávez to freedom for the 5 Cuban Heroes.
El Salvadorian musician Joaquin Ernesto gave the last performance of the evening, wrapping up a beautiful night of hope and solidarity in the struggle for freedom for ALL of the Cuban 5.
Day 2: March 6, 2014
Activities the following day took the West Coast tour for the Cuban 5 across the water to Vancouver Island and the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia.
His Excellency the Cuban Ambassador to Canada Julio Garmendía Peña and Stephen Kimber, journalist and author of "What Lies Across the Water: the Real Story of the Cuban 5," spoke at an event organized by the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver in conjunction with Cuba solidarity activists in Nanaimo and Vancouver Island Regional Library.
Even before the event was scheduled to begin, the room began to fill with people that had come to hear more about the case of the Cuban 5, with over 50 attending the event thoughout. After a welcoming to the Harbourfront Library by Librarian Jennifer Seper, Alison Bodine, co-chair of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver introduced the speakers of the evening.
Both Ambassador Peña and author Stephen Kimber spoke to an audience that was clearly engaged and interested in the case. Following the presentations, there was time for questions and discussion that had many people in the audience asking for more details about the case of the Cuban 5 and especially wanting to know more about the prospects of the release of the remaining 3 of the Cuban 5, Antonio, Ramon and Gerardo. At the end of the event, Stephen Kimber once again faced a long line of people wanting to get their books signed. A spirited discussion continued until the closing of the Library.
Day 3: March 7, 2014
During the 3rd day of activities marking Vancouver's 100th picket action the West Coast tour split up into two groups in order to participate in events in both British Columbia and Washington State in support of the 5 Cuban Heroes.
>> Kamloops, British Columbia
Early in the morning of Friday March 7, His Excellency Ambassador Julio Garmendía Peña and Miraly González González, the First Secretary and Political Attache of the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa headed Northwest in British Columbia to the city of Kamloops for an event organized at Thompson Rivers University (TRU).
Before the event, Ambassador Garmendia and the First Secretary had two important meetings, one with Baihua Chadwick, the Associate Vice President International for TRU World and the second with the President of the university, Dr. Alan Shaver.
The public evening event was titled “Cuba Today and the Case of the Cuban 5.” It was organized by the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver and the Thompson Rivers University Socialist Club and endorsed by the TRU Faculty Association Human Rights Committee and the Kamloops and District Labour Council (KDLC).
The meeting was chaired by Peter Kerek, the President of the Kamloops & District Labour Council (KDLC). He introduced the featured special guests from the Cuban Embassy in Canada as well as Donovan Cavers, Kamloops Deputy Mayor and City Council member, who came to welcome the event and speak about the positive impact that Cuba had on his world view and commitment to social justice.
Ambassador Peña spoke first about Cuba today in the context of current international issues, the ongoing U.S. Blockade, the economic changes, and the future of the Cuban revolution. Then, Mrs. González introduced the case of the Cuban 5 heroes to an audience full of many people that were learning for the first time about these 5 Cuban men imprisoned in the US for defending Cuba against U.S. - backed terrorism. She emphasized the important role of their family members in Cuba in leading the campaign for their freedom.
After the presentations, there was time for a discussion and eager hands immediately went up to ask questions both about politics and life in Cuba today and about the case of the Cuban 5. Whether questions and comments from students, workers or retired people, discussion could have continued long into the night between the special guests and over 60 people in attandance. To end the evening, awards of recognition from the Cuban Embassy in Canada were presented to Peter Kerek and the Kamloops and District Labour Council, Darcy Robinson and the Thompson Rivers University Socialist Club as well as Kamloops Deputy Mayor Donovan Cavers, all for their work in solidarity the Cuban 5.
>> Seattle, Washington State
On March 7, 2014 two events were organized in Seattle, Washington in solidarity with the 5 Cuban Heroes that combined reached over 90 people. The first was a discussion with Stephen Kimber, journalist and author of "What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban 5," held at Seattle University. This event was sponsored by the Center for Global Justice, Latin American Studies Program, School of Law Latin America Program, Diversity, and Citizenship and Social Justice CORE Track Program at Seattle University, as well as Cuba solidarity organizations in the region including the Seattle-Cuba Friendship Committee, Seattle A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition, U.S. Women and Cuba Collaboration, Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver.
This lunch-time discussion was introduced by Dr. Pamela A. Taylor, Director of Center for the Study of Justice in Society and Associate Professor in the College of Education at Seattle University. Then Stephen Kimber gave a presentation about his new book that had audience members both smiling and to the point of tears. A special addition to the audience was the presence of a couple that had the opportunity to meet Cuban 5 Hero Antonio Guerrero over 15 years ago, while he was still working in investigating anti-Cuban terrorist organizations in Miami. They had maintained a relationship with Antonio throughout his over 15-year imprisonment and were preparing to go and visit him in the Florida prison where he continues to be imprisoned.
That evening the Cuban 5 and author Stephen Kimber were the focus of an ongoing social justice project called the Friday Night Meaningful Movies Series. Every Friday for 11 years, Seattle's Wallingford Neighbors for Peace and Justice have organized a film showing and community discussion, and they decided to make their Friday March 7 edition dedicated to the Cuban 5.
The event began with the film "Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up," a documentary about the Cuban 5 and the history of U.S.-government backed terrorism against Cuba directed by award-winning filmmaker, the late Saul Landau. Following the film, Stephen Kimber presented on “What Lies Across the Water: the Real Story of the Cuban 5.” Host of Meaningful Movies and event MC Rick Turner then invited up a panel of speakers to join Stephen Kimber during the discussion period. This panel included Cindy Domingo from the U.S. Women and Cuba Collaboration, Judy Zeh from the Seattle-Cuba Friendship Committee, Jane Cutter of the Seattle A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition and Alison Bodine from the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver.
Having Stephen Kimber in Seattle was an especially important part of the West Coast tour marking the 100th monthly picket action for the 5 Cuban Heroes in Vancouver. It brought the case of the Cuban 5 right to the belly of the beast, within the United States where it is most important to get more people involved in the campaign for their freedom. These two events were also a step forward towards building more collaboration in both British Columbia and Washington State between different Cuba solidarity and Cuban 5 organizations. By working more together on both sides of the border, the movement to free our 5 heroes will become stronger.
Day 4: March 8, 2014
The final day of the West Coast tour for the Cuban 5 again included two events in two different cities, Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia.
>> Victoria, British Columbia
The Victoria event was focused on Cuba Today and the Case of the Cuban 5. The program included His Excellency the Cuban Ambassador to Canada Julio Garmendía Peña, Miraly González González, First Secretary of the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa, and Stephen Kimber, journalist and author of "What Lies Across the Water: the Real Story of the Cuban 5.” Tamara Hansen, Coordinator of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver, also brought special remarks from the success of the tour thus far. By this time on the tour over 50 copies of Stephen Kimber's books had sold-out and people were already placing orders to receive their copies in the mail.
John Shaw from the Communist Party of Canada hosted the event and moderated a fruitful discussion. The hall at James Bay New Horizons Community Centre was filled with 50 people from many different backgrounds, including students and faculty from the University of Victoria, members of the Latin American community as well as long-time Victoria social justice activists. An award was presented by the Cuban Embassy in Canada to Carlos Flores in recognition of his longtime solidarity with Cuba and important work building the Victoria event. Most significantly, people in attendance vowed to continue their work to free the Cuban 5 heroes.
>> Vancouver, British Columbia
The West Coast tour and events marking Vancouver's 100th picket action for the 5 Cuban Heroes wrapped up just where they began, Vancouver, British Columbia, at an event for March 8 International Women's Day co-organized by the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver and Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC).
This time, the event focused on “Cuban Women Today,” as well as the strong role that the mother's, daughters and wives of the Cuban 5 have taken in the international campaign for their freedom. The evening began with a welcoming by Coast Salish Elder Kelly White and a musical performance by Maria Melendez, an El Salvadorian musician and organizer with the FMLN – Vancouver, followed by poetry from Nicaraguan activist Myra.. Next, Tamara Hansen, the Coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and the event host, invited Mrs. Merli Venegas, the Consul General of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Vancouver to share remarks about the role of women in the revolutionary process in Venezuela and the strong relationship between Cuba and Venezuela.
The featured speaker was Mrs. Miraly González González, First Secretary and Political Attache of the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa. Mrs. González is also a member of the Cuban Federation of Women (FMC), an organization that has united women in Cuba through the many gains they have achieved since the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The evening also featured a presentation from His Excellency the Cuban Ambassador to Canada, Julio Garmendía Peña.
Following the initial presentations there was a question and answer period where many women in the room of 65 people commented to express their gratitude to the Cuban Revolution and the women in Cuba who have shown the remarkable gains that can be made in women's rights. In response, Mrs. González emphasized the ongoing commitment of the FMC and the women in Cuba in standing side-by-side with all women around the world in their struggle for women's rights and justice.
During a particularly moving section of the evening, the beautifully decorated and packed room at the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House in East Vancouver heard special greetings from the family members of the Cuban 5. These videos were recorded over the last few days leading up to Vancouver's 100th monthly picket action for the 5 Cuban Heroes. They included words from Adriana Perez, the wife of Gerardo Hernandez, Elizabeth Palmerio, the wife of Ramón, Irma Sehwerert Meligan, the mother of René, Magaly Llort Ruiz, the mother of Fernando and Tony Guerrero, the son of Antonio.
>> Beyond the 100th monthly picket action in Vancouver – a call to strengthen our united campaign to Free ALL the 5 Cuban Heroes Now!
Following the great success all events marking Vancouver's 100th monthly picket action and Fernando's return to Cuba, it is now time to take this success and grow with our international demand to free ALL of the Cuban 5. We are also encouraged by the success of the International Commission of Inquiry into the case of the Cuban 5 on March 7 and 8 in London, England. And also by the rally for the Cuban 5 in London on Sunday March 9th. Organizers with the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver participated in both events, bringing greetings and solidarity from Vancouver's 100th picket action.
Whether through the 8 events in 4 days tour of prominent speakers in support of the Cuban 5, or through the 8 international events organized in solidarity with Vancouver's 100th picket across Canada and internationally, this campaign has also shown the great impact of coordination in the campaign for the freedom of our 5 heroes.
The Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver calls on groups around the world to join us in strengthening our world-wide campaign for the 5 Cuban heroes. Now is the time to organize a protest action in your city on the “5th of the month for the Cuban 5,” to bring people in your community together to watch a film, to invite author Stephen Kimber to present on his new book, to commit to joining with the International Committee to Free the Cuban 5 at the 3rd “Five Days for the Cuban 5” in Washington, DC this Spring.
TOGETHER WE WILL FREE ALL THE CUBAN 5!