Families torn apart - Miami 5 interview
Stephen Hallmark spoke to Adriana Perez and Olga Salanueva, wives of two of the Miami Five on their recent visit to the UK
The simple exchange of a photograph was the only way that Olga Salanueva was able to celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary with Rene.
It is not just the Miami 5 who have been cruelly condemned by one of the most outrageous miscarriages of justice in recent times, the wives and families of the Cubans have suffered a fate almost as bleak.
For Olga and Adriana Perez the “torture” - as they term it - is even more intense than that endured by the wives of the other imprisoned Cubans. This is because in a cruel twist which United States authorities don’t even reserve for the relatives of murderers or rapists, they have been denied visiting rights year after year. Olga has even been told because - so far as the North American government’s concerned - she constitutes a threat to national security, she is not allowed in the US.
Divided for a decade
Olga said: “It’s eight years since I saw Rene. My youngest daughter cannot get to know and love her father. That government has divided my family for a decade.
“Adriana has waited three months to hear whether she will be allowed a visa. She will probably be refused. I’ve been told I’ll never be granted a visa.
“Applying for visas to visit our husbands has been a torture for all Miami 5 families.”
The women have to attend the US Interests Section in Havana to obtain visiting rights, and undergo a lengthy process just to secure a preliminary interview.
Olga said: “Finally they come up with all manner of reasons why I cannot be allowed a visa. I first applied in 2002. As my daughters and I were packing our bags I was so, so happy that I would finally see Rene again. They then revoked my visa, and I was desolated.
Banned for life
“Last July the authorities ruled I should never be allowed to step foot in the US. Now I feel impotent. How can they do this?! How can they deny my husband the right to see us?
“We have a right to spend time together. We could speak about the 20 years we’ve been married, about our daughters and about one day living together again. What have I done that I cannot even dream of that?
“It’s precisely on the families of the Miami 5 that the US government has chosen to exact its revenge. Even the men’s mothers, some of whom are very elderly, are denied regular contact, and on average only see their sons once every year and a half.”
Olga and Adriana have just completed a packed tour of England to raise awareness about their husbands’ plight
It has also resulted in CSC, thanks to fundraising by members and trade unions, placing adverts in national newspapers. Added to this, trade union support has snowballed since CSC organised a meeting between union leaders and the five’s families earlier this year in Cuba.
Olga said: “From the very beginning we have witnessed the work carried out by CSC, and it’s achieved excellent results. It’s no coincidence the first parliament to pass a motion in support of the five was in Britain, now many others have followed, and CSC organised for Amnesty International to back our fight for visiting rights.
“Now the movement, especially in this country’s trade unions, has grown extraordinarily, and has passed information about the case back to comrades in the US.”
‘Our hope is with you’
This is critical. As Gerardo, in his most recent letter, acknowledged: “Our hopes are not deposited in any court, 10 years are more than enough for me to have been cured of any naivety. Our hope is with you... We know truth is on our side, but to achieve justice, we need a jury of millions... to let our story be known.”
Adriana’s sentence is the cruellest of all the relatives of the Miami 5. She has no children, and unless Gerardo is soon freed she knows she may never get the chance. She too has been callously denied the paper work necessary to visit her husband, and the refusal of visitation rights to relatives of the Cubans is condemned by organisations ranging from Amnesty International to the United Nations and House of Parliament.
Adriana said: “US authorities say I ‘could be an illegal immigrant’ and so deny me a visa, as if I’d want to live in a country in which the government hates my husband.
“There are restrictions and limitations placed on me whenever I talk or write to Gerardo, I get a few minutes of conversation, but that’s never a substitute for a marriage, because marriages are meant to be based on togetherness and communication. I feel pleased with five minutes uninterrupted conversation every week or so.
“The jail even tampers with our letters, delays them, and they get out of sync so it’s hard to tell which ones respond to which. Even Gerardo’s legal correspondence is illegally tampered with.
“But it doesn’t matter that they continue to deny us these rights, one day I shall be reunited with my husband in Cuba.”
Olga added: “They say we are a threat to the US. I lived in North America for four years, my husband is a US citizen by birth, I’ve worked there. I am no threat.
“I only left the country as they used me to attempt to blackmail Rene. He was told I could remain if he testified against his comrades. He chose to stand trial, to denounce the existence of terrorist organisations based in Florida. We must never forget more than 3,000 people have died in my country as a result of terrorist activity originating in the US. So my husband refused their blackmail, and I was deported.
“How can the US government vindictively transmit all the hatred it has for Cuba onto us?”
The case of the Miami 5 epitomises the relationship US governments have had with Cuba since the early days of the country’s revolution: naked aggression against a small country brave enough to throw off the yoke of imperial domination.
The five volunteered to go to Miami in 1997 following a spate of bomb attacks on Cuban hotels which culminated in the death of an Italian tourist. Because US authorities turned a blind eye to the operations, Cuba was forced to take action to defend its citizens and holidaymakers.
For the US not to have jailed the Cubans would have been an admission that their mission was valid, and this would have enraged the Cuban exiles based in Miami, a powerful community residing in a key swing state. So the Miami 5 are now collectively serving four life sentences and 75 years after trials which have been almost universally condemned as political in nature.
Strength to fight
Olga said: “But sometimes I feel I don’t have the right to be sad because there are many more Cuban families who, as a result of the terrorist activities undertaken against my country, won’t ever be able to see family members again. And then I feel proud that my husband, my Rene, managed to work to prevent more victims being created by the bombings and the attacks.
“This gives me strength to fight.”
The legal case is thrown into sharp relief by the ruling made by three top appeal judges, who said the original trial was a “perfect storm of prejudice”, that it shouldn’t have been held in the anti-Castro heartland of Miami, and the Cubans should be re-tried. Incredibly, a further appeal, this time by the prosecution, successfully overturned this judgement.
In June, the Miami 5’s lawyers had another throw of the dice. This time, judges ruled three defendants - Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González - would have their sentences re-examined.
Olga and Adriana are not hopeful of legal redress. They know that to be successful the case must command international attention and create a wave of opinion in which the Cubans’ continued incarceration becomes impossible.
Olga said: “We need an explosion in the growth of the movement to free the Miami 5 that makes it impossible for the courts to deny justice.”
Adriana added: “The first letters received by the five from outside of Cuba were from the UK, and the support has increased immeasurably since then.
“Solidarity with our husbands has grown as the injustices committed against them have grown. This is exactly the point at which we must redouble all our efforts. Neither the Miami 5 nor their families have lost confidence, the more we can unite and the louder we can shout the quicker I shall be reunited with my husband.
“We shall never rest until those five men are reunited with us on Cuban soil. We ask you to accompany us throughout this struggle.”