Embraces with the Five in Havana
CSC Director, Rob Miller was honoured to spend a few days in Havana with the Miami Five earlier this year and writes about the experience for CubaSí and gives an update on the ongoing fight to allow the men to come to Britain
Embraces with the Five in Havana In March, myself and Natasha Hickman, CSC Communications Manager, had the honour of spending a wonderful few days with the Miami Five and their families in Havana. We were part of an international delegation of trade unionists and campaigners led by Unite former general secretary Tony Woodley and Chair of the union’s executive council, Tony Woodhouse and joined by union leaders and solidarity representatives from the US and Canada.
CSC has been campaigning for the Five in earnest since 2001 when we first started to publicise the case to our supporters. We first met with the wife of Rene Gonzalez, Olga Salanueva, and her then four year old daughter Ivette, in 2002, when they travelled to Britain with CSC in an early effort to raise awareness about the case. Ivette is now 17 years old but as she herself said “it is only now that I feel that I can truly get on with my life, now that my father and all my uncles are home.”
For all the families the last few months have been an incredible journey. In those few days in Havana we were able to laugh together, reminisce and look forward to a brighter future, not only for the Five and their families, but also for the people of Cuba now that there are positive moves by the US towards better relations.
The first embrace with Gerardo was very special. I had spoken with him on a number of occasions while he was in prison. We had also spent many times with his wife Adriana and had shared the heartbreak of their forced separation. They have just welcomed the new joy of their life baby Gema, who has already become a national treasure. Both Gerardo and Adriana are positively glowing with their new found life as a family back home in Cuba.
At a special reception hosted by ICAP we presented each of the Five with photos of the campaign in Britain over the years showing the wives, daughters and mothers at trade union conferences and protest vigils at the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. In my speech I gave greetings from all of us in the UK who had worked for so long for justice. I also made clear our admiration for the families who had worked tirelessly to take the campaign forward. As well as the families the event was attended by many senior figures including the head of the Cuban team negotiating to normalise relations with the United States, Josefina Vidal.
Seeing the Five together with all their families helped us understand the unique bond that they had forged through so many years apart, but also together, as one group standing firm and living and breathing daily the campaign for justice.
It was clear that the Five were completely aware of the wonderful campaigning work carried out in the UK by CSC and our supporters. They spoke in detail about the motions in our parliaments, the vigils at the US embassy, the campaign Voices for the Five and the International Commission of Inquiry, the campaign with Amnesty International. It became clear that the thousands of letters sent by supporters in Britain had been of crucial importance in sustaining the men throughout.
In an emotional speech Tony Woodley said: “For me personally it brings closure on a campaign started close to a decade ago, breaking the silence in the USA, gaining visitation (for Adriana and Olga) after so many wasted years and finally, freedom and even the miracle of a child for Adriana and Gerardo. Life doesn’t get much sweeter right now friends and comrades.”
Being with the men around the streets of Havana it soon becomes evident of the huge love and admiration felt for them by the Cuban people. It maybe feels a little like accompanying a film or music star as you are stopped for hugs and photos at every turn. Yet these encounters are so respectful and the most common phrase you hear is ‘Gracias’. The Five gave their lives to defend the people of Cuba from terrorist attacks and they will be forever thanked for that sacrifice.
During the visit we had several opportunities to speak to the Five about the campaign for their freedom, their new lives in Cuba, and the future for them all and their families. It is clear that they will all experience these dramatic changes in differing ways but it is also clear that each of them feels a profound sense of pride in what they have done and the sacrifices that they have made.
As Ramon said: “The welcome we have received by the Cuban people on our return has truly humbled us, after all we were only doing what so many would have done. Cubans give their sacrifice in so many ways, in medical missions abroad, in their daily efforts at home. We were only doing what we know was the right thing to do.”
While some speculate about the future roles the five men may follow, it is completely clear that each of them is a passionate supporter of the revolution. Gerardo stated on many occasions that the Five were ready to “take up the challenges presented, fulfill any obligations to the Cuban people and do our duty when called.”
This visit was a real joy. Not least because of the pride we can all have here in the UK in the role that we all played in this most honourable of struggles to free these Five heroes and see them returned to their homeland.