European Social Forum

Campaign News | Tuesday, 11 November 2003

Speech by Father Geoff Bottoms


Comrades, brothers and sisters, friends of Cuba:

Although there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that Cuba sponsors terrorism or is developing biological weapons programmes there is a great deal of evidence linking Washington to the 40-year old terrorist network that exists in south Florida.

Organisations such as Alpha 66, Omega 7, Brothers to the Rescue and the F-4 Commandos are responsible for the loss of over 3,000 innocent Cuban lives yet have acted with impunity from the territory of the United States since the Triumph of the Revolution in 1959.

After more than 40 years of unsuccessful protest both in the Security Council and directly to Washington Havana sent a group of men to infiltrate and report back on the workings of these organisations established throughout the exile community of Cubans in Miami.

They gathered the evidence which was shared with the FBI by Havana but instead of arresting the real culprits the White House ordered the arrest of the group of Cuban observers. According to Condoleezza Rice this was to appease the leaders of the Miami mafia for the arrest at sea of their paid conspirators in 1997 who planned to assassinate Fidel Castro in Puerto Rico.

Charged with everything from failing to disclose themselves as foreign agents to conspiracy to commit espionage and even murder the Cuban Five were held in solitary confinement for 17 months before finally going on trial in the very place where they could not expect to get a fair hearing.

The jury was intimidated, witnesses were bullied by the prosecution, and the defence lawyers were denied access to all the evidence on the grounds that the information was classified. Even high-ranking officials of the FBI and the Southern Command gave evidence to the effect that none of the Five had been spying against the United States or threatened national security.

Yet all were found guilty in a unanimous verdict by the jury without one point of clarification and received sentences ranging from 15 years to double life. Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrera, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez were then dispersed to maximum security prisons throughout the United States making visiting difficult for their families.

Two of the wives have been denied visas to see their husbands on three separate occasions on the spurious grounds that they are spies as well as their husbands. Adriana Perez, wife of Gerardo, has not seen her husband for five years and Olga Salanueva, together with her five year-old daughter Ivette, has not seen her husband Rene since she was imprisoned for three months and deported because Rene would not make a deal with the authorities.

Now their case is on appeal and needs our support. Although the five Cuban patriots and their defence team are due to submit their final documents next week following the government’s response to their appeal this is not a good time to be a Cuban political prisoner in the United States.

President Bush is up for re-election in 2004 and he needs the support of his friends in Miami who swung it for him last time. As recently as last month he announced in a speech to far-right émigré Cubans that he would create a Commission for the Assistance to a Free Cuba with the aim of removing Fidel Castro and the country’s political system. He also declared tighter enforcement of the ban on travel and tourism by citizens of the United States and directed the anti-terrorist Department for Homeland Security to hunt down those who travel illegally to Cuba.

With the help of his friends in the European Union who recently agreed a policy of diplomatic isolation, political interference and reduced economic ties following the arrest of the so-called dissidents in April and the execution of the three ferry hijackers George W Bush will stop at nothing. Our concern in Britain is that the Blair government that followed the United States into an unjustifiable war against Iraq may even support an invasion of Cuba. Other governments in the European Union could follow suit.

Yet the United Nations voted last week by 179 to 3 with 2 abstentions against the blockade of Cuba by the United States. International solidarity is growing in support of the Cuban Five. In the dangerous circumstances of today it has never been more necessary to stand in solidarity with Cuba.

Therefore let the cry from this rally be heard in both the corridors of power in the United States and the conference halls of the European Social Forum:

Free the Cuban Five!

Hands off Cuba!

End the Blockade!


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