Hundreds celebrate release of the Miami Five

Campaign News | Sunday, 15 February 2015

Celebration evening at Bolivar Hall for the freedom of the Five and 56 years of Revolution

Over 200 special guests including trade unionists, MPs, campaigners, actors and artists celebrated the 56th year of the Cuban Revolution and the freedom of the Miami Five at a packed Bolivar Hall in London on Tuesday night.

The Cuban Embassy reception was supported by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC), who campaigned for 16 years for the release of the five anti-terrorist heroes who returned home to Cuba on 17 December 2014.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, who represents 6 million British workers, has been a long supporter of the campaign for the Five’s liberation said “When you look back at all of those emails, petitions, vigils; whether in sunshine or rain, all of that organisation - is proof that solidarity really works”.

She echoed the thoughts of many people in the hall by saying that the Five’s release was “the best Christmas present ever” and sent a message of love over to the families of the Five, who she said had touched many people on a human level with their stories and their strength when in Britain during their visits organised by CSC and at trade union conferences and events.

CSC Director Rob Miller paid tribute to the five brave men and their families. “They are a product of Cuba. The fact that they took on this campaign in such a strong and steadfast way, is such a testament to the families, the Five, and the Cuban people as a collective society, who want to build a better world”.

He thanked the role of the British trade union movement for their campaigning and solidarity with Cuba and also praised the work of parliamentarians on the case of the Five, where there has been wonderful support including 126 MPs signing an EDM in 2013 appealing for family visitation rights, and ten years before 112 MPs signed a similar EDM which expressed concern at the arrest, trial and incarceration of the Five.

Whilst he acknowledged the night was one of celebration, he warned that the US determination for interference and regime change continues but now their tactics are different. The CSC Director urged that the campaign will continue to fight the blockade and for Cuba to chose its path, using its sovereignty, free from external aggression.

He read a message from Cuba from the Five to the guests, which thanked the British trade union movement and CSC. “Our freedom was the direct result of the unwavering support of our people and a world wide solidarity movement made up of people like you,” the message said.

Cuban Ambassador, Teresita Vicente thanked the British trade union movement for its tireless campaigning on the Five; “This is not the end, this is the beginning. And I promise you, like Raul and Fidel Castro have both promised - Guantanamo will be back.” To huge applause she said that “Together, we will defeat the blockade” and “Cuba will be socialist forever.”

Actor Andy de la Tour spoke on behalf of actors and artists involved in the campaign and noted that “it was the Americans who blinked first - and that is something for us to celebrate”, and argued that now ending the blockade is a priority for those who stand in solidarity with Cuba.

Former Unite General Secretary, Tony Woodley, who has been personally involved in the campaign to free the Five for many years and who visited the men in US jails, took to the stage with his mobile phone in hand. He was on the phone to Havana speaking to Rene Gonzalez, the first of the Five to be freed in 2011 after completing his sentence. Rene thanked the crowd and the British trade union movement for their support.

Woodley shared intimate stories from his years of campaigning for the Five including a moment when Adriana, wife of Gerardo, replied to a question about what she misses most about her husband from a British trade unionist: “It is every morning I wake up and look around the table and look at where my children should have been”, she had said. He spoke of their joy at the birth of their baby daughter Gema who was born in January, much to the delight of the guests at Bolivar Hall.

“When you see the videos, the hugs, those incredible scenes, it was the most fantastic Christmas present you could ever wish for”, he said, and also paid tribute to the international solidarity movement and the importance of politics in the case of the Five, including the role of the US and Canadian trade unions.

The British government’s refusal to grant Rene Gonzalez a visa was discussed on the night. He has been denied a visa to visit the UK on two occasions, even though he has been able to visit other European countries, including Spain, Portugal and France.

Speakers stressed that the campaign to end this cruel visa ban will be challenged at every level until Rene and the rest of the Miami Five are able to come to the UK to join us here in what would be a major celebration of the victory achieved in this long and hard fought campaign for justice.

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