Report from British Columbia, Canada Actions for Our 5 Cuban Heroes Print


7 Events in 4 Days Marked 15 Years of the Unjust Imprisonment of the 5 Cuban Heroes

~ Vancouver
~ Nanaimo
~ Kamloops
~ Bowen Island


September 12th, 2013 marked 15 years since the original imprisonment in the United States of the Cuban 5 anti-terrorist Heroes.  A lot has changed since 1998 - for the world and for Gerardo, René, Antonio, Fernando and Ramon.  Their children are no longer children, 3 US Presidents have come and gone, and the Cuban 5 themselves have begun to show grey hairs. One thing, however, which has never changed, is the love and determination which has radiated from these five men as they continue to fight for justice from behind bars - convinced both of the justness and the success of their struggle.

The international campaign for the Cuban 5 Heroes has itself changed. It has become more diverse, more international, more coordinated, and more effective. The judge acknowledged the decisive role it had played in having the sentences of Ramon, Fernando, and Antonio reduced in 2009. Public outcry was also an important factor in the US government’s decision to allow René González to return to Cuba permanently before the end of his vindictively scheduled parole.

When René arrived back home to Cuba, he made it clear he would not rest until all of his four other brothers returned permanently to Cuba as well, and the campaign demand became, “Free ALL of the Cuban 5 Now!” In early September, René went on Cuban television to announce a, “Yellow Ribbon Campaign” to mark the 15th anniversary of the imprisonment of the Cuban 5. He urged Cubans, and everyone, to tie yellow ribbons everywhere, “…this ribbon has become a symbol for Americans waiting for someone on a mission abroad, waiting for a soldier, waiting for a loved one, and this is the message which we want to send to the American people: so that they know that the Cuban people are waiting for four of their sons unjustly incarcerated in the United States.”

In British Columbia (BC), Canada, the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver responded by organizing and coordinating 7 actions in 4 days across BC for the Cuban 5 Heroes. From September 12th to 15th, a wave of yellow ribbons travelled from the four corners of Vancouver, across ocean waters to Vancouver Island and Bowen Island, and hundreds of kilometres East to the city of Kamloops. This took place as Cubans responded by turning their island bright yellow with thousands of ribbons, and many others took up the campaign with actions on every continent around the world.

>> September 12th - 4 events in 1 day for the Cuban 5 in Vancouver, BC!

Vancouver actions started early in the South end of the city. By 7am, morning commuters crossing one of the busiest bridges in the city could not help but notice a giant red banner demanding freedom for the Cuban 5. The banner was set up by the Canadian-Cuban Friendship Association (CCFA) – Vancouver and supported by Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver members. Given that the banner is the size of a highway billboard, it was impossible to miss for the thousands of vehicles slowly crossing the packed Knight Street Bridge. The trees surrounding the banner were all covered in bright yellow ribbons as well!

The yellow ribbons then migrated from South to North, as supporters of the Cuban 5 joined the Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver to hang a large banner on the pedestrian bridge leading to the Lions Gate Bridge - one of busiest thoroughfares in Vancouver. Participants tied yellow ribbons to the bridge and held their picket signs to draw the attention of people on their daily commute to the case of the Cuban 5 Heroes.

The yellow ribbons then moved West, in front of the United States Consulate in downtown Vancouver. This was the 94th monthly picket action organized in front of the US Consulate by the Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver. This time, supporters of the Cuban 5 tied dozens yellow ribbons around every tree and poll on both sides of the street. Of course, the biggest and brightest ribbons were saved for the trees directly in front of the Consulate doors!

After making sure that yellow ribbons were beautifully tied everywhere around the Consulate, the picketing began in full force. Over 40 people marched and chanted, including friends and activists from the CCFA – Vancouver, who again brought their fantastic giant red banner.

Between loud and lively rounds of picketing, participants gathered together for important guest speakers. This was led by MC Azza Rojbi, one of the co-coordinators for the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver. Alicia Jrapko, Coordinator of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, spoke via telephone from a recently completed protest in front of the White House. Janine Solanki read a tribute written to the recently deceased Saul Landau on behalf of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver. Tamara Hansen, Coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba, spoke of the importance and dynamism of the Yellow Ribbon Campaign for the Cuban 5 Heroes.  Independent radio broadcaster and member of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) Charles Boylan, as well as CCFA – Vancouver Executive Committee member Peter Noble, who is also member of Executive Committee of Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC), also both added their voices to the demand to “Free All the Cuban Five Heroes Now!”

Tim Louis, lawyer, former Vancouver city counsellor and long-time supporter of the Cuban 5, summarized the mood and determination of the picketers when, surrounded by a mass of yellow ribbons, he concluded by saying, “When the Cuban 5 are released, it will be because of the work of people like you and me.”
There was no rest when the megaphones were put down and the signs were packed up, as the yellow ribbons moved finally to the East of Vancouver for the final event of the day, a cultural and political event at Joe’s Café.

The room was again decorated with many yellow ribbons, and included a special area dedicated to Saul Landau. The event opened with another tribute to Saul, who may have passed away recently, but who left behind a legacy of over 50 years of dedicated social justice organizing and film making. He had always been a huge campaigner for the freedom of the Cuban 5 Heroes, making his last documentary film, “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?” about their case, and frequently reporting on his visits with actor Danny Glover to Gerardo Hernández in prison. Janine Solanki again read the dedication to Saul, and Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver organizer Thomas Davies read the lyrics to the Silvio Rodríguez song, “The Stubborn One” (El Necio) while reflecting on Saul’s passion and dedication. The audience was also treated to screenings to some of Saul’s short films about the Cuban 5.

The evening was again MCd by Azza Rojbi, who was joined by Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) coordinator, Tamara Hansen. VCSC endorsed the 7 B.C. actions, and played a very active role in building them. A beautiful video of, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree” performed by some of the most renowned musicians in Cuba, and featuring the families of the Cuban 5, was then screened to much applause. See video here:

The event received a recorded greeting from the Cuban Ambassador to Canada, His Excellency Julio Garmendia, who thanked the Vancouver for its consistent campaign in support the Cuban 5. He was followed by Tim Louis, who detailed some of the absurdities in the legal process against the Cuban 5, and reminded everyone that it will be the court of public opinion and mobilization which will render the decisive verdict in their case.

The cultural component of the evening ranged from poetry written for the Cuban 5 by Shakeel Lochan, to passionate and original Latin-American melodies by MX Katracho, who tied a yellow ribbon to his guitar and announced that he would not remove it until the Cuban 5 were all free. The evening was closed by the ever-supportive, ever-energetic rapper Joose Justis, who got everyone moving while chanting, “Free the 5! Free the 5! Free the 5!”

With that, the evening came to a close, but definitely not the weekend of activities for the Cuban 5.

>> September 13, 14, 15 - Nanaimo, Kamloops, and Bowen Island…the Cuban 5 Campaign on the Move!

>> Event 5: Nanaimo Gets a New Committee

While the Vancouver events were very successful, the events held in other parts of BC mark an important step forward for the campaign. The first ever Cuban 5 event was held on Bowen Island, and both Kamloops and Nanaimo are beginning to develop consistent activities for the Cuban 5 and introducing entirely new communities to the case.

These events began when the yellow ribbons took to the high seas as organizers took a ferry to Vancouver Island for the Cuban 5 event in Nanaimo, co-sponsored by the Vancouver Island University Faculty Association - Human Rights and International Solidarity Committee, the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver and a group of local supporters of the Cuban 5 Heroes.

Held at the Vancouver Island University campus, the event featured a screening of the emotional documentary about the families of the Cuban 5, “The Cuban Wives”, live acoustic music by Eliza Gardiner, and presentations by both VCSC coordinator Tamara Hansen and Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver co-coordinator Azza Rojbi. The event included a significant tribute to Saul Landau, and also focused on the importance of the new Yellow Ribbon Campaign and its possibilities.

The most exciting part of the evening was the announcement by Nanaimo organizers during the discussion period of the formation of a new Cuban 5 Committee in Nanaimo! A sign-up sheet was passed around and a first meeting has already been announced. This is a great step forward and a natural response to the growing interest in the case of the Cuban 5 in Nanaimo.

>> Event 6: Kamloops Opens More Doors

The next day’s event took place in Kamloops. It was co-sponsored by the Kamloops Socialist Club and the Free the Cuban 5 Committee- Vancouver, and held in the popular “The Art We Are Café” in downtown Kamloops. The event was co-MCd by Kamloops Socialist Club organizer Darcy Robinson, and Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver organizer Aaron Mercredi.

Again there was a heartfelt tribute to Saul Landau and the screening of some of his shorter films on the Cuban 5, as well as other video clips that brought the case up to date from the original arrest to the ongoing campaign.

Free the Cuba Committee -Vancouver organizer Noah Fine also sang some classic songs accompanied by his acoustic guitar, while the Cuban 5 tour musical headliner Joose Justis yet again found new ways to work the campaign to Free the Cuban 5 Heroes into his rhymes.

The event closed with a presentation on the Cuban 5 Yellow Ribbon Campaign by Azza Rojbi, and afterwards event participants took to the streets to pin yellow ribbons on trees in downtown Kamloops. Events about Cuba and the Cuban 5 are becoming a regular occurrence in Kamloops, and developing relationships in many different areas promise there are more to come! 

>> Event 7: Bowen Island Breaks New Ground!

The final event was reserved for Bowen Island, where a young woman who had met with the families of the Cuban 5 several years ago on a volunteer trip to Cuba decided that the case should be brought to her community. It was the first event ever for the Cuban 5 on Bowen Island, and a great achievement. The event was held in the Cates Hill Chapel, and beyond other program elements, also included a children’s area where kids could make their own Cuban flag and a Cuban “museum” with Cuban art and handicrafts on display.

The event was MCd by its main organizer Samantha Sarra. She explained her reasons for wanting to bring the case of the Cuban 5 to Bowen Island, and her hope that this was the beginning of more work to come. She had already been able to raise a lot of awareness with an article published in the local newspaper about the case of the Cuban 5, which also helped a lot in bringing out interested Bowen Islanders to the event.

The program focused on introducing the case of the Cuban 5 Heroes to a new audience, and also all of the different ways people can get involved in the campaign (See article here:  Judging by the interest, this will definitely not be the last event for the Cuban 5 on Bowen Island.

>> Free ALL the Cuban 5 Now!

While an intense period of action for the Cuban 5 Heroes has come to a close in BC, new possibilities continue to emerge for the campaign. The Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver has learned in its past decade of organizing that consistency, creativity, and campaigning are vital to the success of any social justice initiative and struggle. The international campaign is really only beginning to scratch the surface of its possibilities, and new projects like the Yellow Ribbon Campaign and the emergence of new organizing centres prove there is still a huge dynamism build on to make sure we can, “Free ALL the Cuban 5 Now!” VOLVERÁN!

Free the Cuban 5 Committee-Vancouver
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