Right on time — and by pure coincidence — in this week of fireworks over prisoner swaps, a couple hundred artists and activists from 31 countries are in town to push for the release of Cuban nationals convicted of spying in Miami in 2001.
They’re known as the Cuban Five, even though only three remain in prison. Winning their freedom is a national cause celebre for Cubans and an emotional crusade for many progressives in this country. Actor Danny Glover had tears in his eyes as he addressed the audience at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington’s Chinatown, one of several locations where events are taking place through early next week.
“That becomes our mission as we leave here,” said Glover, wearing a ball cap that said “Cuba.” “We have to leave understanding that we have to do more, we have to talk more, we have to engage more.”
The activist rap duo Dead Prez was to perform Friday night with local political musicians at the Columbia Heights Education Campus. They’re announcing a new compilation album called “Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe.”
Might be an appropriate time for Dead Prez to reprise an old tune, “Globalization (Scene of the Crime)”:
Globalization really means the globalization of capital
You don’t hear people talking about the globalization of labor….
All they want is profits, it’s obvious in Africa
It’s obvious in Mexico, it’s obvious in Cuba
It’s obvious in Palestine, American invasion
Foreign occupation, covert operations
Oppressive domination, resiiiiiiist…
A rally in front of the White House is set for Saturday afternoon, and Monday is lobby day on Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, the gathered artists and activists are all trying to parse what the trade of captive soldier Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners might mean for the Cubans in prison. Could the remaining three be traded for Alan Gross, the U.S. contractor from Potomac who has has been jailed in Cuba since 2009? He was charged with “actions against the integrity of the state” for distributing communications equipment to the Jewish community in Cuba. Stephen Kimber, author of a recent book on the Cuban Five, as well as other commentators, said the Bergdahl trade showed that such deals are possible.
But then, does the ensuing backlash against the Bergdahl trade make such a swap less viable? At the State Department, a spokeswoman told reportersthe administration’s position against a trade for the Cubans has not changed.
The Cuban Five were convicted in 2001 for passing non-classified material to the Cuban government. In addition, one of them, Gerardo Hernández, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the 1996 Cuban shoot-down of unarmed civilian planes piloted by members of the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue. Hernández was sentenced to life. Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino also remain in prison. Fernando González and René González have been released after serving most or all of their sentences. At various times during the appeals process, at least one federal judge questioned whether the evidence against Hernández was compelling, and whether the five received a fair trial in Miami in the wake of the furor over Elián González, the refugee boy who was rescued from the sea and returned to his father in Cuba. The Cuban government said the agents were trying to uncover terrorist plots against Cuba.
Don’t under-estimate how much the Cuban Five mean to Cubans, said José Ramón Cabañas, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.
“It’s not an elite subject, an official thing. It’s something that comes from the very bottom of our society,” Cabañas said in an interview. “Those are our heroes. We shared the information they gathered with your authorities. Why is there a reason to have them here in prison?”
THE WASHINGTON POST