Hundreds of activists, trade unionists and campaigners lay siege to the US Embassy in London yesterday to protest against the ongoing unjust treatment of the Miami Five by the United States. The Cuba Solidarity Campaign’s annual Vigil for the Miami Five has become an integral part of the British campaign in support of the Five and, this year, fell a week after the 14th anniversary of their arrest.
The sixth annual vigil for the Miami Five welcomed speakers from across the trade union and labour movement, enjoyed performances from actors and musicians and heard from Aleida Guevara, daughter of iconic Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.
The trade union movement has been fundamental in growing the campaign to Free the Five. As usual, this support was visible on the night as trade union flags and banners were festooned throughout the audience and the platform boasted speakers from a number of the 24 national unions affiliated to CSC. These included Frances O’Grady (TUC), Len McCluskey (Unite), Eric Roberts (Unison), Christine Blower (NUT), Billy Hayes (CWU), Manuel Cortes (TSSA), Jonathan Ledger (Napo) and Carolyn Simpson (SERTUC). All agreed that – whilst it was sad to continue the struggle for justice – their unions would continue to do all they could in support of the Miami Five and their estranged families.
New TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady “brought the support of the whole TUC” and declared “we want immediate and unconditional release now”. Frances was, “delighted that the first rally I’m speaking at as General Secretary of the TUC is in support of the Miami Five”. She highlighted the irony that the Miami Five remain imprisoned for defending Cuba against terrorism in a country famous for inventing the “so-called War on Terror”. As she remarked, the hypocrisy of the US “knows no bounds”.
One of the biggest champions of the Miami Five in recent years has been Unite the Union and – in the last year – they have welcomed the mothers of the Five and the wives of the Five to their Sector and National Policy Conferences. General Secretary Len McCluskey sent a clear message to the American Embassy – and the US government – that they “are not just dealing with 11m Cubans, they are dealing with the whole of the working class movement throughout the world. We will not allow you to bully and intimidate our Cuban comrades”. He placed the persecution of the Miami Five within a history of aggressive US policy towards Cuba and emphasised, in particular, the ongoing blockade.
Cathy Jamieson MP made an important contribution as she urged the assembled crowd to lobby their MP to sign EDM 497. The EDM was tabled by Michael Connarty MP and calls for visitation rights to be granted to Olga and Adriana – wives of Gerardo Hernandez and Rene Gonzalez – who have been unable to see their husbands for 14 years. In little over a week, the EDM has accrued nearly 30 signatures from parliamentarians representing eight different parties.
Progressive legal firms have been crucial in the ongoing legal struggle in support of the Five. Doug Christie and Steve Cottingham spoke on behalf of two firms – Thompsons and O.H. Parsons respectively – that have led the field in the UK. Doug and Steve gave an update on the legal situation – including reference to recent revelations that the U.S government paid journalists at the time of the trial to write prejudicial articles – and contextualised the treatment of the Five within a history of state collusion and conspiracy.
Moving musical accompaniment was provided by Omar Puente and Rebecca Thorn with a wonderful rendition of Hasta Victoria – which got the audience singing along – whilst actors Adjoa Andoh and Andy de la Tour performed an emotive reading of letters exchanged between Rosa Aurora Freijanes and her imprisoned husband Fernando Gonzalez.
As darkness descended and candles flickered in the wind, Aleida Guevara entered the stage to rapturous applause. Aleida echoed previous contributions that we struggle, not just for the Five, but for their brave mothers, wives, children and families. She lamented that their trial and incarceration “violates the legal norms of the United States”.
Aleida thanked those in attendance – and those in support of the campaign – for their solidarity. “Thank you for your resistance – but we still have to do more. We need to multiply our force. Let’s break the blockade of silence imposed on the truth. As Jose Marti said, bad people triumph when good people sleep.”