|Photo by Mark Thomas|
Irma Sehwerert, Magali Llort, and Mirtha Rodriguez came to the UK in December to speak at Unite sector conferences and to speak at the annual Cuba Solidarity Campaign vigil outside the US Embassy in London.
Their sons were arrested by the FBI in September 1998 and charged with spying, shortly after they had passed information to the US government about terrorist groups operating from Miami who were planning attacks against the Cuba people.
Although best known as the mothers of the Five, all three women played their own individual roles in building the Cuban society and revolution for which their sons sacrificed their freedom.
Rene’s mother, Irma, grew up in Chicago and between1956-59 was active in raising US funds for the 26th July Movement in support of Fidel Castro’s guerrilla army. Both Magali and Mirtha were once trade union leaders in their own right, and all three expressed a keen interest in, and support for the 30th November public pension strike action which took place during their stay.
Speaking at the Candlelit Vigil outside the US embassy on 1 December, Magali paid tribute to the striking workers: “Cuba is present alongside you and anyone engaged in struggle for justice in whatever part of the world.”
With such a family legacy, it is no wonder their sons became heroes and volunteered to defend the country and revolution their mothers had helped to build.
In the 90s, Rene, Antonio, Ramon, Gerardo and Fernando, infiltrated right-wing Miami based groups responsible for almost 3,500 Cuban deaths since 1959. The information they gathered was passed on to the FBI, who rather than arrest the terrorists, arrested the five, and charged them with conspiracy to commit espionage and sentenced to harsh jail terms of 15 years to double life.
Their case has been taken up by Nobel prize winners, and religious, legal and human rights groups across the world including Amnesty International. In the UK, both the TUC and many unions have passed conference motions and are active in support of the campaign for justice for these five Cuban men unjustly imprisoned in US jails since 1998 for trying to stop terrorist attacks against their country.
“Since this date there has not been a moment of happiness. In the years that have passed we have witnessed violations of their rights, difficulties visiting them, and denial of visas to two of their wives. It has been a nightmare that has lasted more than 13 years” explains Irma.
And since their arrests in 1998, the families have continued to fight for their freedom, travelling around the world, speaking to whoever will listen and trying to break the international silence around the case.
Irma has just returned from visiting her son in Miami. Although released on 7 October 2011, Rene must stay another three years on supervised release. His mother is visibly and justifiably worried for his safety since he must live in a secret location, forced into hiding in close proximity the very terrorist groups that he was in the US to infiltrate.
“The media silence has prohibited people from knowing that our sons were only in Miami to monitor groups that have devastated the lives of thousands of Cuban families by carrying our terrorist activities against Cuba for more than 50 years. Their only mission was to find out about these actions to stop them from happening again, not just against Cubans but against the American people and other nationalities visiting Cuba too.”
Antonio’s mother Mirtha is just a few weeks away from her 80th birthday and painfully aware that she may not live to see justice for her son. “I don’t have much time left. Antonio must serve another five years, and then a further five on supervised release in the US. My life is short but what I have experienced since being here fills me with hope for the future and for my son. I can see that the work you are doing in the UK is real, and it won’t stop when we get on the plane back to Havana. I know you will continue fighting for Antonio when I am no longer able to do so myself.”
Speaking alongside Brendan Barber, Tony Woodley, Sally Hunt and 19 other trade union leaders and MPs at the annual US Embassy candlelit vigil for the Miami Five the three mothers gave thanks to the 250 people gathered there and the wider trade union and solidarity movement in Britain.
“We had heard about your work before but we want to tell you with all our hearts that what we have experienced has completely surpassed every expectation we had. We bring thanks and love from the Five to you all, and thank you for the warmth and solidarity which you have shown us in our short time here.
“We leave your country with hearts full of hope and with immense thanks for all that you are doing for Cuba and for the Five.”