LGBT Center hosts meeting for Cuban Five

By Brenda Sandburg

Jun 7, 2007--New York The lesbian, gay, bi and transgender community is using its power to help build the worldwide movement to free the Cuban Five.

As part of its effort to forge new ties, Rainbow Solidarity for the Cuban Five held a meeting at the Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City June 2. Leaders from various organizations voiced their commitment to work on behalf of the Cuban heroes, noting that the U.S. government’s persecution of them is connected to its imperialist wars abroad and attacks on immigrants at home.

A representative of the Cuban government welcomed the support of the LGBT movement. “The Cuban Five represent the altruism and courage of the Cuban people,” Jorge Luis Dustet, second secretary to the Cuban Mission of the United Nations, told the crowd. “Thank you for the work of the Rainbow Solidarity. Our message to you will always be: ¡Hasta la victoria siempre!”

The Cuban Five—Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and René González—were prosecuted in the U.S. because they infiltrated CIA-backed right-wing terrorist organizations operating in the U.S. in order to monitor and stop their plans to attack Cuba. Imprisoned for nearly nine years, the five were given sentences ranging from 15 years to two consecutive life terms.

Dustet said the U.S. government’s recent release of terrorist Luis Posada Carriles shows the innocence of the Cuban Five and how necessary it was for the Cuban government to send them to the U.S. to collect information on people like Carriles. Carriles organized the mid-air bombing of a civilian passenger plane in 1976, which killed 73 passengers, and directed the bombing of tourist hotels in 1997. He escaped from prison in Venezuela in 1985 and secretly entered the United States in 2005. The U.S. government arrested him on an immigration violation but freed him in April, ignoring calls by the Venezuelan and Cuban governments for his extradition.

Teresa Gutierrez, founder of the New York Committee to Free the Cuban Five, said their case is thoroughly political and has everything to do with U.S./Cuba relations. The U.S. government imprisoned the five as a way of attacking Cuba. She emphasized that the main way to free them is to change public opinion and organize pressure on the U.S. government.

“We’ve almost run out of legal options,” Gutierrez said. “That’s why these meetings are so important. We have to reach new sectors.”

Rainbow Solidarity for the Cuban Five was initiated in January 2007 to build support among the LGBT communities. The group issued a call that demands a new trial and freedom for the Cuban Five, declares the right of the Cuban people to sovereignty and self-determination, and demands a halt to U.S. acts of war against Cuba, including the economic blockade and CIA-trained and -funded attacks by mercenary “contra” armies operating on U.S. soil.

In four months the call has received endorsements from more than 1,000 unions, organizations and individuals in 40 countries, as well as every state in the continental U.S.

Leslie Feinberg, one of the initiators of the Rainbow Solidarity call and author of the soon to be released book “Rainbow Solidarity: In Defense of Cuba,” presented a framed copy of the call with the first 1,000 signatures to Dustet. The crowd responded by cheering Dustet and giving him a standing ovation.

Feinberg told the crowd that the call has been translated into Chinese, Tagalog, Farsi, Turkish, Greek, Croatian, Portuguese, Italian, Danish, Japanese, French and German, and additional translations are planned in Swahili, Urdu, Indonesian, Arabic, Korean and Bengali. A streaming video in American Sign Language is also in the works.

“On what basis does this initiative call for solidarity from communities struggling against oppression based on sexuality, gender expression and sex?” Feinberg asked. “In essence, what defined the left wing of the early gay liberation movement in the United States, and what fueled its vitality, was its solidarity on the basis of a common enemy, not a common oppression.” The community at that time stood with immigrant workers organizing the United Farm Workers and with the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords.

“Today, our communities have a particular responsibility in the United States to defend the Cuban Five because this country is the aircraft carrier from which Wall Street and the Pentagon are launching a covert war against Cuba,” she said. “And those who are battling oppression based on same-sex love are called upon to play a leadership role in this struggle because it is our love and our lives that have been used as a political cover for this dirty war against a people who have fought enslavement for 500 years.”

Ben Ramos, a coordinator of the Popular Education Project to Free the Cuban Five and co-chair of the meeting, noted that it was natural for the LGBT community to take up the case of the Cuban Five. “We have been integral in the anti-war movement, we are instrumental in the development of unions and workers’ rights campaigns” and in fighting to free political prisoners, Ramos said. Ramos was also a leading organizer of the event.

Other speakers proclaimed their support for the five as well.

“We have a responsibility to the Cuban Five because their story is our story,” said Helena Wong, director of the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence. She said immigrants come to this country because of what the U.S. government is doing to their homelands and then are locked up in detention centers for trying to start a new life here. Likewise, she said, “The government puts resources into Israel and Iraq and to militarizing the borders,” while refusing to meet the needs of the Black and Brown communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Yancy Mark Gandionco, on the LGBT Desk of the U.S. Chapter of BAYAN Philippines, compared the U.S. government’s imprisonment of the five to the Philippine government’s attempt to quash resistance by arresting progressive leaders. Charged with sedition and rebellion, they were held in prison for two years and freed because the Filipino people stood up. “The most powerful weapon is the weapon of resistance,” Gandionco said.

Joan Gibbs, an attorney and activist who is focused on freeing political prisoners, pointed to the success of the Puerto Rican movement in freeing five Nationalists who were imprisoned for more than 25 years. She said the victories of the civil rights movement were also won in the streets. Gibbs also paid tribute to Cuba for fighting apartheid in Africa and giving asylum to great fighters like Assata Shakur. “When the African people called, only one country went without imperialist designs and that was Cuba,” she said.

LeiLani Dowell, a leader of Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) and co-chair of the meeting, spoke about the International Youth Conference on the Cuban Five that was held in Cuba in April. She said the participants stressed over and over that it is primarily the responsibility of the people of the U.S. to build awareness of the Cuban Five to win their freedom. She repeated the words of Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón: “The U.S. people will find the keys to unlock the gate for the Cuban Five.”

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