[Ppnews] Cuban 5 Art Exhibit Opens at La Peña Cultural Center

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 13 18:00:59 EDT 2009

Cuban 5 Art Exhibit Opens at La Peña Cultural Center

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday August 13, 2009

The Cuban 5 have come to Berkeley­in spirit if not in person.

“From My Altitude,” a touring exhibit of 25 
paintings by Antonio Guerrero, one of the five 
men facing stiff sentences in U.S. prisons for 
spying, opened at La Peña Cultural Center Aug. 6 
and will continue through the end of the month.

Although hailed as heroes in their own country, 
most Americans know little­if anything­about the 
Cuban 5. The Cuban government asserts they were 
gathering information to protect Cuba from 
right-wing terrorists, not conspiring to commit a 
crime against the United States, as alleged.

Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, René 
González and Fernando González were arrested in 
1998 in Miami and convicted three years later of 
being unregistered foreign agents.

The Associated Press reported that three of them 
were also found guilty of espionage for failed 
efforts to get military secrets from the U.S. 
Southern Command headquarters. The AP also 
reported that Hernández was convicted of a 
conspiracy to murder four Miami-based pilots who 
died when their planes were shot down on Feb. 24, 
1996, by a Cuban MiG in international waters off Cuba’s northern coast.

Facing sentences that span from 15 years to life, 
all five have been working with their lawyers and 
international human rights advocates to draw attention to their situation.

Hernández and René González have been involved in 
lengthy visitation rights battles over the U.S. 
government’s refusal, on at least nine occasions, 
to grant visas to Hernández’ wife Adrianna Perez 
and René González’ wife Olga Salanueva to visit their husbands.

Labañino and Guerrero have been serving life 
sentences and Fernando González was sentenced to 
19 years. A federal appeals court ruled their 
sentences were too long last year and ordered new 
sentences for all three. They are scheduled to be re-sentenced in October.

The paintings Guerrero produced in the isolation 
of his cell in Florence Colorado Penitentiary 
include portraits of the prisoners’ mothers, 
wives and children, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, 
and familiar landscapes from Cuba.

“Even Nelson Mandela, who endured 27 years of 
hard labor in prison on Robben Island under 
apartheid South Africa, was still allowed to see 
his wife,” said Alicia Jrapko, national 
coordinator for the International Committee for 
the Freedom of the Cuban 5, the event organizer. 
“How is it that the U.S., which promotes itself 
as the champion of human rights, can be more 
punitive and cruel than apartheid South Africa 
when it comes to visitation rights for Olga and Adrianna?”

Drawing comparisons between the problems that 
existed in Cuba and the City of Richmond, a 
sister city to Regla, Cuba, Richmond Mayor Gayle 
McLaughlin stressed the importance of creating more awareness about the issue.

“The mainstream press has dissed Richmond in the 
same way it has dissed Cuba,” said McLaughlin, 
who will be leading a delegation to Regla in 
November to meet with the families of the five 
men. The Richmond-Regla Sister City Association 
co-sponsored the exhibit at La Peña. “We know 
that the way to overcome hardship is to link in 
unity,” said McLaughlin, who last visited Cuba in 
1986. “Richmond is making an effort to build a 
sustainable city­empowerment is the way forward. 
The Cuban people have made a revolution and are living it.”

McLaughlin’s efforts to pass a resolution in the 
Richmond City Council calling for the freedom of 
the Cuban 5 and their visitation rights were successful.

A five-minute video clip from the documentary 
Against the Silence: The Family of the Five Speak 
Out, by New York filmmakers Sally O'Brien and 
Jennifer Wager, showed Adrianna recalling how the 
news of her husband’s arrest changed the course of their marriage.

She talked about sporadic phone conversations 
with Gerardo, during which only he was allowed to 
call her for a few minutes from the prison. Most 
of the five men’s children have grown up without 
their fathers, and some of them have not seen each other in 11 years.

“I have traveled all over the world talking to 
lawyers,” said Adrianna, who is trying to raise 
awareness of the case. “Sadly, American people do not know.”

The International Committee is planning to hold a 
series of gatherings this year featuring Nobel 
laureates, artists, actors and activists who will 
call on President Barack Obama to end the U.S. 
blockade to Cuba and support the cause of freedom for the Cuban 5.

Local political analyst and author Michael 
Parenti, who is a member of the International 
Commission for the Rights of Family Visits, 
denounced the American government’s harsh treatment toward the Cuban 5.

“Here are five exceptionally intelligent, 
sensitive, admirable, dedicated, and 
democratically minded men who committed no act of 
espionage or sabotage against the U.S. 
government,” Parenti said. “For their valiant 
efforts against the terrorists they have been given draconian sentences.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker also 
spoke in support of the five men.

“What has happened to them is shameful,” Walker 
told the Daily Planet before taking the podium. 
“For those of us who believe our country is for 
justice, it’s shameful. These men have left 
behind their wives and their children. Their only 
fault is trying to protect their country. The 
least we can do in this country is to speak up 
against the injustice and express our concern and 
affection for these people in the prison.”

Walker, who lives in the Bay Area, has supported 
the Cuban revolution since she was 15 years old.

“Injustice is the greatest foundation of hatred 
and this is what we continue to create, and we do 
it as if we don’t understand this,” Walker told 
the audience. “We understand this, but we keep 
harming people deliberately, making them suffer. 
Our government does this, our country does this 
over and over through the centuries. So what can 
our future be if we mistreat people in this way?”

Walker said the painting she had been touched by 
the most was the one Guerrero made of the cell door he saw every day.

She later read aloud from Letters of Love and 
Hope, a book chronicling the correspondence 
between the Cuban 5 and their families, for which she has written a prologue.

“Time is short,” Walker said. “Does it mean 
anything to be an American if you can actually 
send these men to dungeons, not let them see 
their families, not let them embrace their 
children, or their wives? ... I think of how much 
I love the people that I love and how much I love 
snuggling with them, how much I love cuddling, 
and how much I love to feel them in the morning, 
to feel their touch. To take this away from human 
beings­just on a whim­is actually heartbreaking.”

“From My Altitude” will be exhibited at La Peña 
Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave., through 
August. For more information visit www.thecuban5.org or www.laPeña.org.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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