[Ppnews] A Trip to Prison to See One of the Cuban Five - Danny Glover & Saul Landau

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 19 11:34:23 EDT 2010


August 19, 2010

A Trip to Prison to See One of the Cuban Five

Visiting Gerardo


 From the Ontario California airport some 60 
miles east of downtown Los Angeles we drove north 
on Highway 15, the road to Las Vegas. Cars with 
expectant amateur gamblers and loaded big rigs 
climb and descend the mountains where the Angeles 
and San Bernadino National Forests meet.

To the east lies the high desert some 4,000 feet 
above sea level. Amidst junipers, Joshua trees 
and sagebrush, we turn off from the man-made 
freeway to the jester’s creation of a shopping 
mall in Hesperia where we pick up Chavela, 
Gerardo Hernandez’ older sister. (Danny changes 
trousers because the prison doesn’t allow visitors to wear khaki).

We pass fast food joints with chain names, nail 
and hair salons, tattoo parlors, gas stations and 
min-marts (a drive by of American culture) going 
west and then north on 395 to the six year old 
US. Federal Penitentiary Complex, a 630,000 
square foot high-security prison ($101.4 
million); designed to cage 960 male inmates.

In the institutional grey visitors’ lobby a guard 
hands us forms with numbers on top, nods at a 
book to sign and eye-signals to a pile of pens. 
We write, hand him back the forms (Danny had to 
stand against the wall while a guard recorded his 
photo onto the prison computer) and sit in the 
gray waiting room with other visitors – all black 
and Latino. (Saul’s and Chavela’s pix were 
already stored in the prison computer from previous visits).

We wait for twenty minutes. A guard calls our 
number. We empty our pockets except for money. 
(Danny checks his car keys; Saul hands over a pen 
fastened to his shirt pocket). We pass through a 
sensitive airport-type screening machine, pick up 
our belts and eyeglasses that have gone through 
Xray, and extend our inner forearms for stamping 
by another uniformed guard. Two black women and 
an elderly Latino couple get the same treatment. 
We exchange nervous smiles. Visitors in a strange land!

He passes our ids through a drawer connected to 
another sealed room on the opposite side of a 
thick plastic window. A guard there checks the 
documents and pushes buttons to open a heavy 
metal door. The group enters an outdoor passage. 
Blinding late morning sun and desert heat shocks 
our bodies after the air-conditioned chambers. We 
wait. A guard confers through a small slit in the 
door of the building housing the inmates – gun 
towers on each side; masses of rolled barbed wire 
covering the tops of concrete walls.

We wait, get hot, then enter another air cooled 
chamber; finally, a door opens into the visitor 
room. A guard assigns us a tiny plastic table, 
surrounded by three cheap plastic chairs, on one 
side (for us) and one on the other for Gerardo. 
African American and Latino children exchange 
places on their fathers’ laps as daddies in khaki 
prison overalls chat with their wives.

Chavela spots him 20 minutes later, waving, and 
bouncing across the room. Chavela almost crying 
says “He’s lost weight.” He seems the same weight 
as when Landau saw him in the Spring. Gerardo 
hugs and kisses his sister, embraces Saul and 
then Danny, thanking him for his efforts to 
spring him from the hole, where he spent 13 days in late July and early August.

Two FBI agents who were investigating an incident 
unrelated to his case, he informs us, questioned 
Gerardo in prison. Then, prison authorities 
tossed Gerardo into the hole although there 
existed no evidence, logic or common sense that 
could possibly have implicated him into the 
alleged occurrence. The temperatures inside the 
hole rose to the high nineties. “I had to use my 
drinking water to keep me cool, pouring it on 
head,” Gerardo told us. “It didn’t help my high 
blood pressure. I couldn’t even take my medicine. 
But, I think, thanks to the thousands of phone 
calls and letters from people everywhere they let me out.”

Chavela kept bringing junk food to the table – 
the only kind available from the vending 
machines. We nibbled compulsively while Gerardo 
told about living in a sweat-box for almost two 
weeks. “No air circulated in there,” he laughed, as if to say “no big deal.”

We talked about Cuba. He kept up on the news, 
reading, watching TV and from visitors who 
informed him. He felt encouraged by steps 
President Raul Castro had taken to deal with the 
crisis. He had watched on the prison television 
parts of Fidel’s speech and "q and a" from the 
Cuban National Assembly Meeting. “I saw Adriana 
[his wife],” who sat in the audience. His smile 
faded. “You know what’s painful. She’s 40 and I’m 
45. We don’t have that much time to have a family 
together. The United States won’t even give her a 
visa to visit me. She’s behaved with such courage 
and dignity throughout this ordeal.”

Gerardo Hernandez, one of the Cuban 5, is serving 
two life sentences for conspiracy to commit 
espionage and aiding and abetting murder. 
Prosecutors presented no evidence of espionage at 
the Miami trial. The aiding and abetting charge 
presumed evidence not shown that Gerardo sent to 
Cuba flight details of the Brothers to the Rescue 
planes shot down by Cuban MIGs in February 1996, 
which he did not, and that he knew of secret 
Cuban government orders to shoot them down, which he did not.

The 5 men monitored and reported on Cuban exile 
terrorists in Miami who had plotted bombings and 
assassinations in Cuba. Cuba then shared this 
information with the FBI. Larry Wilkerson, 
(retired army Colonel and Secretary of State 
Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff) compared 
the 5’s chance of getting a fair trial in Miami 
to an accused “Israeli’s chance of justice in Teheran.”

We sipped cloyingly sweet, bottled, iced tea. 
Chavela brought more potato chips.

Gerardo, reanimated the mood by recalling an 
incident when in the 1980s, as a Lieutenant in 
Cabinda, Angola, he escorted top Cuban officers 
to a dinner-party with visiting Soviet brass. “I 
told my Colonel I had memorized a short 
Mayakovsky poem in Russian (from his school 
classes) and could recite it to the Soviet officers.

He recited the poem to us in Russian. We 
applauded. He smiled. “They were roasting a pig 
and had bottles of booze, a party.”

“I recited the poem. The Soviet colonel hugged 
me, kissed me on both cheeks -- very emotional. I 
had to repeat my performance for the other 
officers. Finally, the Cuban Colonel told me I’d 
milked the scene long enough and I left.”

Two hours passed quickly. We waited for the 
guards to let us out. Gerardo stood at attention 
against a wall near the cell-block door next to 
another prisoner. We gave him a fist salute. He 
returned it. His sister blew a kiss. He grinned 
reassuringly – as if to remind us. “Stay strong.”

Danny Glover is an activist and an actor.

Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies 
fellow and author of 
Bush and Botox World (AK Press / CounterPunch).

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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