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The Cuban Five


Last week, I picked up Cindy Sheehan at her hotel near Baltimore Washington International Airport, and we drove to the Cuban Interests Section in D.C. for lunch. This was just one event among many during which international representatives gathered on behalf of the Cuban Five.  Cindy had asked permission to include me, and I was intro’d as her Sherpa, a challenging task for someone with no sense of direction.

Welcomed with hugs and kisses, we ascended a marble stairway to a banquet hall where we had a delicious meal and listened to commanding words in support of five men, considered heroes in Cuba.  Cindy communicated a powerful message of support:

I became interested in the case after a trip to the World Social Forum in Caracas in 2006 after I met with the mothers and wives of the Five Heroes, but I didn’t do much activism for the political prisoners who were given a kangaroo trial in Florida, convicted and given harsh sentences, until after I attended a colloquium about the Five in Holguin, Cuba in November of last year. There, I decided that trying to highlight the injustice of five anti-terrorism operatives fully complimented my struggle to end the state-sponsored terrorism of the US against the world. The case of the Cuban Five not only focuses my efforts on political prisoners but, also, highlights the hypocrisy of the government of my country that says it’s ‘fighting terrorism.’

When Cindy mentioned my political articles, I was asked to write a piece about the Cuban Five.  I agreed but voiced a concern I’ve addressed often—the issue of priorities.  People are worried about their own particular dramas.  Justice for political prisoners easily is relegated to an inaudible on the conscience meter.  In fact, many Americans would say, “I have my own problems.” And, “Who are they?  Why should I care?”

This is who they are and why we should care:  Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, and René González.  Human beings with families. Human beings whose mission was to monitor anti-Cuban elements in Miami to prevent acts of terrorism against their country. Human beings arrested in 1998.  Human beings who spent 17 months in solitary confinement.  Human beings who were labeled terrorists by the US government.  Human beings condemned originally to four life sentences.  Human beings, four of whom remain in prison while one, René González, having served his sentence, must stay in Florida for three years of supervised parole.  Human beings who made no threats, harmed no one, and transferred no US documents.

On Saturday, Cindy and I were back in DC, to stand in front of the White House, with approximately 300 others, knowing from our own experience that these protests are fraught with frustration. I saw in the faces of the congregants the same expectation I once felt—that my efforts could make a difference.

The late historian, academic, and author, Howard Zinn, said that the case of the Cuban Five “is something that is a secret from the people of the United States.” He believed that if we were informed, knew their plight, we’d act from a place of intrinsic decency.

But there are secrets more compelling to our population:  Whom will Donald Trump fire?   Who will be dancing with a star?  Inanities.

And, then, there are the secrets that become hazardous when their reality is delivered—economic collapse, home foreclosures, loss of health insurance, and hunger.  In other words, epic Wall Street crime for which there is no accountability.

Gore Vidal said, “The Cuban Five’s case proves that we have a crisis of law, a crisis of politics, and a constitutional crisis.”

Indeed, Mr. Vidal, indeed.

We are saturated with crises. So much so, that there’s an inclination to focus on our own small space and whatever debris is falling, smacking, and piercing to prevent us from seeing injustice elsewhere.  Or from seeing it clearly but feeling a paralyzing inability to help.

Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore, Maryland.  Reach her at

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail:

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