December 17, 2014 marked a historic day, when former U.S. President Barack Obama and former Cuban President Raul Castro announced the beginning of normalizing relations between the two countries. With this announcement also came the release of the remaining three of the Cuban 5 heroes from U.S. jails, who returned to Cuba to the immense joy of their families, the Cuban people and supporters and activists around the world.
On that day, the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver celebrated this news with a victory action at the U.S. consulate for their 109th monthly action, after all those previous actions demanding freedom for the Cuban 5. These 5 Cuban heroes spent up to 16 years in prison, unjustly jailed in the U.S. after investigating anti-Cuba terrorist groups in order to protect the Cuban people. With the Cuban 5 freed and important steps towards normalizing relations, it was clear that public pressure to demand an end to the U.S. blockade was more critical than ever. The Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver soon reformed as Friends of Cuba Against the U.S. Blockade – Vancouver (FCAB) and continued with monthly protests at the U.S. consulate, now voicing demands for an end to the U.S. blockade.
Fast forward 5 years to December 17, 2019 – U.S. President Trump has rolled back many of the important steps to normalize relations and break down the blockade, and is instead tightening their criminal blockade on the Cuban people even further. In Vancouver, Friends of Cuba Against the U.S. Blockade marked this 5 year milestone with their monthly protest action, proclaiming through picketing and chanting that Cuba supporters and activists will continue demanding “Trump – end the blockade on Cuba now!” In between rounds of picketing, protesters heard from local speakers, as well as a phone message from members of Ottawa Cuba Connections who were also holding their monthly protest in front of the U.S. Embassy that day. For this day events were held not only in Vancouver but also Montréal, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax, Canada and Kiev, Ukraine.
Following the action protesting the U.S. blockade of Cuba, FCAB also celebrated this day when the 5 Cuban heroes were freed. To mark this historic victory, a cultural night was held at Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House. The event started with video footage recounting the release of the Cuban 5 and the preceding years of campaigning for their freedom. The program continued with FCAB organizer Max Tennant who shared a poem reflecting on Cuba’s struggle against U.S. imperialism. Then Azza Rojbi, coordinator of FCAB and previously of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee, and Tamara Hansen, coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba, recounted the moment when they received news that the Cuban 5 heroes were freed and were able to spread this incredible news to other organizers and supporters of the Cuban 5. They shared photos that went through the 9 years of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver’s organizing, through picket actions, vigils, cultural events, international conferences, and even bike rides to free the Cuban 5, and then meeting with the Cuban 5 after their freedom!
The final highlight of the program was the music of Maju Maju – a South African born singer and a performer, now living in Vancouver, who is a former member of the two times Grammy Award winners Soweto Gospel Choir from South Africa. Maju Maju along with Andrew Beddos on the keyboard and other musicians joining in produced beautiful and powerful music which got everyone up on their feet and dancing! The evening wrapped up on this uplifting note, and with a group photo in front of a free the Cuban 5 banner which had been modified to say “FREED” back on December 17, 2014.
To find out about the next Friend of Cuban Against the U.S. Blockade event, visit www.vancubavsblockade.org, and follow on Facebook and on Twitter @NoBloqueoVan
Follow Janine on Twitter: @janinesolanki
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