Over 250 local, national and international delegates came together to witness and participate in the Free the 5 People's Tribunal & Assembly on September 21-23, 2012 in Toronto, Canada. Participants came together from various labour organizations, legal entities, community groups and solidarity organizations to learn more about the case of 5 Cuban men held in US prisons for defending their country against terrorism.
Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González are the “Cuban 5”. September 12, 2012 marked 14 years that they have been held unjustly in the United States, unable to return to their families and loved-ones in Cuba. They were wrongly accused and convicted in a US Federal Court of “conspiracy to commit espionage” and other charges. The Cuban 5 were actually unarmed men involved in monitoring Miami-based terrorist organizations, which since 1959 have been responsible for the deaths of over 3,400 people in Cuba, including one resident of Canada, Fabio di Celmo. However, according to the US government these men represent a threat. Although no evidence was presented in their trial demonstrating that they had collected any classified documents or US government secrets, they were found guilty and given severe sentences from 14 years in prison to a double life sentence. This case was clearly political from the beginning as the corporate media was basically silent and it was clear the Cuban 5 would be found “guilty” before the trial even began. For more than a decade people in Cuba and around the world have been organizing to break the silence around this case and to put pressure on the White House to free these 5 innocent Cuban heroes. The Free the 5 People's Tribunal & Assembly was another important step in this struggle. In Fire This Time Volume 7 Issue 6 we had the chance to interview Heide Trampus, the central organizer of the Free the 5 People's Tribunal & Assembly. Heide explained the reason behind organizing, not just a conference, but a peoples’ assembly and tribunal. She said, “The concept, of being able to tell the story through testimonies – witness and victim statements about the arrests of the five men, the unjust trials in Miami, the horrendous long sentences handed down, the violation of human rights by denying visiting visas to family members and the inhumane treatment of the Cuban Five, as well as historical accounts of terrorist attacks on Cuba and the suffering of Cuban and other people – appealed to all of us. Although the ruling will not be legally or judicially binding, the Jury comprised of prominent and well respected people will render a decision based on the witness/victim testimonials which have been discarded in the US Court system.”
Given the obvious importance of the event, the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver and Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) worked together to send three organizers to Toronto for the People’s Tribunal and Assembly. These were VCSC Coordinator Tamara Hansen, as well as Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver organizers Steve Bottomley and Thomas Davies.
With a heavy and impassioned mandate, as explained by Heide, the Free the 5 People's Tribunal & Assembly came together for an opening ceremony on Friday, September 21. This event took place at the Steelworkers’ Hall and included speeches from lawyers, labour leaders, as well as Elizabeth Palmiero, the wife of Ramón Labañino and Adriana Perez, the wife of Gerardo Hernández. The evening included some very challenging moments as Elizabeth and Adriana explained the difficulties they have faced living every day for the past 14 years without their husbands. However, those moments of intense sadness and anger also included powerful words full of love and hope as the two wives urged everyone to re-double their efforts to push for the freedom of these 5 Cuban Heroes.
On Saturday September 22, the “Peoples’ Assembly” was called to order in the City Hall Chambers in Toronto, Canada. This was a dynamic and distinguished setting for this important event, which featured many prominent guests. The Officiating Magistrates of Conscience included: Juan Carranza, Toronto Lawyer and Lead Magistrate of Conscience; Cindy Sheehan, prominent anti-war activist and author; Reverend Chris Levan, Minister of the United Church of Canada; Denis Lemelin, the National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers; Julian Rivas, Venezuelan Journalist; Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada of the United Steelworkers; Marie Clarke Walker, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; Miguel Barnet, Cuban Writer and Novelist; Naveen Mehta, Labour Lawyer for United Food and Commercial Workers; Saul Landau, Award Winning Film Maker and Author; Tony Woodley, UNITE the UNION, UK; Wes Elliott, Grand River Territory; and William Sloan, Quebec Civil Rights Lawyer.
These magistrates of conscious presided over the proceedings which were observed by the over 250 participants. The Tribunal’s first session featured five prominent speakers on the historical and political context of the case. The second session had three well-known witnesses on the “Arrests, Trial & Convictions of The Cuban Five”. The third and final session invited four distinguished guests to speak on “What has happened since the trial in Florida?” These sessions were all very impacting with mounting evidence proving, not only the innocence of the Cuban 5, but also the criminality of the US courts which convicted them. For the full list of speakers visit: www.freethe5peoplestribunal.org
One of the many highlights from the tribunal was the speech by Cuban 5 attorney, Richard Klugh. Richard gave one of the most powerful talks of the event by mixing both his sharp legal knowledge of the case and his very personal experiences working together with the Cuban 5 and their families over the many years of this injustice.
Once all of the witnesses had provided their testimony, it was up to the Magistrates of Conscience to render the decisions of the Tribunal. The Lead Magistrate, Toronto lawyer, Juan Carranza read the final ruling of the Peoples’ Tribunal (see the ruling on this page 14 this issue). This ruling was met with loud applause and cheering of “Free the Cuban 5 Now!”'
The next morning the Peoples’ Assembly began with some reports on recent work and accomplishments made by different organizations involved in the fight to free the Cuban 5. There were then closing statements from Elizabeth Palmiero and Adriana Perez, a greeting by guests, Esperanza Luzbert and Sandra Ramirez, of the North American Desk of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) and an address by Her Excellency Teresita Vicente Sotolongo, the Cuban Ambassador to Canada. These inspiring talks opened the way for the afternoon workshops. However, Assembly participants first turned their words into action with a noon-hour march to the United States Consulate where a protest had been organized to demand freedom for the 5 Cuban Heroes.
When everyone returned to the Peoples’ Assembly in the afternoon, it was time to discuss future plans and to share ideas for moving forward with this crucial campaign. Many issues and ideas were discussed in these workshops, but the strongest message from the final general discussion was that while the “Free the 5 People's Tribunal & Assembly” had been a well-organized and attended event, the success of this event was not so much what happened at Toronto City Hall that weekend. Instead, the success of the event would be measured based on the work for the Cuban 5 that it inspired following the event. During the wrap up, many expressed how the Peoples’ Assembly & Tribunal had given them a new sense of urgency to return to their groups and committees and begin strengthening and building the movement for the freedom of our 5 Cuban Heroes.
FREE THE CUBAN 5 NOW!
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