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      We Used to Chant United "Free the Cuban 5!"
      Now Together We Cheer "They Have returned!"

      By Alison Bodine

      On December 5th, 2014 the Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver was gathered in front of the US Consulate in Vancouver for the 109th consecutive monthly protest for freedom for ALL of the Cuban 5. For over 9 years, the consecutive monthly protests in Vancouver ended in much the same way, with an announcement. The announcement stated that, although we hoped not to have to return, if the any of the Cuban 5 remained behind US prison bars, the Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver would once again be protesting at the US Consulate the next month. The same announcement was made on December 5th, and a leaflets posters were handed out for the 110th monthly protest in Vancouver for the Cuban 5 Heroes, to be held on January 5, 2015.

      Only 12 days later, on December 17, 2014, in a historic victory for human rights, ALL the Cuban 5 returned home to Cuba! They has spent over 16 years held unjustly in U.S. prisons for defending Cuba against U.S.-backed terrorism in their country. A tremendous shout of joy was heard around the world as supporters of the Cuban 5 gathered to celebrate. The Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver also celebrated that day with two events, including returning to the US Consulate for the 110th, and final, time for the Cuban 5.

      Over the next 2 weeks, celebrations continued, as the significance of the historic return of the Cuban 5 Heroes began to sink in and to begin to reflect on the lessons learned during the historic campaign for their freedom. On January 5, 2015, the Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver held the last "5th of the month for the Cuban 5," this time not the protest that had been originally scheduled, but a cultural celebration of the freedom of ALL the Cuban 5 heroes! Songs, greetings, reflections, videos and poetry filled the evening as over 100 people came out on a rainy Vancouver night dedicated to the return of Gerardo, Ramon, Antonio, Fernando and Rene to Cuba.

      The evening began with a powerful start, a welcoming and song by Coast-Salish indigenous elder Kelly White, who has long been a supporter of the Cuban 5 Heroes and a leader in the fight for social justice and human rights. Next was former Vancouver City Councillor and lawyer, Tim Louis. Tim reminded everyone that the victory of the return of the Cuban 5 was not the result of the US Government benevolently granting freedom to the Cuban 5, but the result of an internationally coordinated campaign. Following Tim, the audience heard greetings of support to supporters of the Cuban 5in Vancouver from His Excellency, the Cuban Ambassador to Canada, Julio Garmendia Pena.

      Next in the program were messages from two supporters of the Cuban 5 from the other side of Canada. The first was Don Foreman, Central region organizer with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, joined the meeting live over the phone from Ottawa, Canada. On December 5th, 2014, supporters of the Cuban 5 in Ottawa marked 1-year of consecutive monthly protests for the Cuban 5, inspired by consecutive monthly protests in Vancouver. During his greeting, Don also gave special recognition to a long-time organizer with the Free the Cuban 5 committee Vancouver, Nestor Otero. He said “Nestor stand up, that's what solidarity looks like, he is an inspiration for everybody,” in recognition of the fact that Nestor was present at and incredible 105 of the 110 actions for the Cuban 5 held in Vancouver!

      Following Don, a video greeting was played from Canadian journalist and author Stephen Kimber. In 2013, Stephen wrote an important book on the Cuban 5, “What Lies Across the Water, the Real Story of the Cuban 5.” This book quickly became an invaluable tool for the campaign to Free the Cuban 5, helping to reach many more people across the world.

      The program continued with a slideshow of photos representing the over 9 years of organizing by the Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver. Tamara Hansen, Coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and Azza Rojbi, Executive Committee member of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver led everyone though the weekly and monthly consistent work of the past nine years of the campaign to free the Cuban 5. The slideshow went from the very first picket action at the US Consulate in December of 2005 through continued monthly pickets, forums, vigils, petitioning, poetry nights, cultural events, bike rides, speaking tours and other activities. The photos spanned not only time, but also over many different parts of the world showing the many times that members of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver travelled to support and help organize actions for Freedom of the Cuban 5, especially in the United States.

      To reflect this depth of the International movement to Free the Cuban 5 Heroes, and the critical role of international coordination in the campaign for freedom of the Cuban 5, throughout the evening there were also special International greetings from four continents. This included a live phone call from Carolina Escarrá, the head of the North America section of the Foreign Relations department of the Youth of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Juventud del Partido Socialista Unida de Venezuela-JPSUV), as well as greetings from Manuel López Rodríguez, Coordinator of the National Ukrainian Committee "For the Freedom of the 5 Cuban Heroes," Elizabeth Hulm, for the Australia Cuba Friendship Society - Perth, and Haleem Khan, President of Guyana Cuba Solidarity Movement.

      Gloria La Riva, Coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban 5 also joined the celebration in a videoconference. She spoke from San Francisco, U.S. about the significance of the victory of the Freedom of the Cuban 5, and the importance of the support that the U.S. committees received from International groups during the victorious campaign.

      During the celebration there was also an open mic which brought up leading community organizers and supporters of the Cuban 5 in Vancouver. Thomas Davies, founding member of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee -Vancouver, reflected on the past 9 years of organizing and the growth and expansion of the campaign for freedom for ALL the Cuban 5. Also speaking was Nino Pagliccia, author of the new book, Cuba Solidarity in Canada Five Decades of People-to-People Foreign Relations. This book includes a chapter on the Cuban 5 campaign in Canada written by leading Vancouver Cuba solidarity organizers Tamara Hansen and Ali Yerevani. As well, the dynamic open mic section included Colleen Glynn, the Secretary of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and President of the Richmond NDP; poetry from Sarah Alwell, member of the Executive Committee of the Free the Cuban 5 Committee- Vancouver; Wilson Muñoz, leader of the Latin American Community; Michael O'Neill, of the Canada Cuba Friendship Association (CCFA); and Elizabeth Hill, Co-chair of the Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC), who was visiting from Toronto.

      Even as the Vancouver celebration for freedom of ALL the Cuban 5 came to a close, the full room remained bright with a feeling of solidarity and joy. After this evening of speakers, videos, music and poetry from around the world there could be no doubt that the return of all of the Cuban 5 to Cuba is an enormous historic victory! A victory not only for the Cuban people but also a great victory for human rights and for people around the world who have united with Cuban people to organize and win their freedom!

      The international movement that united and organized for the Cuban 5 now has the responsibility to carry forward this historic victory for human rights; to take the time to reflect and learn from the many lessons of this campaign. We have now shown that united we can, and will win!


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