Cuban Five are example for world working class
By Martín Koppel
Nov. 24, 2008
Reprinted from The Militant
Five Cuban revolutionaries—Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, René González, and Fernando González—are fighting for their release from U.S. jails, where they have been unjustly held for 10 years. They have defeated attempts by their jailers to break their spirit and have been telling the truth about their frame-up by the U.S. government. They continue to defend the Cuban Revolution and to champion other struggles for justice in the United States and worldwide.
The previous article in this series described Washington’s 50-year-long record of aggression against the Cuban Revolution, from military assaults to an ongoing trade embargo (see October 20 Militant). It was in face of this unrelenting U.S. hostility that these five men accepted assignments to keep the Cuban government informed about plans of counterrevolutionary groups in the United States that have carried out attacks on Cuba with Washington’s backing.
For this they were arrested by the FBI and convicted on false charges, ranging from “conspiracy to commit espionage” to “conspiracy to commit murder.” They were given long sentences and sent to federal prisons across the country, far from friends and family.
In Cuba the five are widely regarded as heroes for carrying out this volunteer mission and for continuing today to act as revolutionaries from behind U.S. prison walls.
In the United States, growing numbers of working people and youth are finding out about the Cuban Five, and many see them as an example for all working-class fighters.
Who are these men and what have they accomplished?
All five are exemplary products of Cuba’s socialist revolution. Here they have remained true to their records, serving on the front lines of the class struggle in the United States.
Growing up in Cuba they became active as student leaders and revolutionary cadres. Three of them volunteered as internationalist combatants in Angola in the 1970s or ’80s—along with hundreds of thousands of other Cubans—helping the Angolan people defeat invasions by the South African apartheid regime. The five took on their assignments in the United States knowing it would mean separation from their loved ones and the risk of victimization by the U.S. government. Today they remain politically active behind bars.
Gerardo Hernández Nordelo
Hernández, 43, was born in Havana on June 4, 1965. As a teenager he became a leader of the Federation of High School Students, joining the Union of Young Communists in the 11th grade. In 1989 he graduated from the Higher Institute of International Relations, where he had been active in the Federation of University Students. While in college he married Adriana Pérez O’Connor, who worked at the Food Industry Research Institute.
In 1989 Hernández volunteered to serve in Angola, departing Cuba the day before his first wedding anniversary. A lieutenant, he headed a scouting platoon in a tank brigade that helped defend Cabinda, a strategically important oil-rich region, from counterrevolutionary assaults. He distinguished himself in 54 combat missions, and was awarded medals of honor for his outstanding role. In 1993 he was admitted into the ranks of the Cuban Communist Party.
In a 2002 interview in the Cuban paper Juventud Rebelde, Urbano Bouza Suriz, who fought in Angola under Hernández’s command, described his leadership qualities. “Twelve Cubans slept [in a small bivouac], and the fact that he, as an officer, shared both the good and the bad with his subordinates won him respect,” Bouza noted. “We would scout almost every day. Sometimes at night we took part in ambushes around our unit.” In his spare moments “he read a lot, especially books by Che [Guevara].”
Hernández, Bouza said, “was prepared from a political, human, and psychological point of view” for the U.S. mission he subsequently undertook in the mid-1990s. “A scout must be an excellent observer, show confidence in face of danger, be discreet, courageous. I can see those qualities in Nordelo,” as Hernández was called by his fellow combatants. When he read in the press about Hernández’s arrest and frame-up trial, Bouza said he told his neighbors with pride, “That was my leader in Cabinda!”
Hernández is an accomplished cartoonist. His humorous drawings have been published since 1982, and in 2002 a book of his work was published in Cuba, El amor y el humor todo lo pueden (Love and humor can achieve anything).
Hernández is serving a double life sentence plus 15 years at the Victorville federal prison, located in the Mojave Desert in southern California. The U.S. government has repeatedly denied his wife Adriana Pérez a visa to visit him.
Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez
Guerrero, 50, was born into a working-class family in Miami on Oct. 16, 1958. His father, who moved to the United States seeking work as a professional baseball player, helped raise funds in Miami for the July 26 Movement and Rebel Army during the revolutionary struggle to overthrow the Batista regime. The family returned to Cuba for a visit in November 1958, and decided to stay after the revolutionary victory in January 1959.
In a July 2004 interview, Guerrero’s sister María Eugenia said that, influenced by the example of their parents, “my brother and I had an active life in the student organizations. Early on in school we became leaders of the Pioneers, the FEEM, and the UJC,” referring to the José Martí Pioneers Organization of children, the Federation of High School Students, and the Union of Young Communists.
After finishing high school Guerrero—known better as Tony—won a scholarship to study at the University of Kiev in Ukraine. He graduated there with top honors in civil engineering in 1983. On his return he worked on a major project to expand the runway at the Antonio Maceo International Airport in Santiago de Cuba.
In 1989 Guerrero gained membership in the Cu ban Communist Party. He worked for the national airline, Cubana de Aviación, as an airport construction specialist. He married a Panamanian citizen and lived in that country for a few years. Later he moved to Miami, working maintenance jobs at the Boca Chica naval air base in Key West.
Guerrero has two sons, 23-year-old Antonio and Gabriel, 16.
An artist and a poet, Guerrero has penned numerous poems in prison, a selection of which was published in English and Spanish under the title From My Altitude.
He is serving a life sentence plus 10 years at the “supermax” federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado.
Guerrero told the federal courtroom at his sentencing in December 2001, “If I were asked once again to cooperate in this task, I would again do it with honor.”
In an interview published in the September 2 issue of the Cuban magazine Bohemia, Guerrero said the Cuban Five should not be “viewed in a different dimension from millions of compatriots who each day give everything for the Revolution and who could have been in our place and would have acted in exactly the same way. We are nothing more than Cubans of these times, revolutionaries of these times.”
To be continued