Behind prison bars, Cuban 5 proud of defending revolution
By Martín Koppel
Dec. 1, 2008
Reprinted from The Militant
An article in last week’s issue gave biographical sketches of Gerardo Hernández and Antonio Guerrero, two of the five Cuban revolutionaries who for 10 years have been unjustly held in U.S. jails. The five men, arrested by the FBI in 1998 and convicted on frame-up charges ranging from “conspiracy to commit espionage” to “conspiracy to commit murder,” are currently serving long sentences in five different federal prisons. The following outlines the story of who the other three working-class fighters are and what they have accomplished.
Ramón Labañino Salazar
Labañino, 45, was born into a peasant family in Marianao, Havana Province, on June 9, 1963. His mother Nereida was involved in support activities for the Rebel Army in the eastern province of Oriente during the revolutionary war.
A student leader in high school, he studied at the University of Havana, graduating as an economist. He also studied at the university’s military school. In 1987 Labañino joined the Union of Young Communists. The next year he took up duties as an officer of the Ministry of the Interior. In 1991 he joined the Cuban Communist Party, in which he held leadership responsibilities.
A sports enthusiast, he practices karate and as a student took part in the All-Caribbean Games. He is married to Elizabeth Palmeiro, and has three daughters: Ailí, 20; Laura, 16; and Lizbeth, 12.
As with his four imprisoned comrades, when Labañino moved to the United States in the early 1990s, he could not tell close family members about his assignment, not even when in 1998 he visited his critically ill mother, knowing he wouldn’t see her again. His father, Holmes Labañino, said, “I never knew of the work he was doing. He never talked to me about it and I never asked. Since he was very young he has always known what to do and has always done the right thing.”
Labañino told the courtroom on the day of his sentencing, “I will wear the prison uniform with the same honor and pride with which a soldier wears his most prized insignia. This has been a political trial; therefore, we are political prisoners.”
Labañino is serving a sentence of life plus 18 years. Jailed for many years in Beaumont, Texas, he is now locked up at the McCreary federal prison in Pine Knot, Kentucky.
Fernando González Llort
González, 45, was born in Havana on Aug. 18, 1963. He was a student leader in high school and college, as well as in the Union of Young Communists. He graduated with honors from the Raúl Roa García Higher Institute of International Relations.
González volunteered as a combatant in Angola from 1987 to 1989. He was part of a tank battalion when Cuban and Angolan troops defeated the South African apartheid regime’s invading forces at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. For his role in combat he was awarded the medals “Internationalist Combatant” and “For the Victory of Cuba—People’s Republic of Angola.” In 1988, during his tour of duty in Angola, he was taken into membership in the Cuban Communist Party.
González has been with his companion Rosa Aurora Freijanes since 1990. He then undertook his special assignment in the United States. “We had to go through endless red tape to marry in prison,” said Freijanes in Letters of Love and Hope, a book of correspondence between the Cuban Five and their families.
In the United States, González’s main task was to keep CIA-trained counterrevolutionary Orlando Bosch under surveillance. Bosch, who still walks free in the streets of Miami, was implicated in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner over Barbados that killed all 73 passengers and crew members.
González’s mother Magali Llort, who is also active as a revolutionary in Cuba, describes her son as “a typical Cuban.” She says he is “a man with ideas that have made him consistent, and with a loyalty to his country for which I think we should always be thankful.”
In the statement he read before the U.S. court just before being sentenced in December 2001, he accused the U.S. government of backing counterrevolutionary murderers who attack Cuba. “As long as the situation remains as I have described it, Cuba has a moral right to defend itself in the way that my comrades and I have done,” he stated.
“I honestly was not surprised to see [Fernando’s] attitude” on learning about his dignified conduct during the frame-up trial, said Bladimir La Rosa Vega, one of his fellow Angola combatants, in an interview in the Cuban press.
González is serving a 19-year sentence. He is currently locked up in the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
René González Sehwerert
René González, 52, was born in Chicago on Aug. 13, 1956. Like Antonio Guerrero, he is a U.S. citizen. His parents, Cándido González, a union steelworker, and his mother Irma Sehwerert were active in the July 26 Movement among Cuban immigrant workers. After the 1959 revolutionary victory they remained in the United Stated to carry out work in defense of the revolution. In 1961 the family returned to Cuba, where René’s parents became union leaders.
From an early age René González had wanted to become a pilot, but had to put off fulfilling his aspiration more than once when the call of duty intervened. After graduating from high school, as a cadre of the Union of Young Communists, he volunteered to work as a teacher in the countryside. As a U.S. citizen he was not required to enlist in the armed forces, but in 1974 he volunteered for military service. He completed it with high grades as a tank driver.
In 1977, on his way to flight school, he learned that his former tank unit was going to Angola to join the internationalist mission there. González decided to join them.
Speaking at a 2003 meeting with youth from the United States, his mother Irma reported that at first René “was turned down because he had just completed his military service. He said, ‘I have to go to Angola.’ So he hopped on his bike on a Friday afternoon, pedaled several kilometers to find the two officials who could give him the necessary forms and signatures. He got the signatures. And early on Monday he left for Angola.” A gunner in a tank brigade, he served in Angola until 1979, and was decorated for bravery.
One of his fellow Angola combatants, Luis Nieves Otaño, later recounted that during their tour of duty, “the Cuban government publicly released the identities of several [Cuban state] security agents who had infiltrated the mafia-like groups based in the United States. After reading about it in a newspaper, we commented on the courage of those comrades, and I told René, ‘You have the traits and the conditions to carry out such a mission.’ He immediately replied, ‘I hope so.’”
After his return from Angola, he finally completed his training as a pilot. He worked as a flight instructor until 1985, when he was designated squadron chief at the air base in San Nicolás de Bari. In 1990 he was accepted into membership in the Cuban Communist Party. That same year he accepted his next mission in defense of the revolution—this time in the United States.
In his statement to the U.S. court on his sentencing, he explained what the five were doing in Florida. “This issue of Cuban agents has a very simple solution: Leave Cuba alone. Do your job. Respect the sovereignty of the Cuban people,” he said. “I would gladly say good-bye to every last spy who returns to the island. We have better things to do there, all of them a lot more constructive than watching the criminals who freely walk the streets of Miami.”
René González is serving a 15-year sentence at the U.S. prison in Marianna, northern Florida.
René and his wife Olga Salanueva have two daughters, Irma, 24, and Ivette, 10. Salanueva, who was living with him in Miami at the time of his arrest in 1998, was deported to Cuba in 2000, her U.S. residency revoked. Since then she has been denied a U.S. visa to visit her husband.
(To be continued)
Write the five Cuban revolutionaries