Panel at UMD Demands Freedom for the Cuban Five

On February 20 a packed room at the University of Maryland-College Park heard a series of presentations that passionately and expertly explained the case of the Cuban Five. Sponsored by the Nyumburu Cultural Center and Black Male Initiative at the University of Maryland, student organizers engaged in several weeks of outreach to spread the word on campus and in the community to fill the room.

ANSWER Coalition National Coordinator Brian Becker spoke on the panel, chaired by two student activists, and remarked on the long U.S. campaign against Cuba in every sphere. The ANSWER Coalition, through its email list and activist efforts like leafleting, spread the word about the event through the Washington, D.C., area.

Becker detailed the extensive evidence obtained by the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, along with the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and Liberation newspaper, of illegal payments by the U.S. government to journalists who wrote articles smearing the Five. In the question-and-answer period, Becker further motivated the need for a mass movement to free the Five, highlighting the experience of the Puerto Rican political prisoners freed in the late 1990s. Becker noted that even the most politicized court cases can be won through political mobilization.

Glen Ford from Black Agenda Report detailed the long history of U.S. colonial attitudes and antipathy towards Cuba, linking this with the positive social and economic example Cuba has offered Latin America and the world. Following Ford was William Norris, attorney for Ramon Labanino. Mr. Norris described in great detail the intricacies of the Cuban Five case. He highlighted in particular the deeply prejudiced environment that existed in Miami regarding the Cuban Five trial. In the question period, Norris linked the case of the Five to the broader injustice in the U.S. criminal justice system in underscoring the need for a broad progressive movement.

Attorney Jose Pertierra built on both of the preceding talks by outlining the long history of anti-Cuban terrorism unleashed by the CIA and Cuban counter-revolutionaries, detailing some of their most vicious acts, such as the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner, which killed 73 people, and the string of deadly bombings of Cuban hotels in the 1990s. Pertierra further informed the crowd of how the mastermind of many of these attacks, Luis Posada Carriles, remains free, living in Miami with the tacit support of the U.S. government that refuses to extradite him to Venezuela to answer for many crimes.

Finally, former mayor of Baltimore and former Dean of Howard Law School Kurt Schmoke gave remarks that again pointed to the connection between the case of the Five and the U.S. campaign against the Cuban people. Dr. Schmoke decried the irrational nature of the anti-Cuba campaign and raised the need for President Obama to commute the sentence of the Five and allow them to return to Cuba.

Following the panelists’ presentations, audience members engaged in a question-and-answer period where both members of the audience and panel urged everyone in attendance to join the struggle to free the Cuban Five.  Organizers from the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five circulated petitions demanding the freedom of the Five and handed out informational material on the case to all of the participants. Notably, activists made contact with students and faculty from other universities who are eager to take action on the case of the Five.  

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