Chanting of “Free the Five!”, “Viva Cuba” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” were heard across West End of London after a crowd of over 300 people braved a cold December evening outside the US Embassy on Wednesday 3 December to attend a vigil organised by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) in Britain.
Solidarity greetings and messages of support for the Miami Five were given by a range of speakers including Dr Aleida Guevara, paediatrician, medical mission veteran and daughter of Che Guevara, and MPs, trade unionists, lawyers, actors and activists at an event which marked the sixteenth year of their arrest.
Aledia Guevara, giving her final speech in her British speaking tour, read a heartfelt message from Antonio Guerrero, one of the Five, who thanked for the solidarity and support from friends in Britain: “Dear friends of the UK, never did the five of us imagine that we’d have so many friends in the UK, from where we’ve received thousands of letters of support. Without knowing you personally, we’ve learned a lot about your lives and become united and strengthened in our fight for justice… We will win.”
Guevara laid out the of the case to President Obama; “You’ve got men in your prisons that are there because they were trying to save the lives of other human beings” and finished her speech by urging Obama; “Have the courage to do something well, before you finish your term as President. Release them now!”
Unite the Union, the largest trade union in Britain, have been instrumental in the campaign to free the Five. Diana Holland, Assistant General Secretary of Unite and Chair of CSC, praised the work of the International Inquiry on the Case of the Five, and urged to continue with the pressure the achieve justice. “We have the opportunity to gain freedom for the final three of the five right now - we must fight for justice.”
Roger McKenzie, Assistant General Secretary of the public sector union Unison who have also given great support to the campaign for the Five, gave a passionate speech condemning the United States’ domestic affairs, including the treatment of their black population in recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, whilst at the same time “having the cheek to continue to try and interfere with Cuba”. On the case of the Five, he argued; “This is about justice, equality and bringing progressive politics into the frame. We all must support Cuba and their campaign for justice for the Five”.
CSC Director Rob Miller criticised the British government for its part in the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US, which saw Britain deny Rene Gonzalez a visa on two occasions in 2014, despite being invited to give evidence at the International Commission and being invited by 29 MPs. “The French government, the German government, the Belgian government, the Portuguese government all allowed Rene Gonzalez in – but our government, as part of their ‘special relationship’ – refused Rene entry, in support of the US position against Cuba.”
MPs at the event included Jeremy Corbyn MP, who passionately addressed the crowd and the Embassy; “My message to this building over here: release the Five before you move to Battersea – or we’re going to go with you!”, in reference to the US Embassy’s forthcoming relocation from Grosvenor Square.
Paul Maskey MP, of Sinn Fein, spoke of the parallels between Ireland and Cuba, who have both faced interference from their neighbours. Maskey also stressed the importance of supporting CSC and the case to free the Five. “We know from our own peace process that international pressure can make a difference and the world a better place.”
Other speakers at the vigil included Elizabeth Woodcraft, barrister and one of the Coordinators of the International Inquiry, Rodney Bickerstaffe, former General Secretary of Unison, Chris Baugh, Assistant General Secretary PCS, Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of TSSA, Paul Novak, Assistant General Secretary of the TUC, Eric Roberts, Unison London, Father Geoff Bottoms, and Miriam Palacious, who all gave rousing speeches in support of justice for the Five.
Speakers from the legal professions included Steve Cottingham, from OH Parsons Solicitors, who has scrutinised the case of the Five over many years, explained how the battle is a political one, rather than a legal. “It all boils down to this - they’ve spent a long, long time in prison – around a quarter of their lives – this is too long and they need to be released now.”
Doug Christie, from Thompsons Solicitors, gave a passionate speech, standing metres away from a statue of Ronald Reagan, paraphrased the ex US President in reference to what Obama can do for the Five: “Three of the Five remain in prison. We say, Mr Obama, tear down these prison walls! Declare a pardon now!”
Christine Blower, General Secretary of National Union of Teachers (NUT), spoke of how Cuba is a beacon for the world in its achievements in education and health, and how the NUT have offered practical solidarity with Cuba in teaching English to Cuban doctors – skills, she suggested, that they may be putting to use in West Africa as they treat ebola patients. On the Five, Blower said “NUT will support the Miami Five for as long as it takes. Let’s build the campaign and pressure so that we won’t be here next month, or next year, let’s get justice now!”
Peter Pinkey, President of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, gave an emotional speech saluting the late Bob Crow, who was a huge friend and supporter of Cuba. Pinkey spoke of the progressive politics of Latin America, which Cuba has been at the centre of, with governments in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia amongst many, taking inspiration from Cuba’s commitment to putting people before profit.
The actor, Andy de la Tour, paid tribute to the late Roger Lloyd Pack, a strong supporter of Cuba, who he had performed the works of Harold Pinter with in Havana in 2011. He spoke of the topical Cuban internationalist missions, with Cuba leading the fight against ebola, and how three of the Five has served on international missions in Africa before their arrest. Urging everyone to keep fighting for justice, he argued; “None have been released until they have all been released”.