Cuban heroes Rene Gonzalez and Gerardo Hernandez conclude their Miami Five Freedom Tour this weekend at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival. OLLIE HOPKINS sums up what’s been an eventful week
“WE’VE been delighted with the support for the Miami Five and the Cuban people that we have seen across Britain during the Freedom Tour. It has been like living a dream here. We have met with many people who wrote to us for many years while in prison, people who welcomed our families. You are like one big family to us now,” says Gerardo Hernandez of his time in Britain.
The Freedom Tour has seen the men and their families travel the length and breadth of the country, travelling over 2,000 miles covering events including the Durham Miners’ Gala, Unite Policy Conference in Brighton, the Houses of Parliament, rallies in Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff and London. After this weekend’s appearance at Tolpuddle, Rene Gonzalez and Gerardo will have spoken in front of over 150,000 people.
The long-awaited Freedom Tour followed a campaign to free the Miami Five after 16 years in United States prisons and a two-year visa battle between the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) against the then home secretary Theresa May, which CSC eventually won 24 hours before the Cubans flew to Britain.
The tour ensured that those who played a key role in achieving both their freedom and their visas could hear from Rene and Gerardo in person.
The Big Meeting in Durham gave the Miami Five an excellent introduction to British working-class culture and trade union solidarity. Gerardo’s speech was warmly received and a huge Cuban flag flew in solidarity from the main balcony during the Gala march in their honour.
In Parliament, the Cubans were warmly received by parliamentarians from many parties at a joint CSC and all-party parliamentary group on Cuba reception on Monday.
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, who both campaigned tirelessly for the freedom for the Miami Five while back-bench MPs, have continued their solidarity since becoming leader of the Labour Party and shadow chancellor and both attended the reception.
Corbyn paid tribute to “all those who campaigned for their freedom and attended the vigils outside the US embassy” over the years, many of which he had spoken at alongside other leaders in the labour and trade union movement.
Baroness Angela Smith, leader of the opposition in the House of Lords, hosted the event with Cat Smith MP.
Baroness Smith said: “The fact that the Five are free and here today shows that when you organise, when you campaign and when you fight together — we can win.”
The men received a deserved heroes’ welcome at the Unite Policy Conference in Brighton with two standing ovations.
“If it wasn’t for Tony Woodley, Len McCluskey and all the Unite members, we wouldn’t be here today,” Gerardo said.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey introduced the heroes and delighted delegates with the news that Adriana, wife of Gerardo, is currently pregnant with twins.
Hernandez said the international solidarity for the Miami Five helped give him his daughter. “Every single day, when I look into the eyes of my little girl, I thank you all for this miracle.”
During their 16 years in US prisons, the Miami Five became daily readers of the Morning Star.
“We used to receive it in prison. Sometimes they [the prison authorities] delayed it. Sometimes they sent back some issues. But we received it in prison. We used to pass it around the other prisoners,” Gerardo said.
“Receiving the Morning Star in prison and the thousands of letters from British supporters of Cuba gave us the strength to resist while in prison. We needed to draw our strength from somewhere and we got our inspiration not only from the example of the Cuban people and the Cuban revolution, but because of the fact that we knew we could count on people like you,” Rene said.
During an interview with the Morning Star at William Rust House this week, the Star presented the men with a framed edition of the paper from December 18 2014, the day after their release, where the front page headline reads: “FREEDOM.”
As Rene and Gerardo prepare for their final event of the Freedom Tour, they have a clear message that the struggle continues.
“International solidarity with Cuba is now more important than ever. The blockade remains in place — just this week the US House of Representatives has voted to intensify the blockade — and of course Guantanamo Bay continues to be illegally occupied.
“We are not naive in Cuba. We know of the threats [of improving relations with the United States], but we are prepared.
Revolutionary Cuba won’t take the flags down. You count on that — but we need your continued support.”
CSC director Rob Miller said: “The Freedom Tour has been an amazing experience for everyone. So many people here have played a part in winning freedom and justice for the Five and the tour has given thousands the opportunity to meet the men and their families in person. Of course the struggle for solidarity goes on. By working together, as we did on the Five, we will defeat the blockade, get Guantanamo returned to the people of Cuba and make real the slogan ‘a better world is possible’ a reality.
Ollie Hopkins is campaigns officer for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. For more information about CSC visit www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk.