Five Cubans were imprisoned in the United States since 1998 under circumstances that moved almost an entire country. Only two of them served their full sentences. The other three were released during the secret and unexpected negotiation between the governments of Raúl Castro and Barack Obama, which included the release of contractor Alan Gross – imprisoned in Cuba for five years – and the outlining of a course for the normalization of relations between both countries in 2014. That’s how important they were.
In more than a decade the major part of the Cuban people were mobilized for solidarity, together with innumerable persons in the world, to demand the reparation of what was considered a great injustice.
Five Cuban men who resisted coming to an agreement with the U.S. government and maintained their innocence were raised in Cuba to the category of Heroes.
While the district attorney accused them of espionage and – one of them – of conspiring to commit murder, the Five and their lawyers maintained the idea that they were non-registered agents, yes, but that they had acted in favor of their country, in legitimate defense in the face of terrorist actions against Cuba being conceived and committed by organizations established in Miami.
The issue became – we Cubans know it well – the topmost priority in the media and propaganda agenda the government spread throughout Cuba for more than a decade. To the farthest corner, on the most secluded mural, in the most improvised public rally, on the prefabricate and lime facades of the most distant agricultural cooperatives, in the lobbies of the hotels, in shop windows, on the tanks of cistern trucks…their five faces and the star formed part of our landscape.
In Cuba and in dozens of countries, their wives, their mothers, their children, asked, fought, demanded and became a single entity that the loudspeakers defined as “the relatives.” There was no distinction when it came to narrate the feat of those who had to withstand isolations, threats, solitary confinement. All the stories of the diverse truncated loves were told with the same seriousness and they moved most of us.
For almost 20 years we Cubans learned some very valuable things about them: they are loyal, intelligent, tenacious and loving. Their main merit was representing us. They greatly resembled who we wanted to be.
With all their attributes, while they were in the United States they were like supermen very admired from a distance. When they got to Cuba, already being a physically confirmed reality, these men became potential leaders. Some of them with more evident aptitudes than others, but all of them with a tremendous accumulated popular congeniality, the same that is lacked by a great many official leaders that today absorb the political activity in Cuba.
René González Sehwerert, one of them, left Cuba in 1990 when he was 34. He stole a Cuban plane and landed in the Boca Chica Base in Key West. He had accepted the mission of infiltrating the Cuban exile groups, active in subversion. In 1998 he was arrested and later sentenced to 15 years. In September 2011, after 13 years, he was given another additional sentence of supervised release in Florida. In May 2013 the judge allowed him to travel to the island for personal reasons (his brother was very sick). In the end, René had to renounce his U.S. citizenship and with that he was able to stay in Cuba and enjoy full freedom. He was the first to arrive.
In September 2012 I met him personally and devoted myself to studying his ways. I had to interview him together with other colleagues from the magazine Progreso Semanal for which I worked. It hadn’t been easy for us to get the interview. He acted like a friend, without distrust, holding hands with Olga Salanueva all the time.
We wanted to know more about the yellow ribbon campaign and to contribute to publicizing it.
René was with us that day in the Plaza de Armas. He tied a yellow ribbon around the thick trunk of the ceiba tree of the Templete. He had decided to turn the event of the ribbons into a mass movement that would resound in the United States, which would reach the mind of the persons who after such a long time had not been reached by repeated media campaigns and that completely lacked knowledge about the case.
He was lucid, cordial and even more…. With an impressive humility he asked us for help to place a TV spot that would boost even more the mobilization in Cuba. We didn’t have the technology to do so, but we tried to help him.
That day, seeing him arrive alone to a rally that could be iconic, useful for the campaign, which could make the headlines of a newscast or of a digital daily, caught my attention. There was no other media, there were no more cameras.
At last, on D17 the Five met in Havana. On December 17, 2014 they were received by Raúl Castro in his office. Seventy-three days later, on February 28, 2015, by Fidel Castro at his home. “Yesterday I was happy for hours. I heard wonderful stories of heroism of the group presided over by Gerardo and seconded by all of them,” he wrote.
At the end of what he wrote about this meeting, the leader of the Cuban Revolution left a sort of riddle placed in the imagination of many. “Fortunately, since yesterday I have had sufficient time to request that they invest part of their immense prestige in something that will be extremely useful for our people.” What could that extremely useful “something” be? Many supposed it would be a new Herculean task. The riddle still has not been solved to date.
That fragment of the Wasp Network that had previously been so coordinated, is working now in Cuba in different spheres: Gerardo Hernández is vice rector of the Higher Institute of International Relations; Fernando González is president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People; Ramón Labañino is vice president of the National Association of Cuban Economists; Antonio Guerrero is vice president of the Higher Organization of Business Management (OSDE) of Design and Construction Engineering; and René González is vice president of the José Martí Cultural Society.
An unexpected event has led to a heated debate – at least on the social media. At the end of the process of nomination for candidates to deputies to the National Assembly for the next legislature, it has been known that out of the Five only two have been chosen. Neither Ramón, nor Antonio, nor René form part of the list.
“I hope that one day I can find someone from the National Candidacy Commission of my country that can answer my question: Why are Fernando González Llort and Gerardo Hernández Nordelo eligible, and René González Sehwerert, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino NOT? I feel we are renouncing those men in times in which there are scarce paradigms.” That was what Rosy Amaro Pérez, a young journalist from Cubavisión Internacional (CVI), commented on her Facebook page.
René González himself answered the journalist with certain humor, making it understood that the fact that he was not eligible for a seat in the next parliament had also surprised him: “Rosy, and I who thought I was going to invite you to the Capitol Building…but well.”
A few hours later, Olga Salanueva, René González’ wife, wrote a long reply in which she categorically rejected the speculation about whether René would or wouldn’t be willing to be part of the Cuban parliament.
One day a representative of the Culture Trade Union, to which he belongs for being vice president of the José Martí Cultural Society, arrived at René’s office. He left him a form to fill out with his personal data alleging that he had been proposed by that trade union as a candidate or deputy. He filled it out and handed it over. The rest of the five went through the same thing through different places.
That’s the only thing we know of, never again was he consulted, or called, or approached again to ask for an opinion or his willingness.
René continued working as he has always done and I’ve seen him do for 35 years in every task he has been assigned, in body and soul, with great happiness and optimism, which all those who know him well know have always accompanied him, with his tremendous transparency and struggle against what is badly done. Everything despite the fact that this task has nothing to do with his vocation, and that he can’t even work in the profession he loves.
That’s all I know, but yesterday all of a sudden the list of candidates and the avalanche of questions.
My answer: Please ask the commission, I see no reason at all for the five not to be deputies. In the first place they deserve it, they are more proven than anyone, and Cuba also needs them. It’s in poor taste to establish differences between the five, when the United States tried to do so with all its power and caught its butt with the door. They will always be brothers and proven revolutionaries.
A friend in Facebook said: “I doubt that a candidacy commission has excluded them because yes, those commissions are made up by good people. I doubt that someone can obviate the Five, because they are the very heart of the island. There has to be some other reason, I suppose….”
Comrade, I’m sorry to say there is no mistake. Three of the five were obviated by the commission, in what represents, in my opinion, a new and great injustice against the five heroes of the Republic of Cuba.
The freedom with which Olga Salanueva expressed her discomposure that obviously must be shared, at least by her husband, is provocative. And this last sentence is rather pressing and carries a denunciation: “a new and great injustice against the five heroes of the Republic of Cuba.”
But this time it doesn’t come from the U.S. government.
The National Candidacy Commission, with the power to include in the nomination of candidates to parliament persons considered having “special merits,” is one of the most controversial structures of the current Cuban electoral system.
It is a work group made up by representatives of political and mass organizations – which in the UN are presented as Cuban civil society.
They have the legal responsibility of including on the list up to 50 percent of elected municipal delegates – candidates that emerge from the neighborhood assemblies in the circumscriptions.
Their legitimacy is argued in the fact that they are the ultimate in representation: the organizations represent the people and the Commission represents the organizations.
They say they work with the biographies of the candidates and only decide based on “merits.” But it is already known that it is very probable that in these selections priorities and political matches will predominate, which not always go from below upwards, but rather completely the contrary. The satisfaction and safeguard of the current real power is thus guaranteed.
“On a list of 605 Cubans that represent the people of this country there isn’t room for three men who spent 15 years imprisoned in the United States precisely for defending this people’s right to choose its destiny??? If there’s a mistake I think it should be corrected as soon as possible. These are the leaders the Cuban social project needs today, flesh and blood heroes. How can it be explained to this people that took to the streets in a massive way to ask for their return that René, Ramón and Antonio are not among their representatives?” CVI journalist Daily Pérez Guillén also wrote on Facebook.
This being a secondary or tertiary representation of the sovereign in which the latter does not intervene directly, the result of the National Commission can – as is seen – lead to “mistakes” that are usually not evident and much less published in Cuba. That’s why this case is very exemplary.
The first thing the public will want to know is under what criteria this time three of the five heroes of this importance don’t reach the necessary score to be on the list of candidates.
Making transparent the reasons case by case would be useful to also know, by chance, what other persons with other “merits” are neither included after the selection.
It is a question of method. It is a vital matter of Cuban democracy that as is known – the government has even admitted it – expects an electoral reform that hasn’t come yet.
For the time being many have been left flabbergasted by this anomalous situation in which it seems some of the heroes haven’t been sufficiently heroes before the nominating “body.”
Forming part of parliament is not, on the other hand, or should be, just an issue of social distinction. A deputy is not someone who is given a diploma, but rather someone that is subject to a mandate.
This time, it can’t be denied, the uncertainty has entered through the front door.