Here at last! Miami Five Freedom Tour reports, pictures and videos

Aug 5, 2016 by

Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Great Britain

Here at last! Miami Five Freedom Tour reports, pictures and videos

Campaign News | Monday, 25 July 2016

Rene and Gerardo arriving at Gatwick airport with their families on Friday morning

Rene and Gerardo arriving at Gatwick airport with their families on Friday morning

After sixteen years fighting for their freedom from US jails, and a two year battle against the Home Secretary for visas to visit Britain, René Gonazalez and Gerardo Hernández finally touched down on UK soil in the early hours of Friday 7 July 2016.

In the short time they were here for the Miami Five Freedom Tour, the two Cuban anti-terrorist fighters travelled more than 2,000 miles to speak at the most prestigious events in the British trade union and labour movement calendar. In just nine days they addressed thousands of people at the Durham Miners’ Gala, the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival, Unite Policy Conference, public rallies in Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff, and London, and were received by MPs and trade union leaders at parliamentary and trade union receptions.

They were accompanied by their wives, Olga Salanueva and Adriana Pérez (currently expecting twins), and daughters 31 year-old Irma González and 18-month old Gema Hernandez.

Despite months of planning the long awaited Freedom Tour took place with just 48 hours notice of the entry visas being granted. The Home Office fought to the last moment to delay their entry; only the threat of legal action and hundreds of CSC members contacting their MPs to put pressure on Theresa May, overturned the decision at the last minute.

The campaign to free the Miami Five and subsequent struggle for their visas received exceptional support from the British trade union movement, parliamentarians and thousands of CSC supporters all over the country. The Miami Five Freedom Tour aimed to ensure that as many people as possible who had supported their fight for justice, written to them in prison and who had played a key role in achieving both their freedom and their visas could hear from the men in person.

Saturday 9 July

Rene and Gerardo with CSC supporters the late general secretary of the Durham Miners' Association, Davey Hopper

Rene and Gerardo with CSC supporters the late general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association, Davey Hopper

The Durham Miners’ Gala gave the Miami Five an excellent introduction to British working class culture and trade union solidarity on the first date of the tour. Addressing a crowd of thousands Gerardo thanked British trade union members for their role in securing his freedom. They received a rousing reception for their speeches with captured the mood of the ‘Big Meeting’ which celebrates the mining history of the region: “They got rid of the mines but they could not get rid of the miners”, said René. “Your solidarity has never been crushed and that is a lesson for Cuba and the world”, said Gerardo.

The Cuban heroes were clearly moved by the huge display of unity in Durham. “You can’t talk about solidarity without socialism”, René said later in the tour at the London rally. “The spirit we saw in Durham was that of solidarity – it was beautiful.”

Monday 11 July

In parliament with cross party members of the APPG on Cuba

In parliament with cross party members of the APPG on Cuba

The men and their families were warmly received at a joint CSC and All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Cuba parliamentary reception in the Jubilee Room in the Houses of Parliament. Parliamentarians from a broad range of parties attended including Labour, Conservatives, SNP, Sinn Fein and SDLP.

The reception was well attended by members of both the Commons and the Lords, with guests including Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Cat Smith, Ian Lavery, Catherine West, Chris Matheson, Richard Burgon, Francie Molloy, Chris Stephens, Mike Weir, Mark Durkan, Baroness Angela Smith, Baroness Hopperand Lord Balfe.

Both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell campaigned tirelessly for the freedom for the Miami Five whilst backbench MPs and have continued their support since becoming Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Chancellor. They were both leading names in the campaign for visas for the Five and their involvement was instrumental in the eleventh hour visa victory. Speaking at the reception, Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to “all those who campaigned for their freedom and attended the vigils outside the US embassy” over the years, many at which he had spoken.

Baroness Angela Smith, Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords, hosted the event with Shadow Minister and chair of the APPG on Cuba, Cat Smith MP. Baroness Smith said: “The fact that the Five are free and here today shows that when we organise, when we campaign and when we fight together – we can win.”

A family portrait outside parliament

A family portrait outside parliament

René thanked the parliamentarians for their support and gave credit to the thousands of campaigners involved in the struggle for their freedom.

“We never thought that so much support would come from Britain for Cuba – a small island, so far away from here – but it shows that we have so much in common. It only takes a little contact between good human beings to work together for a just cause,” he said.

There were many opportunities for trade unionists and activists to meet the Cuban heroes. René and Gerardo attended a trade union welcome reception hosted by the RMT at Maritime House where they met trade union leaders and representatives from across the trade union movement.

Mick Cash, RMT General Secretary, welcomed the Cuban heroes. “Over many years we’ve hosted the RMT Garden Party for Cuba in these gardens and will continue to do so. We must remember that it’s not over yet for Cuba. We continue to stand in solidarity with Cuba – Cuba is an inspiration to us all – and the struggle to end the blockade continues.”

Watch film clips from the event here

Tuesday 12 July

Len McCluskey introducing Rene and Gerardo at Unite Conference: photo Mark Thomas

Len McCluskey introducing Rene and Gerardo at Unite Conference: photo Mark Thomas

The Miami Five members were greeted with a huge standing ovation from 900 Unite delegates when they entered the main auditorium of the Brighton Centre for the union’s annual policy conference.

Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary, introduced the heroes and delighted delegates with the news that Adriana, wife of Gerardo, is currently pregnant with twins.

Gerardo speaking at Unite Conference: photo Mark Thomas

Gerardo speaking at Unite Conference: photo Mark Thomas

Their baby daughter Gema waved from the stage, where the men and their families were hugged by Len McCluskey and Tony Woodhouse, chair of the union’s national executive. Gema was conceived by IVF whilst Gerardo was still in prison as part of the negotiations in advance of re-establishing relations between the US and Cuba.

Gerardo was moved by how international solidarity for the Miami Five had 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,” he told the hall.

“If it wasn’t for Tony Woodley, Len McCluskey and all the Unite members, we wouldn’t be here today”, Gerardo said. Another emotional standing ovation followed their conference speeches and Unite delegates proudly held high specially designed tour posters in a huge visual display of solidarity which read “End the US blockade of Cuba. End the occupation of Guantánamo”.

Irma González, René and Olga’s eldest daughter, spoke at a fringe meeting at the Unite Policy Conference. Irma thanked the Unite delegates and British trade union movement, saying “Your solidarity made my happiness possible”. International solidarity with Cuba helped the campaign to free the Five, she said. “When Fidel Castro first spoke about the case of the Five, everything changed – we then knew we were not alone.”

Rene and Gerardo on stage at Unite conference with their partners and daughters: photo Mark Thomas

Rene and Gerardo on stage at Unite conference with their partners and daughters: photo Mark Thomas

“The first letter that we received in prison was from Britain, from Father Geoff Bottoms”, Gerardo said at the fringe meeting. “And the largest amount of letters that we received in prison was from Britain”, he added.

“The importance of receiving your letters in prison can’t be understated. The solidarity gave us strength each day. To get through each 24 hours in prison, our only hope was the support that we knew we had outside. The solidarity gave us the strength to resist, and to stop going insane in that place.”

“According to their plan I had to die twice and still serve another 15 years. But you helped to stop those plans”, he said.

Wednesday 13 July

With members of Scottish CSC and the campaign banner

With members of Scottish CSC and the campaign banner

In Glasgow there was standing room only as more than 200 people crammed into the Scottish TUC for a public rally. Neil Findlay, Labour MSP said: “These men were protecting their country from terrorist attacks. A country that has been under relentless social, political and economic attacks for having the audacity to build a country based upon socialist values.”

René González spoke of the how the case of the Five was a manifestation of US aggression towards Cuba at the Glasgow meeting. “The case of the Miami Five is not an isolated story. The hatred that the US showed towards us is the same hatred that they have shown towards Cuba, because of Cuba choosing to take its own path”.

Watch film clips form the event here

Thursday 14 July

Paula Barker, Unison, Rene, Gerardo, Geoff Bottoms and Bob Oram, CSC executive, and Angela Rayner MP at the Manchester rally

Paula Barker, Unison, Rene, Gerardo, Geoff Bottoms and Bob Oram, CSC executive, and Angela Rayner MP at the Manchester rally

In Manchester, more than 250 people gathered in Manchester Town Hall. Local CSC group members from Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Derby and Leicester attended the meeting, together with members from the Cuba Support Group who travelled from Ireland. Angela Rayner, Shadow Education Secretary and Tony Lloyd, Interim Mayor of Greater Manchester were amongst the special guests to speak alongside the Cuban heroes. In Manchester Gerardo said: “The campaign in the UK was so strong, so organised and able to reach trade unions and MPs. You set an example for many other countries in the world.”

Watch video footage from the Manchester rally here

Friday 15 July

The Freedom Tour covered as many parts of Britain as possible in one week to give as many as possible an opportunity to hear from the Miami Five heroes, even if it meant a hectic schedule and organising two meetings in one day.

Rene and Gerardo receive a standing ovation at Tolpuddle Festival: photo Mark Thomas

Rene and Gerardo receive a standing ovation at Tolpuddle Festival: photo Mark Thomas

At a well attended lunchtime meeting in Cardiff City Hall, René and Gerardo met with Unison Wales representatives and Irish Independent, Maureen O’Sullivan T.D, who flew in especially. “I was really glad to have had the opportunity to have a conversation with them. They were both down-to-earth and inspiring when speaking about their experiences in jail in the U.S. and so totally committed to their socialist principles”, the Irish parliamentarian said. The men also unveiled a plaque at the UNISON Wales/Cymru offices in memory of Cuba solidarity supporter and UNISON officer Roger Bevan on the anniversary of his tragic death in a car accident.

The London and Manchester rallies were accompanied by live Cuban music from Omar Puente and friends adding to a celebratory atmosphere, including a sing along to ‘Hasta Siempre, Comandante’.

René paid tribute all those who campaigned for their freedom at the London rally: “People like you have principles that make us human, as we strive for a better world of peace, solidarity and love. All the hugs, all the friendship, all the humanity we’ve seen in Britain gives us hope that we will pass on when we return to Cuba. It gives us hope that, together, we can all build a better world.”

Rob Miller, CSC Director 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 Guantánamo returned to the people of Cuba and make the slogan ‘a better world is possible’ a reality.”

René González made clear his appreciation for the work of CSC: “The campaign in Britain was the best organised and with the clearest and most effective strategy in the campaign for freedom and justice. If it wasn’t for CSC and the British trade unions, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Watch video footage from the London meeting here

Sunday 17 July

Laying a wreath at Tolpuddle: photo Mark Thomas

Laying a wreath at Tolpuddle: photo Mark Thomas

The Tolpuddle Festival was a fitting end to the tour and an opportunity for René and Gerardo to commemorate heroes of the British trade union movement, by laying a wreath on the grave of James Hammett, the only one of the six Tolpuddle Martyrs to return to the village.

A standing ovation and Cuban flags greeted their entry on stage where they paid tribute to the spirit of solidarity at the festival. Thanking people for their support for their cause, as they had done everywhere on the tour, they finished their last meeting in Britain with these words:

“We are not naive in Cuba. We know of the threats and we are prepared. Revolutionary Cuba won’t take the flags down. You count on that – but we need your continued support.”

“International solidarity with Cuba is now more important than ever. The blockade remains in place and Guantánamo Bay continues to be illegally occupied.”

René and Gerardo made honorary presidents of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign

At a special reception at the Cuban Ambassador’s residence, with the lawyers responsible for the visa victory, René and Gerardo accepted the invitation from the CSC Executive Committee to become Honorary Presidents of Cuba Solidarity Campaign.

With members of the CSC executive, the Cuban ambassador and the Mansfield Chambers legal team

With members of the CSC executive, the Cuban ambassador and the Mansfield Chambers legal team

Bestowing the honorary positions on behalf of the Campaign, Chair of CSC and Unite AGS Diana Holland said, “There can be no more deserving recipients of this award than the two of you as representatives of all the Five and their families. We are grateful for what you have done and the inspiration that you have given us.”

Summarising their visit Gerardo said: “We are delighted with the support for the Miami Five and the Cuban people that we have seen across Britain. It has been like living a dream here. We have met with many people who wrote to us for many years whilst in prison, people who welcomed our families. You are like one big family to us now.”

Watch video footage from the London reception here

Rene, Gerardo, and the Cuban ambassador with their partners at Karl Marx's tomb

Rene, Gerardo, and the Cuban ambassador with their partners at Karl Marx’s tomb

Rene, Gerardo, Adriana and Olga at the Marx Memorial Library with an original copy of Iskra, Spark

Rene, Gerardo, Adriana and Olga at the Marx Memorial Library with an original copy of Iskra, Spark

At the Working Class Movement Library in Salford with staff and Unison representatives

At the Working Class Movement Library in Salford with staff and Unison representatives

Gerardo with acting Mayor of Manchester, Tony Lloyd

Gerardo with acting Mayor of Manchester, Tony Lloyd

Marching at the head of the Cuban contingent at the Tolpuddle Festival

Marching at the head of the Cuban contingent at the Tolpuddle Festival

Carrying banners on the Tolpuddle Festival march

Carrying banners on the Tolpuddle Festival march

On the CSC stall at the Tolpuddle Festival

On the CSC stall at the Tolpuddle Festival

Gerardo with a copy of the CSC booklet and poster produced especially for the tour

Gerardo with a copy of the CSC booklet and poster produced especially for the tour

View more photos in our flickr gallery here

Watch more video highlights here

Special thanks
CSC is sincerely grateful to the Durham Miners Association, Unite the Union, and South West TUC for making the mens’ appearances at the Gala, Tolpuddle and policy conference possible; to Unison North West and Wales for hosting the meetings in Manchester and Cardiff; to the RMT for hosting the trade union reception; to Cat Smith MP and her staff for hosting the parliamentary reception; to the Marx Memorial Library and Working Class Movement Library for organising tours for the Five and their families; to the legal team at Mansfield Chambers who worked on the visa appeal; and to all the local groups, unions, supporters and volunteers who made this tour possible by organising and supporting meetings. All donors are listed here on our Miami Five Freedom Tour supporters page.

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