TML Weekly, April 16, 2016 - Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, a Hero of the Republic of Cuba was enthusiastically welcomed at each stop of his first tour across Canada and Quebec, which began in Toronto on April 3 and concluded in Nanaimo on April 13.
Gerardo is the leader of the Cuban Five Heroes, who risked their lives to monitor the activities of anti-Cuba organizations in south Florida who have been carrying out terrorist attacks against the Cuban people for decades. For this, the Five -- Gerardo, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and René González -- were falsely accused and convicted of espionage against the United States and were jailed as political prisoners. Gerardo in particular was falsely accused of conspiracy to commit murder and received the most severe punishment -- a double life sentence plus 15 years. Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio remained imprisoned until their freedom was won on December 17, 2014 as a result of the concerted diplomatic efforts of the Cuban government, and efforts of the Cuban people and solidarity movements around the world. Gerardo is the second member of the Cuban Five to visit Canada and Quebec, following Fernando González who came almost a year ago.
Gerardo's visit began at the Steelworkers' Hall in Toronto, the venue for many gatherings during the campaign to free the Cuban Five. As was the case throughout Gerardo's visit, the hall was filled to capacity and the guest of honour was met with a standing ovation. The event was opened by representatives of the movement to free the Cuban Five in Canada, who thanked Gerardo for this visit and recounted some of the work to free the Five that began in 1998. Cuban Consul General Javier Dómokos brought greetings to the gathering on behalf of Cuban Ambassador H.E. Julio Garmendía Peña. Dómokos remarked on the presence of people from all walks of life, not only long-time solidarity activists but also youth, Cubans resident in Canada, supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and others from throughout Latin America. Dómokos conveyed the feelings of all present when he said what an honour it was to receive Gerardo and that it is "a rare moment in life that you get to have a real hero in front of you."
Toronto City Councillor Joe Mihevc welcomed Gerardo on behalf of the City and presented an official certificate from the City recognizing him as "an outstanding fighter against terrorism and injustice."
At each event on the tour, Gerardo expressed profound appreciation to all those who assisted in the campaign for the release of the Cuban Five, saying that this worldwide campaign was integral to their freedom. He pointed out that the U.S. courts gave him two life sentences plus 15 years so that he would never be released, but "they didn't count on friends like you" and didn't realize "how powerful unity in struggle is." Gerardo recalled that the U.S. authorities tried many times to no avail to divide the five Cubans.
Regarding U.S. President Obama's recent visit to Cuba, Gerardo talked about Obama's attempt to cement his legacy. He stressed that Cubans are aware that the diplomatic successes do not mean "that imperialism has stopped being imperialism." He pointed out that, in the process of normalizing relations with the U.S., "Cuba has not renounced one single principle, so whose victory is it? It is ours," he affirmed.
Gerardo also spoke to the Cuban people's support for the oppressed peoples of the world. With respect to Palestine in particular, the Cuban Five have decided that one of them will always wear a bracelet bearing the words "Free Palestine." Gerardo recounted his experience as part of the Cuban forces that provided assistance to Angola in its fight against apartheid rule and how this earned the respect of black fellow inmates in prison, and how other prisoners came to know the Five through their own work for liberation. Of his experience in prison, he spoke with great empathy about his fellow prisoners, many of whom were black, Indigenous or minority youth, reduced to being criminals and subjected to inhuman prison conditions as a result of the anachronistic economic, social, political and cultural conditions of U.S. society.
Gerardo's trip included a visit to Fort Erie and Niagara Falls, Ontario on April 4. At the Falls, Gerardo noted the plaque commemorating Cuban poet José Maria Heredia (1803-1839), who was exiled for his revolutionary patriotic activities and whose epic poem Niagara was written at the top of the Falls in 1825. In Fort Erie he visited the town hall and met with Mayor Wayne Redekop and members of the Canadian-Cuban Friendship Association of Niagara. Gerardo thanked Mayor Redekop for the support he has given over the years to Cuba solidarity work in the area.
On April 6 in Montreal, Gerardo spoke to a meeting organized by the Quebec-Cuba Solidarity Roundtable. He met a warm reception from the various Cuba solidarity organizations, Cubans living in Montreal and Cuba's many friends, to all of whom he conveyed the warmest greetings from all of the Five. The participants all affirmed their solidarity with Cuba and their ongoing commitment to end the U.S. blockade of Cuba.
Also in Montreal, on April 7, Gerardo gave a keynote speech to 600 steelworkers at the United Steelworkers 53rd National Policy Conference, and held other meetings with workers at the conference. The conference passed a resolution against the U.S. blockade. Gerardo visited Kahnawake in Mohawk territory on April 8 and participated in exchanges with community representatives from Kahnawake, Kanesatake, Akwesasne and Six Nations.
In Ottawa on April 9, Gerardo spoke to a full house at the Embassy of Cuba where he was introduced by the Ambassador of Cuba to Canada, H.E. Julio Garmendía Peña and members of Ottawa-Cuba Connections who organized the event. A presentation was shown before Gerardo spoke that highlighted the release of the Cuban Five and the solidarity actions which took place in Ottawa over the years and continue today with the demand for an end to the U.S. blockade against Cuba, its occupation of Guantánamo Bay and other hostile acts. Gerardo reiterated that his work and the work of the Five is ongoing in their efforts with Cubans and the world's peoples to end the blockade and all U.S. interference in Cuba's sovereign affairs. He was also greeted at the event by Bill Ryan, who corresponded with and befriended Gerardo when he was in prison and with whom Gerardo is now working to help Cuba produce its own bats for baseball leagues.
From Ottawa Gerardo travelled to British Columbia, where he met with activists from the Cuba solidarity movements in Vancouver, Nanaimo and Victoria. In Vancouver on April 11, separate meetings were held with trade union leaders of the British Columbia Teachers' Federation, the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators and the Hospital Employees' Union. He expressed his eternal gratitude to Canadian unions for their participation in the international campaign for the release of the Five and launched an appeal to continue supporting the causes of the Cuban Revolution, especially the demand for the U.S. government to lift the criminal blockade. On April 12 Gerardo addressed another capacity crowd at the Vancouver Public Library. This event also featured an exhibition of Gerardo's artwork created during his imprisonment to express the Cubans Five's defiance of U.S. imperialism and the justness of defending Cuba's right to be. Gerardo's final event was in Nanaimo BC, on Vancouver Island on April 13.
The tour once again brought to mind the significance of the work of solidarity with Cuba, which is not that of being a cheerleader for someone else, but of sharing the weal, woe and victories of all humanity, including the Cuban people and their principled striving to affirm their sovereignty and well-being, and to uphold the same for all countries. This is also what the peace- and justice-loving peoples of Quebec and Canada strive to do at home.