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Lobby on Capitol Hill to Free the Cuban Five

Solidarity was being sung on Capitol Hill this week as activists from 31 countries lobbied for the freedom of the Cuban Five.

International lobby delegation outside Capitol Hill. (Credit: Bill Hackwell)

Solidarity was being sung on Capitol Hill this week as activists from 31 countries lobbied for the freedom of the Cuban Five. Members of Parliament from Latin America and Europe came to the nation’s capital to urge immediate action towards the release of the remaining three Cuban Five who are still behind bars. Rounding out the last two days of the 3rd annual “5 days for the Cuban 5,” the international delegation met with 9 congress men and women, 25 Senate staffers and more than 30 congressional aids in a campaign demanding a remedy to the miscarriage of justice which has left innocent men imprisoned for last 16 years.

Actor Danny Glover – who has been involved in the “5 days for the 5” for the last three years – shared his optimism that the international solidarity effort was yielding results. “After the first five days of action, Rene was set free; after the 2nd annual 5 days of action; Fernando was set free and we need to keep up hope that after this 3rd annual day of action, the three remaining Cuban Five will also be set free.”

2014 614 lobby 2Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. (Credit: Bill Hackwell)

Among those who came to Washington to lobby for their release was Richmond California mayor Gayle McLaughlin. “As a mayor and elected official, I want to use my voice and I am honored to be part of this world wide effort,” said McLaughlin, who met with the families of the five while in Cuba last December. “The US needs to step up to the plate, if the US is going to talk about human rights, they also need to act around Human Rights.”

“We met with the state department and they were receptive to us,” said McLaughlin reflecting on the lobbying. “It is an ongoing struggle, but the time for action is now. We have to keep pushing and advocating for them, and I will continue to stand for the Five, I carry them always in my heart.”

In a joint press conference between Havana and the Special Interest Section of Cuba in Washington, DC , the two freed members of the Cuban Five shared their appreciation and support for the 3rd annual five days of action. “Everything looks like it’s moving in the right direction, I think the only thing missing is the political will,” said Fernando González who was released earlier this year. “It is beyond my comprehension that the US government has not taken steps to find a humanitarian solution.”

René González was the first of the Cuban Five to be released after serving 15 years in prison. “We are here because 16 years ago the government decided to commit a crime and violate every law in the US to punish Cuba and the five of us,” said René González. “Sixteen years is too long. We need civility and intellectual honesty on behalf of the administration. The US must change in regards to Cuba, its policy against Cuba is absurd; it’s been too long. This is why we are here, to demand justice.”

Foreign Policy congressional aides who met with the delegation of lobbyists said there have been stirrings in congress around normalizing relations with Cuba and that they were hopeful that after the mid-term elections change might be possible. The atmosphere certainly seems more poised than it has been since the implementation of the embargo fifty years ago. Earlier this week, Hilary Clinton released a new book called “Hard Choices” in which she says she urged President Obama to lift the embargo while she was Secretary of State.

“This is the time to be here in DC and raise our voices with all the voices from around the world urging for change in US/Cuba relations,” said Alicia Jrapko, from the International Committee to Free the Cuban Five. “We need the administration to acknowledge the truth about the Five and for justice to be done in the case.”

Speaking from Havana, González said he was optimistic that the international advocacy effort would be successful, “hopefully we will have the remaining three home with us in Cuba soon.”