Gerardo Hernandez

(Image Credit: Bill Hackwell)

Gerardo Hernandez is one of the Cuban 5; the one whom U.S. government gave two life sentences plus 15 years, essentially for serving in a non-violent mission to stop the terrorism of right-wing extremist Cuban exiles.Gerardo spent 16 years of this sentence in Victorville Penitentiary… in California before being released and sent back to Cuba, along with two others of The 5, in December, 2014, as part of the new rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S.

I was able to meet and interview Gerardo in Havana and after a historic May Day celebration I got his views on a number of subjects, including about the late Saul Landau with whom we shared a comradeship. What follows is a transcript of the interview:

Netfa (NF): If it’s okay I’d like to just ask you three questions and you can give me your answers. First, your analysis of US-Cuba relations, the new developments. Two, about political prisoners and, particularly, the condition of Mumia Abu Jamal. Lastly, about Saul.

Gerardo Hernandez (GH): While were in prison we had the honor to communicate with Mumia. And in the same way we all had his support in our struggle for justice; I would like him to know that we, The Five, from our freedom in Cuba will continue to do whatever possible for his freedom. We believe, we strongly believe, that he deserves to be free. He is innocent. He is a political prisoner and he can count our support. He and all the comrades that are supporting him in the U.S. that have been struggling for so many years, they should know that for The Five it would be an honor to contribute in any way possible to the campaign to free Mumia. And in that regard we would like to send our greetings to all of them and especially to our brother who is still in prison.

Regarding the relations between Cuba and the U.S.: Well, you know a new era is perceived now and there are many people that are still pessimistic about what is going on. We believe, first, that what is happening has to happen. You know we are two countries, too close to one another. We have to do whatever is possible to have normal relations. Right? Having said that, we revolutionary Cubans don’t have false expectations that miracles will happen. Right? If the imperialism continues to exist, Cuba will continue to be in danger and we could not rest. We have to continue our struggle.

Even though they are talking now about better relations, as you know the blockade is still in place and Guantanamo base is still illegally here in our territory. And there are many people, many powerful interests in the U.S. that couldn’t achieve their goals of destroying the Cuban revolution through their blockade and through all the means they’ve tried for more than half a century. The fact that now they are having another approach doesn’t mean that their goal will not be the same.

“If the imperialism continues to exist, Cuba will continue to be in danger and we could not rest.”

We have to continue to be alert and we have to continue to be ready for whatever is coming. We’re gonna have a lot of struggles coming. They will have, let’s say, another approach in this battle but it continues to be a battle. We don’t have false hopes. The Cuban government and the Cuban people have been saying for half a century that we are willing to talk. We are willing to negotiate with the U.S. as normal, as equals and on the basis that they respect our sovereignty, our independence. We are not a colony of the U.S.

If they recognize that then let’s talk, but let’s be clear. That’s the same thing that Cubans have been saying for more than half a century. There is nothing new there. What is new is what they are saying now, what they are doing now. Remember when they used to say, “We have nothing to do with Cuba if the Castro’s are still there. We have nothing to talk about with Cuba if the Cuban revolution is still in place.” Well, guess what? The Castro’s are here, the Cuban revolution is still in place and they are talking. So, it’s not Cuba who went backwards, you know what I mean? It’s not Cuba who changed.

NF: I’m sorry, I know you have to go but I have another question because of our listeners. I know you served in Angola and I think it would be good to hear your reflections about Cuba’s relationship to Africa, African people, as having served Angola, being in a U.S. prison that is mostly African, Black people.

GH: Listen I gotta tell you something I’m very proud of these 16 years I spent in prison and I’m very proud of the mission that I served for my people in the U.S. and being in prison for 16 years. But I believe that what made me proudest, and I tell you all honestly, is the mission that I served in Africa when I had the honor of being in Angola as part of the many Cubans that served voluntarily there to help our brothers and sisters in Africa to reach their freedom. I always will be, to the day I die, I will always be very honored and very proud for having served in Africa during those years. It was a privilege that many Cubans had and to me it is among the biggest privileges in my life.

And I want to tell you, during the years in prison we received a lot of solidarity from our Black brothers and sisters, and I say sister because even guards. I had a couple times when female guards, Black women approached me and said in a kind of low voice because they couldn’t be heard, “Hey, I know you served in Africa with the Cuban people and I want to say thank you.” With more or less the same words, i have the same episode twice with female guards and a couple more times with male guards. Even they, they appreciate, many of them appreciate what Cubans did in Africa.

“I’m very proud of these 16 years I spent in prison and I’m very proud of the mission that I served for my people.”

And from the population, inmates population, prisoners population, I received a lot of solidarity from brothers that recognized what we did for our brothers in Africa and they always said, “Hey man, I respect what you did for my people and I appreciate what did for our people.” And, as I said, to me that has been one of the biggest honors in my life.

Now regarding our brother Saul Landau, let me tell you, he as you know, visited me together with Danny Glover for many, many times in prison. And it is very emotional for me to talk about him because I really loved that guy man. He was a person with quite a history and as you know he got involved in the Cuban solidarity world being a very young guy. He was very talented guy, he was an artist and I have a lot of respect for him and I told him one day when we are in Cuba, we gonna pay homage to you and we are going to pay respect to you and you are going to be there and I can tell you right now and right here. Saul is with us man.

NF: Yeah I feel the same way because I worked with Saul at the Institute for Policy Studies for many years. Cuba was the thing that brought us together that made us close. Anyway, thank you Brother.

Netfa Freeman is Events Coordinator at the Institute for Policy Studies.