September 12th will mark the 14th anniversary of the unfair imprisonment of the 5 Cuban Patriots. On the 5th of this month, joining thousands of people from all over the world, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell is sending a letter to President Obama asking him to release the Cuban 5.
Photo: Katrien Demuynck, taken during a meeting of religious leaders in April during the events “5 Days for the Cuban 5 in Washingto DC”.
Dr. Campbell was the first woman to be Associate Executive Director of the Greater Cleveland Council of Churches; the first woman to be Executive Director of the U.S. office of the World Council of Churches; the first ordained woman to be General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; and today, she is the first woman Director of Religion at the historic Chautauqua Institution. Dr. Campbell is truly a “first woman.” In every job she has held, she was the first woman to carry that responsibility.
As General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ, Dr. Campbell played a crucial role in the fight for the return of 6 year old Elian Gonzalez to Cuba in 2000.
LETTER OF REV. JOAN BROWN CAMPBELL TO PRESIDENT OBAMA
September 5, 2012
Dear President Obama,
Today I joined with thousands of people from all over the world to ask you for a humanitarian gesture to allow 5 Cuban men, four of them in US prisons and one under supervised probation to return home to their loved ones.
In December of last year a delegation led by the Reverend Dr. Michael Kinnamon, Former General Secretary of the US National Council of Churches of Christ visited Cuba. They held a number of important meetings including one with the Council of Churches of Cuba. In these meetings they shared days of pray and reflection. They then issued a joint statement in which they committed to work towards the normalization of the relations between the US and Cuba. The relationship between the U.S. National Council of Churches and the Cuban Council is 70+ years old and predates the revolution.
The statement of the churches indicates that to obtain that desired and necessary objective, a number of humanitarian questions must be solved, “that are cause of the lack of unjustifiable understanding and an unnecessary human suffering”. The greatest obstacle mentioned in their declaration was the US blockade against Cuba. Voting on the lifting of the blockade has been brought up in 20 occasions at the General Assembly of United Nations.
Another obstacles mentioned in the joint statement is the imprisonment in the United States of “Five Cubans”, from a trial full of irregularities, whose sentences “have been declared unjust by numerous human right organizations, including Amnesty International and even the United Nations”.
Members of the delegation met with the mothers and spouses of the Cuban 5 as a show of support for the freedom of their children and spouses.
The Cuban 5, as they are internationally known, were no threat to US national security. Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González sacrificed their lives to monitor terrorist groups based in Miami. They came to this country to alert and protect Cuban and North American people from criminal actions that have cost the life of thousands of Cubans and foreign citizens like Fabio Di Celmo, a young Italian who died in 1997 product of a bombing in a Havana hotel.
The Cuban government asked the U.S. government to put an end to the impunity ofviolent organizations that seriously threaten both countries. In June 1998 a delegation of high-level FBI went to Havana due to the magnitude of the complaint. Cuban officials gave the FBI all the information they had on these criminal groups to ceasetheir actions. Incredibly, three months later the FBI arrested the messengers of this critical information, the Cuban 5.
This month of September will mark the 14 anniversary of the arrest of these five men; and so far no terrorist has been convicted, while the Cuban 5 still remain imprisoned.
On October 7 of last year, Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban 5, served his sentence of15 years and was released, but the U.S. government prevented him from returning to Cuba to be reunited with his loved ones. René is being forced to stay for three years of probation in South Florida where his life is in constant danger. As an additional punishment, the U.S. government refuses to grant a visa to his wife Olga Salanueva to visit him in the U.S.
President Obama, I have visited Cuba over 30 times, I have met the families of the Cuban 5 and I share their suffering. It is time to free the Cuban 5 as a sign of our humanity. This same concern is felt by the entire Cuban people, leaders of all religions, lawyers, intellectuals, artists, 10 Nobel Prize recipients, parliaments, governments, Christians and Catholics in Latin America and thousands around the world.
More than a decade ago, when I was the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States, I had the opportunity to get involved in the return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. He was a young child, a victim of the contentious relations between the United States and Cuba. During that time I was able to meet his grandmothers and his father and I experienced the pain of a Cuban family.
I feel there is a similarity between both cases, although Elian was child separated from his family, the Cuban 5 have spent 14 years without watching their children grow, and be with their parents as they grow older. Some of them have lost family members during these long years of incarceration. Furthermore, as Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban 5 are at the center of U.S./Cuba relations.
President Obama, the people of the United States and Cuba wish to live in peace, harmony and brotherhood. There is no reason for our country to continue such an inhumane policy towards the island nation. Releasing the Cuban 5 undoubtedly will help in the restoration of relations between both countries.
Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell