A week ago Cheryl LaBash and I started the journey to take home the archives of the long struggle to free the Cuban 5 that Alicia Jrapko and I accumulated over a period of 13 years, carefully and methodically stored in our basement; from the first letter Gerardo Hernandez mailed to Alicia in late 2001 from a federal prison in Miami to the last one he sent us from the hole in the Oklahoma City transfer prison on December 12, 2014. Along with the letters are material from the many campaigns and projects that took place over that time. While this material is a significant amount of the historical record it does not represent all of the information accumulated during that time by the international movement that supported the Five.
The uniqueness of the struggle to free the Cuban 5 was that, unlike most struggles, it was clearly framed in time from the moment they were arrested in Miami on September 12, 1998, for defending their homeland from terrorist attacks organized in that very city to their release on December 17, 2014, through that narrow window that opened for a brief moment under Obama.
What was most inspiring was that it took place as the internet was becoming an increasingly prominent organizing tool that connected the movement like never before enabling international events to take place in London; Holguin, Cuba; Toronto; Puerto Allegre, Brazil; Tijuana, Mexico, to name a few, and in Washington D.C. where for several years supporters of Cuba gathered from all over the globe to protest for the freedom of the five in front of the White House and lobbied on Capitol Hill against the legislation that entrenches the blockade of the island.
Ironically our endeavor to bring this material to its first stop, the Cuban Embassy in Washington, began by retracing the highways of California that Alicia and I traveled during the more than 100 visits we made to Gerardo over that time. Every town and every turn of the 404 miles from our home in Oakland to the doors of the Victorville prison is indelibly stamped into my memory forever; starting by taking Interstate 5 down through the vast Central Valley of California that grows around 20% of the world’s produce, then over the Tehachapi Pass dropping down into the wonders of the desolate Mojave Desert with its twisted but majestic Joshua Trees.
When we arrived at Kramer Junction our route was to continue east to Arizona but I could not help myself but take a detour south with the utility vehicle full of the story of the Cuban 5 to the gates of the penitentiary that imprisoned Gerardo for so long taking a modest but significant victory lap for a struggle waged by the Cuban people and supported by millions around the world. It seemed like an appropriate thing to do. It also seemed right to get off Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City to repeat it at the Federal Transfer Center where prisoners are shuffled to and from federal prisons around the U.S. It was here where Gerardo ended up in the hole for a week before he was sent to Butner Prison North Carolina where he reconnected with his brothers Ramon Labanino and Antonio Guerrero before their triumphant return home. It was from this Oklahoma prison where he was able to get out his final prison letter to Alicia saying he didn’t know where they were taking him but he knew his time in California was over and he thanked her for everything she had done.
The 3,100 miles driven with this historic cargo was personal for me, a time of reflection, and a moving forward since Alicia’s passing this past January. Getting this all back to its rightful owners, the Cuban people, was something she and I had discussed many times and now it had become a fulfillment of a promise in my perceived urgency.
The delivery of the archives to the Cuban Embassy was a moment of solidarity and an important step to its ultimate destination. The finality of the trip took place last night when D.C. area Cuba solidarity activists and the diplomats of the Cuban Embassy gathered to share remembrances of Alicia and her life well lived.
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