The Nobility of Gerardo
by Graciela Ramírez
Nov. 27, 2007
Reprinted from CubaNow
From the Victorville prison. The crime of “The Five Cubans” as they are already known all over the world was to try to prevent terrorist attacks against Cuba.
During the first days of October I interviewed Gerardo Hernández Nordelo at the Victorville prison. Gerardo, as his four cause brothers, was condemned by the US government without single evidence. The crime of “The Five Cubans” as they are already known all over the world was to try to prevent terrorist attacks against Cuba.
The meeting was our, very modest tribute to the nine years resistance of these men and their families.
US prisons are famous for their coldness, their sophisticated security systems and the grey color everywhere. Close to the prison there is a small town, surrounded by a security line. The wooden houses with not a single inhabitant are surrounded by fences. I ask why there is not a single soul there. They explain that there were emissions of a toxic substance and they had to evacuate the town. The substance is dangerous; the authorities fear it can expand if the houses are destroyed. The empty houses give a ghost image to the town.
A dusty road in the middle of a kind of desert gives us to the prison that is surrounded by mountains. Several huge towers with telescopic sight indicate us that we are arriving. The complex, with several units, is a totally grey and compact mass made by cement and steel and surrounded by thick wires. There are no windows.
The wire fence seems risible in front of the impregnable group of buildings.
A huge imperial eagle, the US and the Californian flag indicate us that we have arrived to the prison. I go with Alicia Jrapko and Bill Hackwell, much more that solidarity brothers, they are part of the extended family of the Five and indispensable people during these long years of resistance.
The rules of the US penitentiary system do not allow taking anything to the prisoners, not a sweet, not some cloth, not a small souvenir; I had my small Cuban flag, and, ingeniously, believed that I could take it to him. However, people can not take in absolutely anything. Visitors can’t carry a single pencil, even the bag with personal belongings must be left outside.
Visitors can only take with them the coins, necessary to extract from a machine the cookies and sodas that will share during the visit. It is Sunday; there are women and children, who are visiting other prisoners, most of them black or Latino. After the required revision, in which we have to take out even the shoes, the officers indicate us to go to the next room.
In this second room we make a small line, in which we are marked, one by one, the sign placed on us in the forearm indicate a number that is seen under the skin with a kind of laser flashlight. To me this is abusive and unnecessary.
Due to my work in the human rights I have visited political prisoners in prison from Latin America and Spain, but this is the first time a shiver run through my body and immediately in an automatic way, the images of the Nazis marking the Jews in a line of the concentration camps, is coming to my mind.
I think in everything that the Cuban families, old mothers, women and children must withstand when they have the luck that the US government give them a visa to visit them. The injustice of this cause set the skin on the edges. Chomsky, with reason says that “this is such a scandalous case that it is difficult to refer to it”. There is no right to such derision.
The US penitentiary system does not allow the prisoners either to receive their visits in places with some privacy, much less in outside the buildings. The visit must be in a totally closed and artificially illuminated common hall. In this hall the sense of time is lost. The hall has small grey plastic tables and chairs. The visit is, off course, under the surveillance of several officers, who can cal the attention or even interrupt the visit if the prisoner is touched. It is only allowed a hug at the arrival and another one when the visit is over. The marital contact or private visits with the wives are also not permitted.
To deprive the prisoners from affect is one of the pillars of the US penitentiary system. In Gerardo, this situation goes to the extreme, by not allowing him the visit of his wife. I wonder where is the respect to the human rights in the country that call itself the champion of democracy.
We finally move to another room, where at the end we meet Gerardo. Suddenly we see him there with his khaki colour uniform and all his dignity on him, big and firm like the palms.
The image that is coming to me now is the one of Marti. Soon that small island that shines the world becomes a giant and the relationship turns around, all the power deployed by the empire melts in front of the greatness of the Cuban people represented by Gerardo and I just don’t care about the photos, the fingerprints or the stamp in the forearm.
The long way towards Victorville seems now a second. The room where of the visit is full of light when we see him there. Gerardo give us a hug and tell us with that Cuban grace that characterise him and that nobody will be able to take from him – you finally arrived! - .
I swear I promised not to cry, not to feign strength, but not give the enemy the evidence of the smallest feeling. But I couldn’t avoid crying when I started to transmit him the greetings from so many Cubans, so many children, old people, so much people and solidarity friends from all over the world.
It was as if everybody was there, the small ones with their uniforms, swearing to be like Che, men and women with their faces in so many demonstrations, the military and retired, who I have seen crying with anger for such an unjust jail, members of the armed forces, pride of the dignity of their Five brothers, artists and intellectuals who write, sing, dance and paint for them, the solidarity friends who in every language shout Free the Five, in front of the US government buildings, who keep them in prison. His family, the close family of Gerardo, to whom the visa is given year by year and the beautiful eyes of Adriana, a girl the most powerful government of the world denies to visit her father for 9 years.
That giant we had in front of us, full of nobility and dignity, so deeply human, was capable of occupying most of the time of the visit asking for his people and the friends in the world, instead of talking about himself and of the huge violation that jeans the prohibition to receive the visit of his wife.
I ask for the food and the conditions in prison. Not a single complaint, it is not much because by this time of year the budget is small, but everything OK, he says, he is only worried because his correspondence is taking too long.
He asks me how is the small children from Las Tunas who has problems in his hands and always sends his love, asked me to send him a kiss in the name of the Five. He tells me to thank María Orquídea, a woman from Cienfuegos, the complete transcription of every radio program “Una luz en lo oscuro”, by Arleen Rodríguez, that takes every Sunday a little bit of Cuban warmth in those cold prisons where they are detained.
In the distant place where the prison of Gerardo is located, the program can not be listened, only three of the Five can do it, therefore double thanks to Orquidea.
He wants to read recently published “Desde la Soledad a la Esperanza” and see the new stamp just issued in Cuba. He wants me to tell the Houses of Attention of the Combatants and the Abel Santamatria Museum the love and admiration of the Five in the 80 anniversary of the birth date of Abel.
A special hug to the workers and journalists of the radio, press and Cuban TV and a deep thank to the alternative media all over the world that so much are doing to multiply the truth.
Gerardo is interested in every detail, especially in the daily life of his people, for the streets of Havana. His eyes were shine in front of every answer as if he was seeing it.
He ask not forget to send his greetings to the actors of “Jura decir la verdad” and thank them the letter they sent him. As good caricaturist, Gerardo loves humour programs, so that when he calls Adriana, she puts the receiver in front of the TV so that he can enjoy a minute.
The wild capitalism is also feel inside the prisons, the food machine do not discount the prices to the detainees nor to the visitants. A good margin is taken from the work the two millions people, who live in US prisons, carry out. Detainees have to work as in any other factory, but are paid 20 times less than a US worker.
I ask Gerardo what kind of work does the factory. He answers that the prison finishes some parts for the arm industry. He requested to do anything else, but to help the war. Gerardo collects the garbage of the Victorville prison.
Somebody like him, educated at the best Cuban universities, with his high intellectual level, of his moral height and his huge nobility, capable of having saved so many lives with his own sacrifice, subject to such an injustice.
Again the emotion moves us, when he says that with the minimum wage of his work, he buys envelops to reply to his solidarity friends all over the world.
Everything in Gerardo surprised me, from the attention he gives to every store, how he changed from Spanish to English to talk to us, the deepness of his analysis about international reality, the efforts he puts in order than every setter is received by the addressee with something special, the constant worry to know about his people and the huge affective capacity he transmit in the middle of the loneliness he has.
He also has the gift to transform with a joke lump we had in our throats when he said to us, when we left, with his hands in his chest: - Thank you for everything you are doing for the Five and for our people - … - tell them I’m OK and give everybody a strong hug, a very strong one-.
We couldn’t avoid the sadness when we left the prison, it is not fear to lock in so much life to defend us from death. Now I can imagine much better what the mothers, wives and children feel every time they say goodbye to them.
I thought in Gerardo and his smile of pure man, in his transparent soul, totally distant from such a felony, in his children that could be growing up, if it was not for this unjust jail, in the huge value of infiltrating the darkest and most perverse of the Miami Cuban – American mafia to avoid terrorist attacks against his small island, in his family, his people and his unshakable integrity, in this free Cuba, sovereign and socialist, they want to take over, but the one they will never have.
Gerardo and his four brothers are the expression of the new man, Che dreamed about. For him and for them, we renovate our compromise of fighting without rest in order that The Five can return to their beloved land.