More than 200 people gathered in Funger Hall Saturday afternoon for a public forum discussing the U.S. five-year imprisonment of five Cuban citizens.
Known as the “Cuban Five,” the men say they were arrested in 1998 after Cuba sent them to the U.S. to thwart several Miami-based anti-Castro organizations. Three of the men are serving life sentences, and two others are serving 15 and 19 years for conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. The five maintain that they are innocent.
At 11 a.m. Saturday, the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five hosted a march from the Justice Department headquarters at 935 Pennsylvania Ave. to the White House. After the march, many of the activists walked through GW’s campus toting large banners and signs on the way to Funger Hall.
After entering the lecture hall the group had rented out, attendees walked past a series of black display boards that had poetry and drawings the Cuban Five produced from prison.
The forum opened with cheers of “Fidel!” resonating throughout Funger.
“This is a historic day,” said Andres Gomez, the host of the forum. “This has been an important step in the development of a nationwide movement on behalf of the cause of freeing our brothers from jail.”
There were 11 speakers at the event, all of whom said the imprisonment of the Cuban Five in the United States is unjust and illegal.
“We demand their freedom, and we won’t stop until they’re home and with their families,” said Gloria La Riva, president of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five. “How dare this government keep them in prison any longer!”
Many attendees traveled thousands of miles to participate in Saturday’s events.
Jim Sanders traveled from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to attend the forum.
“I just think that the case is a great example of the hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy,” Sanders said. “The U.S. is saying it wants to fight terror, and here are people trying to fight terror, and they’re thrown in jail.”
Outside the lecture hall, many tables were adorned with paraphernalia supporting the Cuban Five, among other causes.
Senior Drew Frerking was selling merchandise for the organization Act Now to Stop War and End Racism.
“Being in D.C., it’s really hard to avoid all the issues and the tension that’s around,” Frerking said. “Eventually, you can’t stay silent forever.”
Frerking said he started volunteering at A.N.S.W.E.R. this summer, initially getting involved through friends he made at other protests in Washington.
One person who sparked Frerking’s interest in the Cuban Five was Eugene Puryear, a junior at Howard University.
“In relationship to other espionage or murder cases, this case stands out because there is almost no evidence,” Puryear said. “It’s not right that they were able to be convicted on such scant evidence.”
Paul Wright, who was selling merchandise for the Committee to Free the Cuban Five, said he learned of the committee less than a year ago when he was protesting the Iraq war on the West Coast.
“It’s been a learning experience,” said Wright, who made the cross-country trip from San Francisco Wednesday evening. “I didn’t really know anything about Cuba before this.”
-David Ceasar contributed to this report.