BY JOANNE MURPHY
MINNEAPOLIS — Some 75 people gathered at Regla De Oro, a gallery and gift shop here, for the Feb. 7 opening reception of “I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived,” an exhibit of 15 watercolors by Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five.
Large photos of the Five — Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and René González — hung above the store’s main counter, along with a banner calling for their freedom. The exhibit opening included short talks, music and refreshments.
The Five are Cuban revolutionaries who were arrested in Miami in 1998 on frame-up charges that included conspiracy to commit espionage. (See “Who are the Cuban Five” on page 4.)
The watercolors, which depict the 17 months the Five spent in prison in the Miami Federal Detention Center after their arrest, paint a vivid picture of the routine harassment faced from prison guards and officials, the lack of privacy, the arbitrary cell searches, the shackling of prisoners on their way to court, the brutality of solitary confinement. But they also show the resilience and creativity of workers behind bars, from the board games the Five invented to the elaborate methods of communication and exchange they learned from fellow inmates to bypass prison rules and maintain a sense of social solidarity.
The exhibit, the sixth organized by the Minnesota Cuba Committee, is part of a growing movement around the world fighting to free the Five.
“This is our second exhibit of artwork by the Cuban Five, Jessica Smith, the owner of Regla De Oro, said. “We support the effort to free the Five.” In 2012 Regla sponsored “Humor from My Pen,” the cartoons of Gerardo Hernández. Smith encouraged people to pick up three new books published by Pathfinder Press on the Five: Voices From Prison, I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived, and The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free. Smith reported that 35 of the books were purchased at the event and will be on sale at the gallery for the duration of the exhibit.
“It’s astounding how the U.S. government slaps on a label of ‘conspirator’ — a very vague charge — and then unjustly hands out harsh sentences, including life,” said Rafael Espinoza, union representative from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189. “That’s why Local 1189 believes workers have to support the Cuban Five.”
Frank Forrestal, speaking for the Minnesota Cuba Committee, informed participants that Fernando González will be released Feb. 27. “Just like the release of René González, Fernando’s will be a boost to the international campaign to free the Five,” he said.
“There’s a growing sense that the continued imprisonment of the Cuban Five is unconscionable,” said Forrestal. “And more than that, their voices are striking a chord with workers behind bars and those who know firsthand the brutality of the prison system in this country.”
“I think this exhibit is a great introduction to learning about the Cuban Five. It’s a powerful way to inform the public,” Steven Nelson, a part-time baggage handler for Delta Airlines and an artist himself, said after viewing the paintings. “I was impressed with the intimate details, not only of his incarceration but of incarceration in general.”
“I really resent our system and our government,” said Thandisizwe Jackson-Nissan, who was active in a recent fight against a cop killing in Minneapolis. “I think they are the biggest criminals in the whole world. If you threaten them in any way, they will try to convince people that you are the criminal.”
“I am just learning about the case,” he said, “but the Cuban Five remind me of Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks.”
The exhibit runs through the end of February. Two more events are planned: a visit by students from the Perpich School of the Arts Feb. 27, and a celebration the following day of Fernando González’s release from prison.