Oh, for the love! Honestly, people. Right next to the sign for “Heaven Fitness” and the new Citroen, holy bejeezus! I step off the bus after work and I’m confronted with ginormous red all-caps canvassing two billboard lengths, imploring “FREE THEM!”
This billboard has been up in front of my bus stop now for about three days, and people are stopping in their tracks, shaking their heads, completely befuddled. Yes, that is exactly what they are! I’m telling you! Or at least that’s what the elderly gentleman looked like today as he stopped to try to decipher the meaning behind this paid advertisement. Although it’s entirely possible that he looks at things everywhere in general befuddlement. Who am I to say?
Frankly though you know I’m going to investigate when I see something like this. Especially when the tag says “15 Years in Prison in the USA For Having Unmasked The Terrorism Against Cuba.”
Whaaa? I told you! Total befuddlement!
Ok, fine, I’ll bite. So here we go, Associazione di amicizia nazionale Italia-Cuba: The national Italy-Cuba Friendship Foundation. Go on, you can click if you feel so compelled. If you do it today you’ll get the extra special link “Our comrade President Hugo Chavez has died.” I’ll save you the trouble of clicking on that one. To sum up the three line body copy, the National Secretary of the Association says, and I quote: “Siamo sicuri che nell’esempio del suo indimenticabile Comandante la Rivoluzione Bolivariana continuerà a operare per raggiungere l’unità di tutti i popoli latinoamericani.” That is, “We’re sure that in the example of its unforgettable Commander, the Bolivian Revolution will continue to work for reaching the unity of all Latin American people.”
Look, I don’t do politics, I really don’t. I’m just blessed/cursed with an overactive curiosity gene. Which is why I have to wonder, first off: who on Earth is in charge of their crappy-ass website? I mean, get a graphic designer for God’s sake! Clearly you can afford a mega billboard on the like widest road in the Eternal City outside of the freeway (seriously, the Colombo is like 8, 9 lanes wide) so what the f with your 1991 website, commies?
An aside. When I lived in Rome for the first time, I spent one month in the charming little neighborhood of San Lorenzo. It was perfect for me as I lived in a crappy shoebox-sized apartment with three other college-aged girls and I was just content as could be. I had no context of anything, nothing mattered, I was in Italy, weeee! I’ll never forget when my roommate, God bless her, pulled me aside my first day and said, very solemnly, the equivalent of “Be careful two streets down. That’s the Communist party headquarters. They hate Americans. You really should avoid walking by there.”
I don’t know. The closest I ever got to open hostility for being American (besides general disdain throughout the entire Bush reign), was when I took a Spanish class at the Istituto Cervantes, and there were a couple of people in their mid-40s who had come of age in the 70s and had a major bone to pick with the US, Bush, Cuba, etcetera, and I became their little scapegoat. It was really quite uncomfortable. They would subtly challenge me at every turn, and I just wanted to learn how to order my lunch in Spain, for God’s sake. Anyhoo, suffice to say, ok, there probably is some generalized anti-American hostility from professed communist party members here in Italy, but then again, you try telling mainstream people you’re a card-carrying communist, and tell me how well that works out for you. Yeah, didn’t think so.
So, enough. What about the poor guys up on that billboard and their whole predicament of wasting away in a US prison for unmasking a terrorist plot or something? (Hello propaganda!) Here’s the scoop. You know, in case said billboard pops up in your neighborhood someday.
Christ, people! I can’t find a damn thing about these men on the website. Argh. But I did waste a few precious minutes browsing their itinerary for the “Get to Know Cuba” trip. It does a whole touristy thing out of Che, the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. And it got me to thinking, would they let me go with them? Are we Americans still not allowed to go there? I’m not ashamed of my ignorance, my blog serves for self-educative purposes. Oopsies! OFAC SAYS NO! (That’s the Office of Foreign Assets Control to you and me.) Although Americans can travel if it’s part of an academic or religious trip.
Wait, wait! Let’s consult Carol Beer for a second opinion. She is the world’s BEST travel agent. I bet SHE could swing me a flight to Cuba.
Oh man, this is going absolutely nowhere, and fast. Hang on, looks like I have to bring in the big guns here (no comrade-related pun intended) and call on Google. Oh, Gooooggglllleee! You know, like in the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse when they say “Oh Tooooooodles!” Just substitute Google. Get it? Get it?
First sign of life is, well whaddya know? In Italian. Apparently in Cuba they’re called “The Five” and the article here is titled The US calls them spies but Cuba sees them as heroes.
Which after another search leads me to a website called “The Italian ‘Justice for the Five’ Committee.” Advertising once again in ALL RED CAPS an event that
will take place possibly took place in February 2012. Sigh. Back to the drawing board here. Let’s just cut to the chase and now type in “Italian prisoners the five cuba” shall we?
Ah, finally, a couple of halfway decent sites in English. Here we are, a.k.a. The Miami Five or The Cuban Five. Which leads us, finally, to the eternal font of all terrestrial wisdom, Wikipedia and the Cuban Five article, available, I might add, in no less than 13 different languages, including Esperanto.
From English Wiki article:
The Cuban Five, also known as the Miami Five (Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, and René González) are five Cuban intelligence officers convicted in Miami of conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, acting as an agent of a foreign government, and other illegal activities in the United States. At their trial, evidence was presented that the Five infiltrated the Miami-based Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue, obtained employment at the Key West Naval Air Station in order to send the Cuban government reports about the base, and had attempted to penetrate the Miami facility of U.S. Southern Command.
Oopsies again! Getting hired at a US air base to send a hostile government information? Um, yeah, not the safest thing in the world to get involved in, from what I’ve heard.
First line from Italian Wiki article:
There ISN’T one!
And the plot thickens. Geez, National Friendship Association! Get on that, would you?
Anyhoo, the other side says that these men are political prisoners who were simply loyal Cubans trying to protect Cuba from acts of terrorism that are perpetrated by anti-Cuba groups operating in Miami. Cuba admitted that the men were spies, but says that they were spying on anti-Cuban terrorist groups, not the U.S. government. The US Supreme Court declined in 2009 to hear the case.
Rene Gonzalez was released in 2011. Gee whiz, can you at least get your prisoners straight before posting this massive billboard in front of my bus stop? Rene is that guy with the beard. He’s free, for God’s sake! Ok, he’s free on three years probation. Technicality, schmechnicality. Looks like somebody’s gonna have to change their “Free the 5” logo. It’s even on Openclipart.org, in case you were wondering, and I know you were, because that’s the kind of reader you are.
Whoa, check out espionage tricks of the trade: “In May 2012, it was reported that the U.S. had declined a “spy swap” proposed by the Cuban government, wherein the Cuban Five would be returned to Cuba in exchange for USAID contractor Alan Phillip Gross, imprisoned in Cuba for illegally providing equipment allowing Cuban Jews to have internet access.” I won’t even go down that rabbit hole. Although I really want to, and I’m kind of perplexed as to why only Cuban Jews got internet, that seems kinda undemocratic, no?
Enough, enough. If you’ve stuck with me this long, then clearly you have just as little free time on your hands as I do.
And to be fair, it’s not just this billboard launching pleas for their release. According to the Wiki article “Eight international Nobel Prize winners have written and sent a document to the U.S. Attorney General calling for freedom for the Cuban Five.”
Sorry to go off on a tangent. But that’s what happens when you take away my billboard about having a massive liquidation sale on Persian rugs and replace it with this.
You may now go back to your regularly scheduled programming.
Soon, very soon, I need to take a load off and do a post about Roman stornelli. This political stuff is way too pesante.
Ma che ce frega, ma che ce importa…