Sean Clancy for Cubadebate
It was during the 7th colloquium in Holguin, Cuba for the liberation of the 5 Cuban patriots unjustly imprisoned in the US for their counter terrorist activities that friend – a well-known comrade, veteran campaigner and documentary film-maker- explored concepts of what heroism in the 21st century might mean. We were in Bayamo on a fringe meeting about media and tactical economic shock warfare and we were in the company of Cuban and international men and women of considerable courage and experience. As our meeting began news was filtering through about the first incidents of US backed imperial aggression against Syria in the present ongoing regime change intervention.
One member of the Lebanese resistance with our group, inspired by el Che and his older brother had, at the tender age of seventeen survived a gun battle with the invading Israeli armed forces in which three of his comrades had fallen dead. Alone he took out four of the Israeli troops including their battalion officer but was later captured when his escape was hampered by a bullet wound he had received. He subsequently spent 17 years in prison without medical treatment or even one visit from family and were it not for being “fostered” by the mother of a Palestinian prisoner he would have been even more desperately alone and isolated. The tale and circumstances that lead to his eventual release are equally enthralling, as is his present serene and almost spiritual disposition, but those tales are for another day.
My interest in and knowledge of the Case of the Cuban 5 increased and developed in tandem with my knowledge of and interest in the country itself and by the time I had become active in a campaign for their liberation, albeit in a somewhat isolated and limited way, I was for all intents and purposes living here in Cuba. There are many Irishmen and women who identify with prison struggles and savage miscarriages of justice.
I have been in communication with the 5 since 2007 and as my activity and comprehension increases with time so does my regard for each of these individually and collectively remarkable and magnificent men (amazingly despite their absolute isolation from each other consistent with Guantanamo torture manual guidelines). I am at ease with my understanding of true heroism in this regard.
It will be hard be hard to communicate so in words, perhaps even harder to conceptualise it without some direct experience, but the following might give some idea as to what I mean.
It is heroic to volunteer for national service in times of conflict and need and to willingly and comprehensively prepare yourself for whatever you might be called upon to do.
Fully briefed and aware of the risks, it is heroic to undertake dangerous missions behind enemy lines and to infiltrate hostile terrorist cells selflessly in the service of your homeland to protect her citizenship from attack.
It is heroic to respond with dignity, clarity, patriotism and unflinching courage to unjust and horrendously excessive political sentences, despite understanding what they will mean to family and personal life. The dock speeches of each of these five patriots are moving and profoundly insightful and important. Gerardo Hernandez’s words, that his only regret was that he had only one life to offer in the service of his homeland, ring as true today as they did then. Throughout the years and at regular intervals all the sentiments expressed at those first sentencing hearings have been heroically reiterated and reinforced without the slightest hint of dilution or disillusionment.
It is heroic to not be even slightly bitter or pessimistic despite being victims of unspeakable injustice, abuse, torture and imprisonment for in excess of 13 years.
It is heroic and patriotic to emerge from a prolonged spell of solitary confinement in the “hole” in Victorville high security penitentiary and say that, despite being physically ill at the time this arbitrary punishment was imposed without reason,
it was worth it simply to have heard your Commander in Chief speak on your behalf.
It is heroic to not have cried when faced with the deportation of your beloved wife, unable to embrace or console her despite her being almost within your grasp but to have shed tears openly and unashamedly when in the presence of the children’s theatre group who performed about and for you.
It is heroic to have expressed for Valentines Day 2012, in a surprise TV programme for your respective wives or mother true, profound, tender, romantic and enduring love of a type it would be easy to be cynical about had it not been so undeniably moving and authentic to the many fortunate enough to have witnessed its beautiful expression.
It is heroic to unceasingly resist the most powerful, evil and harmful empire humanity has ever confronted with smiles, poetry, paintings, learning, political cartoons, self-development, love, truth, insight, teaching, graduation and potent writings through which the truth does indeed set yourself, spiritually, if not physically free.
It is heroic to dedicate a life to the right of nations to be sovereign, independent and free to exercise their chosen systems of governance and rule.
It is heroic to stand up, cost what it may, for what you know and believe to be good and true and it is heroic also to never speak of or advocate vengeance or armed reprisal despite suffering cruel oppression and incarceration.
It is heroic to face daily sacrifice, struggle and hardship with manly and patriotic stoicism and strength.
Heroism is not a word that, outside of Hollywood or Marvel Comic books, ought be used lightly or thoughtlessly. But it is a word that ought be uttered when it is what only and best describes remarkable acts of courage, decency and dignity in the face of unimaginably dangerous and hostile odds and circumstances. It is a word that rightly belongs with the names of Ramon, Rene, Gerardo, Antonio and Fernando. It is an honour and a privilege to have been present to know of and act for such men, whose greatness and heroism is
often manifest in humility, normality and dignified silent fortitude.