(c) https://www.flickr.com/photos/globe-sky/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/ Modified for shape Mural of the faces of the Cuban Five adorns a wall in Havana
Court brings Home Office to heel over Cuban Five visa
In a victory for freedom of expression, the Home Office has been forced to climb down over its refusal to issue a visa to a leading Cuban campaigner, in a legal move that may also benefit trade union activists from around the world.
It was one of the more perverse episodes in the the campaign for justice for the Cuban – or Miami – Five. The Five were a group of Cuban agents working in America to infiltrate groups suspected of terrorist attacks in Cuba. In 1998 they handed the evidence they’d collected over to the US authorities, and were promptly arrested and imprisoned. Cuban solidarity groups and their supporters, including many British trade unionists, had been campaigning to expose irregularities in their conviction ever since. As part of that campaign, René Gonzalez, at that stage the only member of the Five to have been released, was due to come to the UK last year to meet British parliamentarians and attend an International Commission to talk about the fairness of their convictions, which had been of great concern to international human rights organisations, politicians, religious groups and campaigners for years.
Then the genius of the British Home Office struck. René, it seemed, wasn’t about to be let into the country to talk about how his conviction was unfair. The official justification? He was a risk to the country because he had served a prison sentence of more than 10 years – the very reason for his need to travel to the UK in the first place. Officials, including the Home Secretary, Theresa May, were deaf to voices of reason asking for a change of approach. Unions in Britain were outraged, passing a motion at last year’s Congress pledging support to the campaign to allow René to come to the UK.
On Tuesday the Court of Appeal ruled that René’s exclusion breached Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 10 governs freedom of expression and protects the right to receive information. In effect, the judges’ decision has nothing to do with René’s human rights, and everything to do with ours. The government was blocking a legitimate voice from being heard by Britain’s elected representatives, and – ultimately – by the rest of us, and hiding behind a law it was, in this case, illogical to invoke. Those representatives, 28 MPs including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, have now been instrumental in overturning official policy.
The victory – now assured, as the Court of Appeal refused the government permission to take the issue to the Supreme Court – is also a triumph for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and their allies, who could have been tempted to rest on their laurels after the euphoria of the release of the rest of the Five in late 2014. Instead, they pursued their case against the government’s high handed treatment and have been justly rewarded.
Impeded international movement for trade unionists and human rights defenders is a constant source of frustration to their supporters. Often repressive governments ensure their citizens can never leave – as was the case with Colombian Huber Ballesteros, also due to address British MPs as well as unions before he was arrested on trumped up charges – and so it doesn’t help when our own government slams the door shut in their faces. This judgement can only help by reminding them that, in the words of one of the lawyers on the case:
“When a distinguished group of parliamentarians wishes, in the interests of democracy, to conduct a face-to-face exchange with someone whose views they consider to be of critical importance, only evidence of the most compelling kind will be sufficient to deny them their right to do so.”
It’s clear that no such basis exists, and so we look forward to meeting René – and hopefully the rest of the Cuban Five – when they finally come to Britain to meet their many supporters here.