In Cuba—where the Cuban Five are known simply as Los Cinco or Los Muchachos (the young men)—hundreds of thousands have marched past the U.S. Interests Section in downtown Havana shouting demands for their release. Their photos adorn everything from highway billboards and the exteriors of apartment building walls to stickers on the dashboards of Havana taxicabs.. Their stories are even featured in lobby displays in tourist resorts where Canadian and European visitors regularly send home postcards decorated with stamps bearing their images.
On January 10, 2010, three Argentinians climbed
to the top of Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak
in the Americas to send a message to
the United States president.
Their cause has been taken up beyond Cuba’s borders. Amnesty International has criticized the American justice system for its “unnecessarily punitive” handling of their case. And the United Nations Human Rights Commission has concluded, “from the facts and circumstances in which the trial took place and from the nature of the charges and the harsh sentences handed down to the accused, that the trial did not take place in the climate of objectivity and impartiality.” Five Latin American presidents, 10 Nobel Prize Laureates, British parliamentarians, European Union legislators and the Mexican Senate, among others, have all called for their release.
Even in the United States, where the mainstream media has largely ignored their case, a number of national lawyers’ groups have disputed the legitimacy of their detention, as has the Detroit city council. Liberal celebrities from Alice Walker and Danny Glover to Noam Chomsky have spoken out in support of the Five, and a San Francisco-based group maintains a popular web site called The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five.
While the story of the Cuban Five is partly about the specific facts of the case against them, it has become about much more than just that. In post-9/11 America, the case raises tricky but essential questions about the meaning of the worldwide “war on terror,” and what any country is entitled to do to protect itself from terrorist attack.
With the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States in 2008 and the ongoing transition of power in post-Fidel Cuba, the complex, ever-fascinating relationship between the United States and Cuba is at what could be an historic turning point. As The Sting of the Wasp will make clear, the case of the Cuban Five, which is still framed in such starkly different terms in the United States and Cuba, represents a golden opportunity for—but also a major stumbling block to—that change.
For Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the issue is intensely personal. Having reluctantly okayed the decision to turn over secret Cuban intelligence documents to the FBI, he was forced to watch helplessly as that very information was used to identify and arrest the group of Cuban men and women he’d sent into harm’s way in Florida in order to protect his country from attack. At one level, it is clear that Castro’s feelings of personal guilt over what happened has, almost certainly, helped propel the elevation of the Cuban Five to the iconic status of heroes and martyrs within—and beyond—Cuba.
But even now—with Fidel’s own political power diminished and his future in the past—the place of the Five is now so cemented in fact and mythology that it is impossible for any Cuban government to imagine reaching an accommodation with America without a resolution of their case.
The Sting of the Wasp is a story Americans—and everyone else—needs to know in order to understand the past and see clearly into the future.