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Work of Two Political Prisoners on Display

Exhibition highlights U.S.-Cuba relationships and issues in the federal prison system

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Photos courtesy of Christina Obregón (Calles y Sueños - Chicago)

Photos courtesy of Christina Obregón (Calles y Sueños – Chicago)

“From My Altitude,” an art exhibit at the Calles y Sueños Community Center in Pilsen, showcases the work of two Latin American political prisoners serving time in penitentiaries in the United States. Running through May 4, the exhibit seeks to raise awareness about the intransigent nature of U.S.-Cuba relations while drawing ties to the underlying inequities of the U.S. legal system.

The show features 30 paintings by Antonio Guerrero, each piece completed during his ongoing imprisonment. Among the prisoners known as the “Cuban Five,” Guerrero was convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and sentenced to one life-term plus ten years for blowing the whistle on a group of Cuban exiles, known as Brothers to the Rescue, who were planning an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro.

The show also includes four paintings by Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist who was sentenced to 70 years in prison for seditious conspiracy, armed robbery, and minor arms charges. He is one of longest held political prisoners in the Western hemisphere – he’s going on his 32nd year in jail.

In light of the background of these artists, “From My Altitude” is intended to act as a platform to speak out against the Cuban Five case and the ongoing mistreatment of political prisoners. Their case is unique in terms of its disproportionate sentences, repeated overturned appeals and convictions, severe detainment parameters, and persistent neglect from American media.

The exhibit is hosted by the Chicago Cuba Coalition, a pro-normalization organization for the rights of Cubans. The coalition supports the eradication of the US policy toward Cuba of the economic embargo and diplomatic isolation, and aims to help inform the community about the major issues going on between the two countries.

Steve Eckardt one of the lead organizers of the Coalition wants the show to serve as a two-fold educational tool, both on U.S. domestic and foreign policy. “We see the exhibit as a way to break the silence of the case of the Cuban Five,” Eckardt said. “But also to show that these types of injustices are commonplace in the U.S.”

In 1998, the five men were sent to the U.S. by the Cuban government to infiltrate, thwart, and expose the anti-Castro activities of the Brothers to the Rescue organization. They were subsequently seized by U.S. officials during the operation and branded as spies. After a lengthy trial in Miami, a city with a long history of hostility toward the Cuban government, the five were sentenced to terms up to double-life, put into geographically isolated ‘super-max’ prisons, and denied spousal visits. The Cuban Five members are the first persons to be sentenced to life imprisonment for espionage in the United States without a secret document ever handled.

Since the original trial in 2000, the Five have been through an extensive appeals process, achieving some success with the U.S. Court of Appeals and reducing three of the five sentences. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has continually refused, without explanation, any review of the case. The group has received support from Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, and eight other Nobel Laureates.

This April, the Chicago Cuba Coalition will be hosting several other events in defense of the Cuban Five and calling for their release. Happenings will include film screenings, talks, and a women’s open mic event featuring presentations about the wives of the five who have been continually denied visitation.

“From My Altitude” runs through May 4 at the Calles y Sueños Community Center, 1900 S. Carpenter Street. A closing event on May 4th will feature First Secretary of the Cuban Interest Section Patricia Pego Guerra, Stefanie Beacham of the ANSWER Coalition, and Stansfield Smith of the Chicago Committee to Free the Five.

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