At least in this particular corner of North America — British Columbia — the big headlines last weekend featured the return of Todd Bertuzzi to competitive hockey. The burly Vancouver Canucks forward had been in professional purgatory since his March 2004 on-ice assault that left Colorado Avalanche Steve Moore with a severe concussion, broken neck, and uncertain career prospects. In their fanaticism, Canucks partisans in their thousands had raised the banner of “Free Bertuzzi” — in t-shirts, stickers and signs — to express their ongoing loyalty to #44.

It is perhaps appropriate in these post-modern times that a multi-millionaire athlete, himself the perpetrator of a serious act of violence, would inspire a campaign with the popularity and support that so many genuine political causes lack. It makes sense that a young generation with an affinity for irony dwarfing its sense of striving for justice would appropriate the form but not the content of dissenting cries. Palestine and Mumia be damned: Free Bertuzzi!

In the same week that Bertuzzi-mania was climbing to a fever pitch, a number of events around Prisoners’ Justice Day in Vancouver went by with scant coverage. South of the border, a landmark ruling in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals passed similarly under the radar: The “Cuban Five” — a group of Cubans jailed since 1998 on espionage and other charges — had their 2001 convictions overturned. The judges agreed with what activists and the Cubans’ lawyers have been arguing with very little fanfare for years; their ruling stressed the clearly biased and unfair nature of the original trial, which was held amidst the anti-Castro hysteria of a southern Florida in the throes of Elian-fever.

Briefly, the five Cubans do not deny that they were involved in counter-intelligence, but their work in the “belly of the beast” lays bare the blatant hypocrisy of the U.S. “war on terror.”

The five had undertaken the dangerous assignment of infiltrating and gathering information on the mafia-like organizations that have, with Miami’s Little Havana as their base of operations, openly planned and carried out terrorist actions against Cuba for years. In 1997, for instance, a string of bombings which killed one Italian and injured others sought to sabotage the island’s growing tourism industry. (One the elder statesmen of anti-Cuban terrorism, Luis Posada Carriles, has in fact boasted to the New York Times about his role in the bombings, and is himself currently facing extradition to Venezuela to face up to earlier terrorist actions).

The decision to grant the Cubans a new trial, of course, is only a partial victory; though the appellate court recommended an out-of-county retrial, American Justice offers, to say the least, no guarantees. In fact, given the Court’s detailed ruling exposing the flaws in the original proceedings, there should be no retrial and the Cubans should be released.

When the five men — Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, René González and Fernando González — finally see the light of day, it will certainly not garner the attention afforded to one wealthy hockey player’s return to the rink.

But the Cuban Five were not, and clearly are not, interested in the ephemeral pleasures and comforts that wealth and celebrity might provide. One can imagine the financial windfall any one of them might have earned for abandoning the cause and denouncing Cuba’s social system and their anti-terrorist mission in the U.S. Instead, the five continue to illustrate the potential for human beings to be motivated by higher goals, even when it means suffering imprisonment, deprivation, physical isolation and even death.

The first step of overturning the verdicts against the Cuban Five has been achieved, and they are today much closer to achieving their freedom. Let all of us with the opportunity to speak out and to organize take up our responsibilities. Let us distribute our stickers and posters, picket signs and t-shirts, to spread the word and recapture that classic turn of phrase demanding justice: Free the Cuban Five.

Derrick O'Keefe

Derrick O'Keefe

Derrick O'Keefe is a writer in Vancouver, B.C. He served as's editor from 2012 to 2013 and from 2008 to 2009.