The Cuban Five: “They Will Never Take Away Our Love”, Wife Says

Havana.- Olga Salanueva and René González were married in 1983. Like any couple brimming with love for each other, they imagined they would live together for the rest of their lives. However, just seven years later, a difficult period of separation and pain began for them.

On Dec. 8, 1990, René apparently left the country by hijacking a plane, making him a traitor in the eyes of all Cubans.

"I could not believe that my husband had changed to the extent that he had decided to leave the country… I couldn´t sleep," Olga told The Havana Reporter.

The same day he left, they had planned to "go to the movies, but I had volunteer work to do first, and he, because he was a pilot and flight instructor, had gone to San Nicolás de Bari (a town south of Havana) where parachutists would be practicing. We had agreed to meet at home late in the afternoon," she recalled.

But their date never happened. She was shaken shortly afterward by the news that "René had hijacked a plane and arrived" in the United States.

That incident changed the course of their lives. Without knowing the reasons for his actions, Olga was on the verge of separating from him for having "abandoned" her. However, love won out, and she agreed to meet with him. They reunited in 1996 in the United States.

About two years later, at daybreak on September 12, 1998, René, along with Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, and Fernando González -as well as Olga-  were arrested in Miami. The five men, now known as the Cuban Five all over the world by their supporters, were tried and then sentenced, in December 2001, by a Miami court for the "crime" of monitoring terrorist groups with plans for deadly attacks on the Cuban people.

"We have been married for 28 years now. Our oldest daughter, Irmita, is 26 years old, and the younger one, Ivette, is 13," said Olga, who said she "has learned to cope with loneliness," she said.

This reporter interviewed Olga in the modest living room of her apartment, where photos of her absent husband can be seen prominently. "You feel that loneliness the most when you have to make a decision, deal with daily events, during the most private moments, or when faced with family problems, like when I lost my dad," she added.

While they are being kept apart by force, their love is something that cannot be taken, she said. "This is true, because he is not physically present but he is always in my thoughts, and I know I am in his as well."

Moreover, she added, "René once told me that the sacrifice of going to the United States and running those risks had been worthwhile if a single live had been saved."

After completing his sentence on Oct. 7, René was released from federal prison in Marianna, Florida, but under court-ordered "supervised release." Olga said she finds it incomprehensible that a judge would order him to remain in the United States for another three years.

This woman, whose applications for visas to visit René in jail have been turned down by Washington for more than 10 years, and now she will have to continue being separated from him. "It is the obsession of an empire to keep us apart," she said.

However, she said, pointing to a favorite spot in the living room, she was hopeful that "very soon, a new photograph of our entire family will be hanging over there."

Ironies of the U.S. justice system: René was sentenced as Cuban, but is being forced to comply with the supervised release order in that country because he was in the United States.

This "half freedom" worries Olga a lot. She fears for the safety of her René, because Florida is precisely the place where all the main anti-Cuban organizations are located, the same ones that the Cuban Five were monitoring at the time of their arrest.