Bernie Dwyer’s Ashes Laid to Rest in Cuba

Bernie will be with the Cuban 5 and Cuba forever

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By: Iliana García Giraldino photos: Karoly Emerson

The rhythmic sound of the waves and the warm sea breeze enveloped the ashes of a dear friend of Cuba- Bernie Dwyer of Ireland. Her ashes were scattered into our sea by Gerardo, Antonio, Fernando y René, alongside the family members and friends of the much loved social activist, who right up until her death, and despite being gravely ill, did not stop fighting for the freedom of the Cuban 5.

Silent emotion and angst were sharpened by the memory of the great human being Bernie was. This day, the 6 March 2015, her children Juliana, Cristina, Lissa-Anne and David wept, along with the man who had been her husband, Dave. Their pain was shared by the 5 heroes and their families, by work colleagues at Radio Habana Cuba (RHC) –where she had worked for over a decade- by her neighbours, friends and comrades at the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).

This was an inspiring moment. The 5 heroes for whom Bernie struggled for years scattered her ashes. Sadly Bernie never got to see them freed.

She wanted to share her ashes between her homeland and Cuba. “We are her children, but you all are also her family, she has come home” Juliana movingly stated, unable to hold back her tears, which interspersed her words.

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The Havana coast was the venue for the powerful ceremony. Minutes before Gerardo had spoken to Bernie’s family, telling them that it was thanks to people like Berne Dwyer that “we are today enjoying our freedom and happiness.”…“Some people think of solidarity in terms of the results it achieves, I believe that what was more important was her role in our day to day lives as prisoners” he said adding: “we needed her solidarity and support all the time, and Bernie was very important to us in that sense.”

“I am very sorry I did not get the chance to meet her myself, our families told us about her, and I did speak to her on the phone”, Gerardo said. He rejoiced for those who had the opportunity to know her as a “fighter, friend or sister.”

He said that “after we found out about her illness we were astonished at how she had just carried on battling for the five of us, and working very hard. Her example was always an inspiration for us and gave us strength.”

“When we came back to Cuba”, Gerardo added, “I expressed our gratitude to those friends who fought for us and are now no longer with us, one of them was Bernie”.

“I think you have been very lucky having a family member like Bernie, and we are very lucky to have had a friend like her. She will be with the Cuban 5 forever.”

Gerardo concluded his oration making it clear that Bernie’s support was not just for the Cuban 5 but for the whole of Cuba and all just causes: “every revolutionary Cuban is grateful for what Bernie did”.

Mirta, Antonio’s mother, spoke on behalf of the families of the Five who “got to know Bernie personally and what she meant for the cause…. we had a strong friendship with her, we held her very dearly and are infinitely grateful to her.”

“I am privileged to be here to speak with you, her children, about how Bernie was. I am proud to have known this woman who was full of love. When she fell ill, she went away, she recovered and she returned. She was a woman of extraordinary values, of great integrity. We want to say how much we love her, respect her and are grateful to her” she added.

Everyone embraced Bernie’s family members, in a ceremony dedicated to her memory, which had started that morning, in the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp (CIJAM), in Caimito, where a plaque was unveiled in her honour, around which ashes were scattered.

Bernie 03Kenia Serrano, President of ICAP, also participated throughout the day of memory for our beloved friend.

Fernando and Mirta were also among those at the CIJAM. Here Elio Gámez, first vice president of ICAP, spoke of his great honour in of having the opportunity to pay tribute to Bernie, whose links with Cuba began in the CIJAM back in the 1980s, as part of a European solidarity brigade. Bernie founded the Cuban solidarity campaign in Ireland. She subsequently moved to Cuba where she was to be honoured with the Medal of Friendship and the Félix Elmuza Award.

He added that Bernie was a member of the International Committee for the Liberation of the Cuban Heroes, a compañera dedicated to her work, and an activist for the five who participated in numerous international events. He added that Bernie was a woman of great conviction ”hard to defeat, happy, good humoured, revolutionary, our friend and sister, in the front line with her work… and whose work made a huge contribution to ICAP, who we will never forget”.

Lissa-Anne, enveloped by the memory of her mother, made clear to her friends that this was a difficult moment for her and her family, expressed gratitude for the tributes and the love felt for Bernie in Cuba, evoking her tenacious struggle for the Cuban 5.

Later in the day the ceremony took place by the sea, in the neighbourhood of Miramar, near to where Bernie, the prize-winning documentary maker, had lived. Her neighbours were notable by there presence, “she was one more of us”, recalled Liliam and Miriam.

Isabel, one of her colleagues from RHC, could not hold back the tears. She remembered when Bernie did her two tours of the United States, overcoming numerous obstacles and costs on the way, to get the truth about the Cuban 5 out. She recalled her titanic struggle against her cancer, and the way she kept up her solidarity work until the last minute possible. Bernie died on the 10th July 2013.

Everyone agreed that it was very sad that Bernie had not lived long enough to witness the release of the Five. “Life is not fair” I thought imagining how happy she would have been to be there. I said this to Gerardo, who with his clear gaze and from the heart responded “there is no doubt that’s the case, but life is bit by bit. If she had not been the exceptional woman that she was, she would not have managed to bring together today so many friends who loved and admired her to pay tribute and gratitude to her.” Gerardo’s words were comforting.

Bernie lives on in her children, in Ireland and Cuba, in the shining, optimistic and solitary horizon where her ashes blew along the eternal path of the good, the noble, the generous, and those who struggle. These are the human beings who sow seeds of love and become unforgettable as we look towards the future.

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