Interview with Ethel Traynor, grandmother of René Gonzalez

Radio Havana Cuba Interview with Ethel Traynor, grandmother of René Gonzalez, one of the five Cuban political prisoners incarcerated in the US. Ethel played a key role in minding René’s baby daughter, Ivette, when he was arrested in 1998 and his wife Olga had to move apartment and go out to work to provide for her and her baby daughter. When Olga was arrested and held for three months on immigration charges in a US prison, Ethel Traynor took full responsibility for Ivette even though she was over eighty years of age at the time.

Bernie Dwyer spoke to Ethel for Radio Havana Cuba about her role in her grandson’s life and the effect it had on her life when he was arrested in Miami in September 1998.

Bernie Dwyer (BD): We know that you played a very important role when René was arrested. What exactly was your involvement?

Ethel Traynor (ET): When René was arrested and detained, Olga was left with the two kids. I wanted to do the best I could for her so I took Ivette, who was only four months old, and she lived with me for two and a half years. Olga stayed in Miami and worked and she came when she could on weekends to see the baby.

I traveled to the trial. I was called by the judge-not called exactly- she wrote me a letter-and asked me to give a reference for my grandson. Well, I said to her: “what would you say about your grandson?” She asked me if he ever took drugs so I said no, he never took drugs, he doesn’t smoke or drink. He is a very athletic fellow and I added a few more things. I forget now but I know she wanted to know about him and I told her the best I could.

(BD): How did you feel when you heard that Rene was going to prison?

(ET): Maybe if I had been prepared, it wouldn’t have hurt me so much. I remember I went to the sofa and I was just lying there. I just went to pieces. A friend of mine told me to talk and tell her what happened. I told her it was the worst thing that could happen at this moment. She asked me if they found them guilty. I said yes, they found them guilty even before they went to trial. That’s why I think, not because he is my grandson, that it is a great injustice. It really was an injustice. It’s so sad because it is all politics.

(BD): Do you find it difficult now living in Florida because people know that your grandson is in prison?

(ET): Yes, I lost a lot of my friends. One of my best friends told me to get it into my mind that he and his wife have died and that I wasn’t to put a foot into their house any more. That was very hard because I had a lot of love for them. I isolated myself from them. I don’t visit the places where they are. They are old and are not going to understand. You have to really have compassion and try to understand that what these boys did was something big.

(BD): What was your reaction when you realized that René had been arrested for actually infiltrating those terrorists groups, because you didn’t know anything about that before?

(ET): My reaction was, because they put it so big in the newspapers, it seemed such a big crime when they first took them, that I thought it was impossible; that he cannot be a spy: he cannot be there for all the things they said he did. I have a sister-in-law and she kept telling me that she didn’t care what judge said he was guilty or if the jury said he was guilty, she knew it in her heart that he is not guilty. I got close to her after that because when I wanted to cry I would always go to her and she would understand.

(BD): So you are really very proud of René? (ET): Yes, I am. When I go to the prison to see him and when he comes out to see me, he is the neatest and the nicest with his head up. During the visit they count the prisoners every two hours and they have to stand up against the wall. And I say to my brother: Look at that line and you can tell that he is a proud person and a good person.

(BD): Was he in good spirits when did you last visit him in prison?

(ET): I was there last April. He doesn’t complain and he told me: “I am here to represent Cuba and as that I don’t get into any fights. The name of Cuba has to be high here”. They respect him.

One time I was there one of the guards there that moves the prisoners into lines said asked me if I was Rene’s grandmother and she said that we have a lot of respect for him and he has never gives us any problem. Those made me feel real good that she said that.

(BD): We have to wait a little bit longer to know the outcome of the appeal to the Atlanta Appeals Court. What do you think is going to happen?

(ET): All I can say is that I don’t trust the government of the United States. I hope I am wrong.

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